2ND QUARTER: Which Way Nigeria?
Walks are great for a number of reasons. They help you get in shape, it’s a good way to build endurance and clear your head when you’re stressed, and, more recently, walks are great for when you really want to put things in perspective. If you think you have things rough right now, just take a walk down your street.
While I’m used to watching cars drive by, complaining about the often annoying whirring of generators and the traffic the city of Lagos is famous for, I never thought the day was soon coming when I would miss them. As the GL team and I walked down the road close to our office, there were no sounds of generators struggling to out-roar the neighbours. No, this isn’t because there was light – generators simply need fuel to run. Cars were not zooming past and there was no traffic because a good majority of the vehicle were preoccupied with trying to get fuel.
The country’s present situation has forced a good number of people, myself inclusive, out of their protective cocoons. We have been made to realise that things simply aren’t working. You want to get mad when someone says they can’t make it to the office because “there is no bus”, but then you remember you had to walk a couple of junctions ahead of your usual one to get a bus because you can’t pay the new fare. Even the people with their own cars can’t relax anymore, judging from the stretch of cars from the first toll gate to the fourth roundabout. They’re lined up waiting for what they hope will be their turn to fill up their tanks – ‘hoping’ because there’s still the chance that the stations will decide they are done selling and shut their gates before it gets to their turn.
Yes, we are all affected; we know this. We hear it all the time, and read it everywhere. No one is safe from the rapidly deteriorating state of the country. Not the large scale business, the entrepreneurs, or the minor retailers. The realisation of this hit me even harder as we spoke to a couple of workers in the area.
How exactly are people affected by the scarcity of fuel, constantly climbing exchange rate and abysmal power supply?
Amina, Retail Shop Owner
“I’ve lost customers because they’ve changed the prices. They’ve added money to all the goods in the market. Some people will accept to buy, and some won’t. As for the fuel… you already know about that. The people in charge of the country know what they’re supposed to do. They should do what will favour us.”
Jesse, Printing Press
“We do printing, signage, and branding. We need a lot of electricity to do our work. We’ve been here for close to eight years without power and we just got started having electricity here last year. Even now, the light is still off and on and we get estimated bills we just have to pay so they don’t cut the light. When we have light, we’re happy. When we don’t, we run the generator. The fuel issue is affecting our logistics- we can’t make deliveries or purchase goods or service our clients. Also, there is the foreign exchange issue. Everything we work with –paper, machines, ink, etc – is imported. Paper made in Nigeria is more expensive- even at the current exchange rate – probably because manufacturers are also struggling with the rate of production. As it stands, we’re just surviving – running bills and passing them on to the next person.”
“The thing with the current situation is everybody has to manage themselves and compose themselves in a way that will make them feel better. That’s how a good Nigerian has to think. It’s not something one can rectify. Just try your best to make sure that you’re okay. I’m trying my best to keep my business running. The only challenge we have is with water. We buy water, so when we call for supply they say there is no fuel. Even when they say they’re coming in an hour they might not show up until the next day; and we have a lot of customers’ laundry to do.”
Ruth, Restaurant Supervisor
“Everybody knows that the present state of the country is just… I don’t know the words to use. It’s just making the country hard and difficult to live in and people are trying. The issue of the dollar is still there rising. The fuel prices too aren’t making life easy. To get fuel at N87/litre, you have to sleep at the fuel station. Otherwise, you get from black market at 5 litres for N2,000, which is outrageous. I don’t know how people are surviving. You can see this is supposed to be rush hour; this place is supposed to be filled with people who want to eat. But nobody is going to buy 5 litres of fuel at N2,000 just to drive down here to eat and go back; when they can easily use the money for something else. Public transport that you usually pay N100 for is now N200. For you to get to your place of work is something else, and you can’t give your boss the excuse “it’s because of fuel”. I don’t know where Nigeria is heading to anyway, but I pray to God that He should come in. Because, as at now, nobody understands.”
Aliyu, Bike Man (Okada Rider)
“The country right now is scattered about the fuel matter – it’s very expensive now. If you want to buy something or want to go somewhere, it’s very costly. Even okada that is our work, the places we used to carry people to for N50, it’s N100 now. People complain that it’s expensive, and we sometimes have problems with people who don’t want to pay. We keep thinking change will come. Maybe the change will come after because the only change we have seen is very bad.”
Deola, Delivery Service
“Everybody is being affected. Before I could get here, I had to go and queue for fuel. Not only that, the queues have caused a lot of hold up (traffic) on the road. We tried to maintain the price of our deliveries, but we finally had to increase it. It’s a small increase though. We were able to manage before now because sales were still going gradually. But now it’s different.”
Anonymous, School Administrator
“The power supply, or lack of it, and the fuel crisis is biting hard. Spending productive hours is… For example, I left my house at 5am this morning and couldn’t get fuel until 11am. That’s about six hours just waiting, you know? And then the power situation, what can we say? It’s horrible and I don’t want to imagine what business owners are going through – especially those who depend on power supply. At the school we do what we can to keep the children comfortable. You can’t tell parents you can’t turn on the ACs because of fuel scarcity. We use diesel generators, but the power supply still affects. When we calculate the running costs for a week – 200 litres of diesel a day at N145/litre – it’s horrible. We considered increasing the school fees, but decided against it. It hasn’t been easy on anyone. For the first time, parents asked for an extension to pay fees. Most schools run on the school fees, so we decided to cut costs instead. We have reduced the time the generator runs for and now source materials and tools locally all so we can cut operating costs.”
Benjamin, Church Sound Engineer
“How do I say this? It’s really harsh to the masses. It’s affecting everybody. Even the rich are affected in some aspects. As a church worker, you can see I’m standing here with my keg waiting to buy fuel. Haven’t been able to get any. Since morning, I haven’t been able to do any work. Besides the church sound, I also do media work and upload messages online. I can’t do any of this without light and fuel. I’ve been rendered useless for today. I think the leaders are the ones to decide the way forward. The power is in their hands. They know what to do and aren’t doing it. They have to step up and make things happen for us; put things in order so people won’t be suffering. Look at this kind of queue – it’s not right at all – people are really suffering.”
Kareem, Cab Driver
“It’s difficult for everyone. You can see there’s scarcity everywhere – getting fuel has been difficult. What can we do except to hope for the best? For now, that’s what we’re hoping for. We want government to come out and tell us what the problems are, the causes and the solutions. Then we’ll be able to know if it’s a situation where we need to wait so we can wait. Now, we’re just living in limbo; we don’t know what is going on. Driving this taxi is my personal business and it’s affecting me massively. You use a whole day, sometimes two or three days, to queue at a fuel station. How are you going to work? It’s affecting us seriously, so we’re pleading for government to do something about the scarcity. We have no option but to increase our rates, but the clients don’t understand and it’s affecting us. We explain what we face, but they still complain. Some of them ask if they’re the cause of the scarcity, but we have to eat and we have families to feed.”
Anonymous, Electrical Fittings Store
“My business is terribly affected. Because when you calculate the cost of purchasing these things it’s very high. The customers are not coming – everyone says there’s no money. And you already know about the fuel something. We’re supposed to have put on light for people to see what we’re doing here. But you can see, there’s no light. My gen is there, but there’s no fuel. We went to buy, but they aren’t selling in kegs. So, what do we do? We rely on God. We’re praying.”
Because we all know prayer is the key, right? We constantly joke about how Nigeria is always waiting for God to come down and personally do something. Putting faces to these people and actually hearing them speak their minds proved that we really aren’t left much of a choice. As much as I am an advocate of positive thinking, we must be willing to accept that there is only so much we as individuals can do to change the general state of the country. So, as I sit at my office trying to round up all my work before the generator goes off for the day, I ask “Which way, Nigeria?”
Photo Credit: Henri Uduku