Noel sans merry
A few days to Christmas, low patronage remains the lots of several markets across the country as shoppers and households alike battle with lean purse and economic uncertainties. WOLE OYEBADE (Lagos)reports, with additional reports from AUWAL AHMAD(Gombe), TUNJI OMOFOYE (Osogbo) and HENDRIX OLIOMOGBE (Asaba).
The popular Oshodi market road, Oshodi, Lagos, was parked full as usual last Friday afternoon. It was a typical Christmas setting in Lagos markets. Traditional Christmas trees, flowers, display lights all compete with clothing, household wares and food items – both in shops and on the walkways.
But quite unusual on this day was the predominance of sellers more than buyers. From the nook and cranny of the market there were various price tags, which also added a new twist to the chaotic market setting. Freely did bells ring to accompany blares of “Christmas bonanza…buy one, get one free…”
“Eight-eight hundred… eight hundred… eight-eight hundred…,” chanted Kemi Azeez, on the walkway. In front of her were layers of Ankara fabrics that were never that cheap some weeks ago. “Eight-eight hundred, no more N2000… Christmas give away…eight-eight hundred…,” she reeled out in the direction of every passerby.
Azeez, 26, told The Guardian that the desperate marketing approach had become necessary in the wake of rather a poor patronage just some days before Christmas.
In her words: “These fabrics have been lying in the store (pointing in the direction of a nearby shop) for two months now. Only very few people have been coming, but this week, the market is very dull and it’s already Christmas,” she complained.
Mrs. Eniola, some shops away, had also expected patronage to pick some days to Christmas. But in vain, she had waited as anxieties began to mount
“Even at reduced prices (of about 20 percent discount), market (referring to goods) still refused to move. Customers keep saying there is no money in town. It is not like Christmas is approaching at all,” Eniola said.
Markets of this nature all around the state attract the middle-income earners as their main customers. Unlike in most other states of the federation, prompt payment of monthly salary has never been an issue in Lagos civil service.
In fact, since governor Akinwunmi Ambode came on board in May, he had ensured that salaries of about 12,000 workforces in the state get paid not later than 27th of every month. It was gathered that the state government last week paid all workers December salary, plus a bonus of 25 per cent to all workers in commemoration of the Christmas and New Year festivities.
But the civil servants are still shopping less. A Civil Servant, Gbenga Adedeji, said they were lucky for the prompt payment of salary, but the pay is inadequate for Christmas shopping.
Adedeji said: “Anything outside of good food is like asking for too much these days. Yes, there is prompt payment of salary, but more than half is now spent on transport since this fuel scarcity problem began. Yet, there is house rent, school fees to be paid and all that. These are not the days for any frivolous spending at all.”
In preparing the MTEF, we seek a dramatic shift from spending on recurrent to spending on the capital aspect of the budget. It is going to be tighter for everybody. All non-essential expenditure would be cut off. We will reduce the overheads by seven percent, Udoma said. A Christmas without fun fair
Adedeji’s priority, which is food, appears also to have gone up in some markets visited. The price of some food items like chilli pepper, tomato and onion has soared by over 100 per cent in Lagos markets days to Christmas celebration.
A survey showed that a basket of chilli pepper (popularly called rodo) is now N25,000 against N12,000 it sold two weeks ago. A big basket of tomato, which previously ranged between N8, 000 and N11, 000, now sells for between N13, 000 and N17, 000.
A medium-size basket of fresh pepper (tatashe) now sells for N12,000, from N8,000, while a bag of onions now cost N35,000 as against N25,000 two weeks ago.
Traders attributed climate change, lingering fuel scarcity and insecurity in the North as factors responsible for the price increase.
The spokesman for Mile 12 Perishable Food Traders Association, Femi Odusanya, said that the climate change had adversely affected the growth of farm produce.
“Farmers are complaining because the climate change has affected the development process of the crops. Harvest that ought to have started now will be delayed till January.
“We have few trucks bringing produce to the market that is why there are complaints of scarcity of pepper in some areas.”
He said that consumers would continue to spend more on these condiments till the situation improved. Families that used to spend N500 on the pepper for their stew before should be ready to spend N1000 on the same quantity.”
Odusanya urged the government to invest in agriculture by improving the storage capacity of farmers to boost the food supplies in the country.
The Vice-President, Iddo Market Association, Muftau Alli, on his part said that the unrest in the northern part of the country and fuel scarcity had reduced the number of trucks that were coming to the market with food produce.
Insecurity in the North-East, according to Alli, had forced many farmers to migrate, while the remaining few were being discouraged due to losses from market supply hitches.
“Scarcity and high cost of fuel in the state have further compounded whatever preparation people make for Christmas. They have to spend more money than before to buy fuel or board public transport at higher fare.”
He advised the government to address the fuel scarcity before it further cripples the economy.
A trader in Lagos, Issa Mohammed, said that it was “insensitive” of any government to allow fuel scarcity during a period of festivity, talk less of twin major festivals like Christmas and the New Year.
Mohammed observed that traveling is usually one of the characteristics of such festivities, but might have been discouraged with the current fuel scarcity, which has been on for several months.
He said: “How insensitive can any government get? What is festivity without travel or moving from one place to another? But all of a sudden, that has become a luxury. People are paying more to travel, coupled with the traffic snarls in every nook and cranny of Lagos. It is just so frustrating.
“I belong to no political party, but I can say that this is not the change Nigerians voted for some eight months ago. Any serious government would have done everything humanly possible to avert such embarrassing situation like fuel scarcity,” Mohammed said.
The lingering fuel scarcity in Delta State will no doubt mar what ordinarily would have been a “Merry Christmas” and “Prosperous New Year”.
Few days to Christmas, only few retail outlets have fuel and the price very exorbitant. At Asaba, Delta State capital, a litre of fuel that is supposed to be sold for N87 per litre currently goes for N150 per litre, The Guardian investigation revealed. Long queue for fuel is a common sight at filling stations as there is no respite for anxious motorists who have to endure several hours in a desperate effort to getting the precious liquid.
With the high cost of transportation, which skyrocketed before the Yuletide, the prices of essential commodities have shot up. From rice to tomato and chicken, the prices have spiked, and there is no breather for the common man as the prices are beyond his reach. Also, the prices of imported goods have increased because of the high exchange rates.
A storekeeper at the popular Ogbe-Ogbogonogo Market, Asaba, who simply gave his name as James, lamented that sales are yet to pick up few days before Christmas. He said that this time last year, business was good. He however expressed hope that situation may change before the Christmas day.
A civil servant, Apkons, expressed his frustration this way: “The high cost of goods and foodstuffs is the reason for the bleak Christmas. There is no fuel, and the cost of transportation has shot up. People spend so much of their money buying fuel for their vehicles and generators because of the epileptic power supply. Times are really hard and majority of Nigerians are just managing to get by. These are terrible times. There
is nothing merry about the Christmas.”
In Gombe State, civil servants are yet to receive salary four days to Christmas.
The Guardian’s visit to markets in the capital city, Gombe, showed that there is low turnout of shoppers at different market places.
A shopper, Miss Elizabeth Joshua Bilal, told The Guardian she was at the market only to buy her sister’s shoes because she had started buying stuff for Christmas before things become more expensive.
“What was remaining for me to buy is my sister’s shoes which I used to buy at N1,800 but yesterday I was told to pay N 2,400 for the same shoes, so I couldn’t buy it”.
The story of impending bleak Christmas is not different in Osun state where workers are paid half salaries.
A medical Doctor at LAUTECH Teaching Hospital, Osogbo, Osun state, Dr. Olugbenga Akintunde, noted that the poor economic situation in the state, which engenders irregular and payment of half salaries to workers, would make Christmas celebration bleak.
He said the fact that government is major employer of labour in the state has brought about limited cash flow because people don’t have enough money at their disposal to throw around for Christmas.
According to him, scarcity and high cost of fuel in the state have further compounded whatever preparation people make for Christmas. They have to spend more money than before to buy fuel or board public transport.”
High cost of fuel at about N130 per litre has depleted the little money at the disposal of many in the state, he stressed.
Dr. Akintunde also noted the prices of commodities have gone up because of falling naira against American dollar.
The weak local currency has reduced the purchasing power of the people while the situation has also rubbed off on preparation for Christmas celebration because the money is simply not there for people to meet their demands, he said.
The Federal Government’s recent warning that Nigerians should brace up for more tough times ahead appears to have created a sense of uncertainty in the minds of some people that would ordinarily have “spoilt” themselves at this Christmas.
The government had put Nigerians on notice that its economic measures could lead to more austere conditions in 2016. It would be recalled that the Minister for Budget and National Planning, Udoma Udo Udoma, during consideration of the 2016 to 2018 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) at the Senate, said that it was important that substantial reductions were made in government’s spending pattern in order to effect the expected change.
According to him, “In preparing the MTEF, we seek a dramatic shift from spending on recurrent to spending on the capital aspect of the budget. It is going to be tighter for everybody. All non-essential expenditure would be cut off. We will reduce the overheads by seven percent,” Udoma said.
A fall out of government economic string tightening measures, perhaps, was the review of approved spending rate allowed by the banks. The review, according to some Nigerians, has further prevented a lot of people from travelling overseas in the spirit of the season.
An entrepreneur who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the policy has not been quite favourable, adding that these are not the best of times to go on holiday.
According to him, “I love to travel at Christmas but now, I can’t just do that. Not because it is so expensive for me, but because of the spending rate allowed by the banks is just crazy. How will anyone survive on $1000 per day and $50,000 a year? How would that take care of the family too?
“I use two accounts and both of them have sent me the same benchmark. It is just not wise to travel this time. One has to be smart and quick thinking; otherwise, you’d just go there and get stranded. The hard times are not only next year. For me, they are already here with us,” he said.
An Economist, Henry Boyo, however, said that Nigerians need not panic on the current situation, but rather should apply common sense in their spending at this festive season.
Boyo noted that Nigerians over time appear to have become accustomed to accommodating waste, be it in terms of food, entertainment, and clothing among others.
“But we have come to a time when nobody has to tell anyone on the need to cut down. Yes, you may want to do lots of entertainment during this season but you have to put a lot of moderation in the list otherwise it becomes endless.
The most critical area of spending especially at this time is food. It is difficult to say don’t eat, but it is not difficult to say eat in moderation. Only buy those things you need and not what the children want to buy. One must plan the family budget in a manner that is sustainable and not in the manner that it will put you in debt in January. I believe that the simple message is that we all should apply common sense in our spending,” he said.