By Francis Ewherido
omorrow is Christmas, the celebration of the birthday of Jesus Christ. I have said it a few times in this column that some people still disagree on the actual day that Jesus was born. I have never been interested in that discussion. All Christians agree that God the father sent his only begotten son Jesus to come into the world in human form to save the world. He did come through Mary, his mother, with Joseph as foster father. That is what is important. Commemorate it whenever it suits you, but just leave the rest of us to celebrate ours tomorrow, December 25. Live and let’s live.
Many Nigerians are not going to eat the traditional rice and chicken this Christmas because prices of food items have skyrocketed beyond their reach. I empathise with such people and families. In my younger days, I would have been inconsolable, but I scarcely eat rice these days. While I sympathise with those who cannot afford it, they have to be grateful to God that they are alive. Not everyone who celebrated the New Year at the beginning of 2022 is here to celebrate Christmas tomorrow. I have seen obituaries of people who died on December 24. They prepared for Christmas, but never celebrated it. Some who will celebrate tomorrow might not enter the New Year in eight days’ time.
Chief Johnson Barovbe, a great man of many paths and an accomplished educationist (he preferred to be called a teacher or educationist), had a father-son relationship with me. The last time I saw him alive was in September 2021 in London. We spoke at length on what we wanted to do in the last quarter of 2021 and in 2022. We agreed to meet on our return to Nigeria. He did return to Nigeria and celebrated Christmas surrounded by many people as usual. By December 27, two days after Christmas, he died suddenly. It was by the grace of God that I escaped from the fowler’s snare. I would also not have seen 2022.
I know you have not met your targets, you still have not gotten a job, you are still unmarried and you do not have a car or personal house. But you are alive, celebrate with joy this Christmas and hope; be merry, be happy and pray for a better tomorrow. Don’t just sit in one corner and bemoan. You have no idea what others are going through. By the special grace of God, you will live to see many more Christmas celebrations.
For some time Christmas now, my Christmas has essentially been having the immediate family and sometimes the larger family together. Last year was different. I spent my Christmas all alone with family members thousands of kilometres away. I couldn’t even see my wife who was in town with me due to COVID-19 restrictions. Now we are all together under the same roof. Onajite (that is enough). I have not bothered to ask my wife whether there is still rice and other food items in the house. The family is together and that is all that matters. That is my Merry Christmas.
Christmas is a time for merriment. When I was young, Christmas without Christmas clothes, complemented with cheap sun glasses and wristwatches that were not functional, was incomplete. These mean nothing to many young people in the cities these days. I do not know how it is in the villages.
For some people, Christmas is a time to live a life of debauchery, engage in drunkenness, sexual promiscuity and engage in crime to raise money to meet up with the Joneses. All na Christmas celebration for them. But we all know the real essence of Christmas: LOVE, love for God and love for neighbour. If you are able, buy rice and other food items for those who need them, wonderful. If you do not have the resources, send your Christmas wishes, call those you can call. Not everyone will appreciate gestures that have no financial value. Poverty and misplacement of priorities have poisoned our reasoning. I do not bother myself about people’s lack of appreciation. How God sees my actions is what matters. Merry Christmas.
HAPPY 80TH BIRTHDAY, UNCLE J
Omiragua John Aaron Okenabirhie, an Effurun-based business man and industrialist, is 80 years today. I have been hearing of Uncle J since the 70s before I met him in the 80s. Sometimes, in the 70s, when we travelled from Ozoro to Warri, when we got to Effurun at Glorylux Venetian Blinds Company, my father would proudly tell us, “You see that company, it is owned by a son of Ewhu (my hometown). I am far older than he is o, but he is very rich.” If my father were alive, he would have been 96 years, so you understand why he said “mi vieren gangan” (I am much older than he is). The age difference between Uncle J and my father was 16 years, while Uncle J is more than 20 years older than I am, but he prefers to call me “my brother.”
I love Uncle J for his humility and simplicity. He comes to church on Sundays tying wrappers (Ankara) that costs not more than N3,000 and tops ( kolapa) done with materials of about N500 per yard, complemented with a bead of about N2,000, not coral beads that now costs hundreds of thousands and even millions of Naira.
He refused to take a chieftaincy title and prefers the prefix of Omiragua (Mister). You will not appreciate this if you are not Urhobo or Isoko. In Urhoboland, the eldest person on a table during events breaks the kolanuts and shares the wedge (money). If a host refuses to wedge kolanut, it is a mark of enormous disrespect. Some guests will not even touch the kolanut because they are (“emuvwie”) freeborn people, not slaves. These days, virtually everybody is a chief (olorogun). If your son’s age mate who is an olorogun is sharing a table with you, he wants to break the kolanut instead of you, the older person. They call it tradition.
There has been pressure on me to take a chieftaincy title for a while. I even got two (one in Imo State), but refused to formalise them. When the insults of younger people breaking kolanuts where I am present got to me, I wanted to take the titles, but my wife, mother and siblings were not impressed. I consulted with Uncle J on how he copes when younger people want to break kolanuts when he is present. After our discussion, I closed that chapter forever. I do not even chew kolanuts anymore and the so called wedge can be as little as N200, nothing for me to split hairs over. I have absolutely nothing against people taking chieftaincy titles, but it is not for me. Let me continue to live my life on my own terms.
Happy 80th birthday and many returns, Uncle J. In spite of the grey hairs which started “oppressing” you at a very young age, you still look very young and sharp at 80. As a young man at 80, let me take the liberty to say my guy, you are a great man.