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Inflation: Bleak yuletide looms for Nigerians

By Ijeoma Thomas-Odia, Maria Diamond, Ogechi Eze, Adetayo Adeowo, Onyinye Ezeilo and Joshua Akade
05 December 2020   |   3:01 am
Exactly 20 days to this year’s Christmas, there are strong indications that ordinary Nigerians might not celebrate it with fanfare. The prices of foodstuff and other essential commodities have hit the rooftop, far beyond the reach of a lot of people. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) had on November 16, 2020, reported that Nigeria’s…

Cross-section of Nigerians shopping for Xmas

Exactly 20 days to this year’s Christmas, there are strong indications that ordinary Nigerians might not celebrate it with fanfare. The prices of foodstuff and other essential commodities have hit the rooftop, far beyond the reach of a lot of people.

The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) had on November 16, 2020, reported that Nigeria’s headline inflation had hit 14.2 per cent as of the end of October, up 500 basis points above the 13.7 per cent recorded in September 2020. The October position also represented the 14th consecutive monthly rise in headline inflation since September 2019 when it stood at 11.24 per cent.

Also, the bureau in the third quarter report it released recently, said Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in real terms declined by -3.62 per cent year-on-year in quarter three 2020, thereby marking a full-blown recession.

Many Nigerians told The Guardian that they were feeling the impact of the present poor state of the economy and as such might not be able to celebrate the season in style. This is as there are those who said they had no plans for the season at all but were already drawing plans for 2021.

To a secondary school teacher in the Mushin area of Lagos State, Adunni Ola, the prices of commodities have stripped the season of the enthusiasm and fanfare associated with it.

He said: “An average man in the society would find it difficult to afford these items especially during this period. The price of a bag of rice, which was N24,000 before has risen to N26,000; and it is still rising. A tin of tomato paste, which cost N60 at the beginning of the year, now costs N150. Meanwhile, the manufacturers have reduced both quality and quantity. So also are groundnut oil, red oil, fabric, and many other items.

“But I’m grateful to God; I’m glad I survived this year and will celebrate with my family and friends with the little I can afford while I look forward to the year 2021.”

Many traders said they had been recording poor sales notwithstanding the fact that the yuletide season is around the corner.

According to Ebunoluwa Paul, a fabric merchant in the Lagos Island market, customers have not been trooping to the market as in previous years.

“Other than the normal sales I make on a daily basis at the shop, I have not gotten or seen customers coming to the market for their Christmas wears, which is quite unusual. This season doesn’t feel right and honestly, I won’t blame the customers for not patronising us.”

Another trader in the Mushin market, who simply identified herself as Mummy Ann, also said: “Rather than sales to increase, they have been decreasing. Customers are not coming to patronise us and those who come would price the items to the minimum price. Sometimes, we would have no choice but to sell with little or no profit just for us to make sales.

“Normally, once it is December, the market would be so filled with customers who either want to patronise us or come to survey prices. Things are just dry but I am hoping that things would get better before Christmas day.”

A foodstuff seller in Lawanson market, Esther Nneka, also noted that “a whole lot that happened this year has changed the season. The cost of food items in the market is so expensive. When you try and buy the few food items your money can buy, selling them becomes a problem because customers complain that the prices are too high.

“This year is it not like last year. Normally, by now, my customers would have started booking and making advance payment for food items. But patronage is presently very low. My customers keep complaining of not having money to purchase things.”

A boutique owner at Kekereowo Street, off Ilasamaja bus stop, Fredrick Oluwole, said he sometimes asks himself if people would celebrate this year’s yuletide.

“Having stocked my shop with new and trendy clothes, I hope to make sales so my money doesn’t end up being tied down.

“In previous years, by this time I hardly had time because customers flooded the shop testing clothes, buying, requesting what they wanted, and even paying in advance. I just hope things turn around by next week because this week’s sales are too poor,” he said.

However, Oluwole would be disappointed if he expects the likes of Mrs. Josephine Agbonkhese, who said she does not do yuletide shopping, to come and patronise him.

Agbonkhese, a resident in the Ikotun area, said: “I have never been one who considers Christmas for shopping because I have come to believe that the prices of goods and services at that time are always inflated. So, I avoid the end of the year shopping. For my children’s clothing, I try to find out what they need and not necessarily buying new Christmas outfits because sometimes, they still have new and barely used clothing.

“For food, it is a must that we should eat. Their prices too have not been friendly. Tomatoes that you can buy for N300 now cost N500; groundnut oil that used to go for N3,500 now costs N4,500. With the help of my cooperative, we have stocked the house. But the prices of items have really become unbearable.”

A resident in Ojodu Berger part of Lagos State, Kelechi Onyemaechi, said he was drawing his plans for 2021 and not making preparations for yuletide.

“Personally, I am working on plans for 2021. I want to go for a career change. I need more money and not frivolities. After all that the year 2020 has put me through, it will be so unwise of me to invest my little savings into the yuletide celebration. I can’t even feel the season as I did in previous years,” he said.

Unlike Onyemaechi, a resident in the Ilasamaja area, Uchenna Promise, a businessman, acknowledged that the year has been very tough for him but insisted that he has cause to thank God.

“Habitually, every December, people are always in a frenzy, full of life and celebration. But this year has been both interesting and sour for people. The COVID-19 pandemic and #EndSARS protest have done great damage to people’s mental health.

“I can’t wait to start a new year. I am happy that Christmas is around the corner but all the things that happened this year have ruined much of my plans. But I thank God anyway.”

Another resident in the area, Deborah Adeniji, also said she would not allow the unpleasant events of the year to deprive her of the joy of yuletide.

She said: “As a Christian, the birth of our Lord Jesus is so important to me. I won’t allow all the unpleasant events of this year to rob me of this year’s Christmas celebration.

“I went through the COVID-19 pandemic that kept me indoors for months with little pay from my company that only enabled me to feed and take care of myself and my kids. Then, we were faced with the #EndSARS protest and the sad events that followed. I am still alive, so I have every reason to thank God for keeping us till the end of 2020.

“My preparation for this year’s Christmas celebration is in top gear. By next week, I must have bought new clothes for my kids and have my house decorated for Christmas. It is a thing of joy to be alive to tell the story of the year 2020.”

The Guardian also captured the atmosphere in other states of the federation and spoke with the resident on their yuletide plans. Below are the stories:

Christmas Indicators Absent In Ekiti
From Ayodele Afolabi, Ado Ekiti

IN Ekiti State, which is predominantly inhabited by Christians, a lot of festivities usually take place during the Christmas season. What usually heralded the season were radio jingles and television adverts. Besides, as early as mid-November, corporate institutions such as banks, hotels, shopping malls as well as public institutions, usually decorate their buildings with Christmas trees, lights, and ornaments that indicate the season is at hand.

However, these indicators are virtually absent in the state this year. Further findings also showed that residents were yet to begin their Christmas shopping.

When The Guardian visited both Bisi and Oja Oba Markets in the state capital, traders lamented that early buyers of Christmas items were yet to show up.

“Even the few that are coming could not buy many goods because they complain of lack of money and that the prices are too high,” a trader, Mrs Olorundare Dorcas, lamented.

Another trader who specialises in children’s wears, Mrs Adamolekun Bunmi, projected that her turnover this year might be the lowest in a decade.

According to her, “by this time last year, I had already sold my initial stock and gone back to my suppliers for the second batch.”

She blamed the situation on the high exchange rate of the naira to dollar, stressing that most children’s clothing were imported from overseas, and as such their prices had gone beyond the reach of many parents.

A mother of four kids, Mrs Ademola Christiana, who was seen shopping at the Oja Oba, said her family would celebrate a very low keyed Christmas because the prices of goods have gone out of their reach, noting that they have to pay the school fees of the children in January 2021.

Another resident, Mr Ojo Sunday, stated that his family established small poultry in anticipation of Christmas.

“So, we already have at least 10 chickens for Christmas and the new year. We are only planning to get at least a half bag of rice,” he said.

Imo Traders Lament Low Sales, Urge Govt To Pay Salaries, Pensions
From Charles Ogugbuaja, Owerri

IN Owerri, the Imo State capital, residents have not been exhibiting signs that Christmas is around the corner. Traders also complained of low sales, unlike in previous years.

It was observed that the usual buying and selling of food items in large quantities, especially rice, which some families bought in bags, was not visible. A visit to Relief, Douglas Road and Alaba markets depicted a reduced tempo of pre-Christmas sales when compared to the past. Apparently, the high cost of living has taken a toll on the purchasing power of residents hence the situation.

Civil and public servants dominate Owerri. Most of them, including teachers and retirees, have not received their salaries and pensions for about nine months. Workers of the state’s security outfits such as the Civil Guard, Imo Security Network, and Imo Community Watch are owed about 19 months’ salaries. Doctors in the state’s employ are currently on strike, demanding that they should be paid the arrears of their salaries and allowances since March, among others.

Many of the affected workers in the state also complained of “selective salary and pension payments.”

“The government has been paying some people and leaving some on the excuse that some workers were not captured during automation exercise. All the complaints lodged by the affected workers have met the deaf ears of the government,” a worker alleged.

This is as the state is not immune to the devastating impact of Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) on the economy.

The poor economic conditions of the people notwithstanding, The Guardian observed that the prices of foodstuff have gone up. It found that a bag of rice now sells for between N36, 000 and N40, 000. At the retail shops, a cup of local rice costs N150 while the foreign type costs N170. Also, onion costs between N50 and N100 per ball. The prices of tomatoes, pepper, and other condiments were also high, making many residents unable to embark on bulk buying.

Traders of clothing materials also complained of a lack of buyers likewise tailors.

A foodstuff trader on Amaram Street mini-market, Justice Uruakanwa, told The Guardian, that he was recording very low sales. He acknowledged that the prices of food items were high but insisted that that was how he bought them.

He said: “My brother since I started this business, this period of Christmas is the only one I have noticed low sales. You can see how customers are coming gradually. They are complaining of non-payment of salaries and pensions.”

Ego Nnadi, who also sells foodstuff at Relief Market, said she hardly recorded N3,000 sales per day.

Her words: “I felt by this period, I would be recording sales of about N6,000 per day but it is not so; it reduced by half. There is the low circulation of money coupled with irregular payment of salaries of the civil servants. These are the causes of the problem.”

A resident in the city, Emeka Ibe, said he has decided to celebrate this year’s Christmas in low key as a result of paucity of funds.

“The situation now is perilous. We cannot say that three square meals are feasible. We can only pray to God to intervene. See how people are working without salaries. When they are paid, the salary is slashed. It is unfortunate,” he said.

Inflation Has Pruned Our Purchasing Power, Abia Residents Lament
From Gordi Udeajah, Umuahia 

THE present mood of residents in Abia State suggests this year’s Christmas may not hold, as all the activities that characterise its approach were non-existent as at the time of filing this report.  

This could be attributed to the state government’s inability to offset backlog of workers’ salaries and the high inflation rate that has reduced residents’ purchasing power by more than half.

The state government has, however, set up a panel it mandated to work out how arrears of workers’ salaries would be paid. 

At Ubani market in Umuahia, a petty trader, Mrs Nnenna Nwosu, told The Guardian that this year’s yuletide would be unique because of the level of hardship in the country and the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic.

“I will rather cuddle my children here than risk taking them to the village and expose them to others that will return from other parts of the country and beyond, whose COVID-19 status is not known,” she said.

A farmer, Chief Njoku Ike, said he would not buy Christmas clothes for members of his family because he lacked the funds.

“My son, an unemployed university graduate, has tried to convince others to get their best clothes and take them to the dry cleaner where they would be washed and made to look new,” he said.

A retired civil servant in Umuahia, Okezie Iwuoha, said he would not travel to his village for Christmas celebrations due to lack of funds. He lamented that his children would miss watching village cultural shows, dances, and ceremonies but prayed for good health to live and celebrate 2021 Christmas and beyond.

This Year’s Christmas May Be Worst Ever, Plateau Residents Say
From Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi, Jos

IN Plateau State, residents are also lamenting hard times. A civil servant residing in the New Market area of Jos, Mr. Ishaya Tonga, told The Guardian that this year’s Christmas would be one of the worst celebrations to hold in the state in recent times. “There is nothing to celebrate as far as I am concerned,” he said.

According to Tonga, people were going through excruciating pains and anguish due to the non-payment of their salaries and pensions.         

He said: “For the first time, after coming out of COVID-19 lockdown, we are now in a recession. Prices of food have increased by over 80 per cent due to recent increase in petrol price and because there is general insecurity where farmers are always threatened.

“Besides, people are living in constant fear because they are not sure of their safety. Even the usual Christmas carol that always shows that Christmas is approaching will not be celebrated.”

A trader at the Newmarket, who identified himself as Talatu, said she has been recording low sales because the prices of goods were very high.

“Customers are not coming as expected because of the high cost of food items. A chicken that used to be sold for N2,000 is now sold for N6,000. A bag of rice that was N6,000 before is now N35,000 while a mudu (measure) of flour that was N250 before is now N400.”

A shopper at the market, Hajiya Fatima Isa, also lamented: “A mudu of foreign rice is N900 while the same measurement for local rice costs N600. Beans is N400 per mudu. Two onions cost N50 while salt is N70 per sachet. Red oil is N700 per bottle and groundnut oil is N800 per bottle while groundnut is N50 per two milk tins. Eight cups of grounded pepper go for N500. Three tubers of yam on average go for N1,500 while garri goes for N400 per mudu. But half a gallon of ‘alubo’ now costs N1,000 whereas it was N500 before.”

Despite the high cost of items, Talatu said she would celebrate Christmas but in a low key.

“I am not thinking of buying things to celebrate it because there is no money as things are very expensive except if the government decides to pay workers before Christmas.

“My family will understand because the money I would have used to celebrate has been used to pay my children’s school fees,” she said.

Kebbi Traders Urge FG To Enforce Price Control
From Ahmadu Baba Idris, Birnin Kebbi

THE Chairman of Kebbi State Traders Association, Alhaji Usman Hassan, has urged the Federal Government to devise a means of reducing the cost of goods in the country.

Hassan, who spoke with The Guardian in an interview, said the prices of food items and other goods were too high because of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy, the #EndSARS protest, and the recent hike in the price of petroleum.

He noted that transporters have increased their fares by at least 30 per cent, urging the Federal Government to come up with a price control mechanism to assuage the pains of the people.

“You see, during the recent protest, some of our vehicles were burnt and there were goods inside them. The goods were worth millions of naira. All these affected plans for December festivities,” he added.

Hassan also appealed to the Federal Government to reopen Nigeria’s borders in order to allow the inflow of commodities into the country that would force prices down and consequently reduce the suffering of the masses.

“People are suffering. If you enter the villages, you will know that Nigerians are in critical conditions,” he said.

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