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Nigerians celebrate unusual Christmas

By Wole Oyebade, Benjamin Alade, Kehinde Olatunji (Lagos), Terhemba Daka, Nkechi Onyedika-Ugoeze (Abuja) and Ann Godwin (Port Harcourt)
25 December 2020   |   4:30 am
Nigerians yesterday lamented the poor state of the economy and spike in food prices, which have created what can be termed the most unusual Christmas in decades.

It’s Christmas! Items on display in Lagos, waiting for buyers…yesterday. PHOTO: FEMI ADEBESIN-KUTI

• As households groan under harsh economy, high prices
• Buhari, Gbajabiamila, CAN preach peace, love
• Airlines retain fare hike
• Road transporters lament COVID-19 restrictions, insecurity, others

Nigerians yesterday lamented the poor state of the economy and spike in food prices, which have created what can be termed the most unusual Christmas in decades.

Across the length and breath of the country, the usual razzmatazz of the season is missing.

Similarly, airfares across local airlines have remained high, as all routes sold for an average of N60, 000 per economy seat. The spike notwithstanding, air traffic and patronage remained high with air travellers making last-minute trips for the festive season.

In the middle of the desperate situation, President Muhammadu Buhari, Senate President, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, yesterday, sent messages of peace, joy, hope and love to commemorate the celebration.

The Guardian observed that market places were scanty, as many complained of reduced purchasing power caused by routine economic shocks and spike in costs of consumables.

Marketers complained of low turnout of buyers in markets, saying the effect of the economy had adverse effect on them.

Speaking with reporters, Mrs. Iyabo in Sabo market, Ibadan, Oyo State, lamented that it wasn’t the usual hustle and bustle the season had been known for, saying that customers were not forthcoming as expected.

“There is economic downturn this Yuletide. I sell soft drinks and I would say that markets are slow. Before, there used to be hustle and bustle everywhere but as you can see, such is non-existing.

Some of the traders at Rumosi, Mile one, Mile three and town market in Port Harcourt, who spoke with The Guardian, said, it was obvious the nation was yet to recover from its economic depression since 2017. They stated that they had never witnessed poor sales like this year.

They blamed the situation on unfriendly economic policies, which made life unbearable for Nigerians.

One of the traders at Mile 1 Market, Shedrack Chimezie, said, “Since morning, we came to shop, we are just like that, nobody has come to ask, how much are you selling, yes unlike other years, we witnessed low sales but this year is the worst.”

Another trader, who sells chicken at the Rumosi market, Magreth Chinda, blamed low sales on hike in prices, as “residents are scared of high cost of things in the market,” she said.

She said: “Last year, the size of fowl we sold at N2,500 sells for N5, 000 this year, so who do you blame? Fowl’s feeds are very expensive. So, the farmers have to recover their money, the situation we found ourselves in this country is very terrible.”

Findings by The Guardian revealed almost all prices of items had doubled.

However, some residents were seen shopping with families at supermarkets, malls.

A visit to the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA), yesterday, showed a large turnout of passengers jostling to get tickets across routes.

MARKET surveys in the last one week showed airfares sustained an average of 100 per cent high, and even more on some airlines. For instance, an Arik Air Lagos-Abuja Economy one-way ticket yesterday sold for N71, 000, while its Air Peace counterpart was bought for N56, 000 over the counter. Azman Air sold similar tickets on Lagos-Kano for N85, 000.

On the average, a future flight of about a week away still costs between N50, 000 and N67, 000 for economy one-way ticket. Return tickets range between N100, 000 and N120, 000. Travellers heading to the East from Lagos or Abuja still pay an average of N60, 000 for one-way, subject to flight and seat availability.

Though they argued the spike was not arbitrary, operators said surplus in demand typical of festive seasons and current shortage in fleet capacity of airlines caused fare increase and sale to the highest bidders.

The operators said most worrisome was the shortage in operating aircraft to complement traffic surge as more than half of the regular fleet were either due for maintenance or stuck overseas due to lack of funds to repatriate them.

Chief operating officer of one of the airlines said the fleet capacity challenge remained the same across the airlines, coupled with the surge typical of the festive season.

“In my own operations, we are supposed to have seven aircraft. Three are in operations; two are out on maintenance and two on ground. Because there is no forex at an affordable rate of N380/$, the two that are away have not returned. So, we can only manage what we have. Where we did five frequencies a day, it has reduced to two or three, so as to accommodate other routes.

“I’m aware that is the case across the operating airlines, and there are no chances of things improving anytime soon. Nothing has come to airlines from the government by way of support. So, we are most likely to continue this way into the New Year and the first quarter of 2021. It is bad that we have pushed air travel beyond the reach of average and middle class Nigerians. But it is completely beyond the operators,” he said.

Managing Director of Aero Contractor, Ado Sanusi, said airlines did not raise fares, but the forces of demand and supply played out.

Sanusi said: “The airlines have seen that the seats they put in the market are gone within an hour. This practice of closing the lower bucket is done everywhere in the world. It is called revenue management. If you see that your seats are selling faster, you close and go to the next one and if that one is selling faster too you close and go to the next one. By the time you have two or three seats remaining, it is the highest bidder that will take it.

“What you do is put that ticket at N80, 000, N90, 000 and N100, 000 and the highest bidder or someone who is desperate to travel takes it. It is not good for the consumer but the airlines are maximising revenue. What happens and the disadvantage is that we are now scaring the flying public because of the cost. We might shrink; stimulate the market to grow more passengers.”

SIMILARLY, road transporters have bemoaned low business activities as COVID-19 restrictions, poor purchasing power and economic recession have affected movement of Nigerians for the Yuletide celebration, just as insecurity endangers lives of passengers and drivers.

Public Transport Owners of Nigeria Association (PTONA), an umbrella body of long-distance road passenger transporters in all parts of the country has described travellers’ apathy as pathetic.

Secretary, PTONA, Valentine Uduebor, said: “The situation is pathetic, it is because so many of us have families to feed; otherwise we would have been at the farm.

“Our investments are at stake considering the millions of vehicles on the road. You can imagine, a day to Christmas, my company loaded one bus.  Maybe, ‘The Young Motors’ loaded three or four buses, God is Good Motors the same.

“This time two years back, on the 24th, we usually run out of buses at the park. Operators would have loaded over 30 buses respectively from their parks. As we speak, we intend to start night buses. The thing is a pathetic situation.

“During the COVID-19 lockdown, we were held down for over four months and the Federal Government promised us N10 billion, of which we have not seen a kobo. We left the issue to the ENDSARS protest; the government is leaving it, talking about a second lockdown, which has left us speechless.”

On what can be done to salvage the situation, he said: “Primarily, we the public transport owners are very straightforward with our business, the government is aware that not even one naira was given to any transporter to reinvest or grow their businesses; we borrow money and take loans to start business.

“And now that we are in a recession, the government had before now promised us palliative, even if the money has been released, a whole lot of businesses would bounce back. People would travel, because part of the problem is the government telling people not to travel owing to the restriction in the number of persons a bus can carry.

He said the airlines operate in full capacity but when it comes to vehicles it’s been restricted.

“How do we get money to pay the salaries of our drivers and other staff? If Lagos to Onitsha, which used to be N4,500 is now N10, 500; how many families can afford this,” he queried.

BUHARI, in his message, stressed the need for Christians to uphold the ideals of joy, peace, hope, love, goodwill and salvation, which Christmas represents.

He said, “In Christendom, Christmas season represents joy, peace, hope, love, goodwill and imminent salvation. These worthy values, which Jesus’ advent symbolise, are very much needed in our country at this time when we are confronted with diverse challenges like rising spate of armed banditry, kidnappings, insurgency, economic recession and upsurge of COVID-19 infections.”

He urged citizens to use the season of goodwill and joy to renew faith in the ability of his administration to make lasting difference in the lives of the people.

Buhari, in another statement, announced the cancellation of the traditional Christmas homage by religious and community leaders in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

In the statement, signed by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, Thursday, Buhari said the decision was in line with the COVID-19 protocol, restricting large gatherings.

He urged citizens to, in line with the protocol, observe social distancing, use face masks, wash hands frequently and avoid overcrowding of public spaces, markets, shopping centres, offices and places of worship.

GBAJABIAMILA called on Christians to pray for continuous peaceful coexistence among Nigerians for the country to overcome its myriad of challenges, especially the issue of insecurity.

He also called on Nigerians to pray for God to guide the country’s leaders, adding that Nigerians, irrespective of where they come from, “must work towards achieving the dreams of our founding fathers, who made a lot of sacrifices for us to be one.”

CHRISTIAN Association of Nigeria (CAN) President, Rev. Dr. Samson Ayokunle, urged Nigerians to use the period of Christmas to pray for peace in the country and an end to terrorism, banditry, kidnapping, armed robbery and other criminalities.

Ayokunle said it was painful that many were mourning due to the demise of their loved ones as a result of COVID-19 pandemic, terrorism, kidnappings and other criminalities, adding that Nigerians should remember that Jesus was also born during the darkest time in Israel’s history.

He said: “Jesus is the Prince of Peace and He came to give us peace. To preach good tidings unto the meek; to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to give to us beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that we might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified. Christmas is not a myth, not a tradition, not a dream. It is a glorious reality. It is a time of joy. Bethlehem’s manger became the link that binds a lost world to a loving God.

“From the manger came the Saviour who did not only teach us a new way of life, but brought us into a new relationship with our God. Christmas means God is interested in the affairs of people, that God loves us so much that He willingly gave us His only begotten Son in order for us to become His children”.

Ayokunle urged governments to stop insecurity caused by the terrorists, killer herdsmen, bandits and kidnappers.

“As we rejoice and celebrate, let us be security conscious and observe the COVID-19 protocols in our places of worship or in any public gathering for our general good,” he added.