In Kano, Borno, fear of bomb blasts spoils the Yuletide fun
By DESMOND MGBOH
In years past, Christmas, in the ancient city of Kano, was a memorable experience. Those who have been in the city since the 70s would recall with nostalgia the jingle bells, the scary but exciting presence of Father Christmas, the vigils and the night carols, the Catholic Mass said in Latin and the crying goats that inevitably ended up in frying pans.
For children and adults alike, it was a season of plenty over hunger, joy over sadness and light over darkness. And since it was a holiday that heralded a bright New Year, it was regarded as the loveliest of all seasons.
Sadly, those times now seem so far away. This year’s Christmas in Kano was characterised by poverty, fear of the unknown and despair over the inability to end the harbingers of death in the state.
But this gloomy turnout of event on the cold city was not surprising to many. Any doubts as to the impending bleakness of this year’s Yuletide in Kano evaporated with the bomb explosions that shook the state barely 72 hours to Christmas. And for a city not fully recovered from the memories of the Mandalla Christmas Day bombing, the suicide bombings at the facilities of two telecommunication firms simply terminated whatever cheers left of the season of joy.
On Tuesday in Kano, more than half of the Christian families in the state did not attend any service or Mass, scared of the suicide bombers and ubiquitous gunmen, roaming the streets. Those who ventured out went alone, leaving the kids at home.
General Secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Kano State, Apostle Isaac Bello, confirmed this. In a chat with Daily Sun at the CAN Secretariat in Kano, he said: “In Kano today, the celebration was mainly low-keyed because of fear over security challenges in the state.”
TIMOTHY OLA also reports that in Maiduguri and other towns in Borno State, Christians marked this year’s Christmas celebrations quietly, just as they did last year due to the insecurity in the state.
In the past, the Luxury Buses Park at Tarson Kano, Maiduguri, used to be a beehive of activities as travellers jostled to get seats in the luxury buses to various parts of the country. But this year, the situation was different. Thousands of residents, who would have embarked on the long journeys to their various states have since fled Borno State due to incessant bomb attacks and killings by suspected Boko Haram members.
John, an auxiliary staffer with a popular private transport company told the reporter: “There is no movement of people for Christmas, especially those from southern parts of the country this year.”
Most churches in Maiduguri recorded low turnouts on Christmas Day. Olalekan, an undergraduate said he knew the Yuletide would be boring. He said he would have loved to travel but for the school academic calendar, which expects all students to return first week in January.
“The Christmas in Maiduguri was low-keyed; it was even worse than that of last year because most people have deserted the city. The few of us here only observed the period in our homes. We couldn’t venture into going out unlike in the past when our parents would take us to zoological gardens or other amusement parks.
Stern-looking soldiers also paraded the streets even as most residents stayed indoors.
In Kano, the crowd in many churches was scanty. Although there were a couple of joyous congregations here and there, many of the Christian faithful were at alert, denied of the required concentration by their level of vigilance.
At St. Louis Catholic Church, Bompai, Kano, a church that had suffered gravely during the January 20 multiple attacks on the state, the turn out for the Christmas Mass plunged below expectations this year. Although some of its parishioners had travelled out of Kano, many stayed away out of fear.
Its vigil, an important programme of the church, was concluded about 5. 00pm. Even the turnout for the vigil was less than fifty per cent of the thousands of cheerful parishioners that attended same vigil last year.
The situation was the same at St. Charles Catholic Church, No Man’s Land. It was decorated in a special way, yet many of its worshippers that would have savoured the aesthetics of the auditorium did not come to mass on the big day.
At the End Time Deliverance Ministry situated at Onitsha Road in Sabon- Garri, Kano, the story of poor attendance remained the same. A worshipper told Daily Sun that attendance was low and regretted that the assurances from security authorities were insufficient to assuage the fear of the would-be worshippers.
“Honestly, with the blasts on Saturday, it does not require a tutorial from any quarters to warn worshippers away from endangered areas. And as you know, the church is the target of these conspiracy and aggression.”
At the Evangelical Church of God in Nigeria (ECCN), located at Abeokuta Road, Sabon- Garri, Kano, it was same old story of poor turnout. A member of the church, Sister Naomi, explained: “It is possible that most of our worshippers travelled, but you cannot rule out the factor of fear. Most of us are afraid.”
The situation was even more dramatic in some of the white garment churches and spiritual centres in the state. Christmas in these settings was overshadowed by gloomy predictions, which were further accompanied by unverified rumour that some terror suspects had been arrested. The end product was that most of their worshipers spent more time fasting and praying in hideouts, while just a handful was present in the churches.
Generally, in most areas of Kano metropolis, traffic was light this Christmas. It was worse in Muslim dominated suburbs and quarters like Dakata, Badawa, Hadejia Road, Zaria Road, Kawo. Here church goers simply slipped into their cars and quietly made their way to the worship posts.
Indeed, the streets were evident of the trying times. Armed soldiers and policemen patrolled the streets. They mounted checkpoints everywhere and motorists were thoroughly searched while cyclists were ordered to disembark before they were and searched.
Some of the most pitiable victims of the bleak Christmas in Kano were the kids. Toja, a boy of three, was still frightened by the impact of last Saturday’s bomb blast. He lives with his parents near the site of the explosion and has remained too scared to even venture outside. His dad told our reporter: “He still screams ‘our house is shaking’ each time he is encouraged to step outside.”
Another boy, John Adewale, who lived with his mum, Mrs. Fumilayo Adewale on Odutola Street, said he wasn’t being allowed to visit his friends. He lamented that he could not go for his “Happy Christmas” and regretted that nobody gave him cash gifts this Christmas. Indeed, many parents only brought Christmas clothes for their kids; most didn’t allow their children to step out of their homes.
Mrs. Ladi Umar, who lives along Katsina Road, captured the mood better. Hear her: “I will never celebrate Christmas in this city again. Even if I need to borrow, I will be the first to jump into the bus to my village next year.
“What kind of a Christmas is this? If you are playing music, you will have to bring the volume so low, to your ears alone; if you are eating rice, you must ensure that you hide inside your house and when you manage to come out, you will need to hide your happiness. You don’t know who might be offended by your careless display of joy.
“Those of you who think the terrorists are not succeeding are only deceiving yourselves. You are simply telling yourselves what you want to hear. If all these incidents are to scare the Christians in the state and in the North, then I think the masterminds have done pretty well, because we are already overrun psychologically.”
On Christmas Eve, the beer parlours and pepper soup joints in Sabon Garri were virtually empty, bereft of human traffic.
The night clubs also had fewer guests this Christmas than ever, despite their aggressive marketing to lure the night crawlers.
Daily Sun learnt that the ‘bad market’ of this Christmas was equally experienced by traders. There was nothing like the traditional “season market” this year. The typical last minute buying and selling was absent as traders at Sabon Garri Market wore long faces, following what they termed poor sales.
Unlike in times past, many Christian communities and town unions in Kano State could not hold this year’s end-of-the-year party. These communal gatherings, which brought thousands of people together under the same roof, to eat, drink and rejoice, were usually held a few days to Christmas and were seen as part of the countdown to Christmas.
But this Christmas, either on account of the terror-induced dwindling economy in the state, or out of sheer fear, many of these communities shelved the idea. Many Igbo Christians were affected by the cancellation of the carnivals.
But the CAN secretary in the state insisted that Christmas was such a joyous event that the celebrations of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ could not be undermined by any threat by anybody. He explained that he spent the day worshiping the Lord in the church as well as visiting friends and relatives, including sharing the joy of the season with those who could not afford to celebrate.
A similarly hopeful account came from the President of the Igbo Community Association, Chief Chi Nwaogu. He asserted that despite all, the Christmas has been fun for himself and his family. According to him, in the next few days, he would board the next available bus and travel home for the second phase of the celebrations.