By CHRISTY ANYANWU
One week to Christmas, traders in Lagos are lamenting over low patronage as the deluge of customers, who usually besiege the markets about this time to purchase foodstuff generally associated with the Yuletide has not been witnessed this year.
A tour of the major markets at Mile 12, Ketu, Iponri, Yaba, Oyingbo and Balogun, showed that the usual hustle and bustle that characterize the period was clearly absent. Notwithstanding that the prices of basic food items have crashed at Mile 12 market, patronage is still low. For instance, prices of tomato and pepper are fairly good compared to last year and the year before. A basket of tomatoes sells for between N6000 and N8,000, while a full basket of onion is N30,000. A bag of rice is sold for N13,000 or N14,000 as against last year when it went for N20,000. In spite of the fall in price, traders at Mile 12 and Ketu said they have not felt the spark of the Christmas celebration.
Oyingbo market which is notable for soup ingredients and has become the solace of low income earners, is also not witnessing the usual high traffic of buyers scrambling to make purchases. Moreover, it was gathered that the traders substantially raised the prices of items like smoked fish, stockfish (whole length and head only), dry pepper, cubes, egusi (mellon) and even vegetables.
A retailer at Oyingbo market, Mrs Nwankwo bemoaned the rising price of the items, stating that the price at which she bought from the wholesalers on Monday made a steep jump on Friday, when she went back to re-stock her shop. She expressed fears that prices would skyrocket in the last week before Christmas.
At the popular Balogun market on Lagos Island, which has always been the Mecca of sorts for people in pre-Yuletide, the high traffic of people was not different this year. But the only snag is that the majority of the people found the prices of wearables (shoes, clothes, jewelry) very high. Clothes, shoes, handbags are pretty expensive in the market. The price tags on clothing from the United Kingdom (UK), Turkey and the United States are on the high range. Beautiful outfits for church and Yuletide dinners go for N30,000 and higher.
The horde of the people appeared to do more of window shopping, as they would haggle with the sellers and end up not buying anything. And when they offer prices that were lower than the prices set by the sellers, the shop owners would be uncivil in their response and even insult them, throwing in expletives too.
Giving an insight to the situation, a shop owner, Mrs Onyeka, who sells female wears and accessories at Balogun market, she said: “Things are really expensive this period. The exchange rate is not funny though better than last year. We traveled outside the country to bring in these stuffs. Just consider what was spent on airfare, hotel accommodation/logistics abroad and then the foreign exchange to buy the goods. This year, I think people are shopping more for kids. They are not shopping for themselves. So children’s clothes and foodstuffs are the priorities for customers this yuletide. This trend has made sellers complain of low patronage.”
In the Surulere area of Lagos metropolis, an Igbo woman, Mama Chuks, sells various foodstuff including frozen foods. In readiness for Yuletide sales, she fully stocked her shop with foodstuffs like rice, beans, garri, palm oil, palm kernel, frozen foods and cooking ingredients with the aim of making December sales but a visit to her shop during the week indicated that the goods she bought for Yuletide sales are still in the shop largely unsold. Pointing to her unsold stock, she said: “People want to buy but the means is just not there. I have vowed not to sell on credit. Before now, I used to allow some credit sales, but I realized that some of the customers are not credit worthy because they don’t pay their debt.
But at the Iponri market, where Mrs Sarah Ojugbana operates a shop, she acknowledged that prices of foodstuffs had gone up. She said: “Before now, we used to buy rice a bag of rice N13000 or 13500. Immediately we got into December, the price rose to between N14000 and 14500, at the rice depot. At one point, it even sold between N15,500 and N16,000. People have not started buying. They just come around, do window shopping to know the price and they promise to come back. Maybe when they get Christmas bonus from the companies, they will have enough cash to shop. By this time last year we were already selling off our wares and quickly re-stocking our shops. Things were not costly then.”
Also at Iponri market, a Hausa man who has a shop explained prices would soar in the next few days. He said: “Last year, we were selling rice between N19000 and N21,000 and people were buying. But the price has come down and people are still complaining about money. The cost price of rice is N14,500 at Iddo and before we transport it here we have to add the expenses and then sell at N16,000.” There’s not much gain,” he said.
Mrs Loveth Mbachu, from the Southeast sells frozen foods at Ijora Olopa market. She said that the price of one carton of turkey is N13,500, while a carton of chicken lap called Orobo in Nigerian parlance goes for N9,500. But normal lap is N10,000; gizzard is N15,000. “The patronage from customers is low. They are complaining that there is no money. Many people are buying now to store in their freezer because by next week prices will go up.”
Another retailer at Ketu, Mama Ngozi, who sells foodstuffs also had a tale of woe: “I went to Oyingbo to goods and stock my shop. The goods I bought rice, stockfish, fish, etc, (pointing to her goods) are still unsold. Before I would have quickly sold off everything and gone back to buy more from the wholesalers. Most people have reverted to noodles for meals rather than cooking soup. Foodstuffs are really expensive and sellers at Oyingbo have raised the prices knowing full well that most customers are buying these foodstuffs as they prepare to travel to their hometowns.