Fireworks have been banned over the holidays in Nigeria over security concerns. Personal safety while setting off fireworks is only a secondary issue; rather the main risk is of facilitating crime (and perhaps even terrorism). Last week Adebowale Lawal, a Nigerian police spokesman from Lagos, explained, “The idea is to prevent undesirable elements from hiding under the guise of celebrating with fireworks to unleash mayhem on innocent members of the public.”
He noted that fights between rival cult members often start from these street celebrations, and because gunshots sound the same as many fireworks, innocent bystanders cannot tell the difference until it’s too late.
For several months Nigeria’s Inspector-General of Police, Solomon Arase, has reminded the public that the country’s ban on fireworks and firecrackers is in full force given the high rate of robbery and insurgency. “We have our men everywhere, especially in the markets to ensure that fireworks were totally removed,” Lawal added. And the state of Lagos has even gone so far as to ban all street carnivals during the holidays.
Burkina Faso also banned fireworks over the Christmas and New Years holidays, but that has been the case for years, and the prohibition has always been violated.
And Somalia went so far as to ban Christmas outright. But religious affairs minister Abdikadir Sheekh Ali Ibrahim later backtracked, saying that while authorities reserve the right to cancel celebrations for security reasons, any Christians in Somalia, including African Union (A.U.) peacekeepers, diplomats, and embassy officials, were allowed to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s. The country is not known for religious tolerance, but there are real security threats—in fact, on December 25 last year, al-Shabaab carried out an attack on an A.U. military base in Mogadishu, killing more than 10 people. The terrorist group said the target was a Christmas party at the base.
By contrast, Tajikistan banned Christmas and New Year’s celebrations for being alien to Tajik culture. A decree by the education ministry prohibits “the use of fireworks, festive meals, gift-giving and raising money” over New Year’s, as well as the placement of Christmas trees in schools and universities. On New Year’s Eve in 2011-2012, a man dressed as Father Frost (the Russian version of Santa Claus) was stabbed to death in the capital, Dushanbe. (Father Frost has since been banned from appearing on state television, and the government has cracked down on nascent Halloween costume-goers as well.)
These bans might save lives, but they certainly take the joy out of the season.