By Dele Sobowale
Announcement on shop window at Odunlami Street, Lagos Island. Odunlami Street, for those not familiar with Lagos Island, is famous for the shops selling coffins and arranging funerals. The bread shop is stuck between two of those shops. So its announcement concerning the increase of bread price was made with all the finality of a death sentence pronounced by a hanging judge. Bread, as the saying goes, is the staff of life. No food is more universally consumed than bread; the second is rice.
Incidentally, another shop down the same street posted a new price for a bag of rice – N18,500 – that is N500 more than the minimum wage which many states are no longer paying. Sixty loaves of bread or a bag of rice in a month for a family of six – two parents and four kids – is all that they can afford to buy before they run out of money.
That would occur in about fifteen days – unless they find some way of subsidizing the wage earner’s income. There is no room for meat or fish here and nobody can, like David Copperfield, say “I want more!” What you get is all you get; there is nothing more. To complete the story, the bread now going for N300 could be fetched for N200 last year; the rice for N8,000. Twenty months had turned life to one long suffering for all of us.
To make the story even more complete, as you read this column, virtually all the parents in Nigeria have a major problem on their hands. Schools will soon resume. The first term is invariably the most expensive. New books, uniforms, shoes and school fees have to be paid for in a short time. Irrespective of whether the kids are in private or public schools, the cost of education had suddenly jumped through the roof since the long vacation started in July.
Hitherto, an estimated ten million Nigerian school-age children were reportedly out of school. The number is set to increase in September 2015. To that number we would now add secondary school and tertiary institution students whose parents might find it difficult to fund their education this year. An explosion of kids, all ages, roaming the streets during school hours should be expected and increased juvenile crimes associated with that.
Two days after the sign on the window announcing the new bread price went up, two old landlords met in the same Lagos Island. These days, the rising cost of goods and services dominate social discussions. One of the old landlords, 77, and at death’s door, mentioned to the other, 79, and even closer to the grave, that the prices of the prescription drugs he was taking for diabetes, had gone up from N1,500 to N2,270 per pack. He needs four packs each week; so he must find additional N3080 per month for drugs alone to stay longer this side of the grave. With rising food and transport bills, he reckoned he will have to find about N12,000 incremental income. The other agreed – and calculated his own additional income requirements and arrived at N15,700 per month.
Then they turned their gazes to their buildings, which were visible from Campos Square and pronounced their own sentences on their tenants – rents will go up by 50% from October and whoever is not ready to pay can pack out. To where was not said – understandably.
When the economic phenomenon called inflationary spiral grips a nation, it is a mindless and inhuman “god” which devours populations without remorse. The new exchange rate regime which kicked in recently and which had sent the exchange rate to over N400/US$1 has unleashed this monster which will ravage our lives in more ways than few people can imagine. Everyone, rich or poor, young or old, male or female will be a victim directly or indirectly.
Experience had taught us that the major victims are the poor, the old, the children and women. To be poor, young and female when inflation spiral rages is to live in a hell which gets increasingly more hellish each day – for years. Infant and maternal deaths will increase and all the gains made in that respect under the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, will be reversed very soon. Nigerians are in for the toughest years anyone over the age of fifty can remember – never mind the official propaganda that will be unleashed in the vain attempt to convince us that things are not so bad.
P.S. Why was this column titled PRICE OF BREAD IS NOW N300? The answer is simple. I remembered what one of my professors taught us during our Masters in Business Administration, MBA, programme in Boston in 1968-1970. I was one of three in the class specializing in Marketing. All the others wanted to go into financial institutions or to Wall Street. That gave us an advantage. One of our professors was also a director of an advertising agency and he strongly believed that anybody embarking on a career in Sales and Marketing must know as much as possible about Advertising. He placed us in Summer training programmes with the agency.
At the agency, we were handed to the head of the Creative Group who in turn placed us in the Copy unit, that is, those who create the words we read in advert. The Manager in that unit operated on one motto: If you have a story to tell, better tell it straight. Find the easiest and most direct words to get your point across.
The issue of inflation spiral is nothing more than how it will affect all of us individually and collectively. It is as simple as that. LAST LINE. The joke is on the old landlords. The leading coffin sellers of Odunlami just increased the price of coffins. Unless you die now, it is also going to cost more to die in the future. There is no escape from this thing called inflationary spiral. It pursues us even to the grave.