Easter, the celebration of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, will be marked by Christians across the world this weekend. But in Nigeria, celebrations will be subdued due to the economic crunch, writes Solomon Elusoji
In streets across Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre and home to some 21 million individuals, people are going about their activities as usual; the shops are open for business while pedestrians and motorists alike navigate the city’s roads. However, there are no signs that Easter is just around the corner, despite the fact that a huge chunk of the population are practising Christians.
Easter is a global celebration. In western countries like England and the United States, churches are expected to hold special services on Easter Sunday, which marks the resurrection of Jesus Christ after his crucifixion. Then many people also decorate eggs. These can be hard boiled eggs that can be eaten later, but may also be model eggs made of plastic, chocolate, candy or other materials. According to topmarks.co.uk, the custom of giving eggs at Easter celebrates new life. Christians remember that Jesus, after dying on the cross, rose from the dead. This miracle showed that life could win over death. For Christians, the egg is a symbol of Jesus’ resurrection, as when they are cracked open, they stand for the empty tomb.
But in Nigeria, the egg decoration culture is not a thing. Although churches are also expected to hold special services on Easter Sunday, most Nigerian Christians celebrate Easter by acquiring new clothes, preparing delicious meals (preferably jollof rice and chicken), going to see the movies, and ensuring that they have a ‘good time’. All these activities are encouraged by the fact that the government usually declares public holidays to commemorate the festival, and most Nigerians see it as a time to unwind and escape, even if just for a fleeting moment, from the constant pressures of their work lives.
But, due to the country’s recent severe economic problems, most Nigerians are finding it difficult celebrating Easter as they used to. A THISDAY survey of most shopping outlets in Lagos State revealed that sales have not been remarkable, as customers are not going on shopping sprees, either for clothing materials or edible products. “We have not really had lots of Easter sales,” a representative of one of the boutiques at a shopping mall in Oniru, Lagos, told THISDAY. “It has not been encouraging at all.”
Meanwhile, a cross-section of Nigerians interviewed for this piece complained bitterly that the slow economy has affected their pockets, consequently affecting their Easter budgets.
Mr. Nwajei Babatunde, a National Youth Service Corps member, told THISDAY that his plans have been altered due to dwindling finances. “The economy has in no small measure dashed my Easter celebrations,” he said. “Although I was not expecting to kill a chicken, I always visit the cinema and recreational centres to commemorate the day, but now that does not even seem like an option, due to the recession.”
A fashion designer based in Ikeja, Lagos, Mr. Blessing Archibong, also complained of dwindling revenues from his business. “People are not sewing clothes anymore,” he told THISDAY. “Easter is just a few days away but only two people have placed orders. It has not always been like this.”
Mr. Archibong is not the only fashion designer affected. Another designer based in Oshodi, Ms. Judith Agbonghae said she did not even know that Easter was coming up. “Because the price of everything has skyrocketed and people don’t bring enough clothes to sew as they would have done if everything was normal,” she said. “The few who bring clothes try to pay as low as possible, so I am not even thinking of getting anything for myself since there is no money.”
Also admitting ignorance of the festival’s imminent arrival was a writer, Mr. Naza Okoli. “I personally don’t see why people should be so bothered if they can’t afford to buy chicken or turkey or to travel,” he said. “Everybody understands that things are difficult in this country. The merriment should be left for the rich. Those of us who aren’t rich should invest every opportunity we have in productive ventures; when the money comes, we can always begin our Easter.”
A disk jockey, DJ Doink, is another victim of the crunch. “As a disc jockey, there have been no bookings that came through,” he said. “The ones that I have are on the low budget side, so my spending power this period is just basically low. These are hard times.”
A music enthusiast, Ruth Olabode, also noted that “there are no shows like before. People have learnt how to manage themselves. When I was growing up, Easter was the buzz thing. But now, you are on your own.”
An employee at one of Nigeria’s financial firms, Osemeke Kimberly told THISDAY that even companies’ payroll culture are being affected. Usually, most organisations pay employees salaries early to enable them celebrate the festive season. But that culture is being threatened, at least at Kimberly’s workplace, where she is yet to receive any Easter bonus. “Then if you look at the general cost of goods and services which have shot up due to the devaluation of the naira, it becomes a more saddening situation,” she said.
However, not everything is gloom and doom. A Lagos-based fashion designer, who is currently observing her national youth service in Kaduna, Ms. Adewunmi Ayomide, told THISDAY that recession was just a word. “A lot of us have beautiful plans rolling already for the forthcoming Easter celebration,” she said. “I have a lot of dresses to make that will generate enough money to enable me pick up my share of the bills.”
A lot of organisations – hotels, airlines, retail stores – are also using the season to offer discounts on their goods and services. Imo Air, operated by Dana Air, has announced special Easter packages for passengers flying to Owerri. Ibis Hotel Ikeja is also offering a special family buffet for visitors, while StarTimes has revealed plans to reward customers during the Easter period.
Still, the corporate promotions and largesse cannot take away the sad fact that millions of Nigerians are currently in dire financial straits. Only a fraction of the population can afford to fulfil their Easter wishes, while the rest continue to wait for manna.