By Benjamin Njoku, Chidi Nkwopara, Dayo Johnson, Anayo Okoli, Vincent Ujumadu Samuel
Oyadongha, Wole Mosadomi, Tina Akannam, Gabriel Enogholase, Festus Ahon, Demola Akinyemi, Peter Duru, Marie-Therese Nanlong, Daud Olatunji & Davies Iheamnachor,
TWO days to Christmas celebrations, tales of woes and despair following the unending economic hardship in the land fills the air.
From Lagos to Ibadan, Enugu to Port-Harcourt, Abuja to Kano and Jos, the story is not different. Indeed, Nigerians are passing through hard times, and this is evident in their abysmal preparations for the Eyelid. Unlike in the recent past, where excitement and early preparations took the centre stage, this year has witnessed little or no formal preparations for the Christmas celebration.
Saturday Vanguard investigation revealed that the excitement and joy that usually greets the Christmas celebration is no more, as many people are busy lamenting the prevailing high cost of living in the land. The situation has also been complicated by the return of long queues of vehicles at the petrol stations across the country.
In Lagos, the cost of living has continued to sky-rocket against all odds. Except at Balogun market on the Island,where last minute rush was evident, many traders at different markets in Lagos, are currently recording low sales due to lack of patronage.
As at Friday, the cost of cross-country buses have gone up in the neighbourhood due to prevailing fuel shortage. A visit to some motor parks across Lagos State yesterday, which is home to 21 million inhabitants, revealed the obvious; minimal long queues and higher ticket costs for buses going to the hinterland.
At the ticket sales counter of most commercial transport companies, a one way ticket from Lagos to Owerri and Port-Harcourt had increased from N4,500 to over N7,500, while Enugu went from N3,500 to over N6000, and Abuja has the highest fare of N8,000, against N4,500 which it was about two weeks ago.
Saturday Vanguard finding showed that the figures were about the same across transport companies visited. These include the Libra Motors, Young shall Grow, Okeyson, Eddyson Motors, Peace Mass Transport among others, with God is Good Motors and ABC transport having the highest fares. Popular destinations from Lagos are Ibadan, Abeokuta, Ogbomoso, Ilorin, Benin, Asaba, Enugu, Onitsha, Portharcourt, Owerri, Calabar, Akwa-Ibom and Enugu.
Meanwhile, in Jos, according to our reporter, the residents are also bemoaning the high cost of living in the land. One Mrs. Tongnaan Bawa who spoke to our reporter, decried the country’s dwindling economy, saying it has negatively affected her income as a business woman. She said she was not making any preparation for the Christmas celebration as she was cash trapped in the meantime.
“ The economy has negatively affected my income as a business person. Some of my customers have not been able to pay the debts they owed me for months due to lack of money. Things I used to buy for the family to celebrate the Yuletide season have been suspended because I have to prioritize so as to be able to pay my children’s school fees when school resumes in January 2018. Prices of food items and drinks have sky-rocketed beyond the middle class standard, how much more the poor masses. Instead of buying soft drinks, we are going to be drinking Zobo, Kunu and water. There will be no new clothes, shoes and excessive spending this season,” Mrs Bawa bemoaned.
For Mrs Victoria Kaze, a mother of four, “ There will be no elaborate celebrations for me because the masses are facing hard times. “If you able to get food for your family and keep your children’s school fees, you are alright,” she added.
Also, Ms. Ruth Ndam, a civil servant, said she had a plan to travel to the village to spend her Christmas holidays with her family and friends but due to the increase in transport fare, she wouldn’t be able to embark on the journey again. “The prevailing fuel scarcity across the country has compounded my problems as I’m planning to travel to the village to spend my Christmas holidays with my family and friends,” she said.
In Rivers State, the story was not different. One Mr. Francis Imoh, a trader who spoke to our reporter, said people were complaining bitterly that there was no money to buy things in the market. “How do we celebrate when there is no money. This year’s sale is nothing to write home about. People are not buying our goods at all. When we sell we get money, but we are not selling, where then do we get money for the Yuletide. People say there is no money to buy cloths which I sell. We will celebrate it anyhow we see it,” said Imoh.
Like in Rivers State, Jigawa State was singing song of economic woes. According to one Sarah Ogodo, “ the economic recession in the land is really biting harder. I’m just trying to live within my means. Just a few days to Christmas I have not got anything for myself, my siblings and my mother. But we are hoping that we will receive our salaries before Christmas so that I can make my Christmas shopping. Things are very expensive despite the recession, we will celebrate the Yuletide no matter the situation.
Sharing the same views with Ogodo, Mr Thomas Olilya noted that the recession has made things difficult for everybody. But he was thankful to God that he was alive to see another Christmas celebrations.
Alhaji Salisu Mohammed also a trader bemoaned poor patronage by customers. “The market is dull, people are complaining of lack of money. You can see my shop is full with varieties of Christmas clothes for both boys and girls but customers are not buying them. I don’t know how I will recover my money if I fail to sell these goods before the end of the year. The economic recession has made many people to be poor and things are expensive.”
Artisans, however, are not left out as they equally complained of lack of patronage during this Yuletide season. Sharing his experience, Samuel Kayode, a automobile painter said “ Our customers used to bring their cars for painting at this time of the year, whether they are travelling or not but this season things are different.”
Also, in Delta State, our investigation revealed that prices of goods have sky-rocketed, just as the people are not making equate preparations for the celebrations.
Mrs Abigail Chukwuka said “ The prices of goods in the market have increased rapidly. “Two days to Christmas, we have not been able to buy clothes for our children. The effect of the recession is still being felt in the land, there is not much on ground to celebrate with,” she added.
According to Ms. Rita Blessing, a tailor, “Customers are not patronizing me like they did last year. So, there is no money to celebrate this year’s Christmas. This is one of the worst festive seasons I have ever witnessed,” Blessing bemoaned
However, it’s the same story in Niger State but the residents said despite the hardship in the land, they have every cause to celebrate the Yelutide.
One Justina Stephen said, “ My husband and myself have been used to preparing ahead for both Christmas and new year festivities since it is an annual celebration. So, recession or no recession, we are ready for the festivities.”
Lanre Akingbade said, “ The acute fuel scarcity has further compounded the situation towards the celebration because we are getting used to the hard life imposed on us by the previous administrations and regrettably, the change we are expecting from the present administration has turned into more hardship.”
Malam Isah Muhammed, a muslim trader has a different story to tell. He said “Though I am not a Christian, my highest sale has always been during the Christmas and new year festivities. Sadly, the sale has dropped drastically in the past two years due to poor economy but we are begging government to make things easy for us for our survival.”
For Samuel Jiya, “I have observed that in the past ten years, life was made more miserable for Nigerians towards the end of the year especially in December when a lot of people especially Christians would be travelling for the Christmas and new year and the problem persists till now.”
Also, in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, Saturday Vanguard investigation revealed that the cost of living has sky-rocketed in the state, following the prevailing fuel scarcity across the country.
Sharing his experience, one Mr. Samuel Chinedu Wosu said, “ As I speak with you, I cannot afford what I would have wished my children to have and there will be school fees to pay when our children resume school in January. Generally, I want to say the Yuletide celebration is for the rich and not for the poor these days. People are going through tough times. Cost of living has sky-rocketed. Look at the fuel situation where we are made to pay between N250 and N300 for a litre of petrol.”
There is hardship everywhere in Imo State. Rev. Fr. George Nwachukwu, Director of Communications/Media, Catholic Archdiocese of Owerri, said “There is simply too much suffering around us. The cost of living has gone high that the ordinary man has simply lost hope. The basic needs of life: food, fuel, clothing, housing, healthcare etc, are out of ordinary man’s reach. There is fear everywhere. Moreover, Rocha Haram, which has replaced the dreaded Book Haram insurgency is on the increase. The state government comes up weekly with different measures aimed at humiliating and impoverishing the already poor masses. The ugly mission of the state government began with non-payment of workers salaries and graduated into a total destruction of their sources of livelihood. Presently, a good number of our people are gnashing their teeth in sorrow and many have died painfully. Watching our people on the streets, one pictures an absolute erosion of hope for tomorrow.
“Worse still, our elders and stakeholders in the state seem to be bewitched. The only dissenting voice we hear has remained that usual one man squad that has continued to lament from his Cathedral around the Control Post here in Owerri, many others seem complacent as the evils multiple geometrically by day.”
“There is hardship everywhere in Imo State. While awaiting the coming of the Saviour, must our people do so in penury? Presently, most workers and pensioners are being owed several months salaries and allowances, while the basic amenities for the common man are nowhere to be found.
“Surely, this is a sad environment to prepare materially for the celebration of the birth of Christ. Let the state government understand that the masses need not wait for the necessities of life indefinitely, if their celebration of Christmas is to be meaningful.”
Chief Chris Ejike Uche, Deputy National Chairman, United Progressive Party, UPP: Imolites are at a crossroad. As things are now, Imo is at a crossroad. Imolites are held hostage and helpless by a government that is not lethargic but confused. The governor has refused to pay pensioners their pension, even after collecting the bailout funds from the Federal Government, he paid half salaries to the workforce, destroyed homes and property of Imolites on the excuse of urban renewal without compensation, as well as traditional institutions.
Time was when most people in Anambra State began to think about Christmas celebrations one month to the actual event by making all manner of preparations. In those good old days, one could actually feel the effect of Christmas by visiting the various markets where people made purchases as if there would not be another Christmas to celebrate. But all that have changed, no thanks to the economic recession in the country. Few days to the 2017 Christmas, many families were not even making any plan to travel to their villages as it had always been the case because the resources were no longer available.
Traders and civil servants who spoke to Saturday Vanguard say they were only reacting to the economic situation in the country. The usual rush at the various markets in Onitsha was completely absent this year even though goods are available in large quantities for purchase.
Mr. Chijioke Okoye,a trader sad “ It had never been like this in the market during any Christmas season since I started selling children’s dresses over 10 years ago. I imported enough goods earlier in the year hoping to have a busy period during the Christmas season, but retailers who usually bought from me have not been coming.”
Mr. Maxwell Atuanya, a trader has this to say: “The situation is so bad that I am wondering whether Christmas has been postponed. Even when I drastically reduced prizes, the sales were still very poor. Because of the economic situation, my family will not be traveling to the village as they had been doing over the years.”
Also, in Akure, Ondo State, our reporter went to town to feel the pulse of the people.
According to one Adebayo Komolafe, a trader, there is nothing to celebrate. The only thing is that we thank God for the gift of life. The recession has affected everybody except those that have stolen our commonwealth. There is no money, things are very expensive in the market. We have stocked our shops in anticipation that people will come for shopping but only few came not even to buy but to price what we are selling. This is not the change we voted for. This government is a failure. They are doing things as if they are still in the opposition party. They are still blaming the past government. Everything is standing still. We pray God to bring back good times.”
Samuel Kolawole, a student said “Our parents cannot afford to change our wardrobe because of the recession. Things are really bad compared to some years back when the economy was buoyant. It’s now cut your coat according to your cloth not your size any more. It’s really not the best of times for Nigerians. That’s why our people prefer the torture they undergo in Libya than coming back to Nigeria. There is noting to celebrate in this Christmas. Things have really gone bad to the extent that Nigerians can now do anything to make money. That’s why kidnapping, ritual, armed robbery and other social vices are now rampant among our youths.”
Speaking in the same vein, Kayode Komolafe, a civil servant said the prevailing recession in the land was a serious problem. “There are no signs that we have gotten out of recession as announced by the government. It’s all propaganda. The economy is still wobbling. Nothing is working. The salaries cannot take you home talkless of taking care of your needs for a month. But we just thank God for preserving our lives and we trust in him that he will see us through.”
Alhaji Taofiq Akinsola, a driver, said “businesses are not moving, the economy has been battered and the present government seems not to have any solution to this. In fact, Nigerians are not finding it easy surviving. To feed now is a problem. There is nothing to prepare for the Christmas. Where is the money? By January, the schools will be resuming and school fees will have to be paid. It’s going to be a low key celebration. The recession has affected everything. The only cause to celebrate is that God has spared our lives. Nothing more to celebrate in Nigeria of today.
Akinwale Ojo, a student said, “lt is a pity we find ourselves in this ugly situation in Nigeria. Everybody is affected by this recession except our leaders and their family members who have cornered our collective wealth, they are the ones who are not affected. Traders have stocked their shops but where is the money to buy these things. Yelutides in Nigeria of today are celebrated in low key. No free spending anymore. Everyone has adjusted. Every Kobo you have now counts. The recession is still with us forget the propaganda of the government. They are liars. Our money is valueless. Nigeria is in deep trouble but we are trusting God for a change for the better.
For Miss Chinemere Gloria: “Yes I have cause to celebrate because I am alive and I give God the glory. There is no doubt that the economic recession has a big negative impact on the people. Go to the market you see that nothing is moving, traders are just staring at their wares because nobody is buying because there is no money. In addition to this, the prices of commodities have skyrocketed. So we are celebrating because God keeps us alive”.
Mr. Dike Izuwa, a food stuff trader in Umuahia lamented the effects of the economic recession on traders. “We are not feeling the season, in the past this period was usually a big boom for us. But look at our line, you can count how many customers are bargaining, this is strange in a Christmas season.
“Again, customers are complaining of high costs of goods but it is not our making. We sell based on how we bought, but in everything we give glory to God for giving us life, may be next year will be better”.
According to Mrs Blessing Ijeuwa, a teacher, “how do you prepare to celebrate Christmas without money? We are being owed months of arrears of salary. Do you celebrate in empty stomach? We need to buy rice and ingredients to prepare them for our children but we have no money to do that. The Government has been promising but nothing good has come out of their promises. Now we understand they have received N5.7 billion Paris Club money yet we have not got alert.
“So, tell me how we will celebrate. The only thing is that we are happy that God Almighty has us kept alive and gave us good health this year”.
For a commercial driver, Peter Onuoha the scarcity of petrol has affected his plan for the celebration of Christmas. Onuoha lamented that buying fuel at over N200 per litre was affecting their business as many people have decided to drop their plan to travel because of the high cost of transportation.
He said, “it is not everybody who can afford to buy fuel at N200 and above because it is difficult to cover your cost and then make profit. See these vehicles, they belong to our members, they can’t afford to buy fuel at that cost because not many people can afford to pay the new fares. We have to increase fares to reflect how much we buy fuel. So there is nothing to celebrate, the times are just very difficult for us the masses”, Onuoha lamented.
In Ogun State, residents decried the adverse effects of recession, saying it was affecting their preparations for the Christmas celebrations.
Micheal Adesanya ,a resident ,said “I will do the celebration on a low key with just my family and friends. Cutting my coat according to my capacity is also essential. I will not go beyond my capability. Yes, I have a cause to celebrate because in every situation you must find a reason to celebrate”.
Boluwatife Babalola , said “I will celebrate, but, not like the way I did last year. Last year, there was money to celebrate, but, this year,may God help us.
Yes, I have all reasons to celebrate. Firstly, I’m a Christian and I’m also alive”.
Femi Peters said “on a personal note, I will consider the financial situation on ground, there is little money in circulation and this will definitely affect my spending in celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. I will just celebrate on a low key. I won’t go into excessive spending. Yes, it shows that you have been alive for 12 months. Also, I’m a Christian and it is the birth of Christ who we all Christians follow today. Of course, I have a reason to celebrate”.
Oluwadamilola Julius, said “I have prepared well for this Christmass. I really planed for this celebration, it’s just that I won’t spend much compared to that of previous years. Yes, I’m so happy because I’m alive”.
For Igbaboyemi Oladele, “I will just stay at home unlike last year that I had full celebration with lots of friends. This recession has really crippled things for me. Yes, I have all reasons to celebrate”,he said .
In Benin, preparation for the celebration was at its lowest ebb as residents continued to lament the paucity of funds which had denied them an elaborate Christmas celebration. Unlike previous years, the famous Christmas hampers have disappeared from Mission Road in Benin City which is the commercial nerve centre of the city as the cost of consumables has sky rocketed.
Mrs Ofure Bamiekumo, a Stylist, told Saturday Vanguard in an interview that unlike in the previous years. only few women and their female children came to patronize her due to the economic hardship in the country.
She said, “Although the 2016 Christmas celebration was hard. this year is the worst that I have experienced. Only very few customers come for their hairdo because majority of them cannot afford the cost. I am even finding it very difficult to purchase Christmas clothes for my children. Only God will save us from this difficult situation”
A pensioner, Mr Lucky Aghemhen, said that there was nothing like Christmas celebration for his family as he was being owed over 40 months pension arrears by the Edo state government.
He said, ,”what is Christmas celebration without money? I am not thinking of any celebration but how I can survive the hard economic crunch. I am only appealing to Godwin Obaseki to pay us our pension arrears so that my children can join their mates to celebrate Christ “
At the famous Ekiosa Market along Second East Circular Road , Benin- City, a goat seller, Mrs Amenze Amiadamhen said unlike last year when she recorded good sales, only few customers have visited her shop to buy goats or chickens for Christmas celebration. According to her, sales was good last year, “but now the few customers that come to price goats cannot even make any purchase. They are all crying that there is no money. How long are we going to continue like this in this country? Government must do something before the people die of hunger and starvation”
A Benin based journalist who didn’t want his name in print simply said, “This year’s Christmas is definitely going to be marked on a low-key because of the sharp increase in the prices of goods and services. There is hardly a consumable item whose price has not increased.
“Even workers salaries are not enough because they do not reflect the reality on ground. So, it’s a bleak Christmas for many Nigerians
In Kwara, Temitope Popoola, a trader also lamented the biting economic recession in the country. According to him, “ When I was growing up,Christmas clothes used to be bought in October or so, and in December time like this it would be time to buy food stuff and enjoy. But,many can’t afford new Christmas clothes in the recent years, they would just clean up their old clothes and eat their regular meals on Christmas day.”
The usual hustle and bustle that characterise Christmas celebration in Calabar is absent this year. There were complaints and grumbling by people about the hard times they said they were experiencing in the city. Apart from the Carnival Calabar which may light up the city on the 27th and 28th of December, every where was still drab and dry.
Sharing her experience with Saturday Vanguard, Rose Ebi Dan, a civil servant said “I am down this year and cannot do anything much for myself and my family. We were paid November and December salaries on November 30th and as I speak now, I do not have even N500,00. We learnt that the governor is planning to pay us for thirteen months this year. If he does that, then there is hope.
Benson Ezeanyi, a trader, said “I have not seen anything serious this year. No sales like in past years. I have been a trader for many years now, but this year is something else.”
Prince James Ibok (unemployed), said “I don’t have work so there is no celebration for me. I am praying that someone should bless me with something to eat on Christmas day. For now there is nothing for me.”
However, Benue State is not left out, as some residents of Makurdi town have expressed apprehension in their ability to fully enjoy the celebrations given the prevailing economic situation in the country.
For Ogbode Ochi who works with an NGO, “somehow this year I’m making less preparation for Christmas by cutting down on my expenditure because the resources are not there in the first place. There is a huge difference in the way I used to spend during Christmas before the advent of the recession and now. For me I don’t travel. Though after the Christmas I may travel if there is fuel because the scarcity has adversely affected my plans also.”
On his part, James Okwu a civil servant said, “the celebration will be low keyed, we are being owed backlog of salaries by the state government, so one has to be careful with the way we spend because by January our children will be going back to school and if one is not careful paying school fees could become another challenge. So my family also understand that we cannot go beyond our means.”
Also speaking, Dennis Onoja, who is also a civil servant said, “the truth is that most civil servants know that we cannot afford to be extravagant because the money is not even there. Most of us are yet to settle our landlords because of the inability of the government to settle backlog of our salaries. So if you are not careful your landlord may come for his rent if he notices that you are making any elaborate preparation. So for me there will be nothing unusual about the festivities.”
On his part, Peter Adoga, a student and bar attendant said, “we will celebrate Christmas anyhow, but the scarcity of fuel may frustrate my plans because at the moment a litre of fuel is now going for about N300 and transport fares have hit the roof so one is finding it extremely difficult to put things together. The federal government must find a way of solving the problem because it is making life very unbearable for everybody especially those with intention to travel this period.”
For Martins Afiagh, a civil servant, “recession has affected me greatly. As a matter of fact, I wanted to invite people to the house but as it is I have no choice but to cut down on my expenses. Instead of killing four chickens I will kill only two. We learnt that we will receive another salary before Christmas, we are still hopeful. On the whole we are handicapped and we have all cut down on our expenses.
“Some of us are even owing. The recession has adversely affected me. I cannot host anybody this time. You can imagine that since this year I was able to buy one clothe for myself. Even my children may not have new clothes from me though the pastor of my Church gave out clothes to members and my family benefited, so that was my saving grace. That is what my children and wife will wear for the celebration. So we thank God that we have life To worsen the situation the prevailing scarcity of petrol which has made a mess of everything for Makurdi residents.”