Holiday Gifts, Then And Now

You know that recession is well and truly with us when the usual Christmas and New Year hampers are not forthcoming, and when the few that do arrive look so anaemic that you have to make sure that they have not been delivered to the wrong address.

Not too long ago, holiday gifts from military president Ibrahim Babangida’s used to be conveyed to the homes of his ministers and key officials in trucks laden with sacks of with rice and beans, vegetable oil, fresh farm produce for cooking, crates of the choicest wines and alcoholic beverages, the finest confectionery and the latest big thing in electronics, not forgetting live turkeys, goats, and sheep

One yuletide, the story went round that when the truck arrived at his gate, the Minister, scion of a family of famous contrarians, asked to know its mission.

“It is your Christmas present, Sir, the leader of the delivery crew told him.

“Christmas present?” he asked in a tone indicative of surprise, if not alarm.  “From who?”

From the Presidency, he was told.  Each minister was getting a truckload of yuletide goodies.

He told them to return it to sender.

They did not even get a chance to bring out what was supposed to be the icing on the cake: a heavily- wrapped rectangular bundle that looked tantalizingly like a pile of crisp banknotes  The package was secured at the corners and across its length and width with industrial-strength tape.

In the circles where this story made the rounds, a good many were conflicted about whether the Minister should have rejected the Christmas bonanza.  Since every minister was scheduled to receive it, some said, the gift could not have been designed to compromise him or undermine his autonomy in any way.  Others said if the Minister did not need the stuff, he should have accepted and then distributed it to those who could use it, or to charity.

Not to be left out, the police came to Rutam House, siren blaring at the head of a convoy of armed riot police, with a bullion van in tow.  They drove tight to the entrance to the newsroom, and a senior officer brought out a hefty package and asked for a responsible official to come forward to collect it and sign up, courtesy of Force Headquarters.

Nobody went forward.

A good many offices at Rutam House were cluttered with Christmas hampers.  But only a few landed in the office of my colleague, deputy editorial page editor and senior member of The Guardian’s  editorial Board, Dr Edwin Madunagu.  He was not complaining, you know; he rarely complained, merely making an observation to the hearing of everyone around.

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