Vagaries of the British weather and some lessons for Nigeria

 Published in THE PUNCH on 18 February 2007

Casmir Igbokwe

Chioma was almost tempted to behave like Chicken Licken. The anecdotal bird, in case you have forgotten, once rushed to tell the king that the sky was falling. Her evidence was that an acorn fell and struck her on the tail. Likewise, Chioma, a Nigerian resident in Cardiff, had thought that she had seen the worst of the British weather. She had boasted that it was God’s love for her that had kept severe winter at bay this year. But, on Thursday, February 8, the sky literally started falling.

Weather experts called it snow. You may feel that that is none of your business. You may say that
Nigeria has a good weather, so Britons should go and solve their problems. But, the phenomenon, as you will soon discover, has a big lesson for us all.

The snow, by the way, was heavy and spectacular. And it fell like rain for about three days or more. Most parts of Wales recorded up to 15cm (6in) of the frozen water vapour. Temperatures fell to –3C in some places. Almost everywhere turned white overnight. People took pictures. Children played with it. Some used the ice to mould different things – human beings, birds, dogs and so on.

However, the incident was also disruptive. Some airport runways were closed and flights cancelled. Train services were also affected. Motorists abandoned their vehicles as traffic became gridlocked. Thousands of schools were closed. Power supply was also affected in some areas. The director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, Mr David Frost, reportedly said the effects of the transport disruptions were expected to cost the British economy up to £400m.

Last month, it was severe storms that swept through many parts of the UK. The incident disrupted electricity supply in some places, caused traffic chaos and killed over 10 people. Among those who died was the managing director of  Birmingham Airport, Richard Heard. A branch fell on his car between Bridgnorth and Broseley. A two-year-old boy also died when a wall fell on him in London. Some lorry drivers died when their vehicles overturned in the high winds. The wind even blew a lorry into a canal, killing its female driver. The storms were said to be Britain’s strongest in 17 years. And it was estimated that repair works would cost hundreds of millions of pounds.

The British weather is such that you may experience winter, spring, summer and autumn in one day. April is particularly interesting. The month, as a BBC weather report put it, could bring all types of weather from sunshine to thunder, from fog and frost to mild muggy and drizzly days. It is also the month one may call the fertility season, as plants blossom and birds start their annual courtship. I am already looking forward to April 14, the Cuckoo Day, when birds’ first call is often heard.

Like a bride anxiously awaiting the solemnisation of her relationship with her heart-throb, Britons are already looking forward to the summer season. It is a season that comes with warmth. It is a period when they hold different festivals; when they tend to become more romantic, with the consequent morning pills; and when daytime stretches longer than usual. When I first came to the UK in July 2005, I was shocked to see the sky still looking very bright at 10pm. It only started getting dark as from about 11pm. Now, at 5pm, it is already dark.

This year, the British Summer Time begins March 25. Then, Britons will add one hour to their time. Twice a year, they change their clocks – one hour forward in the spring and one hour backward in the autumn. These changes, I learnt, have to do with saving the hours of daylight. 

In Nigeria, we don’t change our clocks. And we don’t have four seasons. It is either raining or it is dry and dusty. Rainy season comes with some heavenly blessings for both plants and animals. Seeds germinate and bring forth flowers. Human beings also look fresh and beautiful. Women, arguably, get more attention from the male folk and, perhaps, more conceptions take place. The majority of the people who do not have pipe borne water heave a sigh of relief as they no longer need to move about with buckets looking for where to buy water.

It is also a season when floods render many people homeless and leave many houses submerged. Many roads become impassable and many cars lose their aesthetic and mechanical virginity.

The dry season comes with some respite for landlords. But it also comes with some destructive fire. For those who have rough skins, Vaseline and other oily creams come handy. Last December, Nigerians enjoyed some relief when their scotching tropical weather came with some dry cold wind. But it was short-lived as the hot weather is said to be back with its attendant heat.

The problem here is that we have little or no solution to the heat. Many families probably have fans or air conditioners. But there is no electricity to use those gadgets. The Power Holding Company of
Nigeria continues to generate more darkness than light.
If there is anything like water board in existence now, I do not know. The only water corporations most people are familiar with now are the neighbourhood borehole services. Most children abandon school to fetch water for their mothers. Some move about town hawking sachet water to survive.

Here lies the lesson for Nigerians. Britain and other Western countries may have bad weather, but they have a way of cushioning the effects. It is cold now, but you only experience it when you are outside. Once you are inside the room, the problem becomes mild as the heater regulates the temperature. I am sure if their problem is heat, no landlord will build a house without installing an air conditioner there. Although they may not have control over such natural disasters as earthquake or storm, they still conduct rescue operations as promptly and efficiently as possible whenever such disasters occur.

In my own country, bad weather, most often, does not stop aircrafts from flying. The last ADC plane crash is a typical example. The rains have dug deep gullies (which have taken many promising souls) on our roads. We don’t seem to worry about this. Preventable fires keep destroying our houses because we are not conscious of fire safety regulations. Even some strategic places like airports do not have efficient fire service. Most of us don’t seem to bother because we don’t value life.

I am angry, very angry with some of our rulers. Our nation is burning and all they are doing is to pursue rats. To them, winning this year’s elections is a do-or-die affair. Nothing matters anymore. They promised us fish. But it is scorpion they are giving us now. There is a simile that perfectly describes them: They are as unreliable as the British weather. God have mercy!    

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