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[Opinion] Christmas Before The Elections - Reuben Abati 

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It’s Christmas! But quite a pity that as we celebrate today, the symbolism of Christmas, its religious essence is lost on us; its meaning is less apparent in our lives. When the world was gifted with the birth of God’s own Son, through immaculate conception, the Heavens rejoiced, men proclaimed the arrival of the Messiah, angels sang, men chorused Alleluia. 

 

Christmas is the celebration of that special moment, the remembrance of the moment of salvation, the feast of Nativity. The child in the manger in Bethlehem brought hope, renewal, and joy. He was born without Original Sin. With his death, he became a symbol of redemption, sacrifice and expiation. He lived for 33 years. His ministry was short but it changed the course of human history. Like all avatars, he illuminated the path for the future of humanity. He was not known for riches, indeed he was poor and he suffered, but he preached the rich messages of salvation, love, humanism and humility. He left behind an eternal legacy of hope. Christians believe and insist that Jesus Christ was God in Human form. The Holy Spirit….the gateway to Eternal Life.

 

We are not all Christians. Ours is a fundamentally religiously diverse country, and for that reason, not everyone celebrates Christmas. Our governments are also expected to be neutral in matters of religion, even if they don’t ever listen.  But the special thing about Christmas is the time of its celebration: it coincides with the end of a year and the beginning of another year, and thus we all get caught up in the same mood: signaling closure and opening, exits and entrances, we look back, we look forward. This is one of those inevitable periods when we take stock. We reflect. We express hope. We make new plans. 

 

Individual accounts may differ, but generally, it has been one hell of a year, looking back. Across the world, trouble and despair. In Venezuela. In Syria. In Afghanistan. In Iran. In Mexico where a caravan of human beings is rushing towards the US, for hope, for refuge, and salvation, and a son of immigrants who happens to be US President is ironically screaming “Stop the Caravan”; “Shoot Them.” It is the same story of hardship in all the cities of the world that have been devastated by hurricanes, cyclones, earthquakes and monsoons.  A city called Paradise was wiped out by fire in North East California. In the United Kingdom, Brexit has turned the old Empire into a place of uncertainty.  Europe is facing the resurgence of racism and the politics of hate. The times are hard. Man is vulnerable. Global temperatures are rising above limits. 

 

Closer home, strange things are happening too. Herdsmen are killing farmers and vice versa. When Nigerians are slaughtered in large numbers, the people simply shrug and move on. In the course of the year, two retired military Generals were killed on roads that have become the den of kidnappers, assassins and murderers. Nigerians are so confused they are beyond shock. Rape has become a daily occurrence. Men as old as sixty years rape children as young as the age of five years. Men sleep with their daughters. Old women are not spared. The Third Mainland Bridge and the Lagoon in Lagos have become favorite spots for suicide. Poverty reigns supreme. The economy is in bad shape, more or less.  The people are blaming their leaders. Political leaders are blaming each other and sometimes, they blame the people too...  At no other time in Nigerian history has common sense been in such short supply. 

 

The other day, the President of Nigeria stood before the National Assembly to present the national budget. He was booed by lawmakers including members of his own party. In some other climes, that would have been taken as a vote of no confidence in the government of the day. But the government is busy boasting that it will get a second term in office in spite of Nigerians. After all, Americans boo Donald Trump too.

 

Jesus Christ was an embodiment of selfless leadership.  This is a virtue that is now in very short supply globally. We are in the season of arrogant, boastful leaders. Jesus Christ preached kindness. We are in the age of viciousness. Jesus promoted love. Today’s leaders hate the same people that they lead. They whip them with words and weapons. Jesus Christ came to save souls and the whole of humanity. Many of our leaders today just want to save their own stomachs. They are quick to make promises, and yet much quicker to fail us. We don’t have regular electricity supply. They say it is our fault. They promised us change, now they say we can only get the change we seek if we give them more time. They play on our intelligence with time. 

 

Once upon a time, in this same country, Christmas used to be a time of abundance. By Christmas eve, you would see families travelling towards the East and other parts of Nigeria, with vehicles loaded with fowls, turkey, sundry gift items and so much excitement on the people’s faces. Lagos used to be partially deserted during Yuletide till about the second week of January.  This year, fewer people travelled. 

 

This is the Christmas before the next general election. But there is anger in the land. The people are so angry they now tear off the posters being pasted by politicians. The next elections offer us an opportunity to make a statement with our votes, and it is the people that must decide. This is the best time to reflect on the last four years and the immediate future. The international community is watching as we have been told. That community is more interested not in the spectacle of lawmakers booing the incumbent President or a President seeking public pity. The international community is interested in free, fair, credible and transparent elections and the right of Nigerians to choose their own leaders. They want a stable Nigeria that is good for investment and trade. 

 

The world may be troubled. The land may be divided. The people may be hungry. But hard times always pass, and these hard times shall also pass. Christmas is not about the wrapped gifts around the Christmas trees, or the glittering lights in the garden. Nor is it about gift-bearing Santa Claus. It is time to think briefly about God.  Be kind. Love your neighbor as thyself. Forgive. Help the less fortunate. In spite of all doubts, have hope. The hope that after sacrifice, there will be salvation.  That is the message of Christmas. Merry Christmas, everyone. May the joy and blessings of Christmas fill your home, bring you fulfilment, hope for a greater tomorrow, and life more abundant.

 

 

The Sex-For-Marks Professor  

 

Professor Richard Akindele, Professor of Management and Accounting at the Obafemi Awolowo University has been sentenced to a six-year jail term for demanding sex in exchange for marks from a post-graduate student, named Monica Osagie. He must be having the worst Christmas of his life.  He is now in prison, away from friends and family, the career that he had built with his sweat and intellect, just because he fell for a lady, his own student with whom he exchanged erotic messages and pictures on WhatsApp. He has lost his job. He has been disgraced. He pleaded not guilty, then he changed his plea to guilty. He would later ask for plea bargain. The court refused. 

 

The learned Justice Maurine Onyetenu of the Federal High Court in Osogbo, explained obiter: “The plea bargain is not absolute. The court still has discretion. This kind of issue is rampant in our tertiary institutions. We send children to school. They come home telling us that lecturers want to sleep with them. We cannot continue like this. Somebody has to be used as example. Even primary school pupils are complaining. Telling me to suspend sentence does not arise. Plea bargain does not arise. May be the case will continue to occur and reoccur because someone has not been used as example. It is time for the court to start upholding the right of the children, especially female students. This is endemic.”

 

The Judge is right. Sexual harassment is endemic in Nigeria. It is indeed an epidemic of serious proportions. Man-woman power relations in all aspects of our society is dictated by demand for sex by powerful males in a most oppressive and denigrating manner. Nigerian men in positions of power seem to assume a sense of entitlement over a woman’s body be it their own spouses, or other people’s wives, sisters, or daughters. Professor Akindele’s case is celebrated because in part, he is one of such known offenders to be brought to justice and shamed in public. Ordinarily, the #MeToo movement is not likely to become popular in Nigeria nonetheless. If every woman were to begin to name men who had harassed them sexually at one point or the other in their lives, every Nigerian man would probably be in prison. From catcalls to unsolicited suggestive comments, lewd remarks and open desperation, Nigerian men routinely treat women as sex objects. This objectification of women is taken as normal. It is part of our socialization process. Ask young ladies who board public buses or taxis. They are groped by men who do not know how to keep their hands to themselves. They are ogled by men with big and small eyeballs. Cab drivers don’t know how to keep their mouths shut. A woman’s beauty has been the source of temptation for many men.  

 

It is for this reason that Professor Richard Akindele is likely to enjoy the sympathy of a misogynistic public. The law may have taken its course, but I have heard such comments as: “what is the matter? Why should the man go to jail for just asking for five rounds of sex?  He has not even done the thing oh”. Monica Osagie may have been called names by men who insist that many young women these days entice men with their mode of dressing, or that it is wrong to destroy a man’s career just because he asked for “only five rounds!” Any argument that the Professor was in this instance abusing his power is immediately met with the retort that he should appeal the judgment of the High Court.  He has been described as a man of God. His own wife has described his travails as the handiwork of the Devil. Akindele’s lawyers obviously forgot to remind the Judge of the role of the Devil in the matter!

 

This reaction is not significantly different from what happened at the Yaba market in Lagos, the other day. A group of ladies had gone to the market with placards to protest against the molestation of women by Nigerian men. “My short skirt is not an invitation to rape”, they said. “Respect women”.  “boys, stop touching us”. They called their protest “Market March”.  They were met by a counter-crowd of angry men who abused them and threw stones and pure water sachets at them. They were told to get lost or they would be harassed again. The men called the women “prostitutes, asahawo.”  They told them: “Na lie. We must touch. Who no like better thing?” In major markets in Lagos, male traders, we are told, routinely touch and grope women. Many of those male traders should be where Professor Akindele is right now, but they are out there because society continues to tolerate sexual predators.  

 

Professor Richard Akindele may end up spending a much shorter time behind bars. His church members are also most likely still praying against the Devil. But one thing is certain: other university teachers will learn from his example. One lesson: Be careful what you do with your phone- Professor Akindele has forfeited his Samsung Phone to the Federal Government of Nigeria for using it to send sex messages. Another lesson: every man should avoid every “Monica” out there who can send a man to jail, just before Christmas. 

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