• Saturday, April 13, 2024
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Households battle to make ends meet as inflation bites

Households battle to make ends meet as inflation bites

Abimbola Adedoyin earns twice the minimum wage in Nigeria, but the school administrator says she has no choice but to home-school her three children and delay her son’s West Africa Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) till 2025 because she cannot afford their education.

Like most Nigerians, Adedoyin, a 46-year-old teacher in a secondary school in Mowe, Ogun State, whose husband has been bedridden for five years, is struggling to cope with the surge in the cost of living triggered by naira devaluation and subsidy removal to end decades of corruption in the intervention.

“It has been a constant struggle for my family since my husband was diagnosed with diabetes five years ago, and our situation is more intense now with the continuous surge in prices,” she explains.

“We do not have any health insurance. We spend N47,000 daily to buy Tresiba insulin for my husband’s diabetes,” she says.

“Last year, we usually bought the drug for N15,800, but it has gone up to N47,000,” she notes, indicating a 197 percent rise in the price of Tresiba, an insulin used for controlling blood sugar.

“My husband’s ill-health has wiped out all our savings, and we cannot even afford to pay our children’s school fees. My son couldn’t register for WASSCE this year,” she states.

Last year, Ademola Odumosu, a 45-year-old in Mowe, Ogun State, could easily make N10,000 a day from painting houses, shops, and offices, which was enough to feed his family of four. But he would be lucky to make N3,000 per day now.

“People are no longer painting their houses, shops, or offices. I haven’t gotten any major painting jobs since the beginning of the year,” Odumosu said.

The business is almost collapsing owing to low patronage and his inability to handle the steep rise in rental fees for his shop. He can no longer afford to feed his children three times a day.

“A month ago, N2,000 could buy us two dericas of rice to make jollof rice; now we need N3,000 to buy the same quantity,” he said.

“My children go to bed hungry most of the time. Even if you take N100,000 to the market today, it will only buy you a few things because of the constant surge in the prices of items,” he explained.

“If not for my wife, who is helping the family with her petty business, I don’t know what I would have done,” he added.

He is among millions of Nigerians grappling with the country’s worst cost of living crisis in decades, which is worsening daily.

President Tinubu inherited an economy that was already struggling with record-high debt, high unemployment, low oil output, the worsening power supply that has crimped businesses, and subsidies that drained government finances.

Tinubu, who campaigned on a ‘Renewed Hope’, embarked on the biggest economic shake-up of a generation in Nigeria, rapidly rolling out market reforms to improve government finances, restore credibility with investors, and kick-start the economy.

But the reforms are robbing households of their spending power, inflicting more pain, and renewing pressure on them. Economists and analysts who longed for the reforms say it has exposed the president’s lack of coherent planning necessary to withstand the shocks caused by them.

Since the president’s assumption of office in 2023, prices of food items, stationery, transportation costs, energy, and diesel have been accelerating in Africa’s most populous country.

The latest unemployment data shows Nigeria’s unemployment rate rose yet again, and inflation numbers showed the prices of goods and services are moving at their fastest clip in over 18 years, hitting a record 31.7 percent in February, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

The cost of food, which Nigerians spend the bulk of their income on, rose 37.92 percent in February as against 35.41 percent in January.

Daily life in Nigeria is now characterised by the struggle to afford necessities. Households are in dire straits, as many are forced to skip meals to survive.

Onyinye Anyiwara, a trader at Idumota Market, said prices have been crazy in the country and survival has become a daily struggle.

“The situation is so bad that my family cannot afford a big loaf of bread anymore. We have resulted in eating swallow every morning, so it takes us till evening before eating another meal,” the mother of three says.

“This helps us to skip a meal without the children feeling very hungry.”

Real wages, which reflect the power of employee pay after accounting for inflation, have fallen in Nigeria by 100 percent, thus making Nigerians poorer than they were. The situation is worse for low-income households.

In 2018, the Brookings Institution published a report that said Nigeria had beaten India to become the poverty capital of the world, with 105 million people living below the poverty line.

The number increased by 60.4 percent when the National Bureau of Statistics put the number of Nigerians living in multidimensional poverty at 133 percent in 2022, compared to 82.9 million considered poor in 2019 by national standards.

The World Bank, in its latest Nigeria Development Update report, said sluggish growth and accelerating inflation in Africa’s biggest economy have raised the poverty rate by 46 percent in 2023 from 40 percent in 2018, with the number of poor Nigerians at 104 million.

“It is all about survival now in the country. There is so much pain as people cannot afford to buy the basic things they need for their survival,” Emmanuel James, a secondary school teacher in Ikeja, says.

“The government needs to do something to tackle the surging food prices before things get out of hand,” he adds.

Side hustle on increase for survival

Thirty-three-year-old Ezekiel Paul, who stands guard at a security gate in an Abuja estate, says he now works for at least 20 hours daily, shuffling two security posts to overcome the hardship occasioned by the relentless rise in the cost of living in the country.

Recounting his gruelling work schedule with BusinessDay, Paul said he earns N25,000 monthly working at Sungold Estate, Galadimawa, which barely covers the cost of food, let alone the myriad of other pressing needs for his family.

Driven by desperation, he took on a second job as a security officer at the popular Banex Plaza in Wuse 2, which is 13 kilometres away from his primary post. The additional income of N30,000 helps cushion the hardship, but he has to endure the long commute to Banex Plaza and the demanding nature of his dual roles.

“I work at Sungold Gate from morning until 5 pm; afterwards, I move to Banex Plaza,” Isaac explained wearily.

“This is how I have been shuffling it from Monday to Sunday. I have to sacrifice sleep and rest time. My colleagues at Sungold Estate have helped cover up for me because Bannex has strict rules. We always help each other.

“I started this a month ago because the cost of living is very expensive and N25,00 is nothing. I need money to take care of myself, my siblings, and even my elderly mother,” he said.

Paul’s story embodies the struggles of countless low-income earners grappling with the relentless surge in living expenses. Several individuals and families are facing the harsh realities of inflation and economic instability.

The high cost of living crisis in Nigeria is being influenced by various factors, including inflation, unemployment, currency depreciation, and insufficient infrastructure. Consequently, necessities such as food, shelter, and healthcare have become increasingly elusive for those on the lowest rungs of the socioeconomic ladder.

Also sharing her experience, Ruth Edward, a civil servant at the Medical and Dental Council, said her N69,000 monthly income, which is not paid regularly, can no longer cater for even basic needs in her family.

To survive, she has to prioritise her necessities and forgo some expensive food items, including essentials that are now outside her reach. To further cut costs, she said she resorted to making some food items at home, such as bread, and has replaced soda with local drinks like Zobo, which are home-made.

Despite these measures, she decried that they were insufficient to quell the relentless tide of inflation. To supplement her income, Edward now operates a small gift shop, labouring tirelessly to bridge the ever-widening gap between income and expenditure.

“I run a gift shop now to complement my work. I got the idea during the Valentine’s period. It has been challenging to start a new business and work at the same time.

“The last time I went to the market, I felt depressed. When I came back, I went with N10,000, but a kilo of meat alone is now N5,000. The purchasing power has dropped, so I had to drop a lot of items, which are also essential but expensive, and opt for cheaper ones. So we only buy the most essentials, and we also try to make some at home.

Edward said her survival has simply been by “God’s mercy, as she has not been paid a salary since January 2024.

Also recounting a similar experience, Adaku James, a local farmer in Abia State and mother of five, said she goes for the cheapest option to make ends meet.

She added that even going for the cheaper option is not enough; she now works extra jobs for more income.

“I have a small farmland where I cultivate cassava, which I process into fufu and garri and sell. Every week, I get N10,000 to N15,000. But the income is not enough for me to feed my family and re-invest in my farm. So I have to do extra jobs. I weed farmland for money. It is tiring, but necessary. After working on my farmland, I go to others for extra income. Sometimes N2,000 or N3,000.

“Even with multiple works, there’s nothing left after you return from the market,” she lamented, highlighting the skyrocketing cost of staples such as garri and rice, among others.

“When you go to the market, you can’t buy anything; new prices change daily. The price of garri is N2,500 to N3,000, and rice is almost N6,000. Meat is so expensive; I don’t use it to cook. I buy roasted white fish because it’s cheaper; you can get it for N500. These days, we go for cheaper food items and products.” James Saidm

Meanwhile, Adaobi Onyechi, a public health expert, warned that working extra hours could result in double jeopardy for Nigerians as they try to escape hardship and run into health complications.

Speaking with BusinessDay, she highlighted the health risks associated with prolonged labour and the toll it exacts on both body and mind. From cardiovascular diseases to mental health disorders, Onyechi warned that the repercussions of excessive work are dire and far-reaching.

“Working extra time or for long hours, especially when one should be taking a rest, could result in an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and other cardiovascular diseases.

“When you work long hours, your body could increase production of cortisol, the stress hormone, which makes one more susceptible to illnesses by weakening the immune system,” she said.

She called on the government to work urgently to cushion the impact of the hardship Nigerians are enduring.

Changing consumption patterns

As prices keep making a rapid climb, Nigerians are now changing their consumption patterns and lifestyles to survive the current economic hardship.

Abiola Ogunjiobi, a resident of the Igando suburb of Lagos State, lamented that the economic crunch is biting hard on citizens.

“Custard has been at the at the top of our breakfast menu before, but now we have alternated it with pap (akamu). Noodles, which our children normally take after school for lunch, have also been substituted with garri and sugar,” he said.

“We now boil our borehole water for drinking as we can no longer afford to buy bags of pure water weekly,” he said.

John Chibuike, a teacher in Lagos, has been forced to stop eating at restaurants to make ends meet.

“I don’t eat outside anymore. I now prepare my meals because it is cheaper,” he said.

Adekunle Oguntimenhin, a Lagos resident, told BusinessDay that the rising cost of living as a result of cost-push inflation is having a lot of impact on Nigerians.

“A lot of strategies have been put in place in my family to cushion the devastating effect of this economic illness. Waste, which used to be the usual norm in my house before now, carries a lot of punishment. Also, we now engage in bulk buying to save costs.”

“This has helped us to get food items at a cheaper rate when compared to what is obtainable in our proximity.”

Rosemary Agunsoye, a retired accountant, said her family’s eating habits have drastically changed as a result of the prevailing economic crunch.

“Lunch has become a past activity in our home; eating snacks in between meals is no longer allowed. Taking tea or beverages is an occasional thing in our home now,” she said.

Chioma Goodness, a public servant, said that though the economic crunch is really biting hard, she is still having her three square meals, but with some adjustments.

“For me, I still eat the way I used to eat. The downside is that I spend more money now than before. I’m not a foodie; I eat twice a day. That has been my eating habit, and it’s helping me now.

For instance, when I go to Bukka to buy food normally, I spend less than N1,000, and I will eat to my satisfaction.

“But these days, I spend up to N2,000 to N2,500 to get the same quantity of food.

It’s easy for me to maintain my eating habits because I’m still single and have no extra mouth to feed. People are going through hell out there,” she said.

Ezinne Augustine, a spinster, decried the prevailing surging cost of living in the country.

“Things have really changed, rather in a bad way; a single person can barely afford to eat, not to mention someone who has family to feed.

“My habit of eating has changed, no doubt; having a healthy diet and a three-square meal is now, by the grace of God, it’s not funny out there,” she said.

Christie Obodoechi said her eating habits have been reduced to 1-0-1: breakfast, no lunch, and dinner at night.

“Before now, I ate three times a day, which has changed. I won’t buy food outside again because it is very expensive, except I just want to eat in the eatery for the fun of it,” she said.

Harris Mfon, a retired public servant, said that though the economic situation is challenging, she is still maintaining her meal status.

“My eating habit has not changed even though the cost of living is higher now; it has been God,” she said.

Like millions of Nigerians, Ogunjiobi, Chibuike, and others are struggling daily for survival. The country’s headline inflation accelerated to 31.7 percent in February from 29.9 percent in January 2024.

Nigeria is grappling with severe socio-economic challenges that endanger its economic growth, human capital, and overall development.

The current cost of living crisis is weighty—food insecurity, shortages of essentials, and rising prices of vital food staples—leading to widespread hunger and deprivation.

This crisis, which has plagued the country in recent years, casts a depressing shadow over the entire nation.

The consequences of these afflictions extend far beyond immediate concerns, impacting not just survival but also posing significant threats to the economy due to conflicts, insecurity, and inflation.

Significantly, food insecurity has become a focal point of policy discussions worldwide, correlating with a surge in staple prices globally.

According to the World Food Programme, an alarming 26.5 million Nigerians are expected to face acute hunger during the lean season of June to August 2024.

This represents a significant increase from the 18.6 million individuals affected by food insecurity at the close of 2023, which is still biting harder to date.

In a similar vein, findings from the 2023 Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) report highlight a stark situation: an estimated 20 percent of Nigerians grapple with undernourishment, while a distressing 45 percent of children under the age of five suffer from stunted growth due to malnutrition and starvation.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) further projects that around nine million children face the risk of wasting and poor nutrition, with over 2.6 million of them likely to experience severe and acute undernourishment.

These statistics underscore the urgent need for concerted efforts to address poverty and malnutrition across Nigeria.

Numerous factors contribute to these worrying circumstances: ongoing conflicts across different geopolitical regions, the impacts of climate change, and widespread price hikes affecting both food and non-food essentials.