In our series of letters from African journalists, Sola Odunfa examines the attitude of Nigerians to holidaying, at a time when President Muhammadu Buhari has spent more than six weeks on “medical vacation” in the UK.
Wherever the idea of formal holidays may have come from, it was definitely not Nigeria.
A holiday is a period when people completely take time off from work and relax to relieve themselves of stress – both physical and mental.
It is meant to be a time to recharge one’s batteries.
It can also be a time to indulge in travel – to see new places and cultures for pleasure
It is usually taken annually and may last from a few days to a few weeks.
But for the average Nigerian, the business of living is too serious to afford such a luxury.
And for those who can splash out, soaking up culture is not often on the agenda.
I have taken so-called holidays several times.
I would pack one or two changes of clothes at the bottom of the suitcase, and then fill the rest with the tools of my trade – sound recorders and cassettes, microphones and notebooks.
For I would work afresh both to cover the travel cost and personal expenses and to indulge my family’s ever-expanding wardrobes, for which one or two extra suitcases would be purchased.
Of course when abroad, there is the daily round of Nigerian restaurants and pubs to visit and compare with the fare at home.
And then there are the shops.
I have holidayed in the UK several times but, please, don’t ask me about the Tower of London or the British Museum – I would have not visited them unless they stocked shoes or lace.
Every airliner out of Nigeria is fully booked during summer and in the months leading up to Christmas.
That is when those Nigerians that do “holiday” take their leave.
All the passengers travel light and they carry fat cheques.
Like me, I assure you they are not travelling to see Buckingham Palace or the Eifel Tower or the Statue of Liberty.
They are going shopping – and it is usually serious cash-backed shopping.
Our idea of a good holiday is when we return, to be able to deck your wife’s or girlfriend’s neck in new jewellery, wear new shoes and dresses and stock your living room with new electronic gadgets.
We may then take a few days off to rest from our shopping spree.
Two months ago, Nigerians could understand when President Muhammadu Buhari announced that he was going to London on vacation.
That was good for his relatives and friends.
But he lost us completely when he qualified his vacation with the word “medical”.
He may have wanted to have rest away from the constant calls on his time as head of state – a chance to properly recuperate.
But to us Nigerians, his spokesmen were being too clever by half. Who travels for rest?
For us the man was travelling abroad to seek medical treatment. Period.