Nigerians have taken a swipe at the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari over the high cost of living in the country as Christian faithful gear up for this year’s Christmas celebrations.
Those who spoke with The Guardian accused the government of being insensitive to the plight of the masses and lamented that the administration’s inability to tame the rising inflation, fix the lingering scarcity of petrol and ensure security of life and property across the country has marred their plans for the Yuletide season.
The Consumer Price Index (CPI) report released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) barely two weeks ago showed that the prices of goods and services surged to 21.47 per cent in November 2022, up from 21.09 per cent in the previous month.
Although the NBS attributed the increase in the monthly inflation rate to the sharp increase in demand usually experienced during Christmas season, it was the 10th consecutive increase in inflation rate this year, a development experts say has eroded the economic power of an average Nigerian.
Pondering the situation vis-à-vis this year’s Christmas celebrations, a civil servant in Lagos State, Maureen Uwadia, told The Guardian that the season had come and must be observed albeit without the usual excitement.
“The situation in the country today has numbed the excitement that comes with the season. Hence, I will just visit my parents and spend all my time with my family indoors. As far as we are able to eat and make merry in a moderate way, it will make the season peaceful and fun for my family and me,” she said.
Lamenting the high cost of items, she added: “I have just gone to shop for items for my home. In the past, I was able to buy items like a bag of rice, live chicken and more for my parents, but this time around, I will just cook from what I have and share with them. It is sad how things have become, but then, we give glory to God that we have life.”
For Mrs. Tega Onoje, a businesswoman who deals in cosmetics in Lagos, the cost of items is fast becoming unbearable.
“When I went to re-stock my wares for this season, the prices were so high that I was scared that customers might not patronise me. On food items, a live chicken now costs between N9, 000 and N13,000. This is a ridiculous amount. I honestly don’t know where we are heading in this country,” she said.
On her part, a housewife, Alice Emmanuel, said she decided to shop early to see if she could buy items at a cheaper rate but the story turned out to be the same. “You take N50, 000 to the market and you come back almost empty handed.”
During a market survey conducted by The Guardian round the state, Mrs. Juliet Erukhewe, who sells yam at Agboju Market, Old Ojo Road, Awuwo-Odofin Local Council of Lagos State, confirmed that the prices of yam had gone up.
“The medium size yams that I sold N800 each last week now goes for between N1, 100 and N1, 200. You were complaining that the last yam I gave to you was expensive. It’s now that yam is really expensive. It’s actually not the yam per say but the transportation of the yam down to Lagos that is the problem here. What we spend in transporting yam is now crazy.
“The places we go to with N18, 000 is now N28, 000 and we have to fix the prices in a way that we can see our money and make profits. I am selling with small profit now. The fuel scarcity has messed up the Christmas celebration. Look at the town, you can’t feel as if anything is happening. This year Christmas doesn’t come with any good story,” she lamented.
A grains seller at Ikotun Egbe area, Mrs. Adaora Njelita, said: “A paint of foreign rice costs N3, 300 while local rice goes for N2, 800. Olotu brown beans has not really gone up, it’s at moderate price between N2, 200 and N2, 400 per paint. The tiny ones cost between N1, 900 and N2, 000. Also, dried garri is still at N1, 000 per paint. It’s the same with Ijebu garri.”
Mrs. Idowu Modupe, who sells bagged foodstuffs at the Ladipo Autoparts Market, Mushin, said “a bag of Simba (foreign) rice costs N38, 000; Big Bull rice (local) costs N41, 000; five kilogramme bag of wheat flour costs N2, 800 instead of N2,400 while a kilogramme of wheat that used to cost N500 now costs N700.”
In Calabar, the Cross River State capital, the usual bustling associated with Christmas celebration was yet to be witnessed as at Thursday. The Carnival Village has been opened for over three weeks but business activities are still crawling. The beautiful, lavish Christmas decorations Calabar is known for could not be seen anywhere as the major roundabouts that used to be so decorated were still ‘naked’. Literally speaking, there were no signs of Christmas festivity.
Traders and other residents in the state also lamented the high cost of living, noting that with the way prices were going up on daily basis, some families might not have the usual Christmas funfair this year.
A petty trader at the Ikot Ishie market in Calabar, Mrs. Janet Inyang, said life had been so difficult that people hardly patronise her to buy dry fish. According to her, the price is now twice what she sold it sometime last year and early this year. “Before now, we used to buy the stick of this fish at N1000, although it comes in different sizes and prices. If it is the big one, we get it for N2000 and the small one was N1000. But now, a stick of fish costs N4000. How much will you sell to your customers? Customers are complaining because the fish is not worth the amount.
“So my sister, I don’t know how the government could come to our aid. We are suffering; we need things to return to what they used to be. And I pray that God should give us better leaders in these coming elections,” she said.
Another trader, Mrs. Ifeoma Obina, also lamented the high cost of foodstuff, saying: “Things are very hard my sister. One cup of beans is now N130/N150. If you don’t have money you cannot get a meal for yourself and your family. Before, a cup of beans was N30, iron beans cost N50. Government is not helping us. I bought Macarony rice for N46,000. This one you see (points at a bag) is N35, 000 a bag. Before now, I was selling a bag of rice for N8, 000, it got to N15, 000 and people were still buying but now people hardly buy a bag of rice to keep for their family consumption. What they do now is buy in cups or custard bucket. It’s only the rich that can afford to buy a bag of rice. How much is your salary? Some people’s salary is the price of a bag of rice. A cup is sold at N200/N250. It is really sad!
“We now buy a small bag of pepper for N35, 000, and we sell five seeds for N100. For instance, if I want to prepare moimoi, I will have to use up to N400 pepper. What about the beans and other condiments to make it taste delicious as you desire? So my sister, this government has finished us in this country.”
A chicken seller, who preferred not to mention his name, said chicken had become expensive because of the high cost of feed.
“Feed is now expensive; that is why the price of chicken is high. That chicken (points at a chicken in the cage) is two months old and I am selling it at N8, 000. It is not our fault. I buy a bag of chicken feed at N9, 000. I used to buy it at N2,500/N3,000.”
Expressing sadness over the situation of things, Mrs. Cecilia Edidiong said life had been difficult for her and her family, adding that it was difficult for them to get a three square meal a day.
“Things have been on the high side, cost of living is high. The rice we used to buy for N50/N100 is now N200/N250. Many families are finding it difficult to bear with this present situation and the policies this government has introduced. How many cups of rice will families like mine buy? When you go to the market with N1000 and you buy four cups of rice, how much will be left to buy other condiments to prepare a simple palm oil rice?
“Even salaries are not paid on time. As we speak, we have not been paid November salary. How do I cope with four children, a husband who is also a civil servant and a niece? Tell me. Sometimes, we don’t feed properly.
“A kilogramme of gas costs N850. I cannot afford to fill my cylinder to the brim because we cannot afford to pay N12, 000 for 12.5kg. We can only afford to buy a kilogramme, which lasts for only two days. Is it kerosene? A litre is N1000. Gas is even better compared to kerosene. Life has not been easy lately. An average Nigerian cannot boast of three square meals a day. I am a typical example.
“Look at transportation. A short distance is N100. What will be the hope of the future generation? Sometimes I weep for my children. Please you people should tell government to make life easy for us,” she said.
A cloth seller, simply known as Ifeoma said: “The customers are complaining there is no money so we find it hard to make sales. Even if you make sales, the kind of profit we used to make is no more possible. If you put the goods on a high price to cover what you bought, customers will not be able to buy and you will end up not making a single sale. So, all you have to do is just slash the price and sell.
“First, why this bale of cloth is on the high side is because of import duty. Government should reduce the import duty so that the goods will be affordable. They should open the border to allow free business through the neighbouring countries.”
For Ifeoma, the only thing she thanks God for is life. “For business, there is no difference from before Christmas and now Christmas. In the past, business used to boom but this time around, there is nothing like that; everybody is just crying for money,” she added.
A customer who was picking some fairly used clothes also lamented the high cost of living.
“We thank God for life and when there is life there is hope. As it is now, the price of cloth is very high. The ones I bought at N2, 000 used to cost N500. So, that is what we are facing in Nigeria now,” she said.
A transporter, Okechukwu Ume, lamented the poor condition of the roads and the scarcity of petrol.
“The road from Uyo to Calabar is bad. People are suffering a lot. No fuel and when you even get it, it is costly. You get a litre for N250 and even to get it is a problem. So, it has not been easy for transporters. All these are affecting businesses. It has affected motor parts; you buy them at very expensive rates. Before, bearing used to cost N4, 000 but now it costs N9000; brake pad used to cost N1, 200 but now it costs N3,000.
“All these have made us to increase transport fare. Before the festive period, Calabar to Lagos used to be N12, 500 but now it is N17,000. Before, Calabar to Aba was N2, 500 but now it is N5, 000. You can see that everything is affected. It is not just because of Christmas,” he said.
In Plateau State, a resident of Jos North, Mr. Magnus Jacob, said Nigerians were witnessing the worst era of high cost of goods and services.
According to Jacob, who is a civil servant and public affairs analyst, fuel scarcity and insecurity have marred this year’s Christmas.
“For the 2022 Christmas, there is nothing to prepare for because poverty is staring everybody in the face. Salaries have not been paid; business is not booming because there is inadequate fund and inflation. Prices are geometrically going higher per hour, not per day. In my area, Tudun Wada, a bag of rice is above N40, 000; chicken is above N10, 000; cow is above N300, 000; a litre of petrol is over N300. All these are above the N30, 000 minimum wage. So, nobody is preparing for anything to celebrate the festival,” he said.
According to Jacob, many families would have wanted to have a grand Christmas celebration but the reverse has become the case.
“I am not travelling but my survey around the major parks in and out of Jos shows that many people will not travel because of the high cost of transport, fuel scarcity, cash withdrawal limit and non-payment of salaries.
“The fears here by people who would have wished to travel, apart from economic challenges, are insecurity across the six geo-political zones and bad road network. We have instances of kidnapping, terrorism and banditry which are now frequent in Plateau State.”
A member of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Mallam Tasiu Garba also said that not many people would travel in this Christmas season. “There is low passenger traffic compared to 2021. Only a few people who want to join their families are taking advantage of the break to travel. Even private vehicle owners are affected by the high cost of petrol and diesel. The transport fares have also slightly increased and this has affected many things in the real sector.”
A Muslim faithful, Abeny Mohammed (SAN), who observed that Christmas celebrations would always rub off on people of other creeds, urged the government to take immediate steps to mitigate the effects of the current economic crisis on the masses.
His words: “Any economic situation where prices of goods are not within the reach of the middle class people is a dangerous one. It means that more than half of the population is poor. The consequences are better imagined than experienced. Something must be done by relevant body to reduce or mitigate the effects.”
For Mr. Emmanuel Ayeoribe, a former Kwara State secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), “the only thing that has been stable in the face of inflation in Nigeria is the workers’ salary.”
“No salary increments in public services, yet the civil servant must buy goods twice the former prices. The pump price of PMS is no longer under any regulation. A litre is sold for between N180 and N300 in Ilorin metropolis. Tell me, the population of celebrants who will be able to afford the transportation fares to their towns and villages at the peak of the Yuletide.”
The Guardian observed that Oja Oba, Oja Ipata, Kulende and Ago markets in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, were not in their usual buzzy nature at this time of the year. This was even as traders complained of very low patronage, which they attributed to high cost of commodities.
In Imo State where residents are contending with the problem of insecurity aside from the general economic downturn, many residents said they would seek refuge at the headquarters of the Christ Freedom Ministries International (CFM), presided over by Prophet Eziagha A. Gabriel, known as Prophet Seer 1, on the Christmas day.
The prophet had on Sunday December 18, during a programme at the Government Technical College (GTC), Owerri, urged all troubled residents of Owerri, the state capital, and surrounding cities, to come to his ministry’s headquarters in Umuogidi, Umuagwuruihe, Amauzari, Isiala Mbano, Local Council and have peace of mind on Christmas day.
Some residents expressed fear over increasing attacks by gunmen in Okigwe, Orlu and some parts of Owerri, stressing that there was need for them to go and seek God’s intervention through the prophet.
They also lamented biting petrol scarcity in the state, noting that the pump price has risen from N160 to N270 per litre. Consequently, transport fare for intra city shuttles has risen from N50 to N200. Also, commuters travelling from Owerri to Aba, who were paying about N1000 before, now pay N2, 000.
At Relief, Ekeukwu Owerri and other markets in Owerri, a live goat that cost N20, 000 in the past now sells for about N50, 000 while the cost of chicken has skyrocketed to N8,000 from N5,000. A bag of rice now costs N50, 000 instead of N37, 000; a cup of beans now costs N250 instead N150 while a cup of egusi that sold at N200 a few months ago now sells at N600.
When asked why she jerked up the prices of her goods, a petty trader, Onyinyechi Gift, said: “That’s the way I bought. I will not sell at a loss. Everything is expensive now. Our customers will have to bear with us.”
As at the time of filing this report, The Guardian observed that there was no usual rush by the travellers out of Owerri to their ancestral homes for the festive season.
In Anambra State, residents blamed the government for the high cost of basic items they need to have a blissful Christmas.
At the motor parks in Onitsha and Awka, it was observed that transport fares to different routes had gone up. Before now, Awka to Onitsha cost N400, but it now costs N600; Awka to Enugu was N600 but now N1, 000.
Despite the hike in transport fares, some commuters told The Guardian they were happy to be traveling to see their friends and family, and also participate in some functions.
Ferdinand Opurah, who was travelling to Umuahia, Abia State, said he was excited because he had not visited his homeland in the last three years.
“We all, my parents, brothers, sisters and other relatives will celebrate the Christmas as well as the New Year together,” he enthused.
Also, it was observed that the prices of goods and wares in the market have gone up. It was also observed that the volume of trade reduced substantially compared to what it used to be at this time in the past.
Madam Nkemdilim, a trader in Awka, said customers were coming to buy food items in smaller quantities because the prices have increased. She lamented that the development has affected her daily and weekly sales and profit.
“I sell a paint of crayfish at N5, 000; a paint of beans (Potaskom) at N2, 300; iron beans N2, 300 and brown beans N2, 700. For rice, a 50kg bag is now sold at N40, 000, half bag is sold at N20, 000; five litres of Kings vegetable oil at N7, 500; a paint of white garri at N900; yellow garri at N1000; five litres of palm oil at N8, 000 while 10 litres goes for N16, 000. A paint of hand peeled egusi (melon) costs N6, 500,” she said.
A retired civil servant, Mrs. Nwordim Ugboaku, said the current cash crunch and high cost of living in the country have brought much hardship on her family.