Deck the halls with boughs of holly; ‘tis the season to be jolly…or not. If you ask me, there’s not a lot to be jolly about this year’s Christmas. For one, the lights and jingles came a little late. Christmas in Nigeria connotes a lot of different things to different people for various reasons. Worldwide, brightly lit streets, gifts wrapped in trendy boxes with brightly coloured bows, towering Christmas trees covered in make-believe snow and glowing balls of green and red, colourful reindeers and general cheer and merry starts to permeate the air right at the beginning of the month. In Nigeria, the frenzy of activities culminating into the one day celebration is usually expected.
Typically, the roads and airports are usually at the peak of their services as a result of the mass movement of people in the cities to their hometowns to visit with family members who they haven’t seen in a year. The markets are also not left out.
Popular and busy markets will normally see a doubling in the number of visitors during this period all hampering to make their purchases as early as they can and for the best products and at the best prices too before the 25 th of the month.
The poultry, meat and livestock sections of the market are one of the busiest following the fresh vegetables sectio as mothers scamper for salad ingredients for typical festivity menus which always include lots of meat, salads, soups and rice meals. Rice merchants always had reasons to smile as they sold out in bags of various sizes very quickly.
Christmas clothes and hair, anyone? The salons and fashion outlets are never in need of customers during Christmas festivities. In fact, for me, about four years ago, you had to book a session with your stylist from the first week of December or face the double charges you would incur trying to your hair done at the peak of the season or worst still, not finding any available stylist as a result of the mass movement earlier mentioned.
This year, all the Christmas norms are being broken, in a sense of unity in understanding and trepidation at the economic troubles that have befallen our nation.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which measures the economic activity level in the country, shrank by 2.24% for the third quarter of the year ended September 2016 as compared to its 2.84% growth recorded in the same period of 2015.
Inflation stood at 18.3% as at October, 2016 and the economy is in a recession. Simply put, there is a sharp decline in economic and industrial activity indicated by falling GDP figures for two consecutive quarters.
Nigeria also battled this year more than ever, with falling foreign reserves and shortage of forex all exacerbated by insecurities and conflict in the oil producing regions on which the country is largely dependent for said foreign exchange. A resulting effect of the forex shortages for an import dependent country like ours has seen manufacturing costs soar translating to higher costs of goods in the market which is one of the huge problems facing the country at this time.
An undisclosed salon I visited in Ikeja was unusually lacking for customers who normally troupe in on weekends to get their hair done and use other beauty services, especially as it is barely two weeks to Christmas. According to the head stylist, people were particular and deliberate about spending at this time because of the recession.
He was however assured that the salon will be packed in the coming days leading to Christmas as ‘’ladies just have to get things like their appearance sorted out regardless’’.
A Christmas decorator vendor at the Tejuosho market in Surulere, who pleaded anonymity sadly complained about the poor sales of Christmas lights and decorations.
According to her, if food was not guaranteed for the coming festivities, people couldn’t be bothered about lights and decorations with the high costs of food items hanging over their heads.
‘’Between buying your family some food for the festivities and decorating tress, which is more urgent?’’
‘’However, I hope to sell some of these items because I also need to feed my family,’’ she said.
A bag of foreign rice now sells between N22,000 – N24,000, while a sizeable live chicken sells between N7,500-N8,500 in the markets.
Additional costs of other food condiments, grains and vegetables when factored in may alter the usual Christmas menu for most households this year.
In a phone call with Mrs Chioma Onuoha, who resides in Enugu State, the popular Ogbete market is also scanty as shopping activities for the Christmas season is a far cry from what was obtainable in the market a year ago.
‘’Everywhere is dry. Last year, the market was so busy you wouldn’t find enough space to put one foot in front of the other. It is well’’, she finished resolutely.
Analysts portray the coming year as even more economically challenging that the outgoing year.
Some say this is not a time to engage in extravagant spending but a time to consider dire survival strategies for the coming year.
The driving factor for this year’s celebration then, is one of anxiety and fear as to what the new year may bring with the present state of things and the role the government is playing or failing to play in ensuring the country is back on its feet economically as soon as possible. Most people are therefore on check with expenditures during the festivities in preparation of whatever comes in 2017.
Despite the general feelings of gloom, our citizens stay hopeful. Christmas carols have begun in various organizations and churches and will continue well into the days leading up to the 25 th . The Muritala Muhammed Airport and motor parks strewn along Yaba are agog with travellers who are bent on making the journey to celebrate with families regardless.
A staff at the Wakanow branch in Ikeja also insisted that travel patterns and frequency had not altered for their customers despite the recession. We are not the happiest country in Africa for nothing, are we?