An avalanche of socioeconomic challenges is afflicting the people in no small measure. This Christmas might not be so merry for millions of Nigerians.
Today is Christmas. It is December 25, the day set aside by Christians to commemorate and celebrate the birth of Christ. And, in the spirit of the season, ‘Merry Christmas’ is the phrase on everyone’s lips.
But this year, many Nigerians have been disconnected from the merriment that the season brings. Many places that were usually colourfully decorated in the past now look ordinary and lifeless.
An avalanche of socioeconomic challenges is afflicting the people in no small measure. Indisputably, this Christmas might not be so merry for millions of Nigerians.
Many, as gathered, who desired to celebrate today as usual were forced to make some adjustments due to escalating costs of essential commodities. Prices of staple foods have increased in the past few days. The economic crunch that has swept across the land has further complicated Nigerians’ woes.
Those travelling from Lagos to their different hometowns have various tales to tell, mostly unpleasant. Transport fares from the ‘Centre of Excellence’ to other parts of the country have skyrocketed.
Passengers who spoke with the reporter yesterday expressed shock and disappointment over how the transporters cashed in on the season to milk travellers dry of their cash. Frustrated intending travellers were seen stranded at motor parks in many parts of Lagos and other major cities across Nigeria, lamenting high cost of transportation.
By December 23, transporters were collecting N8,500 to Warri and N9,000 to Abraka against N4,000 and N5,000, respectively. While they charged N11,000 for Port Harcourt, from the usual N5,000 or N6,000, the fare to Benin rose from the normal N3,000 to N6,500.
The reporter visited a popular Kogi park in the Agege area of Lagos on December 22. Many of the travellers did not hide their emotions and frustrations. Lagos to Okene, using the government-owned vehicles was relatively fair, which only rose from N3,100 to N3,700, while the fare to Lokoja shifted from N3,600 to N4,200. But the buses were limited in number, which forced most passengers to consider the private transport operators.
For the private commercial buses, travellers had to cough out between N5,500 and N6,500 for a trip to Okene. The fares to Ayingba, Ankpa and Idah towns were increased from N4,500, N5,000 and N5,500 to N9,000, N8,500 and N10,500, respectively.
Dragging her two little children around the park with a bag on her head, a woman who gave her name as Mercy Olu lamented: “This is not fair at all. Why must they always increase transport fare every Christmas? They always had excuses of fuel scarcity or increase in fuel prices in the past, but there is nothing they can use as a cover-up this year. There is fuel everywhere. Most parts of the roads leading to my town are even better now.
“It is sad that we are enemies to ourselves. We complain that the government is bad but some private people, who are in positions to render vital services, are worse than the government we condemn every day.”
Those travelling to the eastern part of Nigeria appeared to have been the worst hit. When
the reporter visited Mazamaza Park in Amuwo Odofin, Lagos, yesterday, it was a beehive of passengers, as early as 6.20am.
On approaching an 18-seater bus that was loaded for Onitsha and Owerri, one of conductors roared: “If you don’t have N12,500, you better go home and wait till January 2 before you travel.”
A walk down to one of the famous transport companies at the park revealed that it charged a little higher than the unregistered buses.
“Many people have been returning home since yesterday (Sunday) because they could not afford the fare. The fares to Onitsha and other towns around it used to be N5,000 or N6,000, but some transporters are collecting N14,500 this morning,” a loader at the park said.
One of the drivers at Agege Park, Mr. Azu Godwin, said one of the reasons the transporters usually hike price every season is that they usually drive empty buses from other parts of the country to Lagos. He explained that Lagos has the highest number of people travelling to their hometowns.
“The rush is one of the major reasons for the high fare. Everybody wants to go to his or her village to celebrate Christmas and New Year. Some parks that operate five vehicles on a normal day go the extra mile to get as many as 10 buses to meet the high demand. Many things are responsible, although some transporters overcharge the passengers, especially where there are no strong competitors close to them,” Godwin said.
A journalist with a national daily based in Lagos told the reporter that villages in the East are melting pots for their sons and daughters every Christmas and New Year. According to him, it has become a tradition to travel home to reunite with family members and friends.
“If you don’t visit home in December, you can’t talk when and where your mates are talking. People will say that you are not an original Igboman,” he said.
On the high prices in the markets, some other persons opined that, despite the economic downturn, the mad rush for Christmas shopping by many has led to astronomical rise in the price of commodities.
Investigations revealed that many Nigerians have been lamenting the exorbitant hike in the price of staple food and other commodities as a result of the unfathomable rush.
A civil servant with a federal ministry, who did not want his name published said: “We are only watching others doing the shopping because my salary is yet to be paid. I am the breadwinner. We have not bought foodstuff at home and it is two days to Christmas. I have already explained to my little children to manage their old clothes for Christmas and New Year.
“The eldest, who is eight, protested but we cannot steal in the name of celebrating Christmas. We can’t even think of taking a soft loan, if it is available. The reason is that, by the first week of January, we need to pay the kids’ school fees and we do not joke with that.
“It is unfortunate that most of us who depend solely on our monthly salaries are always affected. My salary has not been increased in the last three years but prices of everything keep increasing. My family has also increased by one person. The situation just leaves you helpless. It means you have to forego a lot of things, which are at the same time necessary for the household. However, if you are wise, using the scale of preference becomes very useful in times like this.”
Mrs. Omonigho Igunma said: “I did not believe what l saw in the market on Saturday. I went to Ile-Epo Market to buy my normal food ingredients but the number of people l saw almost made me run back. You see parents with four or five children, moving from one shop to another without making up their minds on what to buy. Many of them went back home without buying anything, saying that the prices were beyond their reach.”
She said anyone could easily be lost in thought merely looking at shoppers milling around without buying a single item. She told the reporter that she had done shopping for her children’s clothes in early November.
Curiously, traders who were supposed to be smiling to the bank by now are rather lamenting. They said it is not the usual boom experienced in some years past during the Yuletide.
Mr. Okoro Matthew, who deals in children’s clothes at Oshodi Market, said despite the rush everywhere, patronage has been very low.
“I don’t know why people are not really buying as expected because the difference in the prices of our products is so minimal. For example, the jeans we used to sell for N2,500 now goes for N3,200. Some shirts increased from N1,200 to N1,700. They would haggle and leave without buying. Some people believe that we hike the price but it is not true. We only sell according to how we purchased the goods. Every average businessman believes in having a good turnover, but this year is looking so dry for us,” he lamented.
A bag of rice that was sold at N15,000 shortly before Christmas now costs between N17,000 and N19,000 in Lagos. Groundnut oil is said to have remained stable in price but tomatoes and onions have experienced a 30 percent increase.
Daily Sun gathered that the increase in prices of goods, no matter how small, upsets buyers and makes them to cut down on their expenses.
Most homes might have to forego live chicken, as the price has moved from between N3,000 to N5,000 and N7,000, depending on the size.
While some Nigerians have blamed the Federal Government for their woes, especially due to the economic crunch, others believe that the private sector also has its share of the blame and should not be spared.