Countdown to Christmas: Amid paucity of funds, prices soar

•Shoppers Lament Increased Prices
•Travelers Regret Fare Hike, Fuel Scarcity

Time was when Christmas trees began sprouting up in Christian homes early December. These trees usually arrive with fancy lights in tow, as well as, sundry decorations, which not only create the ambience for the expected massive celebrations, but also add to the beautiful spectacle that the birth of Christ presents.

That evergreen fir tree, which has been traditionally used as Christmas tree in many homes is becoming scarcer in homes. Not because they are no longer being produced by manufacturers, but parents are discountenancing fancy and channeling their lean resources to food, and drinks. Where there is still a little left, clothing and shoes are considered.

No thanks to an ailing economy, which is crawling its way out of recession, the first to hit the country in 29 years.

It is because of the after effect of the recession, which also occasioned the loss of over three million jobs in the country that the Awuzies are brazing up for what is going to be bleak Christmas in their home.

Their matriarch, Mrs. Nkechinyere Agaba, is particularly confused on how to handle her first Christmas without her husband of 18, who died of health complications, shortly after he lost his banking job in March 2016.

“I really don’t know how to begin as Christmas approaches. I have decided to have a talk with my kids this weekend on what they think we should do because they are now my source of strength and I now live for them,” she said.

Since the passage of her husband, the widow has managed to keep the tempo, surrounded by her four kids, all under 15 years, and with little help from relatives.

“When my husband died from complications that were blood pressure related, everybody advised me to take things calmly. I was without a job when he died, but now I run a small provision business from the little saving that my husband had. It is from the business that we feed, buy drugs and pay school fees from. So, you can imagine the pressure when you have to pull lump sums to buy new clothes and shoes for four children. The planned talk is to table before them the dire conditions and seek their opinion on what we should forgo. Already, I am almost certain that the two eldest boys will tell me to count them out of Christmas wears,” she stated.

Asked about Christmas decorations and trips to places of interest during the Yuletide, she managed a chuckle and responded, “They all know that there are school fees to be paid in January 2018. They are always very considerate.”

The Agabas are not the only one in this kind of dilemma. Very many families are, and their plight are not made light by soaring cost of food items and other essentials.

Business owners, who stocked up earlier, in anticipation of a sales boom, are already getting unease owing to low patronage

Awudi Blessing, a storeowner at Sabo Market, Yaba, Lagos confesses that business is not booming as they thought.

“We are experiencing low customers turnout. As I speak, only our loyal and regular customers, who know the quality of what we sell and can still afford it are the ones that are coming around once in a while. Often times, people come in and haggle over the price of children’s wears and walk away thereafter once it falls out of their budget line. Every one is complaining of lack of money, high prices and the rest, whereas in truth, the prices have really not gone that high.

“For instance, the prices of dresses for girls’ range from N6, 500 to N12, 000, depending of course on the brand and type. Ball gowns go for as much as N12, 000, some for N10, 000, while others are as low as N8, 000 and N6, 500. There are still some that go for N3, 500.

“For boys aged 0 to 15 years, we have jeans and chinos trousers, and shirts that go for N3, 500 depending on the make, while T-shirts are sold for N2, 500. Most of our clothes are bought from the United States, and the exchange rate is high.”

Mr. Nwankwo Cyril, a trader is not planning for new dress for his kids this year because, “There is no money. Right now, I have to think of house rent, shop rent, school fees and other pressing issues. But my wife pleaded that I should consider buying clothes for my last child, that I am considering, but the older ones will have to manage what they have until things get better. It is when you eat that you can think of buying clothes.

Christmas is around the corner, but look at the market, customers are not patronising us because there is no money in circulation.”

Mary Adedipe, a fashion designer is also lamenting the tough economic conditions that Nigerians have to brave.

She said: “Before I used to buy Ankara fabric for N2, 000, but now its N3, 500, which is almost double the price. Most times, I don’t buy and sew these fabrics myself, but wait for my clients to bring their fabrics for sewing. Doing that is better because I don’t have to tie down my working capital. For my children, I will design what they are going to wear for them since that is my field of business.”

According to Fred Ashimonye, a businessman, who travels to Ghana and Togo to buy fairly used shoes for young adults, says that, “prices have skyrocketed because the exchange rate is high. But to make things worse, there is low patronage because customers are complaining of lack of cash.”

Prices of food items have equally gone up, as the Yuletide approaches. At the popular Mile 12 Market, and at Mushin Market in Lagos, bewildered shoppers dashed from one shop to the other in search of where to get reasonable bargain.

In many stores at the Mushin Market displayed hefty and colorful hampers competed for space, but buyers were not there to take them home. Some of those placed at the threshold of shops, their price tags read from N10, 000 to N20, 000. The disparity in prices, of course had to do with the content of each hamper, which were predominantly canned and processed foods as well as assorted drinks and beverages.

At the foodstuffs section of this market, many people prefer to buy items in bulk as a means of cutting cost.
Mrs. Bolakale Ajadi, who deals majorly in rice, palm oil and ground nut oil said from all indications Christmas celebration in 2017 is better than 2016, because situations are not as hard as it was then. By this time last year, I couldn’t stock up at it ought to be because everyone was talking about recession but this year is far better, she said.

“In 2016 a bag of rice was been sold for over 20, 000 but now with less than 15 000 one could purchase t a bag of rice depending on the products and same goes on palm oil and groundnut oil. This implies that the money used in buying one bag in 2016 would buy two bags conveniently in 2017. Though we never envisage it coming this way, because the year never started like this but now it’s a testimony, she asserted.

“If prices increase so much, I wonder who would buy the items,” said one buyer, Mrs. Patricia Ojo, though it is not a good feeling but I thinks Nigerians we are used to management, and that was why we are able to celebrate last year Christmas in a low keyed adding: “We know that some of these items, like tomatoes and onions are seasonal, and this determines their prices. But in all, the prices of foodstuffs have been fair, better and affordable.”

At the Mile 12 Market, the constant arrival of trucks loaded with perishable goods notwithstanding, the prices of this category of goods remain clearly above the reach of the very poor, who are also trying to prepare for the season of merriment.

In a visit to the popular Mile 12 markets that is known as the home of fresh and perishable items, the Guardian observed minutes by minutes inflow and offloading of several trucks that has probably comes from the Northern part of the country with items like tomatoes, onions, yam, pepper and so on; what this depicts again is the aura that comes with the celebration of Christmas.

Alhaji Mohammed Abubakar told the Guardian that there is no doubt, there will be cheap pepper and tomatoes this year more than last year and the only challenge that may come with it is transporting the items from Northern parts to Lagos because of the looming fuel scarcity.

The Guardian also, observes the hike in the prices of frozen, fresh chickens and the likes from the various markets visited and findings shows that this was caused by the over 40% increments in the price of the feeds in the market. A life chicken that was been sold for 2500 has now increased to 3500 of the same sizes.

As preparations go on from family to family, it is obvious that some are yet to join in the preparation and planning of the Yuletide season.
Mr. Richard, a civil servant, told the Guardian that the challenging economic situation in the country has negatively affected his preparedness for the Christmas season though it is getting better by the day. “I am not prepared for the celebration,” he said. “Things are tough in Nigeria; the economy is not helping matters. We have all come to the reality that things are difficult, but then, man will still survive.”

“Though last year was tougher, because people could not afford to eat well not to talk of buy clothing’s, the hardship was obvious and everywhere even at the place where I work, there was no Xmas bonus. That tells the level of hardship we are facing in this country. But we are grateful it is getting better by the day,” he said.

Passengers traveling to different parts of the country ahead of the yuletide have decried the hike in the cost of transportation as well as the lingering economic hardship and current fuel scarcity.

Some of the passengers who spoke to The Guardian, in Lagos, however, said the transport fare is difficult for them to pay and appealed to government to come their aids resolve the fuel scarcity.

At the Motor Park in Ojota, Lagos, a passenger, Mr. Boniface Okoli, said the increase in fare during yuletide was because high number of travelers and fuel crisis which has become major challenge for transporters.

He, however, expressed concern that the lingering economic situation in the country and fuel scarcity had added more pains to travelers and Nigerian masses in general.

At God is Good Motors Park at Mazamaza, Lagos the fare stood at N5000 to N5500 from Lagos to Enugu, Onitsha, Aba, Port Harcourt, Abakiliki, among other cities against the previous N4500.

However, at the Motor Park, in Ojota Lagos, it was gathered that from Lagos to Port Harcourt now costs N5, 500 to N6, 000 as against N4000 previously because fuel scarcity.

A passenger, Mr. Gideon Patrick, at Ojota, said the increase in fare during yuletide has become a major challenge to travelers especially this time of economic recession in the country.

He lamented that he paid N6000 from Lagos to Benue State against previous N3500 he paid earlier in the same route.

Patrick, however, advised the government should find a means to address issue of fare hike and fuel scarcity, to enable motorists to provide effective and efficient service to the travelers.

Meanwhile a bus Coordinator, at Ojota who gave his name as Prencewel Otuonye said the fare has increased because of high number of travelers who travel out of Lagos including the current fuel scarcity that transporters find it difficult buy fuel because long queues in the feeling stations. He said fare would increase more as from this week because of high number of people that will travel out of Lagos.
“The fare has increased because there is high number of passengers traveling out of Lagos, it has triggered fare increase because when we drop them at their destinations we run empty bus back to Lagos so, there no option than to double the fare.”

Meanwhile, Sector Commander Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), Lagos State Sector Command Mr. Hyginus Omeje, said the sector is focusing enforcement on the three major corridors in Lagos, which include Lagos/Ibadan Expressway, Lekki/Epe Expressway and Lagos/Badagry Expressway.

He stated the enforcement should ensure that during this yuletide travelers no traveler should be stranded in traffic jam rather men of FRSC would be on the road 24 hours for the sake of the travelers. He promised the sector would continue to advise motorists to avoid over speeding and overloading to ensure free crashes on the highways during this season.

Omeje noted that issue of driver’s license should not be taken for granted adding travelers must make sure their papers are complete and service their vehicles very well to before embarking on journey.

Omeje said: “We have been advising motorists that they can carry only three passengers per seat for safety purpose.

“We have been partnering with National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), they would bring out their equipments including toll trucks and their personnel too to ensure quality service to the motoring public. We have also written a letter to them notifying the importance of coming along with their mattresses so, that our men who would camp on the road would use them”.

“We also collaborating with other traffic management agencies for instance, Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA), Nigeria Police among others”.

“During our year third quarters we did capacity building among our personnel for ember month. We have continued our motor park rally moving from one motor park to another sensitizing them to avoid attitudes that would lead to highway crashes”.

“We have been partnering with private vehicle toll operators to ensure they would provide toll trucks to us any time there is crashes to remove obstructions. Our bikes would moving around the corridors if there is any breaking down of vehicles they contact truck operators through phone conversation. Our ambulances would also be positioned to strategic locations in case of unexpected.”

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