A Christmas celebration – sort of
By Femi Olugbile
In two days, it will be Christmas, again.
There once was a time when, from the beginning of the month of December, Lagos would be agog with a pervasive air of celebration. Shops and street corners would be festooned with garlands. Decorative lights would be dangling from walls and hanging over doorways. In your childhood experience, clothes to wear to Church and to the festivities on Christmas day were bought in ‘Lagos’ – the catch-all name for the warren of narrow streets and alleyways around Idumota and Balogun market which seemed always to be packed thick with adults dragging their children along the uneven roads, while keeping the little urchins from being crushed by vehicular traffic manoeuvring in both directions.
The selection of shoes was an adventure. The first port of call, and the place where most people ended their journey, was the Bata shop on Broad Street. The designs were stolid, and the shoes guaranteed to last forever, virtually. On a side-street close by was Lennards, the rival shoe-shop, and the one you generally preferred. The range was narrower but more stylish, at least to your eye.
Of necessity, you would take a pause in the middle of the shopping spree to drink ‘Fanta’ and eat rice with fried stew and little pieces of meat. If you were in the good books of your mother because you had done well in the last school examinations, you might get to eat ‘meat pie’ from Kingsway. It was a plush repast with a rich aroma that drifted into your nostrils as you walked on the Marina.
The high point of the day’s adventure for any child was being ushered into the hallowed presence of ‘Fada Krismas’ at Kingsway, or Leventis Stores. The grotto had an intimidating aura which left many urchins in tears, until they were plied with loads of gifts and dandled on the knee of the white-bearded man who always had a gruff voice.
And the music, and the happy sounds of frantic commerce all around.
Sitting at the 2022 EMZOR Thanksgiving dinner a few days ago, sipping wine, observing the happiness all around re-awakened awareness that Christmas was here, again. It was not the Christmas of the uninhibited joys of your childhood, and the streets lacked the distinctive character of love and friendliness that defined an earlier Lagos. But hope was there if you looked for it.
Out of the corner of your eye, as the EMZOR party went on, you were watching snippets of the football at the finals of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Davido, an hour ago, had given an enthralling performance before hundreds of millions of people watching all over the world. The young Nigerian had recently suffered bereavement, losing his little son in a tragic swimming pool accident. This was his bounce-back from the appalling personal tragedy.
Three weeks earlier, another Nigerian youth who went by the stage name of Kizz Daniel had got the same football tournament to an exciting start by singing ‘BUGA’ at the opening ceremony. ‘BUGA’ is a song of happiness and entitled celebration rendered in the street language of Lagos. It has become an anthem for youthful exuberance all over the world, infecting all humanity with the simplicity of Lagos joy.
The streets of Lagos in 2022 might be bad-tempered and characterised by an egregious lack of consideration for other people, manifested in horrendous driving manners and disdain for civil behaviour. The flashy lights and decorations at the roundabout on Ajose Adeogun Street, Victoria Island, and in the homes of the well-heeled might appear to have been subsumed in the sour mood of people disgruntled with their politics, their politicians and the prospects of 2023 elections that seemed to put them between a rock and a hard place. But people were good at heart. Deep inside, they wanted to be happy, and to give joy to their children, and their neighbour.
The EMZOR Thanksgiving was an event that had been going on in Lagos for eighteen years now. Once a year, at Christmas, Stella Okoli, OON, the founding spirit of the company, gathered the great and the good, to sing and pray together and offer thanksgiving to God for her company, and for Nigeria. They would sing Christmas carols. There would be wining and dining. The times might be tough, and there might be much despair and division in Nigeria. But EMZOR, which started as a ‘chemist’ on Fola Agoro Street, Somolu, has built the biggest pharmaceutical manufacturing plant in West Africa, in Sagamu. Soon, it will commence production of APIs, the chemicals that are used for pharmaceutical manufacturing, giving a fillip to all local manufacturers. In her usual off-the-script speech on the podium, Stella expounded on her belief in the youth of Nigeria. A young man recently showed up in her office and confidently told her he could fabricate machines for the cutting edge work she was doing. She believed in him and decided to put him to work. She was working towards WHO certification of her factory, which would make her company a player on the world stage. Meanwhile, EMZOR was manufacturing a range of more than two hundred products, already.
It was evident, from Davido, from Kizz Daniel, and from Stella’s unnamed innovator, that the human potential of Nigeria, especially its youths, was impelling people like Stella to take a leap of faith in the future. It was driving the people, and the country Nigeria, inexorably to a great destiny, despite itself, and despite its governance snafus.
And so, Christmas is round the corner, dear readers. It is time to celebrate. Who cares that the light of hope is merely flickering in the people’s hearts, and not hanging visibly from every door and every street-corner? Or that the carols and the songs of cheer on the busy streets are not as loud as they used to be? Merry Christmas, anyway. Beyond the clouds, the future is bright.