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Nigerians Face Bleak Christmas



WHERE ARE THE CUSTOMERS? A trader at Balogun Market, Lagos seems to be wondering in deep thought… yesterday. PHOTO: TOBI AWODIPE

FOR most Nigerians, this year’s Christmas celebration will be different from the previous years, for so many reasons.
Apart from the current hard economic realities and cash crunch, the lingering fuel scarcity, erratic electricity supply and inability of most states to pay their workers have all combined to diminish the expectations of Nigerians of a better celebration.

Despite the gradual bustle at the various markets, it is more motion than real movement: more crowds of customers, but less sales by traders.

Bernard Kenechi, a public analyst, said: “Despite the economic hardship, I am going to celebrate it with my family. We are not travelling to my state, Abia due to the demands of my job and the harsh economic condition. I have to pay my house rent and my children’s school fees. When I put all these things together, I decided to stay around in Lagos.”

He said the most important thing is to make sure that the children are happy during Christmas. “Buy new clothes and new shoes for the children. Make your wife happy by buying new clothes for her. Stock your house with food to entertain your visitors, friends and family members. Prepare good meal for them. Use Christmas trees and lights to decorate your house.
“I can’t see people throwing hampers around the way it used to be because of the economic situation in the country. Companies are finding it difficult to pay Christmas bonuses to their workers. Buy now, I should have had some hampers.”

He said the fuel scarcity would definitely restrict the movement of the people and confine them to their homes.
Unlike in the past, Abuja is wearing a forlorn look this season with Christmas decorations scanty in government offices. There are no palpable sign that Christmas is around the corner in the nation’s capital.
Indeed, in the years gone by, decorations usually adorn the majestic Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Nigeria at the entrance of the CBN, which is hardly noticed, most government offices in the city are oblivious of the coming of the Yuletide season.

In most government offices, the usual ‘Christmas’ rice and hampers that workers get would not be the case this year. The streets of Abuja are devoid of the usual seasonal rush. Wuse Market, which is always a beehive of activities and where housewives visit during periods like this, is almost empty, as most shops are over-filled with unsold goods.
In the hair saloon and beauty section, nothing is seen, as most shops are empty. In the years gone by, ladies and young women usually occupied the shops in the spirit of the season.

In Anambra State, public servants are some of the few lucky not to be owed. At least, they have received that of November and are hopeful that that of December would come when due.
A source at the Ministry of Finance said government was working hard to ensure the worker were paid to enable them enjoy the Yuletide.
But most residents complained of hardship, including high cost of foodstuff and children’s clothes, making many to forego house decorations.
“One would not say that people do not have problems. The mood is low in Anambra because people are saying there is no money. Yet, the markets are bubbling with sellers and customers,” a resident told The Guardian.

At Eke Awka and Amawbia markets, women were seen moving from one shop to another haggling over prices and looking for where to buy cheaper.
Mrs. Esther Ugwu, a teacher, said: “My family will join other families to celebrate, even if it is to rejoice and thank God for sparing our lives”.

A tailor who gave his name as Victor, bemoaned that his customers had not been
It is same with a seamstress, Ileka, who said most of her customers were yet to claim their dresses. But business boomed at the second-hand clothes spots.

After months without salaries, ranging from three to 12 months, Imo State Governor Rochas Okorocha has directed the immediate payment of salaries for the workers in the state.
The payment was to have commenced yesterday, just as the governor directed workers to proceed on 25-day Christmas holidays from yesterday to January 11, next year. This is expected to enable them celebrate Christmas.

At the major markets in Owerri, the state capital (Ekeukwu Owerre, New Market, Douglas Road and Relief Markets), prices of commodities have gone up despite complains of economic crunch by customers and low sales by traders, compared to last year.
Ogun is not left out as traders in major markets in Abeokuta, the state capital, lamented low patronage which they attributed to the economic situation in the country, the high exchange rate of foreign currencies and scarcity of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), otherwise known as petrol, which has led to increase in cost of transportation.

When The Guardian visited some of the major markets, low patronage was very visible, as some of the market women were seen sleeping. Mrs Funmilayo Amodu, a live chicken seller, said: “Things are very costly and there is no money in circulation. When there is money, people will come and patronise us.”

Mrs. Funmilayo Amodu, who sells bags of rice and vegetable oil in Omida Market also complained of low patronage. “Market is very dull. By now we expected that many people will turn out in large numbers to patronise us, but what we are experiencing is very low compared to what we had this time last year”.

A senior civil servant, Rotimi Oduniyi, was optimistic that the state government would pay his salaries before the festive period begins, noting: “The government does not owe us. You have to cut your coat according to your size. Once you are alive to witness any festive period, you should celebrate”.

Government workers in Adamawa have been besieging banks in Yola to withdraw their December salaries for Christmas shopping, resulting in long queues in the banks and ATM points across the town.
Some of the workers commended the state government for “speedy” payment of the December salaries to enable them prepare in good time for the Yuletide, which was the first of its kind in the state. “I was surprised when I got this month salary alert on Wednesday; this is a commendable development’, Joseph Abraham told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).

Their colleagues in local governments urged government to extend the gesture to them. “We are yet to see our alerts at the local government level” Dauda Gombi said.

The cost of foodstuffs and other essential commodities in Kano markets has suddenly gone up, in addition to the exorbitant price of fuel in both filling stations and black markets, just as state government workers wait anxiously for the December salaries before the end of the year.

There was low morale among Enugu workers, as many of them were not sure of their salaries before Christmas day. Besides, many of them in the parastatals were yet to receive their November salaries.
A staff of one of the organisations said: “This Christmas is not for me because my salary is yet to be paid. I have not received salary for about seven months now. When thought they would pay all, but to no avail.”

A dealer in shoes, Mrs. Kate Okonkwo, lamented low patronage less than one week to Christmas and attributed the development to non-payment of workers last month, especially with rising cost of items as a result of fuel scarcity. She said only those dealing on food items make brisk sales, “at least the people must eat, even if nothing else happens.”

Despite regular payment of salaries of civil servants in Cross River State, traders in Calabar lamented poor sales.
Some of the traders attributed this to non-payment of salaries to contract staff since the advent of this administration. A trader in the popular Watt Market dealing in children’s clothes, lamented: “Since I started this business seven years ago, I have never experienced this kind of Christmas coming with poor sales”.

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