By Tayo ABIOLA
Scarcity of cash and high cost of goods and services dashed millions of Nigerians’ hopes of a fun-filled Yuletide celebrations, with plenty to eat and drink.
This is as many Nigerians across Lagos and other parts of the country, wail about their inability to access cash, which has affected their spending ability as they celebrate.
While some lament that they cannot get access to cash at bank halls and automated teller machines (ATMs), many are not happy about their low purchasing power, which they said is occasioned by the high cost. Hence, they cannot celebrate gleefully as they did in previous years.
Indeed, Christmas is usually greeted with high demand and increased spending worldwide. But Nigeria’s situation this year has defied the trend.
For many Nigerians, 2023 has been the most challenging year. With 28.2 per cent inflation as of November according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), high poverty rate and other indicators of rising misery index, 2022 Christmas comes with so much burden on households.
The most common food (rice)/used for the celebration by many homes has spiked by about 160 per cent since May – from N27,000 to N70,000.
Outside the sparkling-looking and well-decorated Christmas trees in some public places and homes, the usual demand for rice, chicken and clothes experienced during the festivity is missing.
During a visit to some of the markets in Lagos, yesterday, The Guardian observed that the usual Christmas Eve rush and patronage of food commodities and other items was at its lowest ebb as buyers were few.
At the popular Mushin market, many of the sellers lamented that this year’s Christmas was a bleak one for them as they had the commodities on the ground but buyers were not forthcoming.
Iyabo Taiwo, a tomato seller, said in the past Christmas, by the time The Guardian engaged her, she would have been on the third basket of tomatoes, but she was still struggling to finish selling a basket.
She lamented that customers were just buying a few in quantity.
“Years back, some customers would buy up to a quarter basket, or from N5,000 above but lately, they buy between N500 and N2000, thereby slowing down sales. I’m supposed to have gone back to Mile 12 for another round but I have to finish these so it doesn’t spoil,” she said.
Another trader, Abubakar Yusuf, who sells rice in bags, said that his business witnessed low patronage this year.
He stated that this year’s Christmas was unlike other years, with massive business activities.
“I struggled to meet up with 35 per cent sales compared to last year. Usually, the demand for rice increases during the festive period, but this was not the case this Christmas,” he said.
A civil servant, Amos Bassey, who had come to purchase a live Chicken for his family, said upon hearing the price, he had to resort to buying beef as the price was far beyond what he budgeted for.
“My son had longed for Christmas chicken because I used to buy live one, but when I heard the price I had to switch over to cow meat. I told myself that if we must survive, the issue of buying chicken, rice and clothing won’t be a priority. First, as long as my family and I can eat twice daily, we are content. I cannot kill myself for a day or two celebrations,” he said.
Nkechi Offor lamented that she could not access cash from all the banks’ ATMs within her location as they were not dispensing and her bank said it could only give customers N10, 000.
According to her, “I can’t spend it all because it is until the 27th I can go to the bank again, so I have to manage a little on me in case of any exigency. So, I can only afford to cook a small pot of stew for about N3, 000. After all, there is life after Christmas.”
On another visit to Egbeda market, in Lagos, traders were observed sitting idle without customers patronising them. They expressed anger at the low turnout of customers and sales.
Out of frustration and anger at low sales, a tomato and pepper trader said: “Can’t you see for yourself? Did you see anybody in front of me asking to buy my goods? Please don’t disturb me so I don’t vent my anger on you. Just leave this place.”
The foodstuff traders also complained of low sales, noting that customers prefer buying rice in smaller quantities (two to three derica) rather than buying in bags.
One of them, who gave his name as Prince Chibuzor, said: “This is a festive period but the turnout of customers is very low. They complain that the prices are very expensive, so they prefer to buy derica which is N1,100 per one. They can’t even afford to buy the smallest five-kilogramme bag of rice, which is N5,500.”
A mother of three, Azeezat Abiola, who owns a mini-market, said the goods with high sales this Christmas Eve despite the increase in their prices are water and condoms.
Speaking on sales of other groceries, she said customers are complaining bitterly about the high price influenced by the festivity, while they make few sales.
“Goods are expensive and sales have been slow. Maggi that is N800 for a pack now or is N1, 200. Sachet tomato paste is N100, now it is N150. Customers are not turning up, they are complaining bitterly. The price of the goods is down and we can’t suffer losses. The few that can afford to buy while those that can’t afford it will go.
“The sale of condoms is high. Before a pack of Kiss brand was N200, now it’s N300. The sales have gone up despite the price increase. Water is another commodity that is making high sales despite the increase.”
Notwithstanding the hardship, some Nigerians are braving the odds in some parts of the country, demonstrating the triumph of tradition over the economy. Jendol and Grocery and Bazaar (GB) supermarkets at Egbeda, were filled with customers buying groceries.
A sales representative at Jendol, who declined to give her name, said the supermarket has been recording high sales since the week before Christmas with the sale of the Christmas mass.
The poultry section were making sales as dozens of buyers flocked there to buy old layers, which cost N5, 000 per one, while others went to the broiler which cost N15, 000 each.
One of the customers, Kate James, said although the price was expensive, she could not afford to celebrate Christmas with her family.
James bought two old layers of chicken saying that is what she can afford, rather than not celebrating Christmas, which she said her family holds dearly.
A Professor of Accounting and Financial Development at Lead City University, Ibadan, Godwin Oyedokun, said Nigerians are over-stretched economically due to the harsh policies of President Bola Tinubu’s administration.
“The issue of low purchasing power is affecting everybody. Those people, who believe they have money in society would also part with a lot of money to buy the same thing that they would buy a year before this present government came on board.
“Nigerians are over-stressed as the price of virtually everything has gone up nationwide. In a country where the minimum wage cannot buy a bag of rice, the situation has defied prayers. Government officials aren’t affected because Nigerians pay their bills. People can no longer travel to felicitate with their families because of transport costs. Nigerians are just managing what they have. It isn’t delightful, but there is nothing that can be done. I am praying that all inflation fundamentals work well next year,” he said.