By VIVIAN ONYEBUKWA Vincent Kalu and TUNDE THOMAS
THE past few weeks have been very tough and challenging for many Nigerians. The crippling fuel scarcity and epileptic power supply have added to the burdens of many Nigerians. Although the critical situation has not spared any class in the social order, it had affected the already impoverished average worker more. The traders also, are groaning under the yoke of economic hardship.
Besides physical discomfort caused by lack of power supply to homes, staying on endless queues at filling stations, or being forced to pay hiked transport fares as a result of the prevalent fuel scarcity, the traumatic experience Nigerians have been forced to endure in the past weeks has strained their pockets to breaking points.
To survive the hard times, many have devised various strategies and methods, while anticipating respite. From skipping meals and trips, rationing resources, cutting down on domestic expenses to making practical adjustments in their lifestyles, Nigerians have shown their creative genius in the art of resilience.
A cross-section of the people share their experiences with SATURDAY SUN.
Before now, Mrs. Evelyn Madu, who lives in the Ajegunle area of Lagos and works at Marina, Lagos, paid N100 in fare from Boundary area to CMS. But now, she has to part with N250 per trip. “What I do to beat the high fare is to come out as early as 5am. Once you are able to do that, you would be able to board the bus at N150. If by mistake you come out a few minutes past 5am you would have to pay N250,” she said.
For Mr. Wale Olaoye, a civil servant, the way round the fare hike was to resort to trekking half-way to his office at Alas before boarding public bus for the rest of the journey. “I had no alternative plan than to walk because there are other demands to be met at home, and I can’t spend all my money on public transport,” he explained.
Olaoye also revealed that at home, he also devised a feeding formula which he tagged, “0—1—1” or “0—1/2—1,” which, by interpretation means forgoing breakfast, taking soaked garri and groundnut in the afternoon, while indulging full course meal only at night.
Also, the family had to ration food to so that what they have can last till the end of the month, he said. “The situation in many families, including mine, does not warrant asking the children whether they are satisfied or not, but to ensure something enters their stomach. Who cares nowadays whether a child is filled or not, what you ask them is, have taken something? That is the sign of the time for you.”
Olaoye, who is a middle level officer also said he had stopped switching on his generating set between 8pm and 4am, owing to fuel scarcity and cash crunch. “My generator is now on holiday. I only put it on about three days in a week now. To counter the effect of the unbearable heat, we now throw open our windows at night. At times, we sleep outside on our verandah till 3am or 4am. We are not afraid of night marauders again because it’s not only my family members who sleep outside at night. We have several neighbours that have joined us and we have formed a group called the Outside Sleeping Team,” Olaoye revealed.
For a middle class employee such as Mr. Tony Ohakwe, a media consultant, there is no shame foregoing the privilege of being chauffer-driven in his car in the light of the trauma. He had parked his cars and sent his driver on leave. He lamented the poor economy. “Transportation fare is high. You must plan before you move. Sales have dropped. Man-hours are lost at the filling stations. Many like me, have abandoned their cars. I sent my driver on leave and parked my cars. It is so unbearable. The government may have good intention, but they should fast track their strategy. It is a wake up call to the government,” he said, advising government to tap into other revenue sources to boost the economy. “It is high time they looked into other sources of economy, everything hangs on oil. For instance, they should try solar and coal so that PMS would be channeled to other things”.
Traders too are not finding the situation bearable any longer. Mr. Leonard Okonkwo, a building materials dealer in Idumota but lives in Surulere, lamented drop in sales as a result of the economic hardship. Relating his survival strategy, he said: “After the day’s business, I walk from Idumota to Costain, before I board a vehicle to my place. This is to save cost, because I have other responsibilities waiting for me at home. Most times, I arrive home tired and worn out. All my toes are still paining me”. He described the situation as terrible, and urged government do something urgently to arrest the situation.
Lekan Ademiluyi, a civil servant said: “Since the fuel crisis started, I have also devised ways to save cost. Instead of running the generating set all through the night, I put it on from midnight so it takes me till at least 5 am the next day, so that I would be able to sleep. The price of fuel is high and I can’t afford to waste it like that”.
“We only put on the generating set when we have visitors”, says Mrs. Evelyn Onyema, a trader. “As soon as the guest leaves, we put off the set. This is to save cost, because we buy from the black market. The queue at the petrol stations are alarming, that you could hardly buy from the fuel stations”.
Those who live very far from their business locations are not finding the situation funny. Mrs. Kudirat Adesanya lives in Ikorodu sells toiletries at CMS. Normally, she comes with her two children who also attend school in Lagos Island. Each morning, since the fuel scarcity reappeared, the children only go home on weekends due to high cost of daily transportation. “I can’t afford to pay the cost of transport everyday. I also have to feed my children. How much do I make in a day to cover all these expenses? I hope this economic situation will improve very soon. We are really suffering.”
Ike Nwachukwu, Adeboye Sadiq and Fidelis Oparachi are all “Keke NAPEP” drivers in Lagos. They lamented that besides the prohibitive cost of fuel and the struggle involved in buying the product at filling stations, patronage had been poor, despite resisting the temptation to hike fares.
A retired secondary school principal, Mr. Akiniyi Oguns, who lives in Ojo, likened the experience of Nigerians under the present economic hardship to the fate of a man diving into a river in a bid to escape from a raging lion, only to be confronted by a crocodile. And when he thought of escaping by climbing a tree, a black cobra menacingly attacked him. der the present economic hardship to the
Disconsolate because he could not get fuel to power his generator at nights, he said he had given his family orders to cook dinner and do other things before dusk, such that “before it gets dark, we are ready for bed. Meanwhile, we would be in the dark sitting room chatting before everybody retire to their bedrooms,” he said.
Oguns said the family’s rechargeable lamps had gone flat, because”for the past one week, we have never had power supply. Where you can take it to for recharge, they collect N150, and the is not fully charged as it goes off after 20 minutes.”
Mrs. Agnes Nwafo, a resident of Jakande Estate, Isolo, said the area enjoys electricity only once in five days, usually between 2am and 3am. She uses such times to wash, iron the children’s wears and hers, pump water into the overhead tank, and do other chores requiring electricity. “Because the light lasts only an hour and returns only after five days, we have to ration water to make sure that it lasts till the next time there would be light,” Nwafo said.
Since the fuel crisis worsened in the past two weeks, James Akpan, who lives in Okokomaiko, but works in Apapa, has been sleeping in the office. He only returns home on weekends. It is the only prudent decision, as he could not afford the daily transport fares, which jumped from N700 to more than N2, 000.
He lamented how the fuel crisis had separated him from the comfort of his home and family. He prayed that the crisis end soon for normal life to resume.
For Adaora, a career woman, she had, had to suspend the luxury of cooking two types of soups and stew on weekend, which were normally preserved in the freezer, as there had been no fuel to power the generator in the house that served as back up to regular power supply for the past two weeks. The situation, she complained, had caused her hardship, as the upset arrangement was to avoid her starving, as she could not afford to cook everyday owing to the demands of her job. “So, it means that I should be cooking everyday. But do I have the time considering my place of work and closing time?”
Brady Nwosu said he had learnt to save cost by cutting down on his movements. Nwosu, who has been staying in his village in Imo State, said he ensured he charged his mobile phone set in order to browse and keep abreast of news and development in Nigeria and around the world.
“ In the village, I stay at home most of the times, unless there is something that is very necessary, I do not go out. In the afternoon, before having my nap, I take my phone to where it’s charged for a fee. Before, it was N50, now it has been jacked up to N150. With my phone fully charged, I keep abreast of development the world over.
Sharing his own experience, Ejike Ikonte, a resident of Obadore, who trades at Iyana Iba, said he usually trekked in groups with some of his colleagues who live in the neighbourhood to Iyana Iba.
“We believe that trekking together will not make us feel the physical effects of trekking in our body and actually we no longer feel the effect of the long distance trekking again,” he said.
The situation is, however, an opportunity for some enterprising Nigerians to make brisk business. One of such is Yishau Gbadamosi a barber, who has now turned into an illicit fuel hawker. Yishau, however, justified his resort to the illegal job: “Do you expect me to turn into armed robber? How do you expect me to feed my seven children? I don’t have electricity supply to run my salon and at the same time, I can’t get fuel to buy to power my generator. When I discovered that my children, wife and I were gradually dying of hunger, I have to resort to self-help by begging one young man in the neighbourhood who has already been into fuel hawking business to show me the way. He too is a welder, but he was forced to become a fuel hawker when he couldn’t get electricity and fuel to do customers’ jobs in his workshop.”
Yishau said his decision had paid off: “Unlike before now when I was begging people for money to feed, fuel hawking now takes care of my bills.”
Others making fortunes from the present hardship include bus conductors, bus drivers and fuel attendants.
Bus drivers and conductors are profiting from hiked fares which have tripled on some routes, while fuel attendants make extra money selling the product in jerry cans that are resold at the black market.
Even so, the situation is not without a tragicomic side to it. Some people engaged in otherwise serious endeavors confessed to exploiting their vocation to deceive people who put trust in them. The story of or Brother James, a white garment church cleric, at Agbado area of Lagos State, perhaps best illustrates this. For the clergy man, survival meant employing a mixture of native intelligence and the spiritual. James said that when he discovered that donations and offerings were not forthcoming from his congregation as before, he pretends to see visions when members come or bring new visitors for prayers. “I will tell them what to do to avert looming danger or to attract good luck they are looking for. At times I charge them money. I will tell them we need the money to buy certain ingredients to do spiritual work for them. At times, I tell them to bring groundnut oil, palm oil, soap, fowls, goats, fruits and even tubers of yam. And since these people are desperate for solution to their problems, they will bring all the items which I ask them to bring including money. Initially, I was appealing to them that I was broke because of the economic hardship, but majority of them were not responding, rather they were telling me that they also have myriads of problems, it was then I resorted to this spiritual trick to have whatever I want. I pray that God will forgive me, but then it is not my fault, I have to use what I have to get what I want and this is what many of us prophets are doing now to survive now.”
However, another cleric, Rev. Adesina Sanyaolu said the hard times had overstretched his personal resources as his church, Holiness Chapel located in Aboru , Iyana-Ipaja had been turned into abode of succor by many seeking relief from the pangs of hardship.
Indeed, he said, his church had been nicknamed “Solution Centre” because of the large number of people that have been coming there since the crisis worsened.Many come here to beg for alms ,while others complain of hunger and we feed them. I’m however not complaining as I regard this as part of my commission. However I’m speaking out so that President Muhammadu Buhari may know that things are no longer at ease’’.