Welcoming December with mixed feelings

‘Happy new month’ text messages have been flooding in all across the country, to friends, relatives, associates, colleagues, etc., as the month of December quietly sneaked in less than 24 hours ago, in the same time-honoured pace – not a second late or fast. In our part of the world it was heralded by its handmaiden, the cold harmattan breeze in the mornings and evenings. Intrinsically, we all feel elated that the month of December has arrived. In reality however, we all have mixed feelings about this December. On the one hand, we are happy for, (in Nigerian parlance) being among the ‘living’ that are beholding the last month of the year here; glad that we are successfully wading through the year’s challenges from the first month, January, to its last, December. Indeed, being alive, being able to still keep their heads above water,  unscathed, up until this December that they are now permitted to see with their eyes and welcome it unscathed would be considered by most Nigerians as their highest achievement of year 2022 that is deserving of the highest trophy given the times in which we live. Like the proverbial lizard Nigerians should not be begrudged if they enmesh themselves in self-congratulations. Let them enjoy the moment of being witness to December 2022, the month of festivities, month of the solemn Christmas carols, etc.

Many broadcast organisations and state governments would be hosting the traditional ‘festival of nine lessons and carols’ that is associated with December. This December shall witness (after a two-year absence occasioned principally by COVID) return of the month-long Calabar festival.  Other outdoor activities like concerts, etc., are expected to blossom this December (except in communities with serious security challenges) following lifting of all COVID restrictions in the country. For many governors, our president, vice president and a lot of other public officials, this is the last December they are witnessing in their official capacities. The next one shall see them bearing a new nomenclature with the prefix, ‘former’. And, for one of the leading presidential aspirants, this is his last December as an ordinary citizen. By next December he would have transmuted from a presidential contender to president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

In this December of 2022, we shall see new Nigerian currency notes come into circulation. Although most of us have seen photos of the new notes, we shall physically touch them for the first time and take possession of them from this December. The month of December is also noted for price increases. The Naira exchange rate vis a vis the dollar continues to plummet and is unlikely to witness any appreciable rise despite the usual increased remittances from Nigerians abroad during the month of December. However, with prices of goods and commodities already hitting the roof and inflation at a high of 20 per cent, a seer is not needed to predict that this December would witness a record high inflation rate. Already fuel marketers have warned that petrol retail price could overshoot its bounds to N400 per litre. Its spiral effect is better imagined. At current pump price of about N250 per litre which is way above the official rate, Nigerians are already finding it difficult to breathe so to speak, given that fuel prices rub off on virtually every other thing.

Transporters thus have a ready alibi to increase fares by geometric proportion, even before the December seasonal increases. And they would hike fares again from the 20th of December or earlier.Thus, it is double jeopardy for travellers in this month of December. The much awaited second Niger bridge from Asaba to Onitsha, that links the southwest to the southeast is due to be officially opened to travellers this December. This should be cheering news for south easterners as it would ease the usual traffic congestion on the old bridge especially during this yuletide season. However, In view of the exorbitant cost of travelling during the month of December which is particularly higher this December 2022 because of prevailing and continuing runaway inflation, many people and families are likely to jettison their usual December travels, unable to afford the expenses. A good number of those that are able to travel to the southeast this December are also not likely to come back until after next year’s general election.

Apart from the expectation that transport fares would stabilize in February, another reason why many may postpone their December voyage to that month is the general election scheduled for that time. Fearing that results of the presidential elections may trigger some unpleasant reactions, many people from the south eastern part of our country especially, are likely to send their wives and children to the safe haven of their villages while they as head of their households remain behind in the cities to weather whatever storms the February presidential polls may throw up. Overall while we welcome this December with some excitement there is a tinge of sadness within us as to what it would bring forth.

Ikeano writes from Lafia, Nasarawa state via [email protected] 08033077519