… Gas, fuel, road transport, others on increase – NBS
‘…Non-payment of salaries discouraging’
…Kidnapping, insecurity widespread – Analyst
‘… We’ve never had it this bad’
… Christians mustn’t despair – Cleric
Christmas marks the birth of Jesus Christ and it’s supposed to be a time to show love by giving to the less privileged and have fun with family members and friends. However, the rising cost of living, unemployment, insecurity and other drawbacks have taken the shine off this year’s celebration. PAUL OKAH takes a look at the unfortunate scenario in this report.
For most Nigerian families, this year’s Christmas celebration should have been postponed so that they could gather enough money to buy food and gift items for family members and friends in the spirit of the season.
The rising cost of living, the resurgence of the Covid-19 pandemic as well as Lassa fever in parts of the country have led to many people living in fear of large gatherings or meetings.
Daily reports of kidnapping, killings and other vices have also discouraged people from travelling to their villages, with many preferring to send home little amounts to family members other than confronting the uncertainties on the roads.
For months now, Nigerians have had to battle with inflation and the rising cost of goods and services without commensurate increase in the salaries of civil servants and their counterparts in the private sector.
One kg of cooking gas is sold at N800 in Abuja, with average families needing 12kg for about three weeks to one month translating close to N10, 000. Some families have since opted for firewood, charcoal, saw dust and other forms of unhealthy sources of energy to prepare their meals.
In a recent market survey conducted by this reporter, prices of food items, goods, and services have either doubled or increased by over 50 per cent.
At Karmo market in Abuja, a five litre-refillable groundnut oil pack was sold at N6,500, while five litres of palm oil, which used to sell for N3,000 or N3, 500, months ago, was being bought at N4,000 at the time of filing in this report.
A 10kg bag of Semolina was sold for N5, 800, as opposed to N4, 500 or N5, 000 that was obtainable weeks back.
A paint bucket of garri went for N1, 000 or N1, 200, but was sold for N800 a few weeks back, while a bag of garri was sold for N16,000, as opposed to N13,000 few weeks back.
Five tubers of small-sized yams were sold at N4, 000, as opposed to N3,000 few weeks back, while slightly bigger sizes of the same quantity were sold at between N5,000 and N6,000.
However, as a result of the harvest of new species, the prices of beans and long-grain rice are reducing, compared to what was obtainable a few weeks ago, though many still prefer the old ones.
A 50kg of long-grain rice was sold for N30,000 some weeks back, but now sells for N27, 500 or N28, 000 per bag, while the 50kg bag of short grain rice was sold for N25 000 or N26, 000.
Also, a paint bucket of beans, which used to sell for between N3,000 and N3, 500 weeks back, now sells for between N2,200 and N2,500, while cheaper species sell for N1,800.
A carton of 70g noodles was sold for N3, 000, while a carton of Spaghetti was sold for N6, 500, as opposed to N2, 700 and N5,500, respectively.
Speaking with this reporter, a trader in food items, Mr. Yusuf Ahmed, lamented the high cost of both groundnut oil, palm oil and other items, saying the prices will still increase in the coming days.
He said: “Five litres of groundnut oil now sells for N6, 500. We sold it for N5, 500 last month. Palm oil now sells for N4, 000 for five litres. We are not sure how these prices will be by Christmas Day. They are likely to skyrocket this yuletide because of the close of most companies and increase in demand. As we cannot predict how the prices will be on Christmas Day, we will sell as we buy.
“Noodles are still expensive and the price goes up every two weeks. Prices of most condiments such as seasoning cubes, salt, tomato paste, curry and other spices are also increasing. A tin of egusi was sold for N500 a few weeks ago, but is now N700, while a measure of dried pepper, which was sold for N700, is now N900.”
The Consumer Price Index (CPI) measures the average change over time in prices of goods and services consumed by people for day-to-day living and usually captured by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on a monthly basis for different states.
On December 15, 2021, during a media conference in Abuja, the Statistician-General of the Federation, Mr. Simon Harry, said on a month-on-month basis, headline index increased by 1.08 per cent in November, which was 0.10 per cent higher than the 0.98 per cent recorded in October.
He said the urban inflation rate increased by 15.92 per cent (year-on-year) in November from 15.47 per cent recorded in November 2020, while the rural inflation rate increased by 14.89 per cent in November from 14.33 per cent in November 2020.
He revealed that on a month-on-month basis, however, urban index rose by 1.12 per cent in November, up by 0.10 per cent from the 1.02 per cent recorded in October, while rural index also rose by 1.04 per cent in November, up by 0.09 per cent from 0.95 per cent rate recorded in October, adding that composite food index rose by 17.21 per cent in November, compared to 18.30 per cent in November 2020.
According to him, the rise in food index was caused by increases in prices of bread and cereals, fish, food products such as potatoes, yam and other tuber, oil and fats, milk, cheese and eggs and coffee, tea and cocoa.
However, on a month-on-month basis, the food sub-index increased by 1.07 per cent in November, up by 0.16 per cent points from 0.91 per cent recorded in October.
Also, the “All items less farm produce’’ or Core inflation, which excludes the prices of volatile agricultural produce stood at 13.85 per cent in November, up by 0.61 per cent when compared with 11.05 per cent recorded in November 2020, adding that on month-on-month basis, the core sub-index increased by 1.26 per cent in November.
“This was down by 0.46 per cent when compared with 0.80 per cent recorded in October. The highest increases were recorded in prices of gas, liquid fuel, and other services such as garments, vehicle spare parts, passengers transported by road, non-durable household goods, jewellery, clocks and watches.
“Others are passenger transport by air, pharmaceutical products, appliances, articles and products for personal care, cleaning, repair and hire of clothing and fuels and lubricants for personal transport equipment.”
Furthermore, according to a survey conducted by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Monday, dealers in tomato, pepper and rice in Bodija, Agbeni and Oja-Oba markets in Ibadan decried low patronage due to the high cost.
Many attributed the situation to the high cost of transporting food items from the North, high inflation rate and insecurity, especially in the North, where bandits have forced farmers to abandon their farms, with a tomato, pepper and onion seller, who identified herself as Iya Ibeji, saying most of the commodities go bad due to poor patronage.
“A basket of big tomatoes rose from between N14, 000 and N15, 000 to about N20, 000. The small bucket which was sold for between N700 and N800 now costs N2, 000; the small bucket of pepper rose from N700 to N1, 200. Medium size basket of onion, about 40 to 42 pieces in one basket, which cost N800 in the past, now sells for N1, 600,” she said.
Also speaking, Mrs. Joy Ayeni, who sells rice, vegetable oil and other condiments, said the number of buyers has reduced as a result of paucity of funds.
“A bag of rice, big grain, rose from N27, 000/N28, 000, to N29, 500/N30, 000, while the small grain that cost around N25, 000 in the past, now sells for N27, 000/N28, 000.
“This has affected sellers too because we don’t buy as much as we used to buy. Imagine a 25-litre container of Kings vegetable oil, previously sold for N26, 000, now costs N27, 000. We only pray to at least sell something if not all in a day,” she said.
Similarly, Mrs. Victoria Bello, who sells broilers, said they record low patronage due to the prevailing high cost of commodities.
“A small broiler, which previously sold for between N2, 000 to N2, 500, now costs N3, 500 and the price will even rise further,” she said, lamenting that buyers now prefer frozen chicken “because it’s a bit cheaper.”
A mother, who identified herself as Iya Cynthia, said her purchasing power has been weakened due to the inflated cost of food items, wondering how many families will celebrate Christmas in such a bleak situation.
“We are just managing things. The little we can get, we buy because we can’t just fold our hands and be looking at the children during such a festive period.
“The same salary is what we are using for house rent, hospital/electricity bills and other expenditures. It’s really not easy but we will celebrate anyhow and thank God for our lives at least,” she said.
Furthermore, another customer, Mr. John Bamgbose, said he had no option than to reduce the amount of things to buy, urging the government to intervene in bringing down the cost of food items.
“Before, my family used to buy turkey and broilers, but now we manage one broiler and look for ponmo (cow skin) to add up. The government should please help us to do something about this high cost of commodities because it’s really alarming.
“Even drinks are now very costly. A crate of mineral (35cl) is N1, 400. This used to be around N800/N900, while 70cl is now N120 for a bottle and these are the drinks one can use to celebrate during Christmas,” he said.
Speaking with Blueprint Weekend, a civil servant in the FCT, Mr. Jonathan Adewale, said this year has been his worst in the history of celebrating Christmas with his family.
“Christmas is a time to show love to family and friends, to give and receive gifts, however, the situation of the economy will not permit many families to celebrate the yuletide this year.
“The many people I have interacted with have expressed bleakness and no hope of having a memorable celebration as a result of high cost of living and poor finances.
“Today is December 21, usually at this time, when you visit transportation companies you will see many people travelling to celebrate with friends and families. However, there were low activities when I went to Peace Park in Utako to waybill some items. It is a sign that many people are not finding it economically convenient to travel.
“The sad reality is that, despite the rising cost of living, salaries of workers are not being increased instead, organisations are finding it increasingly difficult to pay their workers.
“In the face of not having enough money to bag costly food items and clothes, how then do you celebrate Christmas with joy? It is really a pathetic situation, but we look forward to a better 2022,” he said.
‘Bad economy affects everyone’
Also speaking, a primary school teacher, Mrs. Abike Thomas, said she would not be travelling home to celebrate Christmas as a result of non-payment of salary by her organisation.
She said: “Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, for us Christians, but this year’s own looks bleak as a result of paucity of funds.
“I thank God that we are alive in my family to witness the Christmas celebration this year, though we won’t be travelling to the village to celebrate the yuletide for obvious reasons. No one can confidently boast that he or she was not affected by the economy one way or another.
“I teach in a private school and I know how difficult it is for teachers and low income earners. In fact, I didn’t receive a salary from the owner of the school where I teach, so how do you expect people like me to celebrate with fanfare. The high cost of living is particularly affecting those with large families and dependants.
“So, how do we care for the expenses for a family of five, including buying Christmas clothes and travelling to the village with the high cost of transportation?
“So, we have to take the decision of staying back in Abuja, but it was not an easy one. Only God will help us have a better 2022.”
Though there is usually an increase in crime during the yuletide, the security situation in the country leaves much to be desired, with many Nigerians afraid of travelling; to avoid being kidnapped or killed by criminal elements parading under different guises.
Also, the media is awash with news of bank robberies by dare-devil robbers out to get money to celebrate the yuletide at all cost, with security agents being killed in Kogi, Ekiti, Osun and other states in the line of duty.
This is as the sit-at-home order given by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) in August was still being observed in the South-east with dire consequences for those who flout the directive, even as governments and security agencies in the states continue to fail in their duty of protecting the people.
Speaking with Blueprint Weekend, a public affairs analyst, Peter Okon, said the fear of kidnapping was the beginning of wisdom for the average Nigerian.
According to the analyst, one should not be surprised at the rising cases of insecurity as unemployment has forced many Nigerians to embrace a life of crime.
He said, “It is not a thing of surprise that armed robbery cases and other forms of insecurity are increasing as the Christmas celebration nears. The truth is that the government has failed Nigerians.
“The poverty situation is widening. While the political class keeps enriching themselves, many Nigerians go to bed hungry on a daily basis. Even as we are preparing to celebrate Christmas, many people don’t have an idea of what to eat or drink.
“Therefore, I am not surprised to hear of an increase in kidnapping and other crimes. Presently, the fear of kidnappers and killing by unknown gunmen is the beginning of wisdom for Nigerians. Last week, about three banks were attacked in Kogi, with civilians and policemen killed in their numbers.
“Same thing happened in Osun, Ekiti and other places as the robbers believe that banks have enough money for them to celebrate this Christmas. In the process, families are plunged into grief because of the greediness of others.”
Speaking further, he said, “My advice is for Nigerians to stay safe this Christmas period. People should avoid going to lonely spots and travelling at night.
“The Christmas will come and go, so we must not kill ourselves because we want to please people for a few days.”
In his view, the Bishop, Diocese of Nike, Anglican Communion, Dr. Christian Onyeka Onyia, has admonished Christians to spare a thought for the poor and less privileged in society by celebrating with them.
Speaking, in Enugu recently, Onyia said Christmas was a time to show love to humanity, but regretted that drug abuse, sexual promiscuity and different forms of immorality are usually practised in the guise of Christmas celebration.
He said: “As we near the end of another exciting and rewarding year, I wish you a blessed Christmas full of joy, hope, wonder and peace. As Christians, we are blessed to witness and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, His divine intimacy and unending exaltation. Therefore, during this season, we celebrate that God knows and meets all our needs.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has over 274 million confirmed cases and caused over 5.35 million deaths worldwide as of December 17, 2021. On top of the pandemic, the Nigerian economy has created so much hardship for Nigerians. Along the same lines, the forces of darkness are getting stronger and more determined.
“Many families are struggling to make ends meet and too many young people among us are being led astray by the false gods of drugs, alcohol and momentary pleasures that destroy permanently.
“We must never forget to place immediate emphasis on the incredible meaning and gift of Christmas, despite the constant pressure of daily routines and the commercial appeal of secular activity.
“Christmas is about giving, not receiving. It is about the gift of self, presence, and presents. God the Father profoundly brings us His Presence through the birth of Jesus.
“In the spirit of Christmas, I urge you this festive season not only to spare a thought for those least fortunate, those most in need, but to share with them in some tangible and meaningful way the warmth of the Christmas season. Show them the generosity, benevolence of heart, mercy, care and love which are in conformity with Christ’s message.”