By Job Osazuwa
Christmas is here again. It is a season that is celebrated globally by most Christian faithful. It has, for centuries, become an all-important day and season in the calendar year, even for non-Christians.
But this year, many families might not be able to join the rest of the world to make merry, as the harsh economic realities bite harder across the country. Prices of most commodities have skyrocketed. Hard time stares everyone in the face.
In the past, it was a tradition in many homes to plan ahead of the Yuletide season. Things appear quite different this year, as the impact of the COVID-19 hit many people in no small measure.
Over the past days, the air pervades despondency, as observed by many people.
The mood in the markets is depressing. The usual Yuletide flavour is missing. At Ile-Epo Market in Agbado Oke-Odo Local Council Development Area (LCDA), most buyers and sellers in the market were seen wearing long faces, and grumbling about the high cost of foodstuff. Unarguably, most Nigerian families are heading for their worse Christmas in recent years.
A few well-to-do families could be reminded that times were hard in the country, but majority of the citizens do not require such a reminder. Many pundits believe that a better part of the population of the country have first-hand experience of the hardship that has been imposed on them by the already wobbly economy. COVID-19 came to further compound Nigerians’ woes.
With the economy in a pathetic situation, many homes appear to have completely forgotten that the year has come to an end and that the time to make merry has come.
Everyone is lamenting. People working in corporate offices, tailors, other artisans, business owners and dealers in goods, which have been known to report Yuletide booms, are struggling. Instead of smiling to the bank, they are all at the moment united in gnashing their teeth.
As it has always been the case, by this time of the year, tailors are usually overwhelmed by orders placed by old and new customers. Children and many adults normally celebrate the Yuletide with new clothes. The tailors and hairstylists would be seen working deep into the night so that they would be able to meet up with the high demands. Some spend days and nights in their shops.
But findings indicate that things have changed drastically for worse this year. The situation is far less rosy for tailors, hairdressers, transporters and traders, who have always cashed in on escalating demands during the Christmas season to make quick money.
A tailor who is based in Lagos, who said that he had been in the business for 19 years, Jeremiah Akintunde, told the reporter that only a few customers were coming to make clothes. With just a few days to Christmas (as at the time he spoke with the reporter), he said that there was no signal that there would be any rush this year.
He described this year’s patronage as the worst since he joined the trade 22 years ago.
“It is now becoming clearer to me that we are in a big economic trouble in Nigeria. I can’t believe that only two persons have given me clothes to sew for the Christmas and New Year celebrations. In previous years, by this time, there would be nowhere for you to stand because there would be clothes everywhere.
“By now, we might have started rejecting some orders because we already had enough that would keep us busy till the end of the year. It shows that many people are having financial difficulties. I won’t blame them because we all saw how the lockdown affected businesses. I am sure many people would prefer buying foodstuff to sewing new clothes.
“We are only praying that by 2021 things would have come back to normal so that the economy will start booming again. The quicker things are reversed, the better for all of us,” he said.
Akintunde’s lamentation was corroborated by Tina Elabor, a hairdresser based in Benin, the capital of Edo State. She told Daily Sun on the telephone that that her business was crawling despite the fact that it was just a few days before Christmas.
“I was chatting with someone on WhatsApp before your call came in. Normally, during this period, I would be working all through the night till the last day of the year. I might not even have time to eat let alone check my social media messages,” she said.
She, however, expressed hopes that the usual boom could still happen before the end of the year, especially on the 24th and 31st of December.
Her words: “In the past, customers would start coming in for their Yuletide hair from December 10. This year is totally different. But let me not be in haste to conclude because we still have some days left where the rush can still happen. Some last minute rush might make the difference.
“There is no money in town that is why customers are not coming to make their hair to celebrate the season. Everywhere is dull. This year’s Christmas will not be interesting because there is no money. But we still thank God for giving us sound health and for keeping us alive. It is only those who are alive that will be hoping for better days ahead.”
A father of five children, Mr. Daniel Kings, said that this year was wasted in fighting coronavirus, and that no one should be blamed for the inability to meet up with obligations during the festive season.
“I have given up on this year. It is a year that I don’t want to remember as I move forward. My wife and I were at home for over four months without any income. The lockdown and closure of businesses affected both of us. To feed became a luxury for us.
“I have already explained to my children that if we don’t buy Christmas clothes this year or kill any chicken, there are many more years to come when they can buy more beautiful clothes. The senior girl and her immediate younger brother understand our explanation, but others are still too young to understand what we are passing through,” Kings said.
Many people have also seen the reason not to travel to their hometowns this season. Investigations revealed that the terminals of some mass transit transport companies are also suffering the low turn-out of travellers. According to the operators, this year’s festive season is not commensurate with what is usually recorded at the same period in previous years.
An employee of a popular inter-state transport company in Lagos, Mr Monday Boye, said that normally by this time of the year, motor parks would have been busy, which is yet to happen.
“There are many things that contribute to low number of people travelling this year. Transport fares have increased by almost 100 per cent since coronavirus came. Many people have lost their jobs in this 2020 and are left with no money to spend when they get to their villages.
“People are getting wiser by the day. By January, many parents would have to pay school fees for their children. There is no sign up till now that there will be rush. This is usually our season to make money but I don’t see such happening this year because everywhere is just too calm for my liking,” Boye said.
Also disturbing is the fact that there is high cost of all foodstuff items in the market, particularly frozen foods. For some months now, the prices of virtually all the staple foods have hit the roof. They have been on a steady increase, thereby making it inconvenient for the common man to afford.
A driver in Lagos, Mr. Ayoefe Adeayo said: “Prices of goods and commodities, especially foodstuff are no longer affordable. We will manage whatever we can afford to survive the season.
“Though I am not a Christian, we also celebrate the season as a result of the compulsory holiday in my company. Moreover, I have many Christian friends who I visit during Christmas.
“Things must be different this year. Let’s not forget the fact that we are not completely out of COVID-19 pandemic. We still need to adhere to the guidelines as stipulated by the medical experts and government for the good of everyone in the society,” he advised.
For instance, except for rice which has maintained a relative stable price for a while, there have been astronomical increases in the prices of beans,yam, potatoes, garri, popular pasta, semovita, tomato paste, seasonings, meat, egg, fish, maize, millet, sorghum, pepper, and plantain. Chicken and turkey are now seen by many people as foods for the rich. There is the possibility that the prices of other items might be higher in the days ahead.
The closure of land borders is also said to have compounded the food crisis in the country as local farmers are yet to meet Nigerians’ demand for hitherto imported products. This still plays out despite repeated assurances that the nation’s local producers have the capacity to produce the needed products.
But the government has been commended for taking the decision which is geared towards tackling smuggling and encouraging local farmers.
Instead of being in a boisterous mood, the people are groaning as a result of rising prices. The rate of poverty that Nigerians are experiencing now is alarming.
Palm oil has also skyrocketed. A 25-litre keg of palm oil, which used to cost N12, 000 about a month ago, is now sold for N18, 000 in Lagos. It was gathered that, before the COVID-19 pandemic, the same 25-litre keg was sold for between N8, 000 and N9, 000 in different parts of the South-West, South-South and South-East states.
A bag of beans, whose price fluctuated between N20, 000 and N23, 000 a month ago, is now sold for N32, 000.
Also worrisome is the seemingly incurable spate of security challenges across the country. Kidnappers, cultists, bandits and others operating on the various highways are making travelling by road an unpopular option this Christmas.
Added to that is the traffic chaos being experienced on most major highways in the country, as many major roads are under repairs and are so adding to the pain being experienced by many.