The pains and fun of January 2024

Celebrations marking the first day of the year 2024 were generally low keyed, notwithstanding the traditional fireworks that heralded the year in major world cities like London, New York, Paris, Dubai, Lagos and Abuja. Behind the forced smiles and unctuous declarations of ‘’Happy New Year’’ laid the masked fearful foreboding of what 2024 would bring. This stemmed from fact that last half of 2023 was about the toughest in their lives with dwindling economic fortune that seemed to have peaked in December, the last month of 2023. 

And there was no sign of it abating as January approached. So, it happened that January arrived with some kind of trepidation for most people and was generally unwelcome. The debilitating cash scarcity of 2023 following the redesign of the N200, N500 and N1000 notes resurfaced in December 2023 and continued in the first week of January, 2024. Banks ran out of cash, many ATM machines were under lock and key, and PoS operators increased their charges. Although it eased off before end of January, Nigerians still did not find comfort or joy in the month of January, 2024.

All our bills continued to soar in January — school fees were increased, house rents hiked, transport fares for both land, sea and air travels continued their upward trajectory, prices of foodstuff and medicines (to keep body and soul together to assure our physical fitness for our everyday activities) hit the roof, more people slipped into poverty levels and the number of social deviants in our midst, in society rose.

Deviants are found not only in our little corners but at community and international levels and they are capable of senseless things in various forms, having apparently deadened their conscience. How else can we explain the cold blooded killing of hundreds of people by Hamas militants who rammed into Israeli territory; the mass destruction and death of so many children in Israel’s war in Gaza, the use of starvation as a weapon of war; the invasion of Ukraine by its powerful ‘super power’ neighbour in an apparent land grab bid; the killing of people in rural communities together with burning of their houses by rampaging bandits in Nigeria.

It was thought that these big wars and smaller wars cloaked in the garb of terrorism, banditry, rebellion, that dot Africa would end by December through some mediation or other interventions. However, they also spilled over into January and even assumed dangerous dimensions that month, becoming more ferocious. In Nigeria, kidnapping grew wings. A new wave of kidnappings/abductions reared their ugly heads in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and other places in January. Bandits in same month of January, wrecked havoc in especially Plateau communities and some parts of the Northern region. Thus, January 2024 ranks as one of the most dangerous. People are becoming more security conscious, even as they are fearful and security tips on how to safeguard oneself are being shared on social media. So, while the main insecurity problem spearheaded by the notorious Boko Haram sect several years ago confined to Borno and some neighbouring states appears to be waning, it has, nonetheless, given rise to the other aforementioned ‘branches’ of insecurity which are no less dangerous but now more pervasive. They all tormented us in January.

These small and big warfares contributed largely to rising inflationary trends worldwide, including Nigeria. Ukraine whose territory has been a war zone for nearly two years now is a major producer of grains and wheat. However, the war has disrupted production leading to supply shortfalls, hence, price increases. The Houti rebel group in Yemen ramped up in January, their attacks on international cargo ships passing through the Red Sea, forcing them to go through alternative, longer routes with concomitant increase in shipping costs. These additional costs are, of course, passed on to the end user/consumers worldwide.

Similarly inability of many farming communities in Northern Nigeria to access their farms due to devastating activities of bandits has caused shortage of especially grains and consequent price hikes. In Lafia, the Nasarawa state capital, where I reside, maize, which is usually brought from Mangu local government area in Plateau state, is hard to come by now, leading to astronomical rise in price. Ditto other grains. Overall, in the month of January Nigerians suffered both emotional and physical pains; emotional pains from kidnap/abductions of either loved ones, friends, associates, acquaintances or fellow Nigerians; physical pain came from inability of many Nigerians to afford a good meal due to skyrocketing prices of basic commodities beyond their reach.

Nonetheless, amidst these pains came a timely diversion, even if it is just temporary. It is football. Start of the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Ivory Coast on January 13 in which Nigeria is participating made generality of Nigerians to forget their pains and focus attention instead on the games. It acted as a balm for the masses especially as Nigeria is winning and progressing in the tournament. 

The more the Super Eagles progressed, the more Nigerians got hooked to happenings on the football stadiums in Ivory Coast, the more it consumed their everyday lives and discussions, the more it gave them fun and unified the country. However, the big question remains, what happens when AFCON ends? Nigerians would revert to their old ways of fault finding, quarrelling, and tribalism? In the meantime though, we should enjoy the fun while it lasts, particularly as Nigeria has qualified for the final to be played against host country, Ivory Coast, after flying past arch rival, South Africa, in an epic battle on Wednesday evening. Congratulations Nigeria.

Victoria Ngozi Ikeano writes via [email protected] 08033077519