Lean, hard times

One sees all sorts of knives on the day an ele­phant dies. Yoruba proverb

Daily Trust - - SPORT - with Dr. Ha­keem Baba-Ahmed ha­keem@dai­lytrust.com

In my neck of the woods, many adults will tell you that they can­not re­mem­ber harder times. They will be speak­ing of their own ex­pe­ri­ences and those whose lives and cir­cum­stances they are fa­mil­iar with. Mus­lims in par­tic­u­lar will say this is one of the most dif­fi­cult months of Ra­madan they have had to en­dure. The holy month of Ra­madan dur­ing which, with few ex­cep­tions, all Mus­lims are com­manded to fast from sun­rise to sun­set, also has many pe­cu­liar­i­ties, some re­li­gious, oth­ers so­cial. It is a month in which Mus­lims live with the high­est lev­els of de­pri­va­tion, de­vo­tion and sac­ri­fice. Those who are well off are en­cour­aged to show gen­er­ousity and com­pas­sion to those less en­dowed. When com­fort­able Mus­lims are un­able to sus­tain their nor­mal life­styles as well as reach fur­ther to make lives of less for­tu­nate oth­ers more com­fort­able, en­tire com­mu­ni­ties feel the im­pact. Faith cush­ions pain and de­pri­va­tion, but it also asks deeper ques­tions about them.

No one will say they have been caught un­awares. The cost of liv­ing has been rising in the last few months, and meet­ing the cost of ba­sic essen­tials like food and trans­porta­tion has been chal­leng­ing many fam­i­lies. As Ra­madan ap­proached, they rose higher. This was, af­ter all, the month in which feed­ing is both reg­u­lated and in­dulged in, in un­usual scales and styles. Food must be avail­able at If­tar, the pe­riod when fast is bro­ken. Poverty has not ex­empted poor Mus­lims from fast­ing, so those who have enough splash dur­ing If­tar, but they also do enough to make sure that those who can­not feed them­selves do get at least this one meal. Sahur, the meal taken just be­fore sun­rise is strongly en­cour­aged. Those who can af­ford it also put out some of it for those who will other­wise start the fast on a de­pleted stom­ach the next day. When the cost of food and other essen­tials rise to the point they did this Ra­madan, and the cir­cle of the gen­er­ous and wealthy shrinks, fam­i­lies cut down dras­ti­cally on feed­ing. Those who de­pend en­tirely or largely on gen­eros­ity are cut off from so­cial nets. The elab­o­rate Is­lamic so­cial and se­cu­rity net is threat­ened by poverty of faith and, more sig­nif­i­cantly, by eco­nomic poverty.

Mil­lions of Mus­lims have reached If­tar this year with­out a morsel to break their fast. The rich had less to give, and ev­ery­one was watch­ing stores and pock­ets to meet only the most es­sen­tial obli­ga­tions. Govern­ments that used to en­gage in Ra­madan feed­ing of the poor cut down dras­ti­cally, or can­celled the pro­gramme en­tirely. Many bread win­ners and fam­ily heads had not been paid for months, and credit lines had dried up. Those who had jobs or other sources of in­come in a shrink­ing econ­omy would only get a bag of rice for N18,000, and few more essen­tials in ad­di­tion will gulp up an en­tire monthly pay. As they counted the lit­tle quan­ti­ties of a de­pre­ci­at­ing Naira very care­fully, house­hold heads ag­o­nised over an­other vi­tal obli­ga­tion: the tra­di­tional new cloth­ing that has to be made for wives and chil­dren and ex­tended fam­ily at the end of the Ra­madan pe­riod. Adults could live with­out new cloth this Sal­lah, but for chil­dren who equate Sal­lah with new set(s) of cloth­ing, it was un­think­able. Par­ents stayed awake nights think­ing how they could pro­cure this ex­pen­sive re­quire­ment for fa­mil­ial har­mony. The also wor­ried about cost of fer­til­izer, school fees, med­i­cal bills and rou­tine and unan­tic­i­pated ex­penses.

As Ra­madan came nearer to its end, blood pres­sures rose as fam­ily heads wor­ried more over meet­ing other so­cial and re­li­gious obli­ga­tions. House­hold heads had to set­tle Zakatul Fitr, a spec­i­fied quan­tity of food to be given to the poor at the end of Sal­lah, so that they too can have some­thing to eat on the fes­tive day. It could not have been easy for many house­hold heads as they as­sessed stores and pock­ets, to de­cide whether they should give or re­ceive this Za­kat them­selves. It must been even more dif­fi­cult meet­ing this re­li­gious obli­ga­tion when it had to co­in­cide with the im­proved feed­ing that is as­so­ci­ated with Sal­lah days and the ex­tras in cash that is re­quired to keep spir­its up, and tra­di­tions go­ing. It is very likely that this last month has re-clas­si­fied many fam­i­lies down­wards.

Still, those who could af­ford the lux­ury of think­ing of oth­ers less for­tu­nate will be grate­ful that they were not among the mil­lions of Mus­lims liv­ing in IDP camps, en­tirely at the mercy the el­e­ments, the gen­er­ousity of govern­ments and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. They too are not ex­empted from fast­ing, but can­not go round fam­i­lies and neigh­bor­hoods seek­ing for food for If­tar and Sahur. Chil­dren in IDP camps and child beg­gars in their mil­lions who also fast will not wear new cloth for Sal­lah. They may hear from an adult or two of sump­tu­ous meals in­volv­ing dis­abled per­sons and I.D.Ps and lead­ers in cap­i­tals, but th­ese sto­ries will fade away as they re­sume nor­mal lives with an un­known fu­ture. Some peo­ple will hear that civil ser­vants have re­ceived letters of sack this Ra­madan af­ter wait­ing for months to be paid salaries. Some other civil ser­vants will hear de­fin­i­tive state­ments that salaries can­not be paid in full, or ar­rears set­tled. All Nige­ri­ans would have heard the plea from Pres­i­dent Buhari for pa­tience and sup­port in th­ese times of eco­nomic hard­ship.

In spite of seem­ing ev­i­dence to the con­trary, Nige­ri­ans are a deeply re­li­gious peo­ple who be­lieve that God has a de­ci­sive hand in their lives. So they will con­tinue to pray, as they did so fer­vently this Ra­madan, that their lot im­proves soon. They will pray that Pres­i­dent Buhari and state gov­er­nors will find so­lu­tions to their hard­ship. They do hear that the dam­age we are all pay­ing for was done over a long pe­riod, con­sis­tently and sys­tem­at­i­cally, and it will take a while to fix things. They know new en­e­mies are be­ing fought; old en­e­mies are re­sist­ing; strate­gies are be­ing re­designed and goals are be­ing ad­justed. So even as they pray to God to strengthen lead­ers, Nige­ri­ans will not blame God if lead­ers fail. They will hold lead­ers to account. They will say: no mat­ter how bad the sit­u­a­tion is, we ex­pect you find ways to re­duce our hard­ship. That is your job. Lead­ers should lis­ten and act be­fore more than a few lose pa­tience and faith in them.

In spite of seem­ing ev­i­dence to the con­trary, Nige­ri­ans are a deeply re­li­gious peo­ple who be­lieve that God has a de­ci­sive hand in their lives. So they will con­tinue to pray, as they did so fer­vently this Ra­madan, that their lot im­proves soon

….And we lost two of our best

In the space of two weeks, the na­tion lost two of its great­est as­sets. Chief Ojo Maduekwe died leav­ing a vac­uum in en­light­ened and re­spon­si­ble lead­er­ship, un­ques­tion­ing pa­tri­o­tism and a per­sis­tence in the search for so­lu­tions to na­tional prob­lems which will be dif­fi­cult to fill. Then Al­haji Umaru Shinkafi, (Marafan Sokoto) died two days ago, leav­ing be­hind a most dis­tin­guished record in pub­lic ser­vice and a life-long com­mit­ment to the in­ter­est and se­cu­rity of Nige­ri­ans. Th­ese losses will be even more painful in a con­text where fewer and fewer Nige­ri­ans live their en­tire lives for the na­tion.

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