Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Okwe Obi, Samuel Bello, Benjamin Babine and Charity Nwakaudu, Abuja
Following President Muhammadu Buhari’s announcement of a complete lockdown in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states for the next two weeks, residents of the FCT and its environs have embarked on a last-minute rush to stock up on food items and other essentials.
Prices of food items had recorded exponential increase orchestrated by the directives handed down by the president on Sunday in a bid to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) which has ravaged the world.
Food items such as onions, plantains, garri, rice, beans, fruits and vegetables are out of the reach of most Nigerians due to price hike.
At Farmers Market, Maitama, a basket of onions which ordinarily sold for N700 climbed to N2, 500. A basket of orange is sold for N500 unlike before when it was sold for N200. A basket of tomatoes has jumped from N1,500 to N3,000.
A buyer, Margaret Udo, who spoke to our correspondent, lampooned the hike adding that it was unreasonable for sellers to increase the cost of food items.
“What is going on in the country is lamentable and regrettable. Food sellers are taking advantage of the lockdown order to frustrate people.
It is not as if we are in a festive period that things would ordinarily climb. Worst of it is that government has not paid salaries,” she said.
Peter Achimugu, a civil servant, could not hold back his displeasure over the situation.
“We are gradually losing our sense of kindness in this country. The hike in food prices these days is unfortunate. I bought a basket of pepper for N1,800 whereas I was buying it for N700. It is really sad and frustrating,” he said.
But Adamu Musa, a food item seller, said the increase was no fault of theirs because transportation cost had increased.
He said: “Customers are just complaining without knowing what we go through. Transportation has increased and we need to add it to our goods. We cannot eat what we sell by ourselves, we must sell them.
“Besides, this lockdown will really affect our goods because most of them will spoil. So we have to sell. Let customers bear with us.”
For Mr Innocent Marcus, he said he was shocked that the price of hand sanitizers changed within 24 hours after he bought for his family.
He said: “On Monday, I visited a pharmacy close to Asokoro General Hospital to buy hand sanitizer. I bought a small bottle for N1,000, on getting home my wife asked me why I bought only one, I said ok I will get another the following day. On getting to the same shop, I requested for another sanitizer and they said it was for N2,000. I reminded them that I had bought one the previous day, they said the price had changed. Period! I grudgingly bought it anyway, before they told me it was now selling for N4,000.”
At the Wuse and Kubwa markets, residents found that a bag of rice which formerly sold for N25,000 was now selling between N28,000 and N30,000 while a mudu of garri was being sold for N300 against the normal price of N130.
It was also observed that the prices of food items like tomatoes, yam, vegetables had also tripled.
Some of the buyers who spoke with our correspondents blamed the hike in price on traders, claiming that they were using the opportunity to make more profits.
Mary Edoh, a resident of Maitama expressed displeasure over the hike in prices of goods at this trying period, blaming traders for being insensitive.
She said: “This is absolute wickedness; traders are not supposed to inflate prices of foodstuffs because of this outbreak. Nigerians are always ready to utilise every situation to make more money.
“Imagine a bag of rice that I was told to pay N27,000; today they are insisted on N30,000. The prices of tomatoes, onion are also on the high side. I spent almost five hours in the market moving from shop to shop because the prices that I met in the market were far more than my budget. I was forced to buy smaller quantities of what I estimated.”
Christy Opara from Kubwa confessed that the prices of food items were now triple what they used to be due to the preparation for the compulsory stay-at-home.
She insisted that the traders were responsible for the hike because most of them were still selling what they had in stock before the outbreak.
She said: “Today’s market prices are what obtains in supermarkets; nobody was ready to reduce prices for you. Everything took to new prices; I spent hours in the market trying to balance what I want to buy and the money on my budget.
“This is all the handiwork of our traders; they like making profits from any given opportunity. Most of them have not gone to the market for new goods since this outbreak started but have just decided to hike their prices. The yam that was normally sold for N1,000 is now selling at N1,500, likewise tomatoes and other things.”
A trader, Musa Adamu, who deals in tomatoes, dismissed insinuations that the hike in prices of food items was to take advantage of the lockdown as announced.
According to him, traders have not been allowed to bring food items into Abuja due to border closures by some states where these products were being produced.
Residents in Apo resettlement area met long queues in Automated Teller Machines (ATM), banks and supermarkets across the city. There was heavy traffic in the Apo resettlement road near the Apo Mall, as many residents hurried to get into the Apo fish market to buy food items and other domestic items. People also hurried into the mall to purchase goods before the total lockdown.
A lady Mrs Regina Omorogie, who about the decision of the President Buhari, to lockdown Abuja said it was the right decision by the government.
“A total lockdown is obviously the right and only decision the president could have taken. I expected the government to have done this since; that is why I chose to buy all I needed to buy. I am actually not going into the market, I am going home, but this traffic is really serious.”
Another resident, Sunday Bamidele, said that the government should have taken further steps than just ordering a total lockdown.
He said: “Before you do a lockdown, you should think of the effect on the people. So many people depend on daily work to feed. If the government really wanted to do a total lockdown, then they should be ready to provide food for the citizens just like other countries are doing.”
Indeed, the coronavirus has no doubt affected many parts of people’s everyday life. An angry buyer in Apo Fish Market, Juliet Maji, asked: “What sort of country is this? Why have the prices of tomatoes, pepper, plantain and rice increased in just a few days?
“It is just sad that while other countries are trying to make things easier for their citizens, our own country seems to be making it harder. I don’t have a problem because I can afford whatever the price is but what about the poor people?”
Another resident, Tobi Orebajo, expressed her frustrations warning that food commodities are very crucial at this point. “The very thing that shouldn’t increase at a time like this is food; we should not forget that they are a lot of poor and homeless people in this country. Just see how small N200 worth of tomatoes have become. Haba!”
Another resident, Mrs Nwannekac, said: “My experience was quite stressful. There have been a lot of queues and big supermarkets like Spar and Shoprite are regulating the number of people allowed to enter the stores per time.
“The outdoor markets, on the other hand, is seeing sharp prices increases in items – far higher than usual with some items like lemon now becoming very scarce. I remember buying lemons for N200 a piece.”
At Exclusive Stores, Wuse 2, Ms Elizabeth claimed she met unending queues.
“Wuse market is empty. No vegetable left. Pricing is ok but nothing left. Shelves are empty.
“Wuse market prices have sky-rocketed. Carrot for N1,000 is now like what we used to buy for N600; with no apologies yet, the customers are hustling to buy.”
A resident of Abuja, Ms Bunmi, said she did most of her buying two weeks back but bought a bag rice for N26.500 on Sunday but menthol spirit that was selling for N400 was what she bought for N1,200 Monday.