By Olugu Olugu Orji
Let me make a confession right away: I am not a Muslim but that fact has never dimmed my longing for the Sallah that dates as far back as when I was a boy growing up in Funtua in what was then North Central State. If memory serves, my favourite was easily what was loosely referred to as the ‘big Sallah’: the one associated with rams. I have since come to know it to be
Eid-al-Kabir: the celebration of the obedience of Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) in committing to sacrificing his son.
I wasn’t exactly addicted to mutton but I can’t also deny the fact that I did eagerly look forward to the generous portions sent by my dad’s very good friend, Alhaji Usman Danbulbuli. But Sallah for me was so much more than an opportunity for a ram-inspired feast.
Firstly, because school vacations were always, where possible, structured to run the period of the Sallah, the privilege to be home savouring the offerings of the festivities was always welcomed. Back then, schooling was such a tedious affair as I had to trek a long distance each day under the scorching sun. Though I had learned to love school and every other opportunity to learn, I would always exploit every holiday to break routine and unwind. Sallah was always a holiday.
Secondly, I have always enjoyed celebrating, but I love it most when I can settle back and watch others get down on it. That sense of frolicsome fanfare is always palpable at Sallah with gaily attired men, women, boys and girls taking time from normal routine to partake in healthy fun.
We lived behind the Funtua Post Office which was opposite the palace of the town’s monarch – the Sarkin Maska – along the Funtua–Zaria highway. I would stand by the gate and watch the gorgeously-attired royalty and entourage riding in beautifully-decorated horses as they made their way regally to the mosque and back accompanied by court musicians. I would also watch the almost endless stream of titled men and subjects who came to pay homage to their monarch.
There was usually the Fulani who parted with their herds for all the week of the festivities in order to indulge in unrestrained fun almost bordering on the hedonistic. You could not miss the itinerant entertainers dragging around animals like monkeys, baboons and hyenas. For a fee, the animals are made to perform callisthenic acts to the admiration of the audience. Or the magicians and the snake charmers.
All these happened in an atmosphere of cordiality that was very child-friendly. Violence was rare and only a few cases ended up in hospital or the Police station.
What was by far my greatest expectation back then was the opportunity to be a stand-in telephone exchange operator. Mallam Aminu was one of my dad’s colleagues who ran the local telephone exchange. Being a Muslim, he always had one or two places to go while he was on shift duty so he always called on me to cover for him while he was away. I always relished the privilege, and I must have done the job quite well because all he had for me was commendation.
So now you can appreciate why a Christian, Igbo boy would not only eagerly long for, but also almost prayed to hasten the coming of Sallah. It was an opportunity to relax, to eat and drink, to feast the eyes and to be useful by taking the pressure off others.
It seems such a long time since Funtua, but like they say, “old habits die hard.” Each time Sallah approaches, I still harbour expectations but I must confess that over time, they have become progressively lowered. Nigeria’s dwindling economic fortunes, socio-political uncertainties and our self-inflicted security troubles are some of the challenges that have combined to take the shine off the romps associated with our religious festivals.
I presently live in a tenement of ten occupancies; two of who are Muslim. Without any fear of contradiction, those two are my best neighbours. I make this declaration with all sense of responsibility. In the midst of Igbo and Christians like I am, TJ and Sahid are the best I could ever ask for.
As Sallah approached, so did my expectation heighten; and I’ve been looking no further than my exemplary neighbours. There is a safe point within the compound where animals usually awaiting ‘execution’ are tied or shackled. For the purpose of Sallah, I’ve elected to call it ram-shackle. Less than 24 hours to the Sallah, the ram-shackle is still as it has been for quite a while – without any ram.
Maybe my neighbours cannot afford a ram this time around, or maybe in the testy business of prioritizing, the ram got kicked out. Whatever the case may be, it is clear to me that ‘ground no level.’ Despite my scaled-down expectations, all that stares me in the face is ramshackle.
My boy was supposed to have written the post-UTME for Ahmadu Bello University Zaria back in August. The Academic Staff Union of Universities’ strike made that impossible. One of my Sallah expectations was that the strike would have been called off as government would have agreed to better funding of the education system. As I look at the whole dilapidated education scenario, all I see is ramshackle.
Sometime in 1976, I had to undergo surgery at the Dala Orthopaedic Hospital Kano, and throughout my three-month stay, my dear mum who was so eager to be with me, was refused. The hospital authorities assured her she had done her bit by bringing me to them. Her presence after then could only be an unnecessary distraction. Nearly forty years along, we are almost getting to a point where relations will be required to watch over their dead in our decrepit mortuaries. So as I take a pained overview of our health infrastructure, I also see ramshackle.
If you live within the enclave called Nigeria, I need you to help me out here. Take a hike along the death-traps we shamelessly call highways and also make an objective assessment of the whole gamut of our air transportation infrastructure. If you can, confirm our mind-boggling unemployment statistics and if you still have some nerve to spare, take a peek into our Human Development Index. If any of your findings or conclusions turns up other than ramshackle, do let me know immediately so I can revise my expectations.
Despite of all that I see and hear; and all my untoward experiences notwithstanding, I still desperately long to be proved wrong.
Happy Eid al-Adha to the Muslim Ummah!
OLUGU OLUGU ORJI mnia