By VIVIAN ONYEBUKWA, ELIZABETH OGUNBAMOWO and VERA WISDOM-BASSEY
It is like a season without a song. Two Nigerians in Lagos were overheard discussing about the dire economic situation in the country. One of them remarked that it is December but he is yet to start hearing, in records and other goods and services stores, the popular Christmas song: “Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle all the way.” This he observed, starts renting the air right from the first week of December. But for this year, it has not been so.
To this, his friend jocularly remarked: “Jingling bells? Ah, they were all stolen by hoodlums during the EndSARS protest.” Although the remark was meant to be a joke, a sort of comic relief, the truth in his remark cannot be missed: it is Christmas but there is nothing to celebrate it with. So? This year, from all indications, we are probably headed to a bleak Christmas, no thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and EndSARS protest. When Saturday Sun correspondents went round the town to find out how people are preparing to celebrate this year’s Christmas in the midst of the economic meltdown, their findings were as revealing as they were sobering.
One of the parents who spoke with our correspondent, Rosemary Timothy of Olive Mountain Prayer and Praise Ministry, Ijegun, Lagos, lamented the negative effects of the current economic situation. Asked to compare last year Christmas with this year’s, she said: “Last year, there was excitement and the signs of Christmas were everywhere. But this year, there is nothing exciting anyone. There are no signs. My children want to know what is happening. They are asking if there will be no Christmas this year. They said they cannot see or feel the signs. But I told them that it is because of the bad economy as a result of COVID-19 and EndSARS protest. They say things are dull. I think they are correct. By this time last year, many of us parents had gone to the market to buy clothes for our children. But this year some people have not bought anything for their children.”
Tales of woes from transporters and passengers
Kenneth Nwabueze, Manager GUO Transport, Ikotun Terminal, lamented that the country’s poor economic condition has affected the company’s business. “By this time last year, we had moved enough vehicles from Lagos down to our different branches,” he said. “But this year, we have not been able to do so because of bad economy. This year, business is very dull; we had to increase the price and space: it is just two people on a row of seat instead of three. If not, we cannot meet up with the expenses. This has really affected our business because we don’t have customers as before. It seems a lot of people have decided not to travel this Christmas.”
According to him, the COVID-19 problem affected the people financially but advised that if one cannot afford the fare there is no need travelling considering the expenses involved. “The disease has not been fair to uso. So for us not to be on the losing side we had to increase the fare. Even the incentive we give to the people, we have to stop it, in order to cut cost. But we want to assure our customers that we are giving them the comfort they deserve. They need to relax as there will be not too much luggage to incovenience anybody.”
A visit to some of the transport companies around Ijesha, Mile 2, and Jibowu, indicates that transportation from Lagos to the East costs between N10, 000 and N12, 000. A worker at a transport company in Ijesha, Surulere, Lagos, who lamented that passenger flow is not as much now as it was last year stated that the fare will increase from N10, 000 to about N15, 000, as from next week.
The airfare may even be worse. The cost of air transport has risen twice as a result of social distancing. Passengers are made to pay double to make up for other unoccupied seats. A flight passenger, Eugene Mmeka, told Saturday Sun that he booked a flight to the East a month ago at N54, 000. But as at the time of this report, the price has risen to N125, 000.
Traders lament business lull
Chikaodi Anya, a shoe-seller at Ikotun market, Lagos, in a chat with Saturday Sun, wished there was another word with which to describe this year’s Christmas, beyond the word “dull.” To her, there is nothing to celebrate it with because of the lull in her business brought about especially by the pandemic and the ENDSARS protest. “It really affected me because I used all my money to buy new goods, and during the lockdown all the goods in my shop got spoilt because it was only foodstuff sellers that were allowed to sell in the market then. Since then I have been managing. Before the outbreak of COVID -19, I was dealing in second-hand clothing, but my warehouse was looted during the ENDSARS protest. So, I had to look for money and go into this shoe business. But right now, I am not making sales when compared with the time that I was dealing in second hand clothes.”
She, however, expressed hope that, by next week, things might improve and she would make last-minute sales. “Talking about the Xmas, by this time last year Christmas sales had started doing well and we sold much goods,” she said. “I think people do not have the money to buy materials so that is why sales have decreased. Actually, I don’t know what the government can do, because in Nigeria now the government is not ready to help anybody, only God can help us.”
Mercy John who deals in children’s ware also at Ikotun market lamented the lack of money with which to buy the needed items. “The lockdown really affected us because there was no money,” she noted. “As a result of the border closure and some other places where we buy our goods we can’t really get the goods for sale. Also the prices are high so this is affecting us.” Comparing her sales last year with this year’s, she said: “last year we made some good sales and profits. But this year the market is really dull. People are not buying things like they did last year.” She called on the government to open the border so that the prices of goods, including rice, can come down so that people will have what to eat during the Christmas celebration. (Editor’s note: the Federal government ordered the opening of borders during the week).
Other traders who are not sure of celebrating this year’s Christmass on account of poor sales include: Mama Chinyere who sells secondhand bags; Alice Joseph who sells plantain; Titilayo Usman who sells garri and yam flour; Taiwo Kazeem, a meat seller; Peculiar Iyalode, a seamstress; Tosin Orodiran and Cynthia Eze, part-time businesswomen.
While Mama Chinyere is praying and hoping to recoup some of her money to pay back the loan she got from a microfinance bank to buy the bags (“I am here to auction the goods, so that I can at least recover part of the money,” she told Saturday Sun), Alice Joseph sees bleak Christmass staring squarely at her in the face. “See all of us here (talking about her colleagues), as we dey so, have been here since morning,” she said. “People just come, ask for plantain, carry it up and drop it because it’s too expensive for them and it is not as if we made it that way. It is as a result of bad economy. So? Na how we go take celebrate this year’s Christmas?”
“If I have really made any sales today, I won’t be here chewing coconut chaff like this,” Usman told one of our correspondents. “I’d have bought something better to eat. Sales have not been this bad since I started selling market. I am going to celebrate this year’s Christmas in Lagos. I am not traveling to the village. On Christmas day, I’d call my people in the village, my children will speak with them so they’d know we are alive and healthy. I don’t have any money for travel.”
Kazeem who operates his meat-selling business at Ogba, Ikeja, Lagos told Saturday Sun that he has been in the business for over five years. But this year’s Christmas sales are nothing to write home about. Iyadode lamented that, “clothing materials are now sold double the price we usually buy them and people are not actually coming for our services like they used to maybe because of the high cost. Tailors during this period are not really making gains like before.”
Financial constraints and lamentations
Orodiran said before now she used to travel to the village during Christmas for family reunion but that will be impossible this year owing to financial constraints. “I am not even traveling, much less sending stuffs. I will try but it won’t be as much as what I used to send before now.” Eze lamented that goods and services that are central to rich and fulfilling Christmas celebration are now out of reach to the common man. “Things we can’t do without this festive period include groundnut oil, onions, rice, pepper, fresh tomatoes, sachet tomatoes and others. Unfortunately, their prices are now unaffordable. This is definitely going to affect this year’s Christmas celebration.”
Nkechi Ibe, a salegirl who is helping her mother, revealed that by this time last year she made about N100,000 from doing brisk business with the items but this year things are not the way they used to be and she is not sure making up to a quarter of that amount.
Abigail Agbejule, a mother of four, confesed that her Christmas celebrations this year will be low-key because of uncertainties. “My husband is a school owner and as you know, COVID-19 really affected schools this year,” she said. “Even after resumption, some parents didn’t pay up, so there’s no way we’d spend like before. We don’t know what the state of the economy will be like as from January.”
She said she usually buys two wears each for her children in previous years for Christmas celebration but has limited it to one each this year. “Right now, all we are investing in is not clothes or shoes but rather what to eat at this period – food, drinks and other necessities.”
For Damilola Arowosere, Christmas period usually is a time for her to celebrate and be merry, but this year’s seems dim as far as she is concerned. Like Agbejule, she said that what she is concerned with for now is how to eat and feed her four children. “Normally when Christmas is near like this, you’d feel it in the air,” she recalled. “Your heart would be merry. You’d just be excited for no reason. It’s a time to celebrate and appreciate God for keeping you alive. But for this year’s celebration, we just thank God. There is really no money for celebrations.”
Josephine, a native of Okpokwu Local Government Area of Benue State told Saturday Sun that she would not be traveling this Christmas owing to high transport fare. She would rather use the money to feed with. “I have four children and if we are to travel now, there is no way I will pay for only one seat,” she said. “I have to pay for at least two, that’s N20, 000 already. And the village we are traveling to, people there will be expecting us to spend money on them. For me, I am not going anywhere. I’m celebrating in Lagos this year unlike the other years.”
Those who will celebrate Xmas, come what may
But Rosemary Timothy who earlier lamented the negative effects of the current economic situation added that the situation notwithstanding, the family will celebrate Xmas because her children would not want to hear that there is hardship in town. “Whatever happens, they would want to eat rice and wear new clothes. What can we do as parents? It’s just for us to pray for God’s providence. So they must celebrate because God has been faithful.”
Kemi Otegbade, Abuja-based events consultant with about a decade-and-a-half experience and the brains behind Heartlink Ventures Ltd, told Saturday Sun that despite the hard economic situation, she has a lot to be grateful to God for this Christmas. “I will come to Lagos to have a quiet Christmas and New Year with my close-knit family as Abuja will be empty,” she said. “I will definitely go to church for thanksgiving as this has been an unusual year. Being alive is the best profit declaration any of us can give. Many of our loved ones with plans for the future have left us. It’s not by our making. God is still God over all of us.”
Chinyere Amechi, a journalist and managing editor, Safety & SecurityWatch magaziine, said, though it has been a traumatic year which will make her a bit circumspect in the area of spending. All the same, the situation has not dampened her travel spirit. “For me, I am traveling with my children to my village, Amuzi in Obowu Local Government Area of Imo State because of our triennial Iwa Akwa ceremony which every Obowu son and daughter finds difficult to miss because of the funfair associated with it,” she said. “I will leave Lagos any moment for onward journey to Imo State.”
Nath Ofor, a Bishop and the General Overseer of Jesus Campaigners Ministry, sums it up while preaching on love as a symbol of Christmas. “Christmas is not the season we need money to celebrate. It is a season we need to show love to one another, not necessarily financially. It’s showing kindness, appreciating one another. Praying for one another. Forgiving those that have trespassed against us. The little we have, we give. It is a time of love. It is a time of coming together. It is a time to speak peace. It’s a time to show love. Just show a little kindness. Its not a time you may you want to kill cow and after that you still nurse hatred against someone. It’s a time for people to see your smiling face again. It’s a time for people to appreciate you and vice versa, not even financially, but with love. It may involve a handshake, talking to one another, calling people you love. Giving them reasons to live. Those that have a little can give, but if you don’t have, give them good words. Call people. Encourage them. Tell them how you love them because Christmas is all about love.”