Sunday Magazine

Harsh economy: Nigerians groan over soaring living cost

On a daily basis, insecurity is facing and threatening human existence. While the World faces general insecurity about human life and safety, it is also battling “food crises or insecurity” by the side. As a matter of fact, food insecurity is not a side battle any longer. It is actually the main battle threatening lives of both the rich and the poor. In this report, OLUWATOSIN OMONIYI reports that except urgent measures are taken, hunger could become the fastest killer in Nigeria and other developing countries

 

 

Global Food crises

Food crisis, which has gone global, is now the topic on almost every lip, not in positive light but in chorus of thoughts that, “food prices have gone incredibly up,” or that, “standard of living is becoming difficult on daily basis,” e.t.c.

 

There is no one in the world, particularly in Nigeria, that does not have a sad tale to tell regarding standard of living and prices of foodstuff increment. It has become a sensitive issue that will require delicate intelligence and concerted efforts to tackle.

 

Some industries, companies and firms are no longer vibrant and bouncing. There is no sector of the economy that is currently pleasant or favourably disposed to most Nigerians, especially small and medium scale entrepreneurs. Almost everything has gone up in price and quantity.

 

From essential commodities, foodstuff, transportation to houses, among many other things. People grumbled that they can no longer afford decent feeding and shelter. Foods that were mainly considered foods of the poor have somewhat been snatched from them with high price, thereby making it out of their reach. Commodities like kerosene, which was around N150 per litre, gradually went up to N350 and eventually landed at N800 per litre as at the time of writing this report.

 

 

Beans jumped from N750 to N2,300 and N3,300 per paint rubber measure depending on the type of beans (Oloyin or Olotu). A tuber of yam has turned gold that a common individual cannot easily afford any longer. An embarrassing scenario occurred at the West African Food Market-Mile 12, where two persons fought over a long tuber of yam.

 

The seller sold a tuber of yam to a woman and man. The yam cost N1, 200. The woman had only N500 while the man had more than that but not up to N1200. The seller shared the tuber into two equal parts for both of them. The man felt cheated and protested that since he was paying more than the woman, he deserved the larger share of the yam.

 

The woman also protested that although she was paying less than the man, it was the tiny part given to her… For those who regularly patronise the popular Mile 12 market, it is a common knowledge that one can get a tuber of yam there for as low as N750 then but not anymore.

 

The cheapest tiny tuber of yam now goes for N1, 500. While a set of five tubers of yam was N2,500, it now goes for N5,500 in the market.

Hell for Salary Earners

Salary has lost its power completely in the face of an inflated economy. Humanity is gradually giving way to meanness and callousness, friends and families turning against each while good gestures also are also gradually thinning out. Roadside beggars are not left out of the ordeal of the economy. They no longer feel the generosity of alms givers.

 

According to Hadiz Haleri, a guide for her aged and blind uncle, sitting by OPIC bus stop along Lagos/ Ibadan Express way, life seems no longer pleasant. Sitting among a handful of beggars on that axis, she said they no longer receive alms as they used to. Even packaged cooked foods have become scarce and now turned into essential commodity.

 

Many small, medium and major scale operators have retired inside the privacy of their homes wondering on the next line of actions to take. Some believed it is a temporary situation, hoping for a soonest intervention. Mrs Abidemi Salawu, who has been a baker for 15 years, told Sunday Telegraph that, the current Nigerian economy forced her to quit business.

 

She said: “I have to quit, shut down the large bakery sitting on a five plots of land with over 100 workers. Although, inflation has been a consistent experience in Nigeria, for the past four years and in the last one year especially, it has been a more terrible experience.”.

 

The economy, she stressed, has really gone bad. She said she had to stop production of bread about eight months ago due to high cost of production, especially as she could no longer pay her workers’ salaries. She added that Diesel costs N800 while a bag of Sugar now costs N28,000 from N18,000 that she was used to buying. She explained that her oven is the big type that requires both diesel and electricity to heat up.

 

Ordinarily, to warm the oven, she said it takes about diesel worth between N12,000 and N14,000 for that, before going into proper full production which takes both electricity and continuous use of diesel. According to her, a large loaf of bread now, from the baker to the depot goes from N550 to N600 while from the depot (distributors and suppliers) to consumers goes for N700 and N900 and in some cases, N1000, depending on the cost of production as at the time of production.

 

“Otherwise, there will be no profit for both bakers and distributors. Before now, my total expenditure for production for a week was not more than N45,  000. Not like that anymore. It is not less than N100, 000 or N150, 000 weekly with minimal profit, not enough to cater for the production materials and salaries.

 

Upon that, my money is trapped and I cannot produce a less quality bread because we are talking about human beings here,” she said. She however implored the Nigeria government to bring down the general prices of commodities, look into the issue of foreign exchange, “because everything we use in baking, especially wheat for the flour are all imported….. I even went for a small gas oven for production of small bread (@ N250) but the price, N900,000 chased me thousands of miles backwards.

 

As it is, everything is put on hold till the economy looks brighter,” she said. Visiting the popular spare parts market, Ladipo Market area of Lagos State, one of the market leaders popularly addressed as Prince Gozie told Sunday Telegraph that the economy is biting harder on them as dealers and importers of vehicles and spare parts.

 

Reason, they in Ladipo market want a better government who is versed in economy and would be more sensitive towards the plight of the people and economy of the country. He explained that the landing cost of spare parts container was put between N2.7million and N3million but now it costs N6million.

 

“Consequently, it trickles down to the consumers, who will also bear the cost. It also takes eternity to clear now unlike before that when it took two to three days,” he said.

Gozie explained further that, it’s quite unfortunate the increased tariff has impacted their businesses adversely, more quite unfortunate that there is complain channels for them at the Port. “Instead of the officers at the port to do their diligent works at the port, they are rather more willing to count demurrage and look for excuse to seize con- tainers of goods.

 

Adebayo Idowu, MD/CEO Medallion Gold Limited, a private firm, described the economy as free fall, starting from rising cost of doing business in the country, due to inadequate infrastructure, like roads, power etc. He added that to the dearth of foreign exchange earnings to booster required level of production. “Business financing funds are not readily available from our banking institutions.

 

Where we have them, the interest rates are far from being business friendly,” he said. This, he said, was barely enabling businesses to live from hand to mouth, adding that growth is not easy to come by, except for contractual short-term government contracts. He also pointed out that there is wide abundance of untrained staff simply because most businesses cannot afford trainings and staff development, including lack of Power (energy).

All these listed are the big limitations to progressive economy, thereby, forcing business owners to invest in power generation with fueling and repairs as ever rising recurrent expenditures.

He however suggested government’s support, in term of bailout reliefs basically, export deficient economy and the need for technological improvement.

Affording food is gold in Nigeria now

 

The song titled, ‘It’s a hard life we dey live for Naija’ by Black Face has become the reality of an average Nigerian presently. Every day, the prizes of commodities increase, especially prizes of food.

The hike in prizes affects both rich and an average earner, who on daily basis in the society, are gradually finding themselves in a more desperate situation. Describing how difficult it is to afford a balanced diet of a daily square meal, Omowunmi Sodipo, a young mother and hairstylist, said that concoction rice (local jollof rice) cooked with very little manageable ingredients, used to be the cheapest meal to cook with just N500.

 

“Back then, one cup of (called a Derica of rice) of rice was N180 to N200. Then, you can buy vegetable oil of N50, smoked fish N100, maggi and salt N50 with pepper, but now, a large cup of rice is now N550. You can no longer get a bottle of vegetable oil for N100 because it’s now N500. There is no more smoked fish of N100 but cheapest of N450.

 

Even if you go for eggs, one egg is now N80. No protein to add to food anymore. There is no mentioning of tomatoes and pepper, at least, N500 worth will be manageable. They practically count two or three tomatoes when you are buying between N200 and N500.

 

“Beans would have been the best option but to cook beans is expensive. With the price of a bottle of kerosene at N700 per litre, the kerosene would finish before the beans cooks well, while rice cooks faster and that is why it easy for poor people like us to afford it. Now the rich has taken that away from us as well.

What else can we eat? I cry every morning trying to think of ways to feed my children. I am really desperate. At this rate, currently in the county, N2000 cannot feed a family in one day,” she said.

 

Another woman, Chioma Obieku, lamented that she took N15, 000 to market around Iyana Ipaja to buy soup ingredients. All she could squeeze out was to buy ingredients for just one soup. “It’s really heartbreaking. I don’t know if the rich don’t want the poor to exist anymore. If N15,000 cannot cook at least two pots of food for you, then those of us earning minimum wage are in serious trouble. I see my friends in serious debts with loan sharks. It’s not that they are using the money for anything else. They are using it to buy food.

 

Affording food now is like trying to buy gold.” “Most children don’t go with snacks to school anymore. There is hardly any Juice pack that is N50. There are no biscuits that are N10. Let’s just say that all these are sugar and children don’t need them. How can you afford fruits? One apple is N100, even oranges are N50 for one”.

Government needs to wake up to people’s plights

A Christian leader, Archbishop John Osa- Oni, General Overseer of Vineyard Christian Ministries, while lamenting the level of hardship stated: “The Nigeria today is filled with hardship. We went somewhere for birthday celebration of a friend. You need to see the level of hunger expressed by some young people at the party. You can be eating and look away and someone carries it away immediately. People are terribly hungry and this is so bad.

 

“The economic indices are not working for Nigeria. You know how much Pounds or Euros go for? Things are not the way they ought to be. Even the local farmers producing the food are undernourished. Who is looking into their plights? They are not even enjoying the benefits of farming.

If the problems of hunger, electricity, good roads and hospitals get fixed; Nigeria will get better. Nigerians are not asking for much- just give them stable electricity, good roads, hospitals and make food affordable. “There is no African country as resolute as Nigeria. I believe our government needs to wake up. I share hundreds of bread loaves every Sunday.

At a time, we were sharing on Wednesday but when we could not sustain it, we started sharing only on Sundays. Sometimes, we need over N500, 000 for the bread. Then bread was not as expensive as it is now where a loaf is about N500.

 

We keep sharing food items like bread, rice and you need to see people scampering to get their portions. This shows the level of poverty and hunger in the society.” Recently a two-day protest took the street      of Ghana over economic hardship and rising inflation. The people in their hundreds thronged the streets to express their displeasure over the country’s situation.

 

The demonstration, according to agency reports, was a two-day protest led by local lobby group “Arise Ghana,” to denounce the economic hardships. The Ghanaian people’s protests were anchored on fuel price hikes, a tax on electronic payments and other levies, just as the country struggled with an economic downturn. Findings showed that a litre of petrol in Ghana as of 20 June 2022, sold at 10.23 Ghanaian cedis (GHS), corresponding to roughly 1.29 U.S. dollars, equivalent to N535.50 in Nigeria.

 

The report said that Ghanaians have been witnessing record inflation, occasioned by the fallout of the Ukraine war amid cuts in government spending to check debt crisis. Prior to the protest, Ghana’s economic growth slowed to 3.3 per cent year-on-year in the first quarter and inflation hit a new record of 27.6 per cent in May despite sweeping spending cuts and other measures to redress the financial situation.

 

Also, the West African gold, oil and cocoa producer is also grappling with high debt and a depreciating local currency. Amid its impending debt crisis, the Ghanian government has consistently ruled out asking the International Monetary Fund for assistance, according to the report.

 

Sunday Telegraph observed that the rising cost of living is becoming excruciatingly intolerable to human existence. The alarming situation is such that the N30, 000 (less than $72) minimum wage is insufficient to meet the monthly value of basic foodstuffs of an individual or an entire family.

 

Experts speak

Christine Umoekereka, author and founder of “Our Collective Contribution To The Decadence In Nigeria” and Early Intervention Health Foundation respectively, believes that Nigeria economy, if not take into consideration urgently could lead to rows of deaths among its citizens.

She explains  at length that the primary cause of death in Nigeria will soon be none other than hunger. She said that, “very soon, the primary cause of a death will be written as, “hunger” in Nigeria. According to her, hunger has serious effects on the entire body, and extreme hunger affects our organs due to the lack of essential nutrients, vitamins, protein and minerals.

A severe hunger can result in death. “The high cost of food has been a global concern even before the Coronavirus pandemic. However, the cost of food is even more severe and unaffordable for majority of the masses in certain underdeveloped nations across the globe, such as Nigeria.

This is largely due to some inherent factors such as mismanagement of public funds in the country, corruption, non-accountability, poor agricultural planning and lack of food program for the poor people. In addition, the increased rise of insecurity in the nation has had significant impact on food production. Farmers are no longer safe in the country to go to farm.

 

This food challenge is worse off for the most vulnerable people even before the Coronavirus pandemic hit. Nigeria had about approximately 10 – 15 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in 2020. I guess the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance has continued to rise.”

She continued: “Food prices have risen beyond what an average salary earner in Nigeria can afford these days. Everything is up from meat, fish, garri, beans, rice, vegetable, to likes like flour and cooking oil. Growing number of Nigerians are struggling with the rising cost of food as prices for basics like bread among other common commodities are becoming unaffordable.

 

Very soon in Nigeria, the primary cause of death on a death certificate will be written as “hunger” not a medical condition. The increasing rising of prices of food indicates that hunger and food insecurity are increasing across Nigeria with lowest Nigerians income earners hit hardest by inflation.

 

It’s really hard to hear just how many people in the country are struggling to feed their families. Nigerians are crying of hunger over the last decades. The rising food prices have forced our people to eat less than they need or completely go without any food.” She concluded.

According to experts, the country needs a scheme where the government, organisations and well-to-do Nigerians would provide an intervention in helping with donations for food to the communities.

 

As for our government, an urgent policy and programmes should be in place targeting solving the food crisis. Some families cannot afford to feed their children decently and healthily. As researched by some scientists, children who experience hunger from a very young age tend to struggle academically and have a lower IQ when compared to the academic performance of well-nourished children.

 

The effects of hunger and malnutrition are not only damaging, but can also be irreversible. Apart from discomfort, hunger also causes serious health issues, which is why ensuring that everyone, children especially and the less privileged has access to free or affordable food they need to live a long and healthy life. It is such a critical issue that calls for an urgent attention from the various sectors to provide assistance cum solutions.

 

UNICEF

Several researches made by various groups on the impact of food price spikes in Nigeria found that the volatility of food prices influence household food consumption patterns. There are two pathways for this. Households reduce the amount of food purchased which will ultimately result in a drop in the total calorie intake.

 

Households may also shift spending from expensive staples to cheaper ones, the so-called substitution effect. Owing to global hunger crisis, there was an alarming message recently, from UN Children’s Fund UNICEF; that every single minute, one child is pushed into life-threatening  and severe malnutrition.

 

The agency issued the alert for 15 countries in crisis where the situation is worsening. Meanwhile, UNICEF has called for $1.2 billion to meet urgent needs of eight million children at risk of death from severe hunger, in 15 mainly African nations, such as Burkina Faso, Chad, Kenya, Somalia and Sudan.

 

Others include Afghanistan and Haiti. The UN agency stressed that the number of desperately hungry children suffering from severe hunger has continued to grow, in the countries where it has raised the alarm. “Between January and June, that number increased by well over 250,000, from 7.67 million to 7.93 million children,” it stated.

Also, UNICEF warned that the price spike has left up to 600,000 additional children “without access to life-saving treatment and at risk of death”. UNICEF Executive Director, Catherine Russell, said that, “food aid is critical, but we cannot save starving children with bags of wheat. We need to reach these children now with therapeutic treatment before it is too late.”

Russell explained that soaring food prices driven by the war in Ukraine, persistent drought due to climate change in some countries, at times combined with conflict, and the ongoing economic impact of COVID-19, are driving up food and nutrition insecurity worldwide, resulting in catastrophic levels of severe malnutrition in children under 5.

‘Lethal’ lack of nutrition Severe wasting – where children are too thin for their height – is the most visible and lethal form of under nutrition. Weakened immune systems increase the risk of death among children under 5 by up to 11 times, compared to well-nourished children.

 

Within the 15 countries highlighted as most at risk by UNICEF, the agency estimates that at least, 40 million children are severely nutrition insecure, meaning they are not receiving the bare minimum diverse diet they need to grow and develop in early childhood. Furthermore, 21 million children are severely food insecure, meaning they lack access to enough food to meet minimum food needs, leaving them at high risk of severe wasting.

 

Economists’ views Professor Sheriffdeen Tella in a phone chat with Sunday Telegraph said that the Nigerian economy has collapsed and will need a total and urgent revamp. He asserts that Nigeria is more of a consuming country than productive, even the country’s products, he said are not competitive. According to the Economist, the cost of production in Nigeria is not friendly at all going from electricity to fuel, diesel and others. He said the country needs to move forward through a rebooting system.

“We need a strong, focused leader, a president that has a vision of developing Nigeria, not his or her family and a clique of loyalists; a strong-willed leader that governance cannot be hijacked from, by a clique of sycophants.

 

We need a party with a clearly recognised ideological stand that can be pinned down to one of the global political ideologies.” In one of the national dailies, Prof. Tella stressed his points that rebooting Nigeria is not all about the leadership or vision; it is that everyone has a role to play.

“Since the rot we live with today was generated by the leaders and the followers, it is not about the economy alone but the political economy.

 

It is not about the president and his team but also about the governors and their teams, the legislature, the judiciary, the media, the professionals and the not-so-professionals, as well as the common man whose quest for money will make him sell his conscience for N500 at the polling booth or kill a fellow struggling human being for money ritual,” he asserted.

 

Also recently, during the Vanguard newspapers economic discourse, Professor David- west, one of the panelists stressed the need to look forward to technology to drive the transformation of the nation’s economy. David-west corroborated Idowu (the CEO of Medallion Gold) that technology has the capacity to transform the ailing Nigerian economy, saying the recent events on social media have shown that technology has the capacity to transform the economy, if right infrastructure is put in place. According to David-west, technology brings about change and can help in the transformation of other sectors.

 

She said: “We don’t need mere policies pronouncement. We need digital infrastructure to achieve a digital economy that works. We need digital infrastructure across the 774 local government areas of this country,” she said. •Additional reports from Ifeoma Ononye and Chinyere Abiaziem

 

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