By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
It is New Year, that is, it is New Year’s Day, or, a day, a week after New Year’s Day. A new year it ought to be. But the New Year sometimes ominously carries the putrefaction of the old year, its entrails, its betrayals, its insecurities, and uncertainties, and the killing of innocent people. It has not emptied its belly of the aches and turbulence of the period before. It still carries the pains, trauma, and triumphs of the previous year. This is despite what we believe, which often is an illusion, that the old year always vanishes with its wahala into oblivion, never to return!
1st of January is first day of the calendar year. But 31st of December does not, cannot obliterate the angst of the dying year. These are just numbers. But there ought to be a break a severance from the past. In his wisdom, Man had always developed rituals – of atonement, restitution, purgation or purification – that will extricate him from the bondage and evils of the past. This we find in most societies that still harbour and practice respect for the sacred values of human existence, as in the crossover night services made popular by evangelicals and the Pentecostal Movement. At such times, we believe, as T.S. Eliot eloquently expresses in these poetic lines: For last year’s words belong to last year’s language/And next year’s words await another voice/And to make an end is to make a beginning!
The concept of a new beginning is essentially psychological. No? Is there something tangible we witness clearing the way for a new season? No! It is perception, or faith anchored on the belief system of an individual or society. Time is cyclical. It is a concatenation of experiences. There is no stopping, no pause in physical terms except when the life of a man ceases. So, it is a frame of the mind, a perception that gives us some stability. Just as when we turn 50, or 60, or the magical, scripture-prescribed 70 years, and we believe that we have entered a new phase in our life’s journey. We look back and it is like yesterday. Seventy years are like yesterday, like a blink, and some experiences come blinding us with the power of infinite reality. We listen to some music and memories of our childhood come flooding us with part pleasure, part pain. So, we ask, where have those many years gone?
Yet we often enter the New Year with great hope, enthusiasm, and optimism. We embrace the New Year with the hope that the joy of entering a new chronological date would end the misery of the previous year. It is the way of human beings. Steven Spielberg says that ‘all of us every single year, we’re a different person.’ I don’t think we’re the same person all our lives! It is somewhat part of our fantastic imagination. It works for some people. For some it all evaporates by second week of the New Year when with a feeling of déjà vu, the past returns to haunt them in the form of a re-occurrence. A family that is bereaved on 25th, or 27th of 31st December cannot enter the New Year with any enthusiasm. In fact, for the rest of their lives, they are likely to have a scarred memory of the dying days of the year.
Perhaps it is trite to observe that we all have different degrees of threshold for pain, for trauma, and for the vicissitudes of life. Faith in existence in some people is higher than what dwells inside others. The good book says that ‘if you faint in times of adversity then your strength is small! We do not need to travel beyond our families, sometimes nuclear to form a conclusion about this. A philosopher once said that it is not what happens that really matters; what matters is HOW we take things that happen. Some advocate a stoic approach to disaster, to sad occurrences of any proportion. So while those around you physically lament, you are required to move on psychologically.
Does the New Year have a spirit because it is a New Year or it is invested with a spirit to bring in a new beginning? Who invests the New Year with the spirit of the new? Does it have the capacity to summon a spirit? Is it propelled by Forces Natural or Forces Spiritual? If it does, will the spirit of the New Year accommodate everybody, the good and the bad, the believer and unbeliever? What does it mean when a man says: this is my year?
As we enter 2023, the soaring cost of inflation is not left in the pit of the dying year. It has galloped into the New Year to wait for all wayfarers. As we enter 2023, insecurity is not going to lie prostrate in the dying year because the spirit of 2022 may never really die. Last Thursday, a man died while queuing for petrol in Oyo State. Can the family forget the pain because we are in 2023? The evil men who manipulate governance have not purged themselves so the spirit of exploitation and state robbery, lack of respect for the citizenry, and disregard for the rule of law. Even some of the noisy religious leaders have not purged themselves of the evils of the outgoing or outgone year. How will there be a new spirit? Therefore, I will judge you O ye House of Israel, says the Holy Book, everyone according to his ways!
The old year lives in the new year. But we must still rejuvenate ourselves, still psychologically prepare ourselves. The governors of the land should rejuvenate the land with welfare policies that can renew faith. Governments often do this through budgeting and special announcements given in the New Year Speech. The hunger that ravaged the stomachs of Nigerians will not simply go away because we have entered 2023. There must be concrete steps to make life bearable. University lecturers’ angst and disenchantment with the incumbent APC government will not go away because we are in 2023. Indeed, because it is 2023, academics cannot wait for an opportunity to get rid of a government that has been so anti-intellectual, insensitive, and unduly combative. “Two things are infinite”, writes a philosopher, “the universe and human stupidity: I’m not sure about the universe!
Prof. Eghagha writes from the University of Lagos (UNILAG). His syndicated column appears in The Dream Daily Newspaper on Mondays