By Cosmas Omegoh, Christy Anyanwu and Agatha Emeadi
Bad times are here, hitting hard on a greater number of Nigerians. Many are feeling the pinch in ways difficult to explain; things are changing for everyone fast and quickly; it gets no better.
Going by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics’ (NBS) report, in 2020, 40 per cent of Nigerians representing 83 million people live in poverty. The agency also attested that the “cost of food in Nigeria increased by 20.30 per cent in August, 2021 over the same month in the previous year.”
Recall that on June 27, 2021, it emerged that if “the World Bank’s income poverty threshold of $3.20 per day is used, Nigeria’s poverty rate is 71 per cent.
Sadly, recent astronomical increases in prices of goods and services in the country, coupled with the falling value of the naira, are making a lot more people poorer than they used to be. Poverty level in the country itself is being pushed to unprecedented new heights and the indicators are there for everyone to see.
From Warri to Wurno and Oyo to Uyo, for instance, poverty, want stares everyone in the face. The story is the same, a greater majority are getting increasingly poorer, whacked daily by the hunger that is prowling all over on all fours. For a fact, many do not have food to eat to stay alive. Much worse, they don’t have money to spend and to meet their daily average needs; even the value of the naira they have is growing worthless as the hours roll by, raising fears that in days ahead, a N1,000 bill may only be able to fetch a roll of tissue paper.
As it were, prices of goods – both imported and local – are shooting through the roof, hitting dizzying heights in a hard-to-understand manner. Things continue to head South amid daunting health challenges brought by COVID-19 pandemic, cholera outbreaks, malaria fever menace, doctors’ strike, among others. Added to this myriad is decreasing access to healthcare, drugs and education amid schools closing down in some areas. Access to potable water supply even in some urbane urban areas still remains herculean. Then entered the big monster: insecurity which has seen armed gangs regularly on the rampage everywhere. Bandits and kidnappers at every turn, are camped, busy entrenching their act as a thriving trade, taking people for ransom, and driving away farmers from their fields, straight into Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. Misery is being spread everywhere like a wet blanket. And the result out there is that people’s standard of living is dipping every day.
The aggregate result of the current spate of challenges is poverty; many more folks are increasingly getting mired in it. The reality check reveals that helplessness and hopelessness are on the rise. People are suffering, languishing unbelievably, indescribably. That is the undeniable truth at the moment which many cannot tell how it all began.
Our correspondents gathered that the dwindling value of the naira is at the heart of the country’s deepening woes. That alone is massively affecting the prices of everything: food, goods – both imported and local as well as services. The indicators are showing that this swing of the naira is hugely affecting lives and livelihoods.
How naira value is falling
Not long ago, only few Nigerians gave a damn about the naira and what weighed on the scale, compared to other foreign currencies. But the people are now asking questions because the currency’s dwindling fortune is altering their lives.
Right now, it was learnt, the value of the naira is on every lip. Market women even know how far and fast the naira is failing – how its sustained plunge into the plains is dictating the price of everything money can buy.
About 2015, it would be recalled, the naira exchanged for about N187 to the US dollar. Then dramatically its fortune changed, downward, it went without any let up. Nowadays, it is maintaining daily exchange regimes. Having exceeded the N550 mark to the US dollar, there is fear and anxiety that it might hit N1,000 threshold to the dollar before Christmas, a very bad omen that won’t serve anyone any good.
At Shita, in Surulere, Lagos, where foreign currencies dealers operate, one Ibrahim told our correspondent that a dollar exchanged for N560; he resold the same dollar for N570, while he bought the UK pound for N780. The Euro he said exchanged for N650.
According to Ibrahim, “last year, things were not as bad. A dollar exchanged between N353 and N405.”
His lamented that “the times are hard for our business. Things are not good at all; we are also suffering like every other Nigerian.”
According to a financial expert, Ben Kpaduwa, the fall of the value of the naira signifies a drastic reduction in the purchasing power of the people, a pointer to how poor the people are getting. “This fuels inflation. And what that means is that goods earlier purchased at N1 will no longer sell at N1.
“If you bought a unit of Lexus jeep, for instance, for N5 million before, you might now buy the same car for as high as N6 million; that means the purchasing power of the prospective buyer has been greatly reduced,” he said.
Kpaduwa is sad about this turn of events “because since the purchasing power of the citizenry has been greatly reduced, many families can no longer meet their average needs because inflation is on the rise. The price regimes of every article in the market is no longer stable; they keep changing by the day all because the exchange rate priority keeps changing. This keeps weakening the local currency.”
How inflation affects food
It was a certain TY Bello, a female artist, who sang the song “The land is green.” But right now, the land is no longer green anywhere in Nigeria, but red because the people are hungry.
Truly, there is hunger and danger in the land; food prices soaring away far beyond the reach of the people; they are escalating dangerously.
Sunday Sun investigations at major markets in Lagos revealed that if care is not taken, the country might be returning to the dark ages when uncertainty ruled; and food was scarce.
During an encounter, Chuks Ibezimako, a major food stuff dealer, said: “There is no brand of beans that is cheap in the market now. Various species earlier considered bad have become king of the market.
“The brown Olotu and Oloyin beans which come in 75 Derica measure per full jute bag now cost as much as N100, 000. That is the reason a Derica cup now costs N800 against N400 it sold early this year.”
He also disclosed that a bag of foreign rice now costs N29,000; the same bag sold for N21,000 between January and March this year. He noted that a Derica measure of foreign rice now costs N600 against N400 previously.
To underline the gravity of the challenge, a groundnut oil seller, Mrs Chinwe Emmanuel in a chat, warned our correspondent to “buy your Christmas food now, tomorrow, you will buy it at double the price.”
She said that the price of 75cl container of frying oil that previously sold for N450, now costs N850 while the 1.5litres of the same oil now sells for N1, 600
Now what about eggs? A crate of 30 which earlier sold for N850, now costs N1,450; at the retail kiosk, one egg now sells for N70.
When our correspondent visited Mushin Market in Lagos, similar astronomical increases in other food stuff prices were also noticed. Various cartons of fish which sold between N12,000 and N14,000 earlier in the year, now cost above N29,000 per carton.
According to Sukurat Hassan, frozen chicken is also experiencing sharp increases in price. Her colleague, Hajia Hanatu, testified that chicken products which previously sold for N18,000 per carton, recently saw a sharp increase in price. It now sells for N28,000. That brings a kilo of chicken to N2,000 while a kilo of turkey sells for N2,300.00.
At Ikotun Market also in Lagos, the average basket of fresh tomatoes or pepper which earlier sold for N25,000, now sells for N32,000.
Investigations by Sunday Sun also revealed that master bakers, bread sellers and consumers are also taking the heat. Right now, a big loaf of bread that can serve a family of four which sold for N450 earlier now costs N750.
A bread seller, Osai Okhia said: “Long before now, bread used to be food for the common man. But now, it is longer so.
“The loaves of bread we sold for N250 a few months ago now sell for N350. Those we sold for N450 then now cost N600.
“Now, speculations that master bakers will soon increase their prices, citing high cost of production is not good at all. I don’t know where this country is headed.”
That aside, sachet water producers some months ago, increased the price of their products from N500 for five bags to N750 for the same quantity. Before then, they had reduced the number of sachets per bag from 25 to 20. Consequently, the retail price of a sachet of water now is N20 up from N10.
Imported goods’ prices also rising
As it stands, every Nigerian – the poor and the rich alike – is facing realistic arbitrary increases in prices of imported and locally-manufactured goods.
“See this rechargeable touch made in China,” a roadside trader, Mama Iyabo, explained to our correspondent in Oshodi, Lagos, “in April this year, we sold it for N400. But right now, the price has more than doubled itself. We are selling a unit for N850. The same for every other stuff here.”
Drive home that sentiment of looming uncertainty, she added: “I will advise you to buy more than one for yourself and keep in case you care.
“By the time you come back here next time, who knows the price would have risen to N1,000.”
At Yaba Market also in Lagos, the story was not different. A curtain seller identified as Emeka Ijeoma described price instability as the bane of every trader right now.
“This very material,” he said, pointing at a particular one, “months ago we sold a yard for N800. But now, a yard goes for N1,600.”
Next, he said: “When we sell off our stock, we are not sure of getting them at the same prices when we return to buy more.”
Another trader, Martin Chiagozie, who deals in imported used cars in Apapa, Lagos, echoed similar sentiments, recalling that “prices of cars have been on a steady rise because the naira is on a free fall.
“Cars we hitherto sold for N2.5 million now go for N3.5 million. Funny enough, most people no longer have the money to buy cars unlike before. What that tells us is that there is a big problem.
“It is horrible for a businessman to sell off his stock and won’t be able to restock. It signals downfall.”
He was afraid things might get worse as “what we are hearing now that Customs will henceforth impose N1.5 million on every container arriving in the country is bad news. It is a calculated attempt to further impose hardship on the people. Who pays for that levy if not the final consumer?”
Now, those who think the dwindling value of the naira does not affect locally- manufactured goods are mistaken.
A building-block moulder in Isheri, a part of Lagos, who did not want his name mentioned drew our correspondent’s attention to the unstable prices of cement and other building materials in the market.
“Everything building materials is now very expensive. Look at the cost of cement, for instance.
“A bag of (a certain popular brand) now sells for between N3,700 and N4,500. Sometimes we don’t even see it to buy.
“Hitherto, we bought a 30-ton truck load of sharp sand for our business for N70,000. Now it goes for as high as N90,000.
“That too has affected the price, and quality of building blocks in the market. For instance, a 9” block right now costs N270 per a unit in some places. That alone is stopping people from building houses.
“Already, some people have begun cutting corners by moulding 50 blocks per bag of cement. As for the quality of houses built with such material, your guess is as good as mine.”
The cost of school uniforms is not exempted from the burden most families now have to bear.
It was gathered that not long ago, a yard of check material that makes a shirt for a student costs N400. But now, it sells at N700, the same for the trouser and skirt materials for both boys and girls.
Bad times too for service industry
Other sub-sectors in the services industry have continued to experience increases in prices as inflation worsens.
Investigations at Mazamaza bus terminal in Lagos revealed that the transport sector had witnessed marginal increases in fares, a development an operator described as “borne out of caution.”
He informed our correspondent that his company still charges N5,000 for a bus ride from Lagos to the East, stating that the price had remained stable for a while.
“We are careful not to drive away our customers. Of course, there are other competitors waiting to snatch them. Besides, this is off season,” he said.
Another operator, Okechukwu, disclosed that a ride on Toyota Siena car depending on the destination in the East costs between N7,500 and N8,500. He also revealed that operators of 14-passenger sprinter buses charge N5,500 depending on the company and destination in the East.
But a fruit seller, Mama Bose, argued that high transport fares affect prices of food stuff mostly sourced from the North, Edo and other states in the Southwest.
“Fruits, tomatoes and other food items like yam are brought mostly from the North.
“The high cost of fares reflect on the items we sell,” she said.
Similarly, a load carrier, Mr Adam, who specialises in hauling household items for relocating families, maintained that because of the rising cost of maintenance of vehicles, he now charges between N25,000 and N35,000 for loads in a three-bedroom apartment depending on the destination within Lagos.
While the marginal increment might appear a reprieve, there is the fear that when the Federal Government eventually removes the subsidy on Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) someday, the prices of transportation will rise astronomically and worsen the already bad situation.
Traders, artisans lament
While bemoaning the situation, Mr Jimoh Bamishe, a motor mechanic maintained that things are no longer the same in the country.
He said that due to the high cost of maintenance of vehicles, many people had parked their cars at home and now have rest of mind.
“They prefer to go on BRT or Uber instead of maintaining their cars. Once you tell them the cost of repairs, they tell you they would do that when it is convenient. Therefore, many of our customers are no longer coming forward.
“It is 9:00a.m, yet I’m still at home. Before now, I used to leave home at 7:00a.m because there were lots of works to do at the workshop,” he said.
He lamented that “motor parts are becoming very expensive everyday; Toyota Corolla pedal that sold for N10,000 last year, now goes for 18,000.
“I bought a Toyota Camry door this week for N30,000; it hitherto sold for N22,000.”
Mayokun Ibikunle, a fashion designer also in Lagos complained bitterly that her customers no longer come to pick their wears after she had finished sewing them.
“Since COVID-19, we have been experiencing low patronage. People don’t buy or sew clothes like before. The ones that brought their materials for sewing have practically abandoned them with us. You call them severally they don’t even bother to take their calls.”
Joining in the lamentations, Joyce, who owns a boutique in Balogun market, Lagos, said now they simply go to market to mark time.
She said her customers are no longer coming; their attention is focused more on their feeding.
“I have done sales slash since last month, yet customers are not coming forth.”
Also Mrs Ope Tejuoso who runs Opindos Cakes and Pastries lamented the high cost of baking materials, adding: “For those preparing to wed, we now discuss the imperative of reducing the cake to accommodate their finances.”
Cooking gas prices rise arbitrarily
Cooking gas has also witnessed the mother of all increases.
Kinsley Maduka, a dealer in cooking gas in Surulere, Lagos, said that 12.5 kg cylinder of gas now goes for N7,200. As at last month, he said the price remained at N5,000. Last year while COVID-19 raged badly, it sold for N3,000. The price, he said, rises every day.
“As of today, September 30, 2021, 12.5kg cylinder of gas costs N7,200; I don’t know about tomorrow.
“These prices vary depending on location; some of my colleagues on the Island are selling at higher prices.”
Our correspondent observed that as the cost of gas rises, the poor cannot even afford the cost of kerosene as alternative source of cooking energy.
A litre, it was learnt, now costs N350 at the filling stations and much higher elsewhere, way above the price of PMS.
Described the rapidly escalating prices of everything in the market and the poverty in tow as “tiring,” Ibikunle captured the fear of the people, saying: “We no longer know what is happening in this country nowadays. “People are now only looking for money for food – just food and nothing else.”
As for Mrs Deborah Ikenne, a housewife, and everyone else, “this is bad times for every Nigerian family.”