Thursday, December 25, 2014

Nigeria Cash Crunch Defines Low Key Festive Season
Nigerian Finance Minister Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
by Adejuwon Osunnuyi
Nigerian Mirror
Dec 22, 2014

Just three days to Christmas, consumers were complaining of high prices of items in the market and their inability to buy because there is no money. The fanfare with which families usually prepare for the Christmas festival has gone as their financial powers seem have been eroded even as the traders in major markets in the country lament low patronage.

The Christmas season is here again. Being the peak of the year, it is believed to be the period of merriment as many show love by giving and sharing.

As usual, as activities which has been part of the season’s norm, a trip around the cities especially at night clearly show the ‘blind’ that is it Christmas time. Obviously, as at now, most major streets, roads, round-abouts are adorned with different shades of lights in order to add colour and glamour to the festivities, thanks to the government as well as many corporate organisations.

For instance, in Lagos, Calabar, Uyo, Abeokuta, and many other cities, as usual, the state governments have been living to the expectation of the people by decorating and lighting up the major roads, public parks and gardens in the city ahead of this year’s celebrations.

Presently, the area around the seat of power in Alausa is beautiful and aglow with brilliant colours at night. Even the sprawling Shoprite shopping mall nearby is distinctly decorated with bright lights. For Lagos Island and Victoria Island, the decorations are eye-catching, as one cannot help falling in love with the colourful lights of the Marina at night.

As a matter of fact, some corporate organisations, commercial banks and eateries are not left out as they also decorate their buildings and surroundings. For example, exquisite Christmas lighting on Ajose Adeogun Street, which hosts the corporate headquarters of Zenith Bank in Victoria Island, has transformed it into a wonderland of sorts. The visual effect is remarkable. Evidently, to show how beautiful such places are, fun-seekers are seen laying siege at night, taking pictures and savouring the beauty of the season.

Being the peak of the year and a time associated with giving, sharing and showing love, it is not unexpected that most traders, manufacturers, marketers as well as many other companies, look up to the yuletide in making brisk sales.

However, with just three days to Christmas, far from the colourful lights at night adorning the streets, roads and buildings, the general mood in the country appears completely devoid of any merriment as many Nigerians complain about the high prices of foods and commodities. Many traders across the major markets in the country are seriously lamenting low patronages.

Though there has been huge human traffic around major supermarkets, markets across the country, most traders said many people who come around ended up doing window shopping as a result of their low purchasing power.

This year, according to a number of Nigerians, has been a roller coaster of ups and downs with uncertainty surrounding the economy. This followed the announcement by the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, that the federal government would introduce some austerity measures to curb the impact of the fall in oil price on the 2015 budget. There are fears already that Nigerians may witness tougher times ahead.

Just on the heels of Christmas, the price of oil – Nigeria’s major export and foreign exchange earner, fell; the naira suffered devaluation and the price of commodities gradually began to shoot up as a result of the infl ation caused by the devaluation.

Moreover, the increasing rate of non-payment of salaries has been characteristic of several corporate bodies which has dampened the hopes and plans of workers who had intended to have a momentous Christmas.

“I am not looking forward to this Christmas at all,” said Oscar Amaechi, whose disappointment at the recent turn of events has done little to inspire his confi dence about an eventful Christmas celebration.

Most people who spoke to Business Courage last week said this year’s festivities were likely to be low-keyed as whatever money people may get would be reserved for critical needs such as school fees for next year.

“Things are very tough this year,” said Banji Kolawole, a fashion designer. “For some of us, with this period of austerity, Christmas joy this year is a luxury we cannot afford, so we will rather stick to the basics and not get excited. Things are diffi cult, as most companies have been struggling to pay their workers.”

According to him, “Can you imagine that even most of my customers have been bringing clothes to sew with the promise to pay up later?”

In actual fact, many businesses have been struggling against the backdrop of an unprecedented economic downturn.

Monalisa Johnson a middleaged woman, living at Mushin area of Lagos said the festive season has since lost its glamour over the past few years and this year was likely going to be worse as cash was elusive.

“All we have now are memories of the good old days when Christmas was a time of spending big,” she recalled with nostalgia.

She said given the economic downturn in the country, one would be content if they were able to afford the basics. Spoiling the family with new clothes, sumptuous meals and other goodies was now out of the question, she said.

During this time of the year in the past, retail and clothing shops would be a hive of activity as families did Christmas shopping, but now it is business as usual with only a few shops having been adorned with colourful Christmas decorations.

A manager with an indigenous clothing shop at Ikeja Shopping Mall, but who pleaded anonymity, said times were hard and there were no prospects of realising good sales associated with the festive season.

“We are just hanging in there, but I am not sure how long we are going to hold on,” he said. “People are no longer buying clothes for Christmas like they used to do. Most people are now resorting to cheap second-hand clothes.” He lamented.

Across major markets visited in Lagos, the traders disclosed that sales had never been this bad at Christmas season, as they expressed hope that sales could pick up before December 25.

“The poor sales have made traders look like observers in the market because they watch customers do window shopping, Latifat Ojikutu, the Iyaloja of Balogun Market, said.

“Sales have been so poor, customers just come to the market for sight-seeing. Customers complain of no money, while traders have been turned to observers or bench warmers in the market.

“Business has never been this low; it is a far cry from what we experienced last year.

Folashade Balogun, a trader at the market said: “we see people walk around the market pricing goods but not buying anything. It is so painful.

“No money in circulation, sales have been very low,” Balogun said.

Femi Odusanya, Public Relations Offi cer of the Mile 12 Market, explained that although sales were low now, it would increase from next week.

Odusanya said that prices of tomatoes and pepper for now were high but might reduce by next week.

Odusanya said that the traders envisaged reduction because of the large harvest of tomatoes and pepper for the festive season. “Beginning from next week, tomatoes and pepper, there will be high infl ux of these items into Lagos. The tomatoes and pepper were planted for the Xmas season,” he said.

At the Mile 12 Market, a basket of tomato now goes for N8,000 as against N4,000 it sold last week, while tatashe (a type of pepper) now cost N6,000 as against N4,500.

A carton of frozen turkey goes for N7,300 while chicken cost N6,400. A 100kg bag of groundnut, sorghum and soya beans remained the same at N17,000, N7,000 and N13,500, respectively.

At Balogun Market, the prices of children’s clothing and ladies’ shoes increased by at least 25 percent from their prices some weeks back.

A pair of kid shoes, which sold for N3,000, now sells for N4,000, while a girl’s quality gown goes for N7,000 from N5,000.

Human hair extension sells for N4,500, from N3,500 per pack while synthetic hair extension increased from N900 to N1,300 per pack.

Similarly, ladies heels and wedge shoes which ranged from N5,000 now cost N6,500, while beauty products also had marginal increment of N300.

Also, a chain accessory which goes for N2,500 has increased to N3,500, while a pair of ladies and children’s jeans increased to N2,200 from N1,700.

Abimbola Durosimi, a dealer in children’s clothes at Docemo Market on Lagos Island attributed the price change to increase in the exchange rate.

“The exchange rate has increased from what we used to buy. More so, it’s not readily available as most of us buy from the black market. “Based on this, the difference will defi – nitely refl ect in the prices of the items,” Durosimi said.

The survey revealed that sellers of hampers or gift packs were most affected by the poor sales.

“I have sold only three packs. Look at your time; it is about 2 p.m.

“The same is applicable to my colleagues. We hope it will be better next week,” Abosede Ojo, a gift pack seller, said. At the Ijora Ram Market, the traders also complained of poor sales.

They envisage that sales might be low this Xmas because of the low patronage recorded at this period. A big goat goes for between N20,000 and N30,000 while the prices of the smaller ones range from N8,000 to N18,000. Alhaji Ibrahim Kulkul, one of the ram sellers, explained that prices would rise as Xmas approached.

Also, Vincent Okpara, a seller of shoes at Alade Market, Ikeja, ascribed the increase in price to the high cost of transportation and changes in the prices of goods from the manufacturers.

At Daleko Market in Mushin, the price of a 50 kg bag of imported rice like Mama Gold and Caprice ranges from N10,200 to N10,500, while Uncle Chef goes for N7,400.

However, a rice seller at Daleko Market, Alhaja Adijat Okunola, disclosed that the price of rice might soon increase in the market, due to its high demand during festive period.

Meanwhile, a N120kg bag of Olo 2 beans sells for N23,500, while the 60kg of honey beans goes for N13,000.

Emmanuel Abuchi, a beans seller at Daleko Market, said that the price of beans had been fl uctuating in the market. “The price of beans has not been stable in the market. The 120kg bag of beans that goes for N23, 500 today was sold at N25,000 last week,” Abuchi said.

At the Whitesand Market in Ajah, 25 litres of vegetable oil goes for N5,900, while 25 litres of palm oil goes for N6,300 and the drum goes for N49,500.

A 60kg bag of garri cost N5,500 at various markets, while 4-litre-measurement of garri sells for N300.

Some of the On-line shopping companies like Jumia, Lego, Kara and othersare offering between 25 percent to 44 percent discounts in some cases for some of the products put out for sale but, business activities are also very low despite the fact that such large discounts are being offered.

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