Christmas shopping: No expensive brands please, recession in the air

A woman selling Christmas wares along Martins Street, Idumota, Lagos State, awaits buyers that are nowhere to be found, yesterday. PHOTO: AYODELE ADENIRAN

A woman selling Christmas wares along Martins Street, Idumota, Lagos State, awaits buyers that are nowhere to be found, yesterday. PHOTO: AYODELE ADENIRAN

For most Nigerians, fancy dresses by renown designers, expensive wines, choice meals, visits to fun spots, and sharing of gifts (hampers) are part of their Christmas routine, and indeed what makes the Yuletide tick.

But there are strong indications that that may not be the case for many families as they celebrate this year’s Christmas. At least, happenings and the trend of events in some Nigerian cities, lend credence to the fact that most shoppers have already defined what they consider priorities for the season, since the prices of clothing and food items have continued to soar uncontrollably.

“As a family, we had to weigh our options in the light of what is happening in the country before making decisions this Christmas. In a very long time, this is the first time that my husband is stamping his feet when it comes to spending to make the children happy. Interestingly, since my children also added a new word ‘recession,’ to their vocabulary, they are at home with the fact that this Christmas will not be as rosy as others have been,” said Olanike Oluwafemi, a federal civil servant resident in Lagos State.

She continued: “I am one of those that believe that things would pick up as we approach the D-Day, but it looks like the reverse may be the case. I always want to give my family the best at all times. Unfortunately, I have to settle for the available this time,” she sighed.

For Mrs. Josephine Agbokese, another Lagos State resident, “There is going to be a lot of shifting ground for me this Christmas. I have two girls and of course, you can’t tell them that there will be no new Christmas dresses for them. And as we speak, I have not made plans to get any for them, and they are beginning to give me a signal that tells me I have to do something hurriedly.

“In terms of food items, we are going to do a lot of cutting down. We thank God that no matter what, He is still providing for us. In the market, the prices of many items have tripled. Groundnut oil that used to be about N1, 300 is now over N3, 000. My only consolation is that last month I shopped a little because I knew prices of goods would definitely jump up as we approach Christmas. Having made sure that I have enough to feed my nuclear family till January, I won’t be that bothered.”

According to Mrs. Iheoma Nwaruh, a schoolteacher and mother of three, “It is sad that the money would have been used in the past to buy rice, chicken and other things can no longer buy those items. All these notwithstanding, I am happy that we are all in good health, which is the most important thing.

“I wouldn’t like the Christmas spree to bother me so much; being alive is something to be grateful for. Before now, we would have made new clothes, bought new shoes and all that. But all that is in the past. Now, with the little resources, we are looking at payment of rent, school fees and buying books in January. This, in my opinion, are more important than spending the scarce resources on celebrating Christmas.

“In today’s economy, everyone should cut his coat according to his cloth, no need living above your means just because of the festive season,” she concluded.

Father of two, Bunmi Martins, a civil servant, is ready to celebrate the Christmas with his family modestly because he prepared for it.

“We know that the economy is in a parlous state, but we still have to ensure that we pass through this season with some reasons to be grateful to God for his mercies. I knew ahead of time that I have to engage my kids, at least this season, and so I made extra savings to this effect. Even though January comes with its own expenses, I can say I am prepared to an extent to deal with the expenses that this season brings. I don’t want my kids to see other children looking good while they are not. That is why their mother has already bought the necessary clothing items and sundry accessories.”

In Oyo State, specifically Ibadan and its environs, business activities have remained dull even as families are lamenting the poor state of the economy. The usual hustle and bustle associated with the season is at its lowest ebb, as business owners decry low patronage.

One week to Christmas, most major markets visited by The Guardian in the state capital were devoid of the usual rush synonymous with the Yuletide, as traders decried low patronage.

Worst hit sections in the markets are that of clothing and shoes.

One of the traders, Benjamin Kalu, who specialises in children’s clothing maintained that things have never been so bad, stressing that they always look forward to this time of the year, where they experience a boom.
He decried the impact of the economic recession on most families, adding that they were struggling to eat, and cannot afford to buy new clothing.

“The sad thing is that this economic recession has not helped our businesses at all. Most families are finding it difficult to eat so where would they get money to buy clothes? By this time last year, sales was at its peak as people shopped for the festivities, but the reverse is the case presently. We are just sitting down waiting endlessly for customers, and the market is quiet.”

Another trader, Mrs. Ajibike Olusola, also confirmed that sales this year have been very low, as most of her customers prefer to use the limited cash they have to buy foodstuffs.

It was also lamentation galore as foodstuffs sellers decry the soaring cost of food items. For instance, a bag of rice, which last year sold for N9, 500 now goes for between N22, 000 and N25, 000. Poultry dealers say a reasonable-sized bird (layers) now goes for about N2, 500, while breeders go for as much as N5, 000 each. A live turkey hovers between N18, 000 and N40, 000 depending on the size.

Some residents who spoke to The Guardian said the celebration would be low-key due to the poor state of the country’s economy. One of them, Olusi Solagbade, said he was yet to receive his September salary. He ruled out any new item of clothing for his children this season, as there are bills to be paid in January.

A schoolteacher, Mrs. Stella Njoku, also stated that the celebration would be low-key in her family, obviously as a consequence of the poor state of the economy.

Most civil servants in the state who are owed between six and eight months of salary arrears by the state government, expressed disappointment at government’s inability to pay them their entitlements to enable them celebrate with their families.

Benin City, Edo State, is not spared the lull in economic activities, which is spreading across the country. This, residents of the state fear could force on them, a bleak Christmas.

For Mrs. Joy Igbinosun, the ban on the importation of rice, frozen chicken and turkey by the government has contributed its quota to the torrid times Nigerians are facing.

According to her, the Federal Government’s decision to ban the importation of these food items, without available alternatives has left the people on tenterhooks on occasions like this.

She further lamented that even when food items are available in the hinterland, the cost of transporting them to city centres, where the buyers are turns the table against the poor masses.

“Before now, in the last few years, this period has always been a busy one for me and my family, but right now, things are different. The economic situation is not encouraging at all. I have told my family members to be prepared to tighten their belts. I am only struggling to get something for my last child because he is the baby of the house. The others are quite mature and they understand the situation of things in the country. We only hope that next year, things would be better to enable us have a better Christmas, God sparing our lives.”

Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, is also in the throes of price increase, as prices of food items have gone up by about 200 per cent, without commensurate increment in workers’ salaries.

Like in Ibadan, a bag of rice, which months ago was sold for between N9, 500 to N10, 000, now sells for N25, 000. Five litres of groundnut oil, and palm oil, which sold for N1, 300, now sells for between N4, 000 and N5, 000.

Also, a basin of garri that was sold for N1, 500 now sells for between N2, 500 and N3, 000 depending on the quality. Similar geometric price increase applies to virtually everything in the market.

Consequently, business activities have slowed down tremendously, and people are no longer living flamboyant lifestyles. What is more important to them now is to eat food and send their children to schools, while gifting to friends and well-wishers takes the back seat.

A Port Harcourt resident, Mr. Lewis Mbata, said: “Things are no longer the way they used to be, and so this is no time to buy new clothes for children, or time to share gifts to friends and family members. The priority now is to eat even when foodstuffs are also very expensive. So, whatever we can lay our hands on, that is what we will eat during Christmas.”

Workers in the state have received their November salary, and are waiting for that of December, which the state government has promised to ensure early payment to enable them, have a good Christmas.

Some of the workers have, however, expressed delight over the gesture, pointing out that with the rise in prices of all commodities in the market, it would be difficult for an average civil servant, who is not corrupt to buy a bag of rice and other items this Christmas.

Eighteen-year-old Justin Chibueze, who works in a bottled water producing firm, also opines that this is no time to buy new shoes and new clothing items.

But Patrick Etim, who works with a law firm along Ikwere Road, in Port Harcourt, would rather use his December salary to celebrate the Yuletide because according to him, the best is still ahead.

“I will not kill myself because the cost of everything is high. So, I will celebrate because God will definitely intervene in our situation one day,” he said.

Findings in Mile One, Mile Three and Township markets in Port Harcourt showed very low patronage for goods and services there. Traders in these markets confirmed that sales remain very poor.
Passengers traveling to different parts of the country are also feeling the pains of the recession, even though they agree that the hike in fare was not totally unexpected.

At the Ezenwata Motor Park, in Oshodi, Lagos State, Kenneth Mathew, who said the increase in transport fare was not a new development in the country, regretted that the current economic situation in the country has simply multiplied the pains borne by the Nigerian masses.

At God is Good Motors Park in the Jibowu area of Lagos, the fare ranged from N5, 500 to N6, 000 for trips from Lagos to Enugu, Onitsha, Aba, Port Harcourt among other neighboring cities. This is against the previous fare of N4, 500.

The situation was the same at Peace Mass Transit Park, Ojulegba, Lagos, where the fare from Lagos to Port Harcourt stands at between N5, 500 to N6, 000 as against N4, 500.

A passenger, Mr. Gideon Jegede, said the increase in fare during yuletide has become a major challenge to travelers, especially during this period of economic downturn.

As transporters bask in their “season of making money,” they appear to have thrown caution to the winds, if the word of the Sector Commander, Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), Lagos State Sector Command, Mr. Hyginus Omeje, is to be taken seriously.

Omeje in a telephone interview with The Guardian regretted that the compliance level of motorists to traffic rules and regulations was far from encouraging.

“We have been advising motorists that they can only carry three passengers per seat for safety purposes. But they are not heeding this advice. However, we are partnering with the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), which would make available their equipment, including tow trucks, and their personnel too to ensure that we all deliver quality service to the motoring public. We have already written to them notifying them of the importance of coming along with their mattresses so, that our men who would camp on the road would use them. We are also collaborating with other security/traffic management agencies including the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LATMA), and the Nigeria Police, among others.

“During the third quarter of the year, we did a capacity building training for our personnel for “ember months.” We have continued our motor park rallies, moving from one motor park to the other sensitising them to avoid attitudes that would ultimately lead to highway crashes,” Omeje stated.

“We have been partnering with private vehicle tow operators, to ensure that they would provide tow trucks for us, any time there is a crash to enable us remove obstructions. Our bikes would also be moving around the corridors to spot broken down vehicles just as our ambulances are strategically positioned in case of emergencies.

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