June 19, 2024

Harsh economic situation is choking us — South-East small business owners lament

Harsh economic situation is choking us — South-East small business owners lament

Tomatoes and peppers on display in most markets

By Anayo Okoli, Vincent Ujumadu, Ugochukwu Alaribe, Chinedu Adonu, Chinonso Alozie &  Nwabueze Okonkwo

SMALL business owners operating in the South-East have cried out over Nigeria’s lingering economic hardship, lamenting that it is choking their businesses.

A cross-section of those who spoke to SEV, including tailors, dry cleaners, carwash operators, carpenters, masons, and even mechanics, complain that indeed the economic situation is negatively affecting their businesses.

Some of them have been forced to abandon their businesses and resorted to driving shuttle buses and riding commercial motorcycles in rural areas.

Ade is a popular tailor in Awka. Before the economy nosedived, his tailoring business was booming such that he was able to acquire sophisticated machines and bought two cars for himself and his wife, as well as one shuttle bus which he hired out.

He also expanded his business by stocking materials for sale; his place was a one-stop shop for fashion lovers. But Ade is now complaining of idleness as most of his customers no longer sew new clothes, and sales have also dropped drastically.

He said: “I have been in the tailoring business for the past 15 years in Awka and it was good. I later invested in new machines and later started getting materials from Onitsha, which I display in my shop and my customers were making their selections from my stock.

“But things have changed since last year. As it stands, I can stay for a whole month without anybody bringing clothes to sew. Another problem is the increase in electricity bills and the cost of fuel. Imagine buying fuel at N800 per litre to power the generating set and when you build the cost into the service provided, the customers complain. Now, I can hardly pay my rent, and paying my children’s school fees has become very difficult.

“To make ends meet, I now drive my shuttle bus myself and I must say that it is what provides food for the family”.

For Angus Dike, a carwash owner, it would appear that every car owner now avoids car wash like a plague, as he could stay a whole day without anybody bringing his car for washing.

“I was making up to N15,000 daily before things became bad. We were charging N1000 and due to the increase in the cost of materials, we increased to N1500 and sometimes N2000. I don’t know whether it was the increase that drove people away or the hardship. Some of my customers say they now wash their cars themselves to cut cost.”

Also, Okechukwu Anyika who runs a dry-cleaning business around Commissioners’ Quarters Road in Awka, lamented that people no longer bring their clothes for washing. The situation, he said, became worse when he increased the cost by 100% in line with the increase in the cost of all the materials he uses, such as detergent, starch, electricity bill, rent, and salary, among others.

He said: “I have hoped to get married this year to settle down, but I am no longer thinking along that line. The luck I have is that I have not committed myself to any girl, and so, I am just managing myself for now.”

Similarly, Eya Augustine, a mason said jobs no longer come as before because only a few people build houses these days. He said that members of his association decided to increase the cost of their labour, but because many of us could stay for days without finding anything to do; we were forced to accept anything that could enable us eat.

A provision store owner, John Omeh cautioned that if urgent action is not taken to control the rising cost of items in the market, many businesses would collapse. He said that the business environment is no longer promising, adding that many businessmen are highly indebted. He said that the harsh economic situation in the country has led to the collapse of many small and medium enterprises, SMEs in recent times.

“People are already dumping their businesses to look for something else such as tricycle riding, and farming. The situation has increased joblessness. And when you have such a situation, the crime rate increases because people must find ways to survive.”

A motor mechanic who operates at Coal Camp, Ogbete Enugu, Chukwuebuka Okoye has blamed the present administration for the current hardship in the country, saying that the government is not doing anything to solve the huge problem it created but was only interested in urgently changing the National Anthem which has nothing to do with the economy.  He lamented that the cost of motor parts has made car owners park their cars at home, adding that they hardly see work to do again.

“The hardship has dealt with us. The number of car owners that come to repair their vehicles has reduced drastically. Even when they bring their vehicles, the price of motor parts scares them away. You can see that I am sitting idle unlike before, especially on a Saturday like this, you will see three to four vehicles waiting for their turn. This government forced hardship on us and they are not doing what they should do to save the masses,” he cried out.

Traders at the Relief and Eke Ukwu Markets, who spoke to SEV, lamented what the harsh economic situation has done to their businesses, saying the patronage is dwindling every day.

Madam Ify Eke, who sells footwear, women’s wear, cosmetics, and wigs, lamented that the prices of items change almost every day. “Most times we go to Onitsha or Lagos to buy goods; you are confronted with price changes. Goods you buy today, in a few days the prices have gone up. It is not good for business.

When you tell customers, they think you are just arbitrarily changing the prices, but it is what the market dictates. So we are experiencing difficulties. Tell President Tinubu that the suffering is just too much”.

Another trader at Eke Ukwu market, Ifeto Food said: “The price of everything is jumping up like the way you see frogs jump up from water. The pain we are going through is too much. The country is not moving forward. Look at a bag of rice, look at a carton of noodles, look at tomatoes and others; their prices have hit the rooftop.”

A food vendor on Mbari Road in Owerri, Madam Mercy lamented: “The country has turned upside down. Nothing is moving forward. The cost of food items is rising daily. Tell Tinubu to resign. He has done the worst. People are dying, crying every day, still no solution”.

Petty traders in Abia State have also decried the skyrocketing prices of goods and services, saying that their customers no longer make purchases as they used to.  The traders, who deal in foodstuff and other items, stated that the most affected customers are civil servants and daily paid workers like labourers.

A petty trader along Ikot Ekpene road, Ogbor Hill, Aba, Ngozi Ugochukwu, said her customers cry out that they could no longer afford the basic needs of their families because of the decline in the purchasing power of the naira.

“Prices of goods are going higher daily. A product you buy today for N100 will be sold for N300 tomorrow. Just imagine that a cup of beans now sells for N500 and the same amount for rice. A family-size loaf of bread sells for N2,000. Customers are complaining that they can no longer afford the basic needs of their families due to the low purchasing power of the naira. It is worse that most people no longer do projects, but are only concerned with struggling to provide food for their families”, Mrs. Ugochukwu said.

Another petty trader who didn’t want her name in print accused manufacturers and middlemen of hoarding and increasing prices at will to make high profits and urged the government to check the trend.

A poultry farmer also told SEV that he can no longer sustain his business because of the high cost of feed in the market.

Chuks, a mechanic at the Alaoji Spare Parts Market on the Aba-Port Harcourt expressway, said most of his customers no longer patronize him because they could no longer maintain their vehicles due to the harsh economy.

He said: “Last week, I called one of my customers who said he had decided to park his two cars because he could no longer maintain them. You can see how the harsh economy has affected me. It is becoming difficult for me to feed my family of four, pay my children’s school fees and house rent.”

Chief Ndubuisi Ochiogu, President of Ogbaru Main Market Traders Association, Onitsha Anambra State, lamented that traders are the worst hit by the present economic hardship. He decried a situation where, despite the hardship, all manner of levies and taxes, both legal and illegal, were imposed on them. He mentioned among them, high electricity tariffs, haulage fees, customs duties, stillage fees, import and export duties, high cost of transportation arising from fuel subsidy removal, and other levies, saying they are being choked with levies and taxes.

According to Ochiogu, with local manufacturing companies currently folding up and multinational companies like Guinness pulling out of Nigeria, leaving the traders with the option of only sourcing goods from imports at the mercy of multiple taxation from clearing agents, seizure of their goods by the Customs at the river ports, tagging them contraband, the traders have been completely boxed to the corner. He, therefore, urged government at all levels to reverse these ugly trends to ameliorate this situation before they get out of hand as according to him, “we may get to a situation when Nigerians will go from high cost of goods to non-availability of goods in our markets and the consequences would be too heavy to bear by the masses, and when it gets to that point, a mass revolution might become the next line of action.”