•Nothing to celebrate at Yuletide, Nigerians lament
By Job Osazuwa
This year’s Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, wasn’t too merry in many places across Nigeria.
In times past, everyone, directly or indirectly, was inescapably caught in the Yuletide frenzy. All sorts of gifts used to be exchanged between clients, colleagues and relatives.
Across the land, glitz and glamour characterised the day. In the past, even before this special day, Christmas carols were played virtually everywhere, in the streets, in churches, schools, on radio and television, at event centres, everywhere. Children and adults eagerly looked forward to the day. There was a lot of shopping, and food and drinks were never in short supply.
But the story was different this year. Things seemed to have taken a different turn, particularly in Nigerian homes, corporate organisations, government ministries, agencies and departments. In most of the places that were usually decorated with ribbons, Christmas trees and blinking lights, everything looked bland. Not many Christmas bells jingled in Nigeria in 2016.
Without doubt, the economic recession sweeping across the country like wildfire punctuated the excitement that Christmas usually brings. There wasn’t a lot of merriment, as many people lost their jobs, small-scale businesses collapsed and companies were shut down.
The situation was further worsened for many people who, in their bid to stay afloat, risked their money in the Ponzi scheme, MMM, with its promise of 30 per cent interest as return on investment. Traders, corporate workers, artisans and students invested in the online scheme.
Unfortunately, many Nigerian who put their money in the scheme with the hope of having something to spend during the Yuletide had their hopes dashed, as they learnt two weeks ago that the scheme had been suspended till January 2017, with their money trapped in the account.
Daily Sun observed that most families, especially in Lagos, observed low-key celebrations. Those who spoke with the reporter described celebrating the season as a waste of dwindling resources. Most children were denied the joy of Christmas, as many parents were constrained by the recession that brought anger, hunger, anguish and frustration to the land.
A Lagos resident, Mr. Mayowa Adebowale, stated that the only thing that was paramount to him and his family at this tough time was the gift of life.
“While I have life, I have everything. Why should I be spending lavishly in the name of Christmas, a one-day event, when I have school fees to pay in two weeks’ time? Many people fail to realise that after the day, there will still be other basic necessities to attend to daily.
“To say the truth, I didn’t buy any clothes for my three kids, and thank God they understood when I explained to them. Another reason was that when their mother got to the market, she discovered that she had to buy each of the two girls’ gowns for N8,000 against the N4,000 of last year,” he said.
At Fagba Market in Oko-Oba area of Lagos, late buyers were seen on Christmas Eve taking their time to price live chickens from hawkers, but many ended up not buying anything.
At Just Rite, a mega store at Abule-Egba bus stop in Lagos, the place appeared busy, but most of the customers, who were young men, bought wines and other drinks.
“If I could not buy a vehicle or get a better job from January 2016 till date, l should be able to buy some drinks to enable me and my friends have a fun-filled Christmas,” Chinedu Ebere told the reporter after purchasing different brands of alcoholic drinks worth N7,000.
According to him, there was no way things couldn’t have gone up, because a dollar was exchanged for N160 last year, but now it is sold for over N450.
One of the shoppers, Chimezie ThankGod, expressed shock over how prices of most commodities have skyrocketed in this period when people needed them the most.
“I wanted to buy a gown for my wife, but they told me it was N18,000. That is something that was sold for between N7,000 and N9,000 last year. I couldn’t buy it because l believe she won’t appreciate it when she finds out the price,” he said.
Christians who went to church on Christmas Day were unanimous in their prayers, asking God to make 2017 usher in good tidings for them.
At the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Lagos Province 29, Signs and Wonders Parish, on Meiran Road, Lagos, worshippers expressed high hopes that the joy in 2017 would erase the hardship many were passing through in the country. The high point during the prayer session was when prayers were raised against recession.
Mr. Izehiuwa Bright blamed President Muhammadu Buhari for not delivering on his campaign promises close to two years after taking on the mantle of leadership as the number one citizen of the country.
“It is high time we kept aside politics and concentrate on governance. Government policies and actions are everything that a country needs to be transformed. The economic recession has affected my pocket directly. I couldn’t enjoy Christmas because the prices of everything in the market have really gone up. We managed to buy the necessary things, but it was no longer the way we used to celebrate it in my home. The ‘change’ has changed so many things in my home; l pray that government acts fast because things can’t continue like this,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mr. Oke O. said whether there was recession or not, his household couldn’t be prevented from celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. He said God’s protection that his family had been enjoying was a big reason to celebrate.
“Although l didn’t throw a party, we bought new clothes and cooked sumptuous foods that day. There is recession, but people are still building houses and dedicating vehicles,” he said.
Traders suffer low patronage
In the past, traders used to sell hundreds of baskets of hampers every Christmas, but this year the story has been different. The economic depression in the country, with the attendant hike in the prices of food items and other commodities, has made it difficult for most households to shop for this year’s yuletide.
Traders who invested hugely in hampers are already contemplating unwrapping the baskets by January and selling the contents of the baskets separately.
On Christmas Eve at Ogba Sunday Market in Lagos, dozens of hampers were displayed by the roadside leading to Ogba Roundabout, but only a few customers were obsderved pricing the items. Those who supplied hampers to corporate organisations in the past and smiled to the bank now have different stories to tell. One of them, Mr. Segun, complained that only a handful of his customers, less than 30 per cent, have so far placed orders.
Also, not many families were able to afford bags of rice, which is the preferred food item for the celebration. In many homes, rice became very scarce.
Last year, a 50kg bag of rice cost between N9,000 and N13,000. But this year, the price ranged from N18,000 to N23,000 in various markets in different parts of the country.
A fashion designer in Lagos, Tony Odaro, owner of T-Boy Designers located opposite the barracks in Iyana-Iba, complained that he recorded very low patronage this Yuletide, compared to previous years.
He said, “Everything has increased in the country. People now prefer to eat first and manage the clothes that they have. The economic situation has done so much harm to almost everybody. An office worker that is not paid his salary cannot think of coming to sew new clothes. The few clothes we are sewing now are mainly for children; it is really bad.
“This period, from December 5th till 24th, is usually our peak, but I am not really impressed this year. On my own, I reduced the prices l charged my clients because the competition is high among us. I can still remember how I rejected some works two and three years ago, especially those that were not ready to pay well. But, this year, we have learnt to pamper the customers so that they don’t go elsewhere.”