At the popular Atan Market in Ado-Odo/Ota Local Government Area (LGA) of Ogun State, held every four days, a middle-aged woman, without uttering a word, fixed her gaze at some six onions that were displayed for sale.
The tiny onions went for N500. As she continued her gaze in disbelief over the amount the seller announced to her, she opened her black purse containing some money. When she counted it and realised it was not enough to purchase the onions, she shook her head, muttered a few words and left the market disappointed.
Nigerians are complaining bitterly about the high cost of food items, with rising inflation and poor purchasing power, and with people’s source of income dwindling.
Feeding three times a day has become very difficult and clearly impossible for most families, as prices of every food item has soared.
In the last few months, prices of virtually all the basic food items have been on a steady increase. Pundits have described the situation as worrisome, calling for urgent intervention by the authorities and all stakeholders in agriculture. There are predictions that the looming food crisis in the country will unleash unbearable hunger on the masses.
Someone posted on his Facebook page recently that “it has become cheaper to die than to live in Nigeria.” One of his followers agreed that it was easy to die of hunger in Nigeria where foodstuff has gone out of reach for the common man.
Everyone, the poor and the not-so-poor, has been lamenting the situation of things in Nigeria. Many people wonder what the fate of those without jobs or any source of livelihood would be now that the increase in food prices has been telling on those with sources of income.
Food is one of the basic needs of man. Regularly meeting this essential need has become a tall order for many households in the last few months.
While some traders have attributed the high cost of food items to the inability of farmers to produce enough for local consumption while international borders remain closed, others have raised the alarm that the latest increase in the price of petrol and electricity tariff would further compound the people’s woes.
This is certainly a tough time for the poor. Many families have already been thrown into confusion, not knowing how they would survive every passing month with their meagre income, which remains stagnant.
Investigation reveals that, as the trying times persist, many families have been forced to cut down the daily food ration in their homes.
A teacher with a Lagos-based private secondary school, Mr. Timileyin Ogunjobi, burst into laughter when the reporter asked him how he was achieving a balanced diet with his salary.
He said: “You are very funny my friend for mentioning a balanced diet at this period. Balanced diet is strange to many of us. Who is talking of balanced diet when we are only interested in what will fill our stomach?
“I know that I’m not alone in this struggle for survival. The average Nigerian is still alive by the grace of God. It is that bad and sad. It is not supposed to be so because God has since made the foods available, but it is not affordable.
“My wife and I are teachers in private schools. We have seen hell this year. We didn’t receive any salary or compensation for five months. I won’t wish what we experienced for anyone.
“The most painful part is that the common foods that the average Nigerian is easily interested in are now expensive. Beans, garri, rice, yam, bread are all expensive. It might interest you to know that my present salary can only buy a bag of 50kg of foreign rice. Now you can understand that balanced diet cannot be mentioned in my household.
“Food is usually cheap in countries that don’t have arable land for farming, yet it is very expensive in Nigeria that has fertile land from south to north. I sincerely don’t know what our exact problems are and who will solve them. I’m pained that we are suffering in the midst of plenty.”
Prices of some major foodstuff have gone up by 100 per cent and even more in many parts of the country. They keep increasing, as no one knows when respite would come. Many stakeholders have expressed concern over the relentless increment.
The rise in the food index cuts across bread, cereals, noodles and other popular pasta (spaghetti, macaroni), seasonings, tomato paste, onions, fruits, tubers, potatoes, meat, egg, fish, maize, millet, sorghum, tomato, pepper, oils and fats. It has been an astronomical increase in all the prices. Both traders and buyers are complaining over the unhealthy development.
Analysts and other concerned Nigerians are calling on governments at all levels to urgently address the situation before things get out of hand.
For instance, the price of onions has doubled within the last one month, as a bag, which was sold for N50,000 by October, is now sold over N100,000 in Lagos and other South-West states.
At Ile-Epo Foodstuff Market in Agbado Oke-Odo Local Council Development Area (LCDA) in Lagos, the prices of almost every item have gone up. A tuber of yam that was N500 has increased to N800 in the last few weeks.
A potato seller at the market, who identified himself only as Ibrahim, told the reporter that his goods come from Sokoto, Bauchi and other areas in the far North. He said the cost of transport was responsible for the price increase. He decried what he termed low sales, saying that customers quickly turn back upon hearing an increase in the price of potatoes. He said the more goods he sells, the better chance of him making more profit and meeting his own needs.
It was learnt that there is a recent downward trend in the prices of garri, tomato and pepper in some of the markets. Also, rice maintained a fairly stable price, as a bag of 50kg of banned foreign rice still being smuggled into the country, which was sold for N24,000 in August, is now sold for between N22,000 and N23,000 at most of the markets in Ogun.
At Ile-Epo market, the price of maize has gone up too; a bag now costs N17,000, up from N8,000 a few months ago.
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 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.
Another trader in foodstuff in Lagos, Mrs. Modinat Mustapha, said that a 25-litre keg of vegetable oil, which was sold for between N12,000 and N13,000 in October, is now N18,000.
She said: “Prices of food items have remained unstable in the last few months due to the coronavirus pandemic. The situation was further complicated by the recent EndSARS protests across the country. Transporting foodstuff from one part of the country to another was stalled for over one week while the unrest lasted.”
A plumber, Mr. Daniel Udoh, who lives in Alakuko, Lagos, with his wife and three children, said: “Before this year, I used to buy foodstuff in bulk and keep them to be used for a month or more. It was cheaper and convenient for us that way. But things have changed so fast that I can no longer afford it. These days, I only buy what my money can afford,”
Bread makers who are members of Premium Bread-makers Association of Nigeria (PBAN), have also decried the high price of flour, a major ingredient for bread, in recent times. There is also almost 100 per cent increase in the price of sugar.
Consequently, a loaf of bread that was sold for N300 is now sold for between N400 and N450 in Ogun and Lagos.
Youths and other able-bodied people who are willing to work are being called upon to go into agriculture so that there will be sufficient food.
A chartered accountant, Mr. Edwin Osaigbovo, appealed to government to help farmers where necessary, in order to increase food production, as well as encourage the youth to go into farming to address food insecurity in Nigeria.
There are also worries that the fast approaching Christmas and New Year festivities may be celebrated amid uncertainties, unless something urgent is done by government to address the situation.
Some perturbed Nigerians have urged the government to swiftly put in place a price regulatory mechanism to curtail some farmers and traders, who capitalise on flimsy excuses to inflate prices of goods at the expense of the rest of Nigerians.