2021 harvest: mixed fortunes for Nigerian farmers in North – West states

•I hawk ice cream for lack of funds to fix my bus —Father of 5

I have resorted to trading, farming —Enugu civil servant

I haven’t eaten chicken for 3 years now —Widow, Mother of 3

We survive by God’s grace — Leather fabricator

Bad economy forced us out of the city — Anambra residents 

I graduated since 2009, son in primary 4, yet no job —Economist

Hardship forcing us to travel out of Imo —Residents

By Anayo Okoli, Vincent Ujumadu, Chidi Nkwopara, Dennis Agbo, Chimobi Nwaiwu, Peter Okutu, Ugochukwu Alaribe, Chinedu Adonu, Chinonso Alozie, Ikechukwu Odu, Steve Oko & Emmanuel Iheaka

The excruciating hardship resulting from the bad shape of the nation’s economy is terribly affecting the residents of the South-East region. Not many presently can afford one, let alone three square meals a day. Survival in Nigeria today is very tough.

Worst hit are artisans and petty business operators. Many businesses have crumbled or dwindled to the extent that many have abandoned their original lines of business for new one, in some cases to menial jobs, in a bid to make ends meet. SEV spoke with many residents in the region on how they are surviving the hard times.

Johnson Maduwuike, a resident of Owerri, Imo State, lamented that for the nearly five decades he has spent on earth, he has never had it so tough in terms of providing basic needs for his family. He said in the last three years, he has had difficulty coping with life.

Maduwuike, who now sells ice cream on a bicycle, explained that he resorted to the business as a last option after being unable to fix his commercial bus.

According to him, he was a commercial bus driver until the bus developed a major engine fault and other issues which required much money to fix. Unable to afford the required money, Maduwuike, a father of five, said he was out of job for weeks before deciding to go into hawking of ice cream.

He narrated how he managed to purchase the bus many years ago with which he had been feeding his family until it developed the engine fault. But Maduwuike can now hardly feed his family, as he said, some days, he makes a ridiculous profit of N500. The situation has since forced him to withdraw his children from school.

“It has been very tough. I was a commercial bus driver before my bus developed engine problem. The mechanics said I would have to buy a new engine. Before then, the bus had been taking me to mechanic every week, for one fault or another. At the end, they said I have to buy a new engine; by then, I had spent the little money I had saved.

“For weeks, I had nothing to do, and the pressure from my family was much. You know how expensive everything is. At a time, I had no option than to start selling this ice cream.

“Providing for my family now is a problem; sometimes, I get only N500 as profit for the day, a man with a family for that matter! When it wasn’t possible to pay school fees, I had to ask my kids to stop school before I die out of pressure. I had never seen this kind of hardship in my life,” he lamented.

Maduwuike prayed and hoped to come across someone that could assist him to fix the engine of his vehicle.

Another resident of Owerri, Josephine Okoro, who runs a provision store, said her stocks in the shop keep going down because of huge expenses she incurs as a result of high cost of basic needs.

Okoro, a widow with three children, said she no longer thinks about making any savings, but struggling to meet up with feeding herself and the kids.

“This is the hardest of all moments. Though I lost my husband eight years ago, the pressure this period is very much. Nobody talks about savings anymore, you have to eat before saving,” she stated.

In Anambra State, many residents  say they have been forced to relocate to the hinterland as they could no longer cope with the demands of residing in the cities.

Investigation by South-East Voice showed that mostly affected were civil servants whose salaries can no longer meet their monthly expenditure as well as pay children’s school fees.

Narrating how he had to pack out of his three-bedroom apartment in the heart of Awka to a suburb, Isuaniocha in Awka North Local Government Area, a civil servant, Mr. Onyebuchi Nwofor said the relocation was inevitable if he had to continue to manage life under the present situation in the country.

He said: “I moved into a three bedroom flat in Awka in 2008 when I got married. The rent was N150,000 per annum. Two years later, the rent was increased to N200,000 and to N250,000 after another two years.

In 2017, the landlord said he would renovate the house and after the exercise, he increased the rent to N400, 000 per annum.

“With this increase, I knew I had been prized out of the house and I decided to look for another apartment. It was then I discovered that the average house rent in Awka had become N450, 000 and I had to make a decision.

“This was how I went to the rural area of Isuaniocha where I pay N100, 000. The problem here is that the area does not have regular electricity supply, while we rely on tankers for water supply.

“In the midst of all these, my salary has not increased much and even at the rent of N100, 000, my family still finds it difficult to eat three square meals a day.

“My wife who teaches in a private school does not earn much and our combined salary is not enough to pay rent, eat and pay school fees for our three children.”

Another civil servant, Mr. Obiadi Christian said he had to move his family to his village, Ichida in Anaocha Local Government Area when he could no longer cope with house rent in the city. He said his children also had to relocate to the public school in his village as it is not possible to be bringing them to Awka daily.

Also, Mr. Modestus Obiorah, residing in Awka, said he had to become an artisan when urban authorities demolished his shop and he had no money to pay for a shop. According to him, touts were collecting N200 daily from him until government decided to demolish the roadside shops.

“I was just managing to feed my family from the business, but when the shop was demolished, I started working at construction sites where I make average of N3000 daily. My desire is to get a Keke on hire purchase because the construction work is seriously affecting my health.”

A vulcanizer in Ebonyi State, Mr. Njoku Nweze described the situation he is going through as terrible. He explained that his customers find it difficult to pay any agreed price for work done because of the economic hardship.

“What we are passing through is terrible. I am a vulcanizer. The level of patronage is not as it used to be before now. Another thing is that those coming to pump or repair their tyres are always negotiating for low prices.

“In fact, some of them will prefer I do a free job for them. If I do that, how will I feed my own family? And also, there are levies to be paid here and there. The whole situation is frustrating. Something has to be done drastically to improve the economy of the country or else, it will not be funny.”

A civil servant in Ebonyi State Local Government system who doesn’t want his name in print stated that his low income has made it difficult for him to take care of the needs of his family.

“I am a civil servant; my salary is very low compared to my grade level and my academic qualification. With the high cost of food and other commodities, we are finding it difficult to survive.

“Once we collect our salaries, for instance today, it will not take more than one hour and everything is gone. Debts are everywhere. Children’s school fees are begging for attention. Food is another key challenge for parents. The economy doesn’t favour us.”

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For father of nine children, Fidelis Njoga, from Ovoko in Igbo-Eze South Local Government Area of Enugu State, the harsh economic situation in the country is biting harder daily that feeding his family has never been as hard as it is now.

Njoga, who pleaded with the government to cushion the negative effects of harsh economic situation in the country, lamented that if the situation is allowed to continue, it may trigger humanitarian crisis in the country.

“Life is really hard in Nigeria now. I want government to help those who don’t have anything doing in this country. I am not a civil servant, or a businessman. I feed my family of nine children by doing menial jobs. We survive by the grace of God. Sometimes, we go to bed on empty stomach if I didn’t get any job to do,” he said.

Also, a retired primary school teacher, Sampson Ogbu, while lamenting the effects of harsh economic situation in the country, said he has not been paid his pension since last September which he said is affecting him and his family adversely

“It is really a very hard time for every Nigerian but as an Igbo man, I still find something doing to feed my family. If Nigerians would survive this situation, the Igbo would be the first because of our innovative spirit,” Ogbu said.

The 67-year-old father of five said he engages in poultry and other subsistence agriculture to put food on the table for his family.

Residents of Umuahia, Abia State, have also narrated pathetic stories of how they are struggling to survive the biting economic hardship in the country. Those who spoke agreed that but for God’s grace, eating three square meal would have been a mirage.

Mr. Chibuike Chilaka, 37, an automobile electrician with workshop on Niger Road by Uwalaka Street, said the economic downturn has dashed his hope of getting married any time soon.

For Chilaka, hell fire may not be worse than present day Nigeria as survival has become an extremely difficult thing.

According to him, he hardly makes enough to survive, not to talk of saving to get married. The poor economy, he lamented, has frustrated his plans to rent his own apartment as he still operates from his father’s house.

“Things are extremely hard in Nigeria today. Before Buhari came to power, we used to get jobs but now customers hardly come. I am looking for another job to do,” he said.

For Mrs. Mercy Uwasomba, 50, and mother of eight, life has since become uninspiring and bitter. She said she had not eaten chicken in the last three years due to the hard economic situation in the land.

“These days you go to bush market with money but you can’t find things to buy. The few things you see are unaffordable. Life is very difficult now. Small size chicken now sells for N7000. Where is the money? For three years now, I haven’t tasted chicken,” the petty trader lamented.

Mr. Ikechukwu Ijioma, 49, who repairs sewing machines at 90 Uwalaka Street, said the worsening economic hardship has made life very cumbersome for him. He said the high cost of sewing machine had adversely affected his customers and their patronage and appealed to government to quickly intervene.

A couple, Pastor Emeka Obilo, and his wife, leather workers in Umuahia told our correspondent that but for God’s grace, life has become very unaffordable. They lamented the high cost of leather materials which they said had increased by 200 per cent.

Mrs. Amarachi Kelechi, a graduate of Economics from Imo State University said that since 2009 when she graduated, she has been searching for a job without success.

The mother of four who said that her first son is now in Primary four bemoaned her economic situation, noting that but for her husband, the family would be in a mess.

“For 12 years now since I graduated from the university, I haven’t got a job even though I am willing to work. The worst is that my parents who trained me in school are now aging and looking up to me to attend to them but I can’t because I don’t have the means.

“Things are very hard in Nigeria now. If not for my husband, it would have been really difficult. Government should make goods affordable unless they want everybody to die,” she lamented.

In Owerri, Imo State, a cross-section of traders and street hawkers spoken to decried the level of suffering and lack of job opportunities, a situation that compelled them to move to other states in search of a better business environment.

A sachet water seller along Egbu Road who introduced herself as Jacinta Ifedi, said: “The kind of fear in Imo is making me feel like running away to another state. I am tired of Imo State.

“We want the government to find a way of creating business opportunities for us the poor ones. We want the government to set up a system that will benefit us. That is how to lessen our pains in Imo, otherwise, the best thing to do is to travel out of Imo State.”

All the people were of the opinion that the problem was as a result of system failure and unfulfilled government promises.

The Catholic Archbishop of Owerri Ecclesiastical Province, His Grace, Most Rev. Anthony J. V Obinna, in a recent statement said: “When in 1970, the victorious side in the Nigeria/Biafra war made a declaration of ‘No victor, no vanquished;’ it was hoped that reconciliation, rehabilitation and reconstruction would be vigorously pursued by Nigeria’s leaders at the federal, state and local levels.

“That was not to be. Rather, efforts were intensified to antagonise and alienate fellow Nigerians. This has led not only to selfish struggles for power and wealth, but also to secessionist agitations for self determination and to increased violence by government forces and by non-government actors.

“With the consequent breakdown and failure of governance across the nation, various militant groups, terrorists and bandits emerged, foisting a state of anxiety, anarchy and brutality on the whole nation.

Mr. Ikay Ukaegbu said: “Those in the corridors of power must help the rest of us outside because the suffering in the land is unbearable.”

According to Ukaegbu: “Policy summersault remains a recurring decimal in our national life. Policies are not religiously implemented by those in power. The electorate have equally lost faith in the government and this is occasioned by repeated lies and failure of government to save people’s life and property.”

For Mr. Osmond Onuh, an Igbo community leader, most people have taken to farming for survival because of the declining revenue from their original business in the country.

Onuh said those who are not into farming business have gone into skills acquisition to acquire skills that empower them to put food on the table for their families.

“In view of this gloomy picture of the economy of most families, many businesses have gone down due to dwindling revenue. It is now a survival of the fittest. Most people in the South-East have decided to take the bull by the horns to provide food for their families. For instance, many people have gone back to the farm, including my humble self. As long as the time for sowing and reaping remain, the last time one suffers hunger remains the last time forever. While many are into crop farming of different varieties, others have resorted to piggery, poultry and fish farming.

“Those who may not like to do farming business have gone into skills acquisition to acquire skill which will enable them fend for their families. Many who couldn’t get white collar jobs are now plying their trade in fashion design, hairdressing, automobile mechanic etc. Many who are into shoe business have carved niches for themselves as many of them have established their own offices or warehouses where they mass-produce shoes, clothes and bags for Nigeria and the West Coast. I can tell you that these products are in hot demand.

“Others are into full-time trading as apprentices and sales persons and transportation businesses especially tricycle and bus transportation. Life is about choice and preference. Our leaders are too callous as they continuously impoverish the masses. The continued impoverishment of the masses is to make them docile and to never participate actively in the political process.

“Many Nigerians are now eating from the dustbin (apologies to late Alhaji Umaru Dikko of blessed memory). Is it any wonder many are committing suicide almost on daily basis?” Onuh, a political activist lamented.

Mr. Reginald Eke, a civil servant who works with one of the ministries of Enugu State Government, said due to the present economic hardship, he has resorted to both trading and farming in his village in Igboeze South Local Government Area of the state.

According to him: “I’ve been in the civil service for the past 15 years but my greatest problem is the present hardship where I can no longer take care of my family and this thing started since 2016 and has grown worse each year. As a level 12 officer, my salary cannot take care of the school fees of my four children, let alone others such as my parents and relatives.

“So what I do is that I have managed to open a shop at Timber market in Abakpa. I sell electrical parts and I employed a salesgirl whom I pay N15, 000 a month. Anything that comes out from the shop, we take it to supplement in the family but people are not even buying the electrical materials because they too don’t have money. It’s only somebody who feeds well that builds houses and not many are feeding well at the moment.

“Again, last year, I planted about one hectare of cassava. I’ve been practising small-scale farming but due to the present cost of garri in the market, I decided to get a bigger farm and I am sure that this year, my yield will improve more than it had been.”

Assessing the situation, the President, Association of Small and Medium Scale Enterprises, Awada, Onitsha, Chief Johnson Okolo, blamed the present administration, saying the money they said they are disbursing to Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, MSMEs was just deceit, and bad economic management.

Okolo regretted that many big and small industries are closing up due to bad policies of the present administration, resulting in loss of many jobs.

Rather than giving billions of naira to MSMEs, which he described as a waste, Okolo suggested that government should put measures in place to revive many businesses that have crumbled and workers sacked.

According to him, the harsh economy is biting so hard that many have abandoned their original lines of business for new ones. “Small scale industrialists here with us in this  cluster have closed their industries and now drive tricycle to feed their families while some have taken to menial jobs such as serving as labourers at construction sites.

“I used to have over 30 workers in my small scale enterprise, but today, I do not have up to five; the same thing applies to over 15,000 small scale business owners here who employed people and paid them well in the past before the economy started nose-diving.

“In Osakwe Industrial cluster, we were having over 15,000 direct and indirect business operators, with over 40,000 workers because each small scale company employed over 10 to 15 workers but today, we do not have up to 1000 surviving small scale industries because many have folded up, and the owners gone to look for alternative business to do to survive, while many resorted to driving commercial buses and tricycles to feed their families.”

Lambasting the APC-led government; Okolo said no serious government would be involved in distributing stipends, instead of providing conducive atmosphere for small scale industrialists to survive and provide jobs for citizens.

“Instead of encouraging Small and Medium Scale industries or what they call MSMEs, the Federal Government is discouraging us. What can Trader moni of N5, 000 to N10, 000 or even N100,000, do for a small scale industry operator?

“Sometimes we wonder who are the people benefiting from the billions of naira they claim to be disbursing. Here we have major operators of small and medium scale enterprise industries, I challenge the Federal Government to come to Osakwe Industrial Cluster Awada, to point at one single person or small and medium scale industry operators that have benefited from the money they claim to be disbursing.

“Our feeling here is that they are settling their brothers, friends and cronies; we have not seen their loan, there is no encouragement from Federal Government. How can anyone say he is encouraging MSMEs without regular supply of electricity, low tariff on raw materials and certain tax holidays for the industry operators, who are even helping in creating jobs for the people? Let government at all levels stop sharing money; it is of no effect, anytime they are sharing money, we see it as a way of pushing money away for themselves and their relations.

“Give us enabling environment, regular electricity supply, good roads, reduced price of gas, cut down the tariff on importation of raw materials, don’t give us any money, we are not beggars, we don’t need it, we can survive with enabling environment. What drives the industries is regular power and a conducive atmosphere.”

For Kosisochukwu Igbokwe, a cement dealer, surviving present Nigerian economic hardship needs extra hard work. He blamed the bad situation on the leaders’ lack of focus, saying that they are more interested in looting the economy for their selfish interest.

“It is painful we see ourselves in this dangerous condition. The Nigeria economic quagmire is alarming and our leaders are just interested in looting to make the poor remain poor.

“Nigeria is blessed with a lot of mineral resources, a country that is supposed to be the best in the world. But our leaders don’t have focus and plan for the future. Nigeria is now a country where the citizens can’t feed twice a day because the leaders have run down the economy. We are working extra hard to survive.

“I am a cement seller but due to the cost of cement now, I can’t buy full truck load like before. I used to sell full truck load and it used to finish in three days but now, it stays for three weeks before I would even sell the half truck load. Things are terribly bad. I have to go into the business of gas refilling to support my business.

“My wife is a hair dresser but now she is also selling pure water in the same shop to make both ends meet. It is not easy at all to survive under this present administration. Many businesses have collapsed due to bad economy.

“No business is booming now. During President Goodluck Jonathan’s period, businesses thrived and we took good care of our wards. There was flow of money in all sectors and life was good. We started suffering this since 2015 and it has become worst now. Both the reach and poor are feeling the effect of bad governance,” Igbokwe noted.

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