...Families under pressure
…Low key celebration in the offing
…Many rule out travelling
From today, there are barely 15 days to Christmas and 21 days to the New Year. But the usual excitement that fills the air is no more.
By now, shopping should have been in top gear, tailors busy, and transport companies servicing their fleet and acquiring additional ones to meet the huge demand of passengers travelling to various parts of the country for the festivities.
Well, the reverse seems to be the case as many families are weighed down by the huge burden the harsh economy placed on them, a situation that gets worse as Christmas gets closer.
“What is there to celebrate with the suffering in the country, the minimum wage cannot take workers home, and cruel capitalists are taking advantage of the situation to impoverish many. Look at the fuel situation. Forget Christmas, let the year just end,” Mathias Otubu, a father of three, said in anger.
Truly, while Christmas portends merriment, this year, the season leaves a lot to be desired by many people who are weighed down by the economic realities of our time.
Instead of joy, the traditional and unimaginable price hikes, is bringing sadness to many this festive season.
“How can you celebrate Christmas with an empty pocket? It is even difficult to kill chicken now, then rice is now gold at almost N70,000 for a 50kg bag. It is survival now and not merriment because the poor cannot afford it,” Uchemmadu Okongwu, a banker, said.
He argued that while some organisations are increasing staff salaries in view of the inflation-induced high cost of living, many small businesses, employees of private firms and even civil servants are struggling daily with meager salaries, with no respite soon.
“How do you expect this set of people, who constitute a huge chunk of our population to celebrate? I think Christmas is bringing sadness to many people this year, especially those who used to live large and cannot do so again because of the economic reality of the country today. Many families will have no rice to cook that day, children will not wear new cloths and you expect the families to be happy?” The banker asked rhetorically.
But what worries Jide Ogunlesi, an Abuja-based senior civil servant, is the high cost of transport fare. Considering the over 200 percent anticipated increase in fares this festive season by the capitalist transport companies, Ogunlesi decried that those who dream of travelling for family reunion, for a holiday or mere travel for change of environment, may not have such dream materialise this year.
“Like the swiftness with which fuel stations adjust their pump price at any official increase of prices, the transport companies are doing the same now, but in a more ruthless manner of daily increase of fares from the second week in December till the first week of the new year. The unnecessary hike in fare is criminal and it has become a tradition,” Ogunlesi decried.
The concerned father, who can afford a return flight ticket from Abuja to Lagos, argued that what is the essence of travelling for the festive season when many other family members you wish to meet may not visit because of the high fares in both road and air transportation.
While one can, out of generosity, pay for other family members’ fares, Ogunlesi lamented the impact of such goodwill on the pocket and also the fact that it will become a tradition as family members will now rely on your assistance even when you don’t have the means again.
“Things are very hard now, it is only a politician that can undertake such a ‘Father Christmas’ responsibility. I think people should scale down to what they can afford and skip festivities or travelling this year if they cannot afford it,” he said.
Christmas clothes are out of it as most tailors are less busy due to low patronage occasioned by the harsh economy.
“Who is sewing new cloth again if not aso-ebi, when fairly-used cloth is cheaper. Due to the cost, many people do not care about what they wear now as long as it is cloth,” Sadiq Jimoh, a tailor, lamented.
Taking a critical look at the hike in the prices of food items in the market, especially rice, Anderson Ikediashi, an economist and entrepreneur, noted that celebration will be low key across many families this festive season.
He based his reason on the fact that salaries, no matter how big, have never been enough, the current low purchasing power has impacted businesses with low patronage and inflation has made any amount you bring to the market less valuable.
He insisted that at almost N70,000 per 50 kg bag, rice is out of the reach of the poor and out of the Christmas menu for many.
“I have tripled the amount for family upkeep, yet my wife said it is not enough. I have taken out time to sample the market and I was shocked at how women manage to buy things in the market nowadays. Prices have skyrocketed and earnings keep dwindling,” the economist said.
Rice, condiments’ prices soar
While the price of rice, the most consumed staple on Christmas Day, is unimaginably high and out of the reach of many, prices of other food items also needed for entertainment during the festive season are also high.
From tomatoes, pepper, oil, meat and to chicken, one needs good money to get these food items this season and many cannot afford them.
A kilo of chicken goes from N3,500, live chicken from N15,000, 4 litre of oil from N7,000, then rice and meat are untouchable.
Moreover, no drink is cheap again including sachet water and even as all manner of carbonated drinks fill the market, their prices are still high.
The poor, the hardest hit
“Let us not laugh over the issue because it is serious and people are hungry. We have experienced a steady hike in the prices of things in the country in the last three to four years. Nothing is coming down and earnings are not increasing for many. This season will witness many having little to eat and a few, as usual, having varieties on their table. It is sad that the government has done little to curb food price inflation and the poor are the hardest hit in the situation,” Ikediashi decried further.
Go for low-hanging fruits
But the way out for Damilola Oni, a consultant gynecologist, is to scale down to what one can afford.
“I worked for the government for over 15 years and I am now running a thriving private hospital. What I always tell patients is to go for what they can afford except there is no cheap option.
“You should not kill yourself to impress others or even family at Christmas. If you can afford it on low key, good, if you can skip it and live like every other day, better.
“If you cannot buy rice, cook yam, noodle or whatever you can afford and eat. Christmas will come and go. Live a normal life and don’t give in to pressure from anyone because the cost of healthcare is even worse now,” the medical consultant urged.
She also thinks that the season comes with a lot of risks for travellers, hence travelling should be when it is very necessary now.
“From December 20th, the whole of the country will be out there for festive travels, all the cars, both good and bad on the same roads, and the risks are very high. Stay back if the reason for travelling is just to see family members. Do video calls, send pictures, call and chat to save yourself and family members travelling with you from the huge risks out there,” she said.
Huge bill’s from January
What Ikediashi thinks should be more important to parents are the huge expenses that await them in the new year.
“There are all manner of fees to pay by January, from house rent, tuition fees and pay TV subscriptions, loan servicing, car servicing after travelling and many more.
“Let’s be mindful of these expenses and prepare ahead. Who doesn’t have this festive season will have in subsequent ones. Let’s not allow our health to deteriorate because of worry or family pressure,” the economist, who is skipping traveling this season, concluded.
The irony of the situation is that while many cannot afford a bag of rice or even travel to meet their loved ones, a few others are jetting out of the country to choice locations in the Caribbeans, Europe and America for the festive holidays.
That is life and they said it is ‘unfair!’
N60,000 for bag of rice is off-limit for us, but we will travel anyhow – Delta resident
The Yultide Season is here again yet many families are considering not to travel to their villages as usual to celebrate the season.
In Delta State, BusinessDay Sunday interviewed some residents of Asaba on the issue and they reacted differently.
Florence Bernard, a distributor said it was only the political class that is enjoying in the country as according to him, the masses are suffering without food to eat.
“I see most families not travelling to celebrate this season. For instance, here, some families come here to buy staple food like noodles and end up not buying anything. You could see the tears on their faces. The one cartoon of 70gram noodles of 40 packs is sold at above N5,000 instead of the N3,000 it was sold last year. Likewise the medium and big pack are between N7000 and almost N9000 from the N5,000 they used to be.
“We are a family of five and we are not going anywhere due to the state of the federal roads – bad roads, kidnappings and general insecurity.
“The last time we travelled home was last year and the cost of going to Umuahia, our area, was N4,000 from Asaba. Today, it’s over N12,000 and it may worsen at the peak of the season,” she lamented.
Charity, a Chemist and mother of four, sees high cost of living preventing many from travelling.
“I come in contact with a lot of people as they come to buy drugs or take medications. From my interaction with them, many would end up not travelling.
“They always complain that it is difficult for them to access medical treatment due to high cost of drugs and other medications.
“They fear that travelling and change of environment may expose them to more diseases they could not afford to access money for the treatments is also another reason why some people are not considering travelling this time around.
“Besides, some have also ruled out travelling because they do not want to be a liability to anyone in the village.”
However, a few people interviewed believe that no matter the situation, they cannot stay away from their country-home at Yuletide.
Collins, a laundryman in Asaba, said: “I’m from a community after Kwale in Delta State. To buy rice of about N60,000 a bag is not possible now but we must go home. Whether there is money or not, I’ll take my wife and little son home. We can’t stay in Asaba when there is life in the village.
“By February, the rent we paid on our one bedroom apartment in Asaba will expire and the landlord will come calling. I don’t want that to border me for now. God is in-charge,” he said.
Blessing Nwangele from Ebonyi State also said that she and her sibling would travel home notwithstanding the cost of transportarion from Asaba to Abakiliki which is about N13,000 now.
“What pains me most is that despite tbe abundance of food items produced in our area, we would not even come back to our base with any of them due to high transportation cost.
“And when we return to town, we will still be spending exorbitant amount of money on feeding in Asaba. It’s an irony of life,” she said.
‘This is not time for elegant celebration’
Layi Emmanuel Olanrewaju, a public analyst said: “As the year is running to an end and the month to mark a period of celebration but with the current economic situation, my family is not planing an elaborate celebration at all.
“As an end of year we shall use the period to look back and thank God for his mercy on members of family both biological and extended. His mercy, grace and protection enable us to see the end of the year. So, our celebration is thanksgiving not in organising a party or look for new clothes.
“But if we can get little food stuff at home and we prepare it for our visitors and friends to eat. That will be all.
“Even the usual flamboyant drinks and all nicety will be absent. Anybody that visits will be prapared to drink pure water, no costly drinks and usual fried meat will be absent. In short, it shall be a low key celebration.”
Taiwo Joseph, a civil servant, said: “Well, we thank God for sparing our lives to this time despite all odds.
“With the current harsh economy, no doubt one has to cut one’s coat according to one’s cloth, what matters most is the preservation of life and where there’s life there’s hope.
“If it calls for elaborate celebration or low key celebration according to one’s purse so be it but deep down, one has to face the reality of the economy and celebrate according to one’s purse without putting oneself in debt or harms way in order to please others and displease oneself as one will face the consequence alone.”
Aina Michael, a teacher and mother of three, “All praises to God Almighty for keeping us alive. There is nothing like elegant celebration this time around. This year, my husband cannot afford to buy clothes for the children.
“Even to eat this days is not easy. We are planning to use the day to thank God; go to church, eat and relax at home.”
Nicholas Nwerunoye on his part said: “My plan is to adjust as much as possible to the reality of the situation. This means scaling down on expenses, cancel all planned travels and exploit local alternatives for any celebration.
“No elaborate celebration at all. In fact, rather than spend, the idea for me and my family is to use the December festivity period to plan ahead for January. The first month of the year is usually difficult. There are school fees and many other things to consider, among other costs.”