Three year old Ifeoma let out a high pitched, piercing scream as Doctor Henry pressed her ribs with his stethoscope, in the course of his diagnosis. Finally he pulled the strap-on, of the diagnostic equipment from his ear looked at Ifeoma with the re-assuring mien of a medical practitioner who has completed the diagnosis of a patient and said:

“Your daughter is down with pneumonia. The cold penetrated her ribs into her lungs, making breathing difficult. She is in pains too. She has to be admitted into the hospital for five days and placed on anti-biotic injections, every six hours.”

“Its okay, Doc if you say so,” Ifeoma’s mom replied. We did our best at home to revive her. We just want her to get well. I have to dash home to make necessary adjustments to cope with this development. But what could have caused this, doctor?”

“The harmattan winds,” Dr. Henry replied. The wind is cold and dry and is a regular visitor inNigeriaevery December/January. Technically, it is known as the North-East Trade Winds which sweeps from North Africa down to sub-SaharanAfrica. InNigeria, it is known as the Harmattam. This dry wind is a regular visitor in many homes inAfrica  at this period.”


He continued as Ifeoma’s mom nodded in understanding:” This wind is extremely cold, coming at very low temperatures. Its major characteristic is that it is cold and dry. It throws up lot of dust and causes a lot of medical problems, especially difficulty in breathing.

“The signs are many: Chills, flu, catarrh, chesty coughs, pains, dry skins, and blisters on the lips, blurred vision, and respiratory diseases such as pneumonia which has afflicted your daughter. Go to many hospitals in the city and see how doctors are battling with these ailments. This wind poses a great challenge for us in the medical profession at this time of the year, and we are always ready for it.

“The message is that adults should wear thick clothes during the Harmattam season, and  mothers should cover up their children properly against the cold winds and give them plenty of water and fruit drinks that contain Vit. C to drink. This vitamin fortifies a person’s immune system against colds and flu.”

“Thank you Doc for this explanation,” replied Ifeoma’s mom. Now that I am better informed, I will be better prepared for the  Harmattan, next season.”

“You are welcome,” replied Doctor Henry.

The challenge facing Ifeoma’s mom is a replica of what is playing out in many Nigerian homes during the Harmattan season, usually at year end and beginning of the year. At this period, a strange visitor comes as a cold dry wind which sweeps across the landscape. When it blows, it suddenly changes the weather and raises plenty of dust which cast a haze in the atmosphere and impairs vision.

This is Mr. Harmattan as it is known inNigeria. He sweeps across many countries in sub-SaharanAfrica, altering lifestyles in many homes and offices. You just have to be ready for the coming of Mr. Harmattan, else, you end in hospital.

Mr. Harmattan is an annual visitor. You don’t invite him. He comes every year un-invited, sweeping across homes and offices, and stays for a minimum of 3 weeks or more. Is he welcome? Is he a gentleman? Yes! For many who like him. And No! For those who don’t like him. It just depends on how hospitable and how well prepared you are for this visitor. Either way, he is a friend or foe depending on your preparation.

If he takes you unawares, he will deal with you. In this case, he may well be your foe. But if you are prepared, he can be a good friend. He has no apologies for coming and you cannot stop him. He comes, once every year, at a particular time and season, December or January, depending on the part ofNigeriawhere you live. So why should residents complain? Those who do so are simply careless and could pay a big price for it. You could end up in hospital with all the bills to pay.

Those who live in the Northern states ofNigeriasuch asAbuja(Nigeria’s capital city),Kano,Kaduna, and Bauchi are the first to receive this visitor, say, second week of December. You will know Mr. Harmattan has come when the winds become dry and cold and raise plenty of dust. If you wash your clothes and hang them on the line, they dry up at far less time than usual,  an indication that Harmattan is around. If you spill water on the floor, do not bother to mop it. Mr Harmattan will do it quickly for you without any charges. He is a good friend for those in the laundry business

Mr.Harmattan is not visible only in homes and offices. You see him on land and sea, and as a thick haze of dust hanging in the air. At night, the velocity of the winds increases. When you breathe, Harmattan reaches your lungs instantly. It is usually a harrowing period for asthmatic patients. You just cannot avoid or stop Mr. Harmattan from coming. He will come and will touch your life and business in one way or the other. You can’t avoid him. He is everywhere.

Eric Okeke is a storyteller, editor, business writer, motivational speaker and author of the best selling book: I Want a Husband. He is one of Nigeria’s most experienced financial journalists. He has published several articles in local and foreign publications and in websites such as, and He is currently running Infomedia Company, a media consulting and information marketing company. Visit his blog at

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