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Christmas: Families draw alternative plans as hard times bite

By Ijeoma Thomas-Odia, Maria Diamond, Oyelekan Itunu, Hafeedoh Balogun (Lagos), Inemesit Akpan-Nsoh (Uyo), Charles Ogugbuaja (Owerri), Timothy Agbor (Osogbo), Obinna Nwaoku (Port Harcourt), Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi (Jos), Ibrahim Obansa (Lokoja) and Nnamdi Akpa (Abakaliki)
20 November 2021   |   3:37 am
Many Nigerians received the news of the drop in the nation’s inflation rate in October 2021 to 15.99 per cent from 16.63 per cent recorded in September with a pinch of salt last Monday. Although the rate has continued to decline in the past seven months after hitting 18.17 per cent in March 2021, Nigerians…

Many Nigerians received the news of the drop in the nation’s inflation rate in October 2021 to 15.99 per cent from 16.63 per cent recorded in September with a pinch of salt last Monday.

Although the rate has continued to decline in the past seven months after hitting 18.17 per cent in March 2021, Nigerians appear not to feel the impact. This is even as the Christmas season beckons.

Across the country, families are crying out over the high cost of foodstuff and other basic items they would need to have a memorable celebration. Dealers are also lamenting low patronage with just four weeks and five days to Christmas.

A retailer of household food items in the Ikotun area of Lagos, Mrs. Bolaji Onalaja, said the rising cost of items had become worrisome.

“I usually stock groundnut oil from Kings to Laziz, Mamador and Power oil and the prices ranged from N4,000 to N5,500 for a five litre keg. Right now, the same keg sells for N7, 000. I cannot even afford to stock as much as I would have wanted to.

“Even the prices of basic condiments for cooking have increased drastically. Ducros curry and thyme that used to cost between N100 and N150 now costs N300 each. The content in the containers has also reduced. As a strategy, I have focused on stocking the sachets because that is what most people request for now. We just hope that it doesn’t get too bad because food is very important and we must eat.”

A wholesaler of various brands of rice at Ikotun market, who identified himself simply as Mr. Friday, blamed speculation for the hike in prices. He recalled that in 2020, he sold a bag of foreign rice for N23,000, noting that as soon as it was November, the price rose to N28,000 and didn’t reduce till sometime this year.

A resident of Abesan area of the state, Mrs. Ogeamaka Igwe, a housewife, stated that in anticipation of arbitrary increment of prices by retailers, she had started stocking the food items she would need throughout the Christmas season.

“I have started my shopping for foodstuff for the end of the year celebration. Last week, I went to the market to buy a half bag of corn. I usually make my children’s pap by myself. This week, I will look for money to buy 10 litres of groundnut oil, which should last us for the season. Next week, I will stock tomatoes and condiments. I will continue like that until I finish buying all the things I will need this season depending on my budget. 

“The economy has become so harsh that I cannot comfortably afford all that I need at a go. Things are not well in this country but we shall all survive,” she said.

A school teacher, Omotola Abiodun, said she knew that things would get worse as the Christmas season draws nearer, saying it had become the norm. She revealed that she had been saving N5000 monthly since February this year through the cooperative society in her office in preparation for the expenses of the Christmas season.

“We are already making enquiries on the basic foodstuff we need. With a bag of rice at almost N28,000, we are trying to secure some before the hike becomes very alarming. Groundnut oil too is on the high side; the prices of cow meat, goat meat, iced fish and condiments have drastically increased. This is really bad; a lot of people cannot afford to feed again,” she lamented.

A civil servant, Mr. Peter Ogedegbe, who has a family of six, said he was already under pressure to meet up with his expenses during the season.

“Most civil servants live on loan. And to afford decent Christmas and New Year celebrations, they probably would have to take more loans. As a man, I have to think about buying new clothes for every member of my family. I have to make sure there is enough food at home while also thinking about school fees payment for the new term,” he said.

Ogedegbe urged traders to be considerate while fixing prices for their wares. “As much as I understand that things are now expensive everywhere, traders should also help us. Do not sell at a ridiculously expensive price what you are supposed to sell at cheap price because you know that people will need it in this season.”

During a visit to the popular Akindeko Market in Osogbo, Osun State, it was discovered that prices of foodstuffs like rice, beans, flour, garri and regular beverages had increased when compared to the prices that obtained at the corresponding time last year.

Some dealers in these items at the market, in separate interviews with The Guardian, said consumers should expect to buy them at more expensive prices as Christmas approaches. According to them, it has become a ritual in Nigeria for the price of foodstuffs and basic household items to skyrocket during festive periods.

A rice dealer at the market, Mr. Alaba Faramade, said a bag of rice which sold at N18,000 in the state by this time last year now goes for N29,000. He also said a bag of beans that sold at N25, 000 late last year now costs between N60,000 and N100,000.

“Also, sachets of beverages (e.g milk, milo) that sold at N700 now goes for N1,200; five kilogramme of cooking gas that sold at N1,500 now goes for N3,200. Bread that we used to buy between N350 and N400 now goes for N700. Almost all the prices of consumables have doubled within the last one year,” he said.

A dealer in yam, Mrs. Ronke Agbaje, said five tubers of yam that cost between N1, 500 and N2,000 by this time last year now sells for between N4,000 and N6,000 depending on the size.

The high cost of the items has forced consumers, especially parents, to adjust their spending plans.

A parent, Mr. Gabriel Ajayi, while disclosing his plans to navigate the Christmas season with the little money he has, said he had started stocking his home with some essential food items such as rice and beans.

“These foodstuffs will cost more in December. In this country, I have observed that prices of everything, not only food items, increase every week these days. Therefore, I have already bought some food items that my family will cook at Christmas. Though expensive, I have to get the little I could afford on time before the rush hours when their prices will further increase.”

Another parent, Mrs. Martha Adebayo, said her family might not share food to many of its neighbours this Christmas as it had done for years.

“Every Christmas season, my family always gives food to our neighbours. We even give to those on other streets, to show them, love. With the way the prices of foodstuffs have been rising, I don’t think that will be possible this year. It’s part of managing and rationing the available resources. We may also prepare one type of food unlike last year’s Christmas when we had both pounded yam and rice at the same time,” she said.

In Rivers State, traders at the popular Mile One Market, Port Harcourt, decried low patronage, saying the high cost of the items they sell discourages buyers.

The Financial Secretary of Foodstuffs Wholesale Dealers Association (FOWDA) in the market, Chidi Evans, told The Guardian that a 50kg bag of local rice which sold at N22, 000 last year now sells for N27,000, while foreign rice that cost N28,000 also goes for N33,000.

He said there might be more hikes in prices in the coming days that would negatively affect sales.

“By this time last year, one litre sachet of groundnut oil cost N600 but the price now is N1, 200. Three litres of groundnut oil last year was N2, 700 but it now costs N4, 500. It is very high. The way the thing is climbing, before December when there would be high demand, people might not be able to afford to eat. Last year was somehow better than this year.

“Beans is another thing. It has added money. Last year, people complained that it was high at the rate of N1, 300 but now, a rubber of beans is N2, 800. A bag of beans that was N43,000 now sells at N85,000. I pity civil servants; I don’t know how they can cope. Some of them are being owed; they have families and things are very costly.

“We do not know the cause. When you ask, some people will say it is the rise in the exchange rate, others will say it is because of the lockdown in the Southeast, that people are afraid of coming to the East. We do not know exactly what is causing the problem.

“For we traders, it is affecting us because the little money we have, instead of us to buy much quantity, we buy the little our money can buy. The government should do something to help the poor masses.”

At the chicken section of the market, a seller, Simone Umoke-Ezeugo, said the price had also risen as a result of the high cost of feed.

“The feed and raw materials used in raising the birds are scarce. Feed is very costly. A 25kg bag is sold for N12, 500. Last year, we sold layers at N2, 200 per one. This year, poultry farmers are selling at N2, 400 to us and we have to sell to make a profit,” he explained.

In Jos, Plateau State, Mrs. Benedicta Eze, who sells foodstuffs at Rukuba Road Satellite Market, said the high cost of items at the local markets where she sources her wares was scary.

Her words: “The items are supposed to be cheaper at this time of harvest but the prices are on the high side. A mudu of garri is now N600; rice is N1, 300; maize is N350; Acha is N1, 100; millet or guinea corn is N400; three kilogrammes of cooking gas now costs N2, 500 while a gallon of kerosene is N2, 000. A bag of charcoal is N3, 500 and 10 tubers of yams cost N15, 000.

“I am expressing concerns because these items are too costly at this time. The policies of the Federal Government on agriculture have not translated into reality. Rather than reduction in prices of foodstuffs, we are seeing tremendous hike. So, there is danger and there is nothing like food security.

“Even if the minimum wage of public servants is increased to N100,000 per month, their purchasing power will still be low. I suggest that government should lift the ban on importation of food items into Nigeria because we cannot produce entirely what we consume.”

Ahead of the Christmas celebration, Kogi State residents are also crying out over high cost of items. Investigations in Lokoja, the state capital, showed that a bag of local and foreign rice, which used to cost between N18, 000 and N20,000 and N28,000 and N30,000, now goes for between N25,000 and N27,000 and N40,000 and N45,000.

At the popular Pata Market in Lokoja, a middle-aged woman, who did not want her name printed, told The Guardian that she came to the market to buy rice and tomatoes but had to return home to source for more money because the prices had jumped beyond what she budgeted.

According to her, a small basket of tomatoes that she used to buy at N500 now costs N1000 while five pieces of onions that used to cost N200 now sell for between N500 and N600. She expressed concern that many families in the state might not be able to celebrate Christmas the way they would have wanted to if prices continue to rise.

Another resident, Mrs. Agnes James, said her family was already considering an alternative to rice for the Christmas celebration.

“With a family of five and my compound people that we normally give food during the festive period, how many mudus of rice will be enough for us? We are already considering an alternative to rice,” she said.

Another woman, Christiana Adejo, said her children would likely wear their old clothes during Christmas because she might not be able to afford the cost of news ones.

“I have told my children that they would have to make use of their old clothes. Go to the market and find out the prices of clothes. It’s killing. I know that prices of things are generally high everywhere now, but that of Lokoja is different. I think it’s sheer wickedness,” she lamented.

In Ebonyi State, many residents said they were already envisaging low-key celebration as a result of the high cost of commodities and services. Some civil servants in the state were particularly pained as many of them lamented that their incomes have remained the same amid the rising cost of living.

When The Guardian visited a market in Abakaliki, it was observed that four pieces of tomatoes that used to cost between N80 and N100 now costs N200 or more.

A civil servant, who identified himself simply as Ume, said his family would celebrate Christmas in a low-key manner because of the high prices of foodstuffs.

“Three pieces of fresh tomatoes now cost N200; a bushel of local rice now costs N10, 000; garri is now out of the reach of many families. Although we will be celebrating the birth of Christ, I’m not happy about the state of the economy,” he said.

A trader, Mr. Nwite Paul, who deals in foodstuffs, lamented low patronage with Christmas Day just a few weeks away.

“By this time last year, sales were already booming. I’m blaming the Federal Government for the hardship the people are facing. They should come up with policies that will alleviate the sufferings of Nigerians,” he said.

A survey conducted by The Guardian at three major markets in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital, – Akpan Andem, Itam and Urua Afaha – also showed a high cost of goods even though the prices varied slightly at the markets.

Most shoppers attributed the development to the existence of market unions under which sellers hide to arbitrarily fix prices.

At Akpan Andem, a bag of foreign rice costs N25,00, N27,000 and N28,000, depending on the type and the country from which it was imported.

According to Imeobong Akpan, a housewife, “a 50kg bag of rice goes for N30, 000 as against N26,000 two months ago while 50kg bag of local rice is sold at N20,000 as against N15,000 three months ago.” A bag of garri now costs N20,000 as against N18, 000 a month ago. At Urua Afaha Market, a bag of garri now goes for N24, 000.

Some residents said that with the high cost of foodstuffs and other household items, many families might not be able to cope with the demands of the Christmas season.

In Owerri, the Imo State capital, both traders and buyers at Ekeukwu Owerre, Relief, Alaba and New markets in the city told The Guardian that the rising prices of foodstuffs and other household items lately was annoying.

A trader at Amaram Extension, Owerri, lamented that each day he goes out to purchase the wares he sells, he always records price increase.

“When one item is up, others follow. Christmas is around the corner. A live chicken I purchased last year at N5, 000 is now sold at N7,000. Also, a live goat sold at N12, 000 last year is about N18,000 now while the quantity of cow meat sold at N3,000 by this time last year is now N4,500. A half paint of garri, which cost N400 last year now costs N650. Condiments for cooking like pepper, crayfish, palm oil and vegetable oil are all unaffordable now. The situation is that bad,” Amaran told The Guardian.

A civil servant, Jude Oke, whose wife is a teacher in a private school, said the survival of his family was in the hands of God.

“We will not kill ourselves. We will continue to manage life. The only thing is to cut down the size of items to buy during this Christmas celebration. This will be done with the consent of family members,” he said.

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