Sunday, 3rd December 2023

Christmas amid border closure: Different stroke for farmers, traders, shoppers

By Onyedika Agbedo
14 December 2019   |   3:21 am
Eleven days to this year’s Christmas when Christians all over the world will mark the birth of Jesus Christ, it is different strokes for different segments

Eleven days to this year’s Christmas when Christians all over the world will mark the birth of Jesus Christ, it is different strokes for different segments of the Nigerian society following the closure of the land borders.

Nigeria’s land borders with countries including Benin and Niger have been partially closed since August 20, this year, in a move to curb the smuggling of large quantities of rice and other commodities like tomato paste, frozen chicken and turkey.

With the economies of the two countries adversely affected by their inability to export goods into Nigeria, pressures have been mounted on the Federal Government since then to reverse the policy but to no avail.

President Muhammadu Buhari had met with President Patrice Talon of the Republic of Benin on the sidelines of the seventh Tokyo International Conference for African Development (TICAD7), which held in Yokohama, Japan in August, where he reportedly told him that Nigeria had had enough of the smuggling from the Benin end of the border.

“Now that our people in the rural areas are going back to their farms, and the country has saved huge sums of money which would otherwise have been expended on importing rice using our scarce foreign reserves, we cannot allow smuggling of the product at such alarming proportions to continue,” he said.

Also speaking recently when a delegation of Katsina State Elders Forum visited him in his country home in Daura, Katsina, Buhari denounced insinuations that the borders would be re-opened in January 31, 2020, saying there was no date in sight.

But the Christmas season is here when the demands for rice, chicken and other foodstuffs are usually very high. Now the questions are, have the local farmers been able to meet the demands? The Guardian visited the markets to feel the pulse and also assess how Nigerians are getting ready for Christmas festivity. Below are the reports:

Border Closure Has Pushed Up Prices Of Commodities, Shoppers Lament
By Tobi Awodipe, Maria Diamond, Adelowo Adebumiti and Okusanya Adedayo

IN Lagos, the biggest market in the Centre of Excellence, Lagos Island Market, is in upswing beat, fielding everything from food and drinks, clothing and accessories, Christmas decorations and knockouts, among other items.

However, it is not all cheer and merry for both buyers and sellers as the economic crunch in the country is having a toll on them. As on Thursday afternoon when The Guardian visited Balogun, Idumota, Tom Jones and Oluwole markets, buying and selling activities were low.

One Nwachukwu Nnamdi, a trader in weaves, wigs and hair extensions in the Balogun section of the market lamented bitterly that sales had been very poor compared to a couple of years before.

“See how dull everywhere is. Before, around this period, you cannot see where to put your leg because customers would be rushing you. Now, we have to stand outside and be begging them to come and check what we have. We have even reduced prices and are doing sales promotion despite the high cost of clearing goods all in a bid to attract more people, yet the market is not moving. I’m hoping that the situation improves by next week so we can have something to smile about during Christmas,” he said.

Abisola ‘Mummy J’ Kassim trades in children’s clothes and shoes at the Oluwole section of the market. Ringing a bell in one hand and gesticulating with the other, she calls buyers to her shop but the response was not encouraging. According to her, parents were not buying ready-made clothes for their children like before.

“These days, parents are not buying Christmas and New Year clothes and shoes for their children, preferring to sew Ankara for them. This is affecting us badly; the market is not moving like before. I borrowed money from my cooperative to stock up goods for the season and I have limited time to refund. I’m begging the government to help us improve the economy so that money can flow. Are people who have not bought rice and meat that will remember Christmas clothes or shoes?” she queried.

She also decried the cost of children’s clothes and shoes which she said had risen due to the cost of bringing them in and clearing them.

A buyer that was at the scene haggling with her over some cloths left without buying. The buyer, who identified herself as Adeola Bolarinwa, said the cloths were beyond her budget.

“The cost of goods has risen so much; everything is super expensive. I don’t know if the border closure has anything to do with it but it is too much. We are still struggling to buy foodstuff to keep at home and truth be told, Christmas clothes may just be cut out if I can’t get something affordable for my children,” she said.

At the Tom Jones section of the market, one very noticeable development was that the number of traders selling fireworks has reduced considerably while dealers in Christmas decorations and accessories have taken over most of the space.

A trader who refused to disclose his name claimed that selling fireworks was not as lucrative as before.

“First of all, police and some other people were harassing us, saying it is contraband. Also, people that buy from us to resell said that many streets, estates, and churches have prohibited its use, affecting their sales, which in turn affected us. So, this year, I decided to bring in decorations, toys, and accessories like hats, glasses, caps, Christmas clothing and so on. Sales have been moderate, nothing to be happy about because too many people are now in the business so you cannot increase price anyhow,” he said.

A woman who was in the market to buy some items to resell bought just a few things before leaving due to high cost. “Can you believe that small Christmas lights start from N1, 500? Something that we bought N700 or N800 last year is now about double the price. Let us hope next year will be better because this is too much,” she said.

At Iponri Market, Surulere, a trader, Mr. Sola Adebayo, who deals majorly in rice and groundnut oil lamented that border closure has impacted negatively on sales, particularly rice. He noted that the price of imported rice has gone up while the local ones were almost out of reach.

“A bag of imported rice cost N27,000 as against the old price of N25,000 while the price of local rice varies according to its type. Type A local rice costs N22,000 because it does not have any stones while Type B rice costs N17,000 and you will have to sift the stones yourself,” he said.

A costumer at Ojota Market, Mrs. Wuraola Olufunmi, who came to buy pepper and tomatoes, complained that the prices were too high this year. “A small basket of tomatoes costs N8,000 while the bigger basket costs N12,000. It is very discouraging,” she lamented.

Similarly, a chicken seller at Ijesha Market, Surulere said: “This year’s Christmas is somehow. We don’t know how it will turn out to be. But to be honest, the cost of things is exorbitant. The little sales we are getting now is through the grace of God.”

Meanwhile, a former smuggler, who preferred anonymity, has alleged that smuggling still thrives with the tacit connivance of Customs officials.

He explained that due to drastic reduction in sales and patronage, some dealers in the neighbouring countries have reduced the prices of commodities, saying that has made smuggling a thriving business for some people as they now make bigger profits.

He said smugglers now buy a bag of 50kg rice for between N6, 400 and N6, 700 and pay Customs officials N9, 000 on each bag to bring them into the country.

He said many smugglers were also finding other routes to bring items illegally into the country.

He, however, urged the government to look for other ways to address the issue of smuggling rather than keeping the borders closed as the situation is hitting hard on Nigerians and nationals of neighbouring countries.

“If they are experiencing what the masses are experiencing, they will re-open the borders because people are dying,” he said.

Travellers Weary Of Hike In Transport Fare
By Adetayo Adeowo, Angela Opara and Rita Alaukwu

Many intending travellers from Lagos to other parts of the country during the Christmas period are apprehensive that transporters might as usual latch on the surge in passengers to hike their fares arbitrarily. As a result, some of those who spoke with The Guardian said they might shelve their travel plan if transport fares go beyond their reach.

Chine Mary, who intended to travel to Awka in Anambra State, said she has cancelled the trip because the transport fare has already gone up, noting that she would do other things with her money rather than lavishing it on transport fare.

“I’m not traveling because right now the situation of the country is somehow. There is no money to travel; I can’t see myself wasting so much money to travel when I can always remain here in Lagos and still enjoy Christmas.

“I am from Anambra State, Awka to be precise. The transport is really high. The last time I checked, they were calling about N10,000 and from what the drivers told me, anybody traveling from December 20 and above should budget about N15,000 for transport fare. So, why spend N15,000 going and N15,000 coming back when I can use my N30,000 to get other things? I thought about it and I just decided to leave it for now. Maybe next year if things get better I might travel,” she said.

Also speaking in the same vein, Juliana Uche said the Christmas period was very special to her, regretting that she would not travel this year due to high transport fare. “I love travelling to see my people at home, but with the way things are going I do not think it will be possible this year because of the rising increase in transport fare and foodstuffs. I am a mother of four children and my husband does not own a car. I hear that transport companies plying the eastern routes are now charging N10,000 per person, which is too much for us. Nevertheless, I still plan to enjoy my Christmas to the fullest here in Lagos,” she said.

A resident who simply gave his name as Nnamdi also lamented that prior to the Christmas season, the cost of travelling from Lagos to Imo was N7,000 but it has risen to N10,000.

However, Joy Okeke said she was very excited that the Christmas season has arrived, noting that she could not wait to travel home despite the hike in transport fares.

“I am very happy; I love Christmas season because I get to travel to my village. That is the only time I get to see all my relatives, both at home and abroad; they all come back. Although things are very difficult for us here in Lagos regarding transport fare and the prices of foodstuffs but there is nothing that beats family. These are memories which my children will remember for as long as they can and it will also help them understand their roots,” she noted.

Lagosians Lament Traffic Congestion, Say It May Mar Chritmas Fun
By Victoria Nwosu

AS this year’s Christmas season draws nearer, Lagosians are worried that the increasing traffic gridlock along major roads and connecting routes in the state may deprive many residents the opportunity to fully enjoy the season.

Speaking with The Guardian, a resident, Uche Ezeifem, lamented that the trend was becoming a menace, adding that she would rather remain indoors throughout the season than waste her time in traffic that seems unending.

“There are so many fun places I would love to visit this Christmas, most especially on the Island. There are a lot of places one could go and enjoy the season. However, this year, with the state of traffic on our roads now, I think I would remain in-doors. What’s the point going out in the morning, spending five hours in traffic, finally getting to my destination, probably the beach to spend at most two hours and rush back because of fear of the five hours traffic I may face on my way. I would rather not go out at all and spend time at home with my family.”

A commercial motorcyclist, Christopher John, attributed the reasons for heavy traffic on the roads to failure to enforce traffic rules and regulations. He, therefore, urged relevant agencies in the state to enforce traffic rules in order to ensure the free flow of traffic during the yuletide.

“In as much as everyone wants to enjoy this holiday season, I believe the state government should assign officials to major roads to foster a free flow of traffic,” he said.

Abia Civil Servants Shelve Christmas Plans Over Uncertainty Of Salary Payment
From Gordi Udeajah Umuahia 

Eleven days to this year’s Christmas, the scenario in Abia suggests that it may be poorly celebrated. Reasons range from funds unavailability, high costs of goods, insecurity, bad roads and uncertainty of salary especially as some workers and pensioners were still owed arrears. Unlike in the past, activities that used to make residents feel that Christmas was approaching like the heavy presence of buyers and sellers in major markets and early departures to villages from the cities were yet to be felt. Even the Abia State government that used to provide buses to convey Abians home from distant places like Lagos and northern states was yet to make the announcement as at the time of filing this report.

However, the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, Mr Onyebuchi Ememanka, told The Guardian that the governor had always done that every year. H explained that Abia State indigenes who plan to return home for Christmas from Lagos State had been told to report to Abia Liaison Office in Victoria Island from December 22 to board buses provided by the government.

He, however, said that the service would be available to only those certified to be members of Abia State Town Unions.

A civil servant from Arochukwu local council area, Mr Agwu Ude, who has a family of six, said he would have loved to celebrate Christmas with his family in the village but noted that after a careful thought, they have decided to shelve the plan.

“We are not sure when December and January 2020 salaries will come. The children have to go back to school in early January. I, therefore, know the financial implications of traveling,” he said.

A trader in Umuahia market, Okey Temple, said he would spend only a day in his village in Ukwa West local council due to the fear of kidnapping, armed robbers, bad roads and poor business this year. “I will just spend one day just to inspect my house and return to join my family in Umuahia,” he said.

Enugu Traders Blame Poor Sales On Border Closure
From Lawrence Njoku, Enugu

Markets in Enugu State are yet to start witnessing the influx of buyers and sellers less than two weeks to this year’s Christmas celebrations. Ordinarily, by this time every year, the three major markets in the state – Main Market, Kenyetta Market and New Market would be beehive of activities but that is not the case even when schools have closed for the year.

Checks by The Guardian revealed that traders were witnessing low sales. Many of them, who shared their experiences, blamed it on the high cost of goods, stressing that only few persons would conveniently make purchases as required during Christmas.

There were however traders who believe that activities would trigger in the coming days when, according to them, civil servants would have received their monthly pay.

Joshua Ugwu, a rice dealer said that the sudden increase in the price of rice was affecting the trade. He said local rice was selling for N10,000 few months ago but increased to N15,000, while foreign rice increased from N15,000 to N25,000. He added that other food items like beans, yam, and crayfish made slight increases, explaining that, “people are just managing as much as they can.”

He stated that “since the borders were closed, the businesses we do here have been dull. We now rely on whatever is produced here to sell and they are barely enough. That is the problem.”

A dealer on second-hand clothing (okirika), Mrs Rejoice Eneh, said they were the most challenged. “We buy a bail depending on the make for as much as N180,000; at times N200,000 or even N150,000 as the case might be. The problem is that you open it and there is nobody to patronise you,” she explained.

But motor mechanics in the state and auto parts sellers appear to be singing a different tune as residents were trooping to service their cars for use during the festivity or early next year when schools would resume.

Christian, a Mercedes Benz mechanic at Uwani, said he “resumes and closes late these days because even those that parked their cars a long time want to put them back to the road.” He added that “it is not easy for me as I must try as much as possible to ensure I give them the best of service and retain their patronage next year.”

The same goes for technicians who fix car air conditioners. Many car owners also want to either fix their car air conditioners for use during the festive period or against the hot weather brought about by the dry season.

Findings further showed that the rush emanated from the fact that some of the artisans had issued notices of closing shops for Christmas festivities.

Inside some streets of Enugu, activities associated with the season had either disappeared or were being observed on a low-key basis. Last year, most residents organised carnivals and decorated their streets to mark the special season while yuletide songs saturated the air. As it is now, apart from some business outfits, hotels and eateries that had been adorned with Christmas trees and other ornaments, most streets were without the usual decorations.

Some churches were also holding the end of the year activities to usher in Christmas and prepare for the coming year.

But the state government has attempted to enliven the mood of the season as it has tastefully decorated some places like Michael Okpara Square, Government House and the roads leading into the Government House.

Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi has also maintained his yuletide gesture of free transportation to citizens of the state residing in various parts of the country who want to return to the state for the celebrations.

Prices Of Commodities Soar In Plateau
From Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi, Jos

IN Plateau State, there is no sign that a big festival like Christmas is in the offing. Checks in the markets portrayed the celebrations would be low-key in the state.

Also, nothing was happening yet at the Plateau Radio Television (PRTV) and the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) that used to witness the influx of children and parents by this time of the year for Christmas programmes. Even traffic jams on the streets of Jos, the state capital, that used to herald Christmas was yet to be witnessed, as there were no inflows of visitors to the city yet.

But in spite of the slow pace of activities, The Guardian checks showed that the prices of food items like rice, beans, flour, palm oil, groundnut oil, cows, rams, goats, chickens, and fish, among others, has skyrocketed.

For example, before now, a bag of rice which used to sell for between N8,000 and N13,000 now sells for between N15,000 and N28,000, depending on the brand. Also, chicken used to sell for between N2,300 and N2,500 but is now sold for between N3,000 and N3,600. 10-litre vegetable oil that used to sell for N5,800 now sells for N7,800 while four-liter of red oil which used to sell for N3,500 now sells for N6,000

Meanwhile, federal workers had expected the implementation of salary adjustment of the new minimum wage in November but their hope was dashed, implying that the items might be out of their reach. This is even as the state workers do not know when the December salary would be paid and had to plan for Christmas with their November salaries.

As at the time of filing this report, the state government had not beautified the city to herald the Christmas season.

Nevertheless, what has remained relatively stable is the transport fare. In spite of that, a lot of residents said they would not travel because they do not have money.

Anambra Residents Contend With Traffic Gridlock
From Osiberoha Osibe, Awka

IN Anambra State, Christmas is in the air and the early preparations for the celebration is not lost on the residents.
Since the beginning of this month, more human and vehicular traffic are being witnessed in parts of the state. Occasional traffic gridlock tells the story, but the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), Anambra State Traffic Management Agency and the various task forces operating at the local council levels have been proactive in dealing with the challenges.

The Guardian checks at Eke-Awka Main Market, Ogbaru Main Market, Ogbaru Vegetable/Fruit Market, Ochanja Market, Ose-Okwodu Market, and Onitsha Main Market as well as ubiquitous street markets in Onitsha and environs, revealed a surge in traders and shoppers seeking to latch on the Christmas season to make huge turnover.

But the economy has been playing the spoiler’s role for them. A trader at Ose-Okwodu market who identified herself as Mama Chekwube Okonkwo, lamented that a 50kg bag of foreign rice which sold for N19, 000 before the closure of Nigeria’s border now sells for not less than N25,000 while the local rice equivalent sells for N18,500. There has also been marginal increase in the prices of other food items in the state like tomato and onion.

Mrs Chinonye Nze, who sells clothes, said the prices of children’s wears had gone up sharply, with quality ones selling for as high as N7,000.

Ahead of the celebration, the state governor, Chief Willie Obiano, has announced free transport for Anambra indigenes residing in different parts of the country. The government is also distributing 25kg bag of rice to all public servants and pensioners in the state, even as it had announced that workers in the state would begin to receive their December salary from tomorrow.

Apart from the incentives, the state government has lined up some special Christmas programmes to lift up the mood of residents. Already, electrified decorated flowers, Christmas mascots and monuments have been set at the Prof. Kenneth Dike Library, Awka. The Onitsha-Awka end of the Enugu-Onitsha Expressway is also wearing electrified flowers, which beam in the night, ditto the flyovers in Arroma, Kwata and Amawbia junctions.

Imo Streets Wear New Look To Herald Christmas
From Charles Ogugbuaja, Owerri

a Few days before the year 2019 Christmas and New Year festivities, major streets and strategic areas in Owerri, the Imo State capital, are wearing new looks with season’s decorations.

Areas such as the public park near the Government House, Okigwe Road roundabout, Wethdral Road and Fire Service Roundabout, Okigwe by Egbu Road, among others, are wearing good looks.

In the spirit of the festivities, the state Governor, Emeka Ihedioa, announced the free treatment of persons living with HIV/AIDS.

But the governor was yet to make any commitment on free vehicles for returnees but he has directed the repair of some roads to ensure the free flow of traffic during the season.

During a visit to Relief and Douglas Road markets in Owerri, people were seen buying some items especially foodstuffs, in bulk.

As on Wednesday when The Guardian visited various motor parks in the Owerri, no rush was observed but there is the likelihood that travellers would besiege the parks later in the month.

A driver at the Imo Transport Company (ITC), who identified himself as Anyanwu, said they were only recording the usual inflow of passengers.

“For now, there is no upsurge of travelers. This is not ruled out. In the next few days, we will expect such,” he said.

‘Nigerian Rice Farmers Need To Improve On Processing’
From Agosi Todo, Calabar

The usual fanfare that heralds the Christmas season in Calabar, the Cross River State capital, especially since the Donald Duke administration, appears to be gradually fading out. For instance, the Carnival village was opened for fun lovers two weeks ago but business activities have been very dull there. The beautiful, lavish Christmas decorations Calabar was known for has also been replaced with touches of decorations just at major points and roundabouts in the city.  

Some residents lamented that the closure of borders would affect the celebrations this year, citing the astronomical rise in the price of rice.

One Mrs. Ochuole Ogar claimed that the local rice that the Federal Government has advised Nigerians to patronise is not well processed for consumption, calling on local rice farmers to do more to the extent that local rice would favourably compete with imported rice.

She said: “Christmas for me is going to be in a low key because the economy has dictated it to be that way. Things are very expensive since the borders have been closed. The price of rice, which is the major food for Christmas festivity, has gone up. Local rice has come out in different forms. They are not well processed to the point where you would say they are worth using for any festivity. They are more stones than rice. On that note, I want the local farmers to improve on their rice processing method.

“My family and I will be having a low-key Christmas because money is scarce in circulation. And when you have the money with you, the things you could buy many years back, you can’t buy them now. And if you also have it in mind that January is a very long month, a month for school fees and everything that the New Year brings, you will see the need to be prudent in how you spend Christmas. So, what is the point of spending all the money you have for Christmas when January stares you in the face and with all the responsibility attached to it? So, we will eat and thank the Lord, but we will soberly reflect on how the year has been so far.”

Also speaking, a student of the University of Calabar, Henrietta Etta, said she wished to celebrate Christmas in an elaborate way but said the responsibilities of January must be considered.

Besides the lights and decorations, the state government has mounted a new state flag in major roundabouts in the state to the disappointment of residents.

A concerned Cross Riverian, Michael Nsa wondered why the governor was putting so much interest on the ‘strange’ flag. He said: “The state government has unilaterally moved to change the state logo and colour. They are something that was legislated but now the present governor has single-handedly moved to change the blue and white to red, bringing in questionable design like having a bull breaking out of the cycle of stars. He is celebrating that flag in major roundabouts across the state capital while the beautiful Christmas decoration Calabar is known for is no more there.”

For Ebonyi Rice Farmers, Yuletide Brings Bumper Harvest
From Nnamdi Akpa, Abakaliki

Ahead of the Christmas celebration, prices of commodities have shot up in Ebonyi State following the closure of land borders by the Federal Government. While low-income earners in the state are lamenting the situation, rice farmers want the borders to remain closed because they are making big sales.

The Guardian checks in the market showed that the price of tomato has doubled just as 25kg of max rice sells for N9,000 as against N6,500.

A trader, Mr. Paul Oke, who deals in foodstuff, said the increase in the price of commodities was as a result of border closure even as he lamented low patronage. He noted that by this time last year, the business was booming.

“I’m blaming the Federal Government for the hardship the people are facing due to border closure because there are no palliative measures from the government to assuage the situation,” he said.

On the contrary, the farmers especially rice farmers, thanked the Federal Government for the closure, saying it has added value to their produce.

A rice farmer, Mr. Utobo Uka, said he was happy with the development, noting that this year’s Christmas would be memorable in his family.

“This is the first time I’m making high sales from rice. This will also boost local production. This year’s Christmas will be memorable in my family,” he said.