By Ikeugonna Eleke
Christmas is a huge carnival in the South East, but Anambra has proven to take the shine off other states. Ikeugonna Eleke, who spent Christmas in Anambra moving from town to town, writes.
As this reporter drove through Agulu town in Anaocha Local Government Area of Anambra State on 26 December, 2019, to a function in Nnewi, it was obvious that there was celebration in the air. Although the previous day was Christmas, the euphoria of the celebration still hung thickly in the air. This was also evident in the number of gaily dressed children, young men and women, who fluttered the roadside in the town.
On both sides of the road were pubs or what we refer to as drinking joints, all filled with men who entertained themselves with drinks. From the way they spoke loudly, it was as though they were competing to determine whose voice made the loudest noise, even as they seemed to strive to outdo the sound system that was blasting away hip-hop music at each of the drinking joints. The population of drinkers overflowed from the joints into the road, causing a huge traffic jam in the area.
Once in a while, children and youths who milled around the roads broke into a race as they were pursued by masquerades. Even though they all ran furiously as if for their lives, they let out peals of laughter as they ran – an indication that even though they feared the masquerades, they enjoyed being pursued by them.
As we drove by, more masquerades and masquerading youths were seen on the road, most of who blocked this reporter’s vehicle once in a while, begging for money. The celebration was obviously in the air, and the scenario in Agulu was not different from similar scenarios in most other towns in the state.
The period surrounding the Christmas and New Year celebrations is usually referred to as the Yuletide, but in Anambra and other South Eastern states, the entire period is Christmas period. This is why it will not be out of place to see someone who is traveling days after the Christmas celebration saying they are traveling for the Christmas.
In Anambra, the preparation for the Christmas celebration did not start in December. As early as September, the Anambra State Government had begun palliative works on roads in various towns and villages in preparation for the homecoming of its indigenes in diaspora. The Christmas period is usually one of reunion among families as relatives are bound to return home, no matter where they are based. It is also a period when the state government tries to impress its sons and daughters in the diaspora about the job it is doing at home – hence the beautification of the streets and towns.
Typical of the Governor Willie Obiano Administration, on 1st December, the state government commenced the decoration of streets, roads and parks with beautiful lights along every highway, and the installation of Christmas trees in every available park. The decorations made the state very colourful, especially at night. As beautiful as they looked, the opposition in the state however accused the Obiano Administration of spending a whopping N1.3billion on the decoration. For weeks, the decorations and their cost were the topic of discourse on social media. Not even the denial by the state government that it spent that much could stop members of the opposition from accusing the governor of doing so. For the part of the state government, as much as it denied spending that much, it failed to state the actual cost of the decorations. But one thing which everyone remained in agreement about was that the decorations added colour to the celebration of Christmas in Anambra.
The days preceding Christmas witnessed a beehive of activities, with the hosting of carnivals and music festivals by the state government. Once done with Christmas on the 25th December, every celebration shifted to the hinterlands of the state where each of the 189 communities in the state had drawn up a long programme of activities to celebrate the Christmas. Most communities also held separate music festivals.
The ancient kingdom of Onitsha held its 2019 edition of the Golibe Carnival; a very colourful festival that sees a huge number of gaily dressed men and women parading the streets of Onitsha, beginning from the palace of the traditional ruler of the kingdom; Igwe Alfred Achebe, to Awka Road.
Some communities used the opportunity to elect new presidents general, or even traditional rulers; while almost all the traditional rulers in the various communities scheduled their annual Ofala festivals during the period. Football competitions were also hosted during this period by politicians and money bags, while marriages, traditional title taking and others added colour to the period.
In Nnewi, Senator Ifeanyi Ubah shut down the entire state with the hosting of his annual Music Festival. This year’s event featured hip hop stars, Davido and Naira Marley; and succeeded in drawing people from across the state. In Ojoto, Idemili South Local Government Area, Kennedy Okonkwo, a young property developer and estate agent, also shut down the state with another music concert featuring all the biggest names in the music industry in Nigeria. Ngonadi Radio, a local FM station in Ogidi, did not also disappoint with its own music concert which featured the likes of African China and others.
Popular billionaire, Engr Arthur Eze, whose brother, Igwe Robert Eze, is the traditional of Ukpo Community also held a colourful Ofala festival, which drew dignitaries from across the world, including Obas and Emirs from the southern and northern parts of Nigeria. In Ojoto again, the Rector of the Federal Polytechnic, Oko, Anambra State, also hosted dignitaries in a colourful thanksgiving celebration on her appointment as the first female rector in the country.
The atmosphere of merrymaking can best be seen in the response an automobile mechanic who this reporter called to help fix his car gave. He had spoken thus, ‘Oga, I am in my village for Christmas ooo. I will not be coming back until 5th January when we will come to start our hustling again. For now, let me enjoy myself after hustling for the year. Awka will not see me until Sunday evening.’
The irony of it is that the mechanic himself hails from Nise in Awka South Local Government Area, less than two kilometers away from town, and so can almost be considered to be part of Awka Town.
Reacting to the flurry of activities in the state during the period, a pastor, Mr Elijah Ujachukwu said Christmas meant more than just celebrating the birth of Christ. He described it as a period when the people reunited with their folk at home and celebrate.
‘It is just coincidental that it fell during the end of the year, and they use the period to take stock, ease off tension for the outgoing year and, of course, coming home will be a time to celebrate too. Even we in religious use the period to hold bazaars and launching. That is the period we get to see the abroad guys who haven’t been home for long. It’s a beautiful celebration. Even those who try to argue that Christmas is not biblical tend to celebrate it, one way or the other,’ Ujachukwu, said.
Town to town, village to village, the atmosphere of celebration could be seen. Within the period, some communities also had symposia and other intellectual gatherings, but in some cases, their people rather attended burial and wedding celebrations. No wonder that in Okija, where an elite club in the community, Okija In-Home Club, held a training programme in advanced ICT skills for youths in the area, only about 40 persons enrolled in the free programme for which the club had flown in ICT gurus from Accra Ghana, Lagos and Abuja.
Of the 40 that enrolled, only 23 made it to the end and attended the certificate presentation ceremony. But as this reporter drove out of the venue, Legacy University, Okija, to return to Awka, the entire road was blocked by masquerading youths who were thoroughly enjoying themselves, even though they caused huge traffic jams.
Christmas is surely a good time to be in Anambra.