•Traders groan as volume of unsold goods rises
•Parents withdraw wards from private schools over biting hardship
By Julianna Taiwo-Obalanye, Uche Usim, Fred Itua, Magnus Eze and Basil Obasi
many traders in Abuja are gnashing their teeth as they record huge losses almost on a daily basis. The economic recession jolting the country has not spared them. It has scorched their businesses and finances, alnost impoverished their customers. Many workers, who ordinarily would have patronised them are either out of job or owed many months’ salaries.
The few loyal ones that manage to call at their shops often demand to buy on credit. According to the traders, selling on credit was not their greatest concern for now, the daunting task is tracking down their debtors whose precarious financial status has made them serial defaulters, and getting them to pay up.
The concomitant effect of this is that many traders in Abuja have their shops full of goods that are not sold, day after day. Aside from the weak purchasing powers of many residents, the traders are finding it difficult to remain in business, as the price of goods at the distributors’ offices increase almost daily, forcing them to sell at higher prices to their weary customers.
When Daily Sun visited the popular Nyanya market, dealers in consumables, especially canned foods and drinks, were visibly frightened as the expiry dates of their wares were near and yet no customers came around to buy them.
Most of them wore long faces as they sat idle in their shops, hoping to make sales. One of the traders, James Idu, who sold cosmetics, said the biting austerity had turned his business from a necessity to a luxury that only a few could afford.
“Nobody wants to wear cosmetics, especially the popular brands. Young babes no longer wear expensive lotions. They say their priorities are feeding and shelter. Any cream above N1,500 these days no longer sells. The ones we bought before recession are still here and I’ve not been able to gather capital to restock my shop. My money is tied down. We survive on turnovers, but these days we sit here idle. I used to have two sales boys when the going was good but today I’m the only sales person. I’ve asked the other guys to go because I can no longer pay them.
“For the first time in five years, I stayed one week without making any sales. The previous week, the sales I made were on credit. The only people surviving here are grocers. But we can’t all be grocers,” he said.
Idu noted that the last Yuletide was his worst as a businessman. The low sales sapped the joy of the season from his home. Another trader, Willy Atta, a banking and finance graduate who sells rice and groundnut oil, said that the cause of Nigeria’s problem should be known by the government without the help of any soothsayer.
He explained that the oscillatory nature of the dollar has made business unstable. Customers have grown tired of continuous hike in the price of goods.
“A customer comes today, buys a weave-on for N2,000, only to return tomorrow and find it is N3,000. Isn’t that frustrating? Can she plan. Won’t she seek an alternative to weave-on? When she eventually finds an alternative, how do we the sellers survive?” he queried.
When asked to compare the traffic in the market during the 2016 Christmas and New Year celebration and what the case was during the 2015 season, Atta said that there was no need for comparison because all Nigerians know 2016 was hellish and regrettable.
He further noted that the rate at which the prices of commodities were skyrocketing was very astonishing, adding that most Nigerians would suffer.
On the prospects for 2017, Willy said: “Every new year offers an opportunity for renewed hopes and prayers; I know that the year is pregnant, what I don’t know is what it can deliver, but the government should start talking about quicker ways of changing this ugly relationship between the naira and the dollar.
“Closing the border to encourage national production is not a strategy that can salvage our current economic problem,” he said.
In Kubwa market, also in Abuja, Haija Halima Yakubu, a trader, said 2016 was a year of complaints: “Can you imagine the rich and poor grumbling at the same time? It happened last year.
“We all agree that Nigeria battled with inflation last year but this I would say minimally affected traders, considering that the price at which you bought would determine the price at which you would sell. I personally was never bothered.
“Do you know the people I pity most? Civil servants, of course! These people have static income at the end of every month and when price changes, the real value of their income changes proportionately.
“For instance, I sell children’s clothes. I just complain about rising price because it is affecting the rate of turnover, people no longer buy as before but, if they buy, I know that I will always make the same margin of gain or more; bearing in mind that what I bought must have jumped in price, I quickly adjust appropriately to cushion the effect.”
Another trader who gave his name as Ositadinma, who deals in hair accessories, blamed the government for its inability to tackle the exchange rate problem headlong, because commodity prices would keep rising as long as the dollar rate continues to increase.
He disclosed that, since the price of his merchandise depends on the exchange rate f the naira to the U.S. dollar, he does not have any problem other than having the right information and adjusting price accordingly.
Ositadinma said: “The people I really pity is those people receiving steady income that does not respect changing prices, especially all these people employed either in the formal or informal sectors, who earn paltry salaries; but for business people and farmers I think all you need is to be well-informed.
“If the company I import from tells me that the price of their product is going to increase from $12 to $15 in the next two days, I quickly use the new price in combination with the prevailing exchange rate to deduce what the price of my goods should be in order to make a level of profit that will keep me in business.”
He gave an example of a farmer who knows that the rte at which he should sell his produce is not as important as what that money could buy.
“This farmer, knowing that the price of the dollar affects the prices of certain items in his consumption basket, will ask for a price that will accommodate his spending power in terms of what amount of commodity the money he sold 10 tubers of yam could fetch him. This is simple logic and arithmetic,” he said.
There is another class of Abuja residents who are among the worst hit by the current economic recession. Parents who have wards in private schools. With lean incomes, they are making a U-turn. Mass exodus has hit private schools in the FCT, as parents and guardians, who can no longer cope with the biting economic hardship, have withdrawn their wards in preference for cheaper public schools or, in some cases, they keep the children at home.
Acting Secretary of FCT Education, Mr. Musa Maikasuwa, in a recent chat with newsmen, disclosed that public schools in the territory are now overburdened by the growing number of enrollees in primary and secondary schools.
He said, in some instances, teachers in public schools jave to use a public address system during classes to get the lessons to everybody in the large crowds of pupils.
He said: “As a result of the current economic recession, parents have withdrawn their children from private schools and have enrolled them in public schools. This has led to overpopulation in our public schools in FCT.
“In some cases, we now use public address system to teach in classrooms. We are short-staffed and we need more teachers to cater for more pupils coming into our public schools.
“These are the challenges we are facing in the education secretariat of the FCT Administration. We appeal to people to understand and bear with us for now.
“The economic recession which has affected every facet of the Nigerian society has also not been kind to us in the education sector, considering that we provide what is essentially a public service.
“Education seems to be the most affected, considering the fact that it has direct impact on the everyday lives of the populace. We are over-stretched and this means more pupils and students are in the classrooms and our furniture is over-used.
“This challenge, instead of weighing us down, simply brought out the best in us and we achieved feats this year in the FCT education sector that has been unprecedented.
“We are, however, re-strategising to ensure that we close the gaps. This, you must understand, has not been particularly easy, considering the current precarious economic situation in the country.”
For Abuja resident, Mrs. Ifeoma Nwachukwu, she is planning to withdraw her three children from the private school they are currently attending, but the proprietress has given them the option to pay fees in instalments.
“My children’s school fees is close to N1 million. My husband is torn between keeping the children in the school where they have friends and are doing well and withdrawing them and taking them to a school we can afford for now. The reality is that the money is not just there,” she lamented.
Also, the scarcity of foreign exchange and the inability of parents to pay the high exchange rates, has forced many Nigerian students abroad back home. Checks by Daily Sun has revealed that many students are transferring their admissions to universities in the country.
Assistant Vice President for Digital Services and Chief Information Officer of American University of Nigeria (AUN), Mr. Julius Ayuk-Tabe who disclosed this in an interview with Daily Sun in Abuja, cited that the request for transfer from foreign universities to his school has recently been on the increase.
This is as Daily Sun gathered that there is sharp drop in the number of students going to study abroad this academic season.
Ayuk-Tabe advocated for the promotion of access to electronic education, saying that the urge for foreign institutions was high because many parents were not aware of the high quality of education in the country.
He reasoned that the global competitiveness of education poses a huge challenge to institutions of higher learning in Nigeria to up their quality so as to compete favourably with their counterparts in other climes.
The AUN Chief Information Officer urged the National Assembly to partner government by providing the legislative framework for e-learning in the country.
He said: “What we are saying is that the right thing to do is to have the right quality because parents are investing and there want their children to have the best; especially now that there is globally competitiveness. So, the first onus is now on the schools to prepare the children with the right quality to be globally competitive. Once that is done, the parents would have no option, especially with the current value of the naira to bring their children home to study. Some of the parents don’t know the quality of education we have at the American University of Nigeria.”
Contractors are not left out of the agonizing situation in the nation’s capital. Steve Adetona is a big player in the construction industry, both for the public and private sector, but as at the last count, he was being owed close to N100 million.
He has not paid the N3 million for his office space in the central area for the past one year and it is about going into the second year. The same landlord for his office space is also the owner of the block of flats in Asokoro, where he occupies one. the compound has been deserted leaving just two tenants remaining. And for some strange reasons, his landlord is not bothering them to pay the rent.
“I want to believe he stands a better chance of collecting his money with the old tenants when situation improves than him throwing us out and have no one coming to rent the place. I have just managed to keeping paying the salaries of few of my staff still around but this climate is really hostile to business,” he said.