Businesses shut as hard times hit Bayelsa’s economy
Dickson bemoans shortfall in federal allocation
Bayelsa State may be plunging deeper into an economic crisis as its federal allocation thins out and workers are burdened with unpaid salaries.
Many business concerns, shops and eateries are beginning to close down due to poor patronage. Investigations by our correspondent revealed that in the last three months, three prominent eateries in Yenagoa, the state capital have closed down and relocated to other cities where they expect greener pastures. Notable among these big restaurants are those located along the popular Mbiama-Yenagoa Road and most recently the one along Hospital Road, very close to the Government House and the state secretariat.
Although officials of these eateries were not available for comment, some of their workers lamented losing patronage daily. They said since most of their customers were civil servants and sometimes visitors and construction workers, the delay in salaries and lack of any new project being implemented had left them without customers for months. A worker who spoke to our correspondent on phone said it got so bad that one of the fast food eateries could only sell one meat pie at N250 throughout a whole day.
The state Governor, Seriake Dickson, has recently been in the eye of the storm over unpaid salary arrears of workers in the public service. The government is said to be owing civil servants for two months. And while workers in the state’s agencies and parastatals are owed up to five months, their counterparts in the local governments in the state are owed between five months and one year.
The state government has not been having it easy as the allocation from the Federation Account has steadily declined as the state monthly allocation has fallen to N2.9 billion in February from an all-time high of N19 billion .
Dickson has bemoaned the state’s financial predicament at different fora and recently, during the inauguration of the new 11-member Bayelsa State Internal Revenue Board, he charged them to increase the monthly Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) to meet some of the challenges.
Some traders in major markets in Yenagoa metropolis, particularly those from other states, have started relocating, while others are contemplating following suit.
Some restaurant operators caught in the business downturn are also struggling not just with low patronage but with fuel scarcity, poor electricity supply and astronomical rise in the prices of food stuffs and other items which have put their businesses in limbo.
An Igbo trader in Swali Market who identified himself simply as Okafor said he had made up his mind to relocate to his state of origin.“There has been a serious lull in activities in the Swali market. In a whole day, you may not be able to sell items that can guarantee your fare back home let alone meet other needs.
“I deal in electronics. From morning to evening when you will close, your wares will be staring at you. Any day you see a customer, they will haggle and haggle and afterwards will not buy anything.
“When you ask them the reason, they would tell you times are hard, their salaries have not been paid and many other excuses. We cannot continue like this. How do I fend for my family with this development?”
A tricycle operator, Mr. Nnamdi Ejiofor, said many passengers had now resorted to trekking instead of boarding their tricycles.
“Despite that the price of petrol has skyrocketed to N250 per litre in the state, we find it difficult to see passengers. At times you run some kilometres without finding people to carry. The hard times are hitting tricycle operators real hard, “ he stated.
Commenting on the scenario, a human rights activist, Mr. Alagoa Morris, said the situation mirrored the reality of Bayelsa as a civil service state, stressing that the only industry in the state is the civil service.
Morris said: “The truth of the matter is that there is far less purchasing power in the hands of the residents. Local government workers are owed salaries for seven months and above all, state workers are also suffering non-payment of salaries.
“Besides that, state retirees/pensioners are wailing daily over the non-payment of gratuity and pension. Contractors too, are not paid and construction sites are abandoned.”
According to him, when people find themselves in such conditions, they usually take refuge in any means of survival, including begging to maintain families. He noted that faced with such an unpleasant economic situation, going to eateries is akin to someone sleeping when his or her roof is on fire.
In his reaction, the Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Jonathan Obuebite, said the government was worried about the situation as the residents were losing jobs because of the closure of businesses.
He, however, said the problem was not limited to Bayelsa, insisting that it was a national problem since the economy had nosedived. He stated: “Nigeria at present is in recession. I want this fact to be known and most people are trying to run away from it. Because if there is no foreign exchange, how can the eateries get most of the things they buy? Some are imported while others are sourced locally.
“Aside from that, our people do not have the resources. The civil service is less than one tenth of the population. So, we are talking about the rest who do not depend on government, who truly depend on the economy of the state. And government by itself cannot run the economy of the state. Government can only encourage the private sector by providing security and tax rebates and other things that will facilitate the economy to grow on its own.”