business day, Thursday, 24 December 2009 01:02 Okey C. Iheduru
Tomorrow, Nigerians will celebrate Christmas. The air will be filled with a sense of comfort, longing, security and peace that so many fervently desire; at least, that's how it should be. Purists will lament how its religious and spiritual meanings have largely been supplanted by banalities of increasing secularization and commercialization. The loss of the true essence of Christmas is made more poignant, we are told, by non-Christians embracing it without any clues of what it truly means to the faithful.
But, the new born King will come into a traumatized Nigeria turned into a metaphysical prison. The first inmate, President Umaru Yar'Adua himself, is a prisoner of dark forces in his corridors of power bent on feeding the nation with outright lies and scheming over the matter of the president's health problems in a foreign country. He is not allowed to extricate himself from a clear subversion of what should be a simple constitutional process. There is no one to take the 3:00 a.m. phone call, and the guards like it.
The Nigerian populace doubles as the audience outside and also as hapless inmates locked behind the prison gates. While the two and half-years of Yar'Adua's presidency have had minimal positive impact on the quality of their lives, they still yearn for the visible symbol of their rump country to smile and exhort them as usual to emulate Christ on Christmas day.
Perhaps the most wretched inmates of Yar'Adua's prison are the guards for whom the president is now more of a symbol of the hunger for power; a myriad consisting of fiendish political prostitutes seeking the solace of death to actualize their odious scheming. Yar'Adua is their victim, a sacrifice, the ceremonies of his death already detailed in their minds even as they cheer the nation into prayerful frenzy.
Behind the prison walls, people are attempting to keep their sanity as death stares them in the face and the stench of anxiety over imminent end to feeding-frenzy political careers fouls the air. The prisoners outside simply want to live their lives free and without worry, and so death becomes a common option to attain peace, as escape from the prison seems impossible. Without seeing the president for a month, they have little choice but imagine the forthcoming day of death made more ominous by the scheming nocturnal guards.
The message coming out of Yar'Adua's prison this Christmas is a failure. Lies and misinformation have become a faceless institutional practice. The only thing prison sentences do is to make prisoners want to stay out of prison, but they will continue to commit crimes because resources are being pumped into our prisons rather than reforming the convicted or inmates. Thus, the Christ will come and see the bottom of the Nigerian chicken, the barbarity of our institutions apparently designed to ensure that no one actually gets better by being exposed to prison.
A few years ago, I asked a relative (whose university fees I was paying but whose semester or yearly results I never saw) how she was doing in school. "We thank God," she replied. I was startled. What did God have to do with the question I just asked her? She was either doing well in school or not. God already gave her a brain and a relative capable and willing to assist her to better her future in the university. Yar'Adua's prison may seem so hopelessly far gone as well; but the question is whether she is willing to deploy her blessings productively.
Surprisingly, I have since learned to use that empty phrase—'we thank God.' And so this Christmas we thank God that there has not been a riot in Yar'Adua's prison over the escalating cost of basic food items for our Christmas celebrations. After all, the increase in the inflation level has been so much higher in the rural areas that kidnappers operating from rural bases have created a boom in air traffic lately.
We thank God that the inmates and outsiders of Yar'Adua's prison are not immediately worried that next year's budget remains unsigned; that there probably won't be a Chief Justice on New Year because there may not be a constituted authority to swear him in. Nigerians are not angry to have been immersed in the throes of another crippling fuel scarcity; and they never believed the hullabaloo of 6000MW-by-December-31 was anything but a boastful pipe dream in the first place.
We thank God for another Christmas gift: the Republics of Chad or Equatorial Guinea have yet to invade Nigeria while our Commander-in-Chief is thousands of miles away from his commanders. Indeed, God has shown us the good side of Yar'Adua's prison: we have proven that a country does not really need a president to exist. Which other country out there can accomplish that feat?
Finally, we thank God that the King whose birth we celebrate tomorrow is not here to judge (that would happen at his second coming), but to bring the good news and heal our hopelessness. Otherwise, it would have been quite a spectacle to watch all the actors inside and outside of Yar'Adua's prison standing before God to account for what they have done to over 150 million Nigerians.
The second coming will probably not be different from the first. In his birth place, 2000 years ago, very few people were aware of, let alone ready for, him. Even those who were ready expected a different kind of king. Yet, the Christ came, any way. Similarly, change is coming to Nigeria, whether or not we are prepared for it. It will be a joint effort of the divine and the human.
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