In the early 1980s, the musical career of Robert Frederick Zenon Geldof, popularly known as Bob Geldof, was waning. It had reached its dizzying peak in the 1970s when Geldof, the Irish song writer, crooned for the Boomtown Rats. Then Prince Charles, now King, was reported to have envied Geldof his untrammeled freedom.
In 1984, however, Geldof’s career received a shot in the arm and he made a huge comeback. Touched by the acute famine in Ethiopia, Geldof set up Band Aid. Under its auspices, he released a memorable single, entitled:”Do They Know It’s Christmas?”
Also moved by the unprecedented famine in Ethiopia, the grim footages that came from that sad country and spurred by Geldof’s charitable effort, a group of artists in the United States, led by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, released “We’re The World” in 1985.
Where Geldof’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was inimitable, “We’re The World”, produced by the legendary Quincy Jones, was described by a reviewer as “an anthem in compassion”. By their lyrics and wordings, both ennobling songs called global attention to the famine in Ethiopia at a time when others frolicked in plenty. Both raised millions of dollars for the suffering Ethiopians. Both stood out as musical tours de force and became etched in our memories. Indeed, apart from raising $50million, “We’re The World”, for good measure, received a Grammy award in 1985.
Here we are in the Christmas season of 2022, some thirty eight years after the famine of Ethiopia. Even though Nigeria is not buffeted by drought, which occasioned the famine and profound suffering and deaths of 1984 in Ethiopia, we are at the verge of hunger and death on account of bad governance, rank incompetence and heightened insecurity.
By a recent official telling of the National Bureau of Statistics(NBS), not less than 133 million Nigerians, representing a whopping 60 percent of the population, are living in poverty. Large swaths of land, which hitherto were cultivated, have been abandoned and left fallow due to the mindless killings and abduction of farmers, thus making foodstuffs unavailable and pushing their prices to the stratosphere where available. Matters are not helped by the floods that visited this year.These, no doubt, will induce hunger, misery and deaths in the ranks of Nigeria’s tumultuous have-nots.
Out of curiosity, this writer visited one of the most popular supermarkets in Abuja – the SAHAD STORES – in the second week of December. Not only was this supermarket, which used to be inundated by customers around this season, forlorn and forsaken on account of the hard times, a 50-kg of local rice which sold for N26,000 in June was now going for N41,000. A few days to Christmas(on Wednesday last week) I also visited Nyanya and Karu markets in the Abuja Municipal Council(AMAC). On the said day, the Nyanya market day was to be the last before Christmas, hence my heightened curiosity. At the Nyanya market, only the Bend down Boutique(second hand clothing) section was agog with activity. At the Karu market, an average-sized chicken was being sold for N10,000. I was warned it would reach the N12,000 mark by Christmas Eve.
These visits reveal two salient things. One, the figures touted by the NBS may be conservative and it may have underestimated the blight of poverty on Nigerians. This is underscored by the recourse to second hand clothing at this festive season by an otherwise proud people. Two, coming at the end of the harvest season, the price of 50kg of local rice going for N41,000 makes mince meat of the claim of the government that it had put in place “Rice Pyramids”, courtesy of bumper harvests. Pray, if there was a surfeit of rice, as claimed by government, why is the price shooting through the roof and the commodity out of the reach of ordinary Nigerians? If the price is this high at harvest time, what will happen some months hence?
Once upon a time, the disdainful refrain of proud Nigerians was that dark, unsavory things could not occur here. This predilection by Nigerians not to suffer fools gladly or to brook bad governance was celebrated by the late Chike Akabogu in a famous piece entitled:”It can’t happen here”. The unfortunate reality, since he authored that piece, to our dismay and chagrin, is terrible things have happened here – and with abandon. They are happening apace either due to the sheer wickedness of our so-called leaders or the complacency of the followers or a combination of the two.
In spite of the shenanigan of our leaders and the failings of followers, this is Christmas season. This is the season coinciding with when Almighty God resolved to take human form, dwell with humans on earth, salvage us from our failings and bring us inordinate joy. Thus, this is a season for reaching out to ameliorate the difficulties for those who do not have. It is a season of sharing. It is a season of goodwill. And it is a season to put smiles on the faces of the deprived. To underline this season of compassion and joy, permit me to draw from the lyrics of Band Aid:
“It’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid.
At Christmas time, we let in light and we banish shade.
And in our world of plenty we can spread a smile of joy.
Throw up your arms around the world at Christmas time…”
But even as we reach out to beloved ones, even as we make them forget their sorrows momentarily, we must nonetheless come to terms with our uncomely and harsh reality. In the aftermath of this joyous season, of Christmas and a New Year, we must confront the daunting challenges that stare us in the face. By His grace, and in the aftermath of this festive season, the 2023 General Elections shall be upon us. It should then be incumbent on us to recall the lyrics of “We’re The World” thus:
“There comes a time
When we heed a certain call
When the world must come together as one
There are people dying…”
That is the time Nigerians must come to terms with their self-inflicted challenges. They must reflect soberly upon these privations. They should proclaim: “NEVER AGAIN!” and then proceed dutifully to vote wisely. They should vote for candidates who have the capacity to engender good governance and to change their fortunes for good.
Permit me to invert the lyrics of Bob Marley, that prophet and philosopher, in his thought provoking Natural Mystique:
Many more don’t have to suffer
Many more don’t have to die
We have it in our power to bring this about – and peacefully too!