Nigerians In Search Of Merry Christmas

MerryIt is yet another Christmas. A Christian celebration, not a few always look forward to the celebration of Christmas, irrespective of what the political, social and economic atmosphere may seem to present that the religious import is often lost to the generality of the people. In this part of the world for instance, marriages, traditional festivals, anniversaries, carnivals and activities leading up to the end of the year are usually lined up at this period. This Christmas comes with mixed feelings for many. This is because the associated fanfare expected in the celebration so far, appears to be missing, and this is attributed to the tight financial and economic quagmire that the country is grappling with. There have been job losses, non-payment of wages, fuel scarcity still lingers, and high exchange rate of the naira, all leading to low purchasing power of the people. All these have tended to limit expectation on this year’s Christmas. However, Nigerians have the penchant for last-minute rush; who knows, the frenzy may just be beginning and will still reach fever pitch for a merry Christmas.

THE special cheer and atmosphere that comes with the Christmas season is definitely missing this year and the reasons are not far-fetched. Many Nigerians are wondering how they are going to celebrate Christmas as the financial and economic situation of the country continues to make a rapid nosedive.

Christmas in Nigeria has always been one of the biggest and most celebrated feasts in the year and no stone is left unturned in its celebration, as Christians and even Muslims participate actively in the festivities leading up to the New Year.

This year however, things are already looking bleak for many families, as a variety of reasons have ensured that the festivities are quietly celebrated.
Sylvester Ibe, an electrician based in Lagos, told The Guardian, that his children would wear what they wore last year as there was simply no money for new clothes or extras, “except they don’t want to return to school in January. I haven’t been called for new work in weeks now and the ones I did in the past, the customers haven’t paid me yet; they are saying there is no money. I am fed up with everything,” he lamented. Ibe represents the dilemma most Nigerians are faced with presently.
Workers haven’t been paid

Workers in several states are being owed salary arrears of several months. The last time Oyo State workers saw their salary was in September and from all indications, nothing is forthcoming, even as Christmas rapidly approaches. A source who spoke to this reporter said, “Please help us beg the state government to have mercy on us and let us celebrate Christmas for our children, at least. I don’t even want to think about next year yet. After the festivities, we would think of what to do.”

The federal workers are not left out of the ‘hunger games’ as most haven’t been paid since October either. They are hoping that this situation changes before Christmas, which is next week. For workers in private firms, the situation might not be as bad as findings show that most are not being owed but end of year bonuses are not certain.
Prices of Commodities

The Guardian visited major markets on Lagos Island and the mainland, and it was the same tales of woe from Balogun to Dosunmu, Apongbon, Oke-Arin, Tom Jones, Oshodi and Yaba. The traders complained of poor sales while the customers complained of increased prices in most goods. The whole of Dosunmu and Tom Jones from beginning to end was filled with Christmas decorations and knockouts, popularly called bangers.

Despite the ban of its sales and use by the Nigerian Police Force, bangers were still being sold openly and customers were buying. It is noteworthy to point out that the sale of knockouts is now reduced unlike in the past when it was sold in every street corner. This has however forced up the prices compared to what obtained last year. ‘Eight sounds’ knockout which sold at between N800–N1000 last year was being sold at N1, 200 on Thursday. ‘Ten sounds’ which sold for N1, 200 was sold at N1, 500.

Prices of Christmas decorations have gone up as well. Small Christmas trees sold at between N5, 000 and N7, 000, depending on your bargaining power. The traders decried the poor sales. One trader who refused to identify himself said, ‘I thought last year was poor but it seems this year is worse. I wanted to go to the market before next year but I can’t. The people I gave goods haven’t paid either, they are saying there is poor sale. Aunty, if you are not buying anything, please go, I need customers that would buy goods now,” he concluded.

The tale at Balogun was no different as traders jostled for customers. Children’s clothes billowed in the wind, waiting for customers that never arrived. According to Christians Adams, a trader in imported clothes, people were just pricing and they would go without buying anything. She added that she wasn’t sure if it was due to the economic situation or people weren’t just interested in buying. She was hoping that the situation would change by next week. She pointed out that the high rate of exchange and the falling naira was responsible for the increase in prices of goods.
“It is not our fault that things are expensive as we sell what we buy. Dollar is very expensive and we can only get at the black market. The official rate is N200 to a dollar but we usually buy at around 230 –240 at the black market, as the banks are not selling. Nigerians should please bear with us and we hope that the situation improves as soon as possible because it is killing business,” Adams said.

Most traders have brought out their old stocks and are selling at reduced prices to ensure they have new goods for the New Year and many customers are taking advantage, not minding if the clothes and shoes are a bit old. Traders selling hampers at Apongbon complained of low sales. Some customers were seen buying some items when The Guardian visited but a hamper seller who called herself Sade, said it is not like before. According to her, she used to prepare roughly 100 hampers everyday and usually sold all before nightfall, but times have changed. A customer buying a hamper, who refused giving her name, however, said no matter how tight the economic situation was, she had to give hampers to some important people, hence her trip to Apongbon.

Prices of major foods are yet to witness much significant increase, however, as the prices of a bag of rice, beans and garri had not risen at the time of this report. A normal-sized chicken at Oshodi was going for as high as N1, 500 compared to N1, 000 it was sold last year. This represents a massive 50 per cent increase.

In times past, most Nigerians residing in the major cities would have moved en masse by now to their respective villages to celebrate the festivities. In fact, the week before Christmas, the roads would be decongested, churches would witness fewer worshippers and the transport companies would be smiling to the banks due to the exodus of people rushing ‘home’. People are still travelling but it has greatly reduced. A visit to Jibowu, Yaba, Onipan and Ojuelegba lends credence to this. The volume of people travelling is quite poor compared to last year. Some travellers gave a two-fold reason for this: increased transport fare and the poor economic situation in general. Findings show that God is Good Motors charged between N4, 600 to N5, 000 from Lagos to Owerri. Peace Transit charged between N5, 200 – N6, 000 for the same distance while ABC Transport charges between N8, 500 – N9, 000 for same. These prices are expected go up as Christmas/New Year approaches.

The transporters are blaming the fuel scarcity for the increased fares on all routes but customers dispute this excuse, saying that the transporters are fond of hiking fares during the festive seasons. Customers like Mrs. Angela Okeke that cannot afford to go home would have to quietly sit in Lagos and celebrate the festivities as best as they can. Speaking to The Guardian, Okeke said she and her family didn’t travel last year and she won’t bother going this year either till the situation improves.

“How much will I use on transport alone because I want to go home to celebrate Christmas? Three children with my husband and I to Enugu will not come cheap. We cannot go empty handed, as the people back home would be expecting you to come “loaded”. Please, I can’t kill myself because of expectations; they won’t understand that things are tough here. I have sent money home; let them celebrate Christmas there while we do ours here. Immediately after the New Year, school fees have to be paid: I have to prioritise.”

The Nigerian Police have issued several statements concerning Christmas celebrations this year. In one of the statements, the police asked Nigerians to be security conscious and be wary of receiving Christmas hampers from unknown persons.

According to the police spokesperson, Olabisi Kolawole, some of the hampers from supposed friends may be laden with explosives. “The Inspector-General of Police, Solomon E. Arase, in view of the Yuletide season and the security challenges in the country, warns all citizens to be vigilant while receiving gifts from unknown persons that may pose as friends during the season, to avoid explosive-laden hampers as gifts,” Kolawole said in a statement.

The police have also warned citizens against the use of fireworks such as knockout, ‘bangers’ and other explosives during the celebrations as they could cause distraction that may further heighten fear of insecurity and have implored all to eschew violence.

He also enjoins citizens to shun all forms of violence and unlawful acts, eschew bitterness, hatred and rancour and go about their legitimate duties without fear of intimidation from any quarter during and after the season. Furthermore, to ensure a peaceful and incident-free Yuletide, the IGP has directed all Zonal AIGs and Command Commissioners of Police, to take necessary measures in ensuring the provision of adequate security for worshippers, travellers, picnickers and all citizens across the country before, during, and after the celebrations.
“Command Commissioners of Police are to personally ensure that all key and vulnerable points within their jurisdictions, including places of worship, recreation centres, motor parks, shopping malls, highways, financial institutions and all places of public resorts are adequately and effectively protected,” the statement read.

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