Bleak Christmas! Nigerians Lament


Lagos, Nigeria, December 16, 2017//- – “It is one week to Christmas and the air still feels like June. All my years, this year is the worst Christmas season I have experienced. On the 5th of December, 2016, I had done all my shopping. The remaining days before Christmas was to pick up things I forgot to add to my list. Today is December 5, 2017 and I am yet to buy a pin for my family. I have not received three months salaries. We, as the school board, had to cancel Christmas party because most parents are yet to meet up with completion of their ward’s school fees.”

These were the words of Mrs. Olajide, a headmistress of a nursery and primary school situated in Ogun State. She shared the story with a downcast look and disappointed tone. Her story reflects same feelings by many Nigerians. As the yuletide draws close, many families should be preparing to have a jolly holiday with new clothings, stocked pantries and enough spending money to go out and have fun.

Though, this will not be the first time that the Christmas mood is tainted with hardship for many, it seems to be worse this year, if what many of the people we spoke with about their situation said, are true.

Many Nigerians like Mrs. Olajide are groaning rather than being merry in this festive season. Once upon a time, December used to be the most anticipated month of every year. December is fast becoming the most dreaded month of the year. Families are worried if they would meet up with the expectations of their family.

“Anytime I hear Christmas songs being played, my heart skips a bit. I wish we could go back to October because I am not prepared. By now, I should be thinking of where to take my wife and children this season, but at the moment that is the last thing on my mind. Thank God I bought clothes for them last month but I cannot afford to get them new shoes. I have not even paid their school fees,” Tony Nwanne, a car dealer in Lagos says.

December should be the month to balance the accounts and prepare for a new year. Gradually, the constant wind of man-made circumstances is taking away the excitement that makes looking forward to December interesting.

Apart from the crippling economy, which is not showing any sign of leaving the recession regardless of what the government declares, many states also owe workers numerous months in salaries and are yet to pay. This also increases the gloom these workers will face these holidays.

According to an online publication, Bayelsa State was leading in indebtedness to local council workers with between 10 to 16 months, followed by Kogi between seven to 15 months; Delta State eight to 14 months.

“Kaduna 12 months; Oyo three to 11 months; Edo 10 months; Abia five to nine months; Kwara two to nine months; Benue nine months and Nasarawa seven months.

“Ondo, Ekiti, Imo with six months; Zamfara have not implementing minimum wage, Adamawa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Ebonyi, Plateau owing four months, Taraba and the almighty FCT is also owing three months.

Ahmed (does not want to reveal surname) who works in a state owned hospital in Kogi says he hopes the governor pays up their salaries soon as things have become critical on the home front. “I beg Governor Yahaya to be merciful on us. The state is making money, the state is getting allocation, all the government executives are being paid, the only ones suffering are we the foot soldiers. I beg the governor to do something about this issue”, he said.

Privately owned companies have taken a sip from the stream the government owned companies have been swimming in. Some private owned companies also owe their staff months in salaries while some have also laid off numerous staff.

For example, Hygeia HMO has reportedly sacked fifty of its staff in recent times.  According to inside sources, the company has been facing financial struggles as it has lost some of its major clients. An insider also said that the company has been finding it hard to pay entitlements of some of their sacked staff, which has led to messy court cases. Hygeia used to be Nigeria’s foremost HMOs.

Small business owners are also not finding the situation funny. Crayfish supplier and mother of four, Getrude, agrees with Mrs. Olajide that many parents were yet to meet up with their children school fees until exams started. She explained that she knew a few families who struggled through this term and so are grateful for being alive.

“For these families, I believe the bells are not jiggling for them this season,” she said. She says she too is struggling as sales, which she had expected to peak at this season has not and in fact her “customers are not demanding quantities that they usually do.”

A little tour around Lagos city showed little or no sign of the festivities that usually saturates the air when Christmas season is near.

Many streets that are usually lighted up and decorated from second week in November looked as gloomy as they were in every other month of the year.

Most commercial banks, whose decorations serve as a reminder to other residents that the season of merry is upon us, seem to have joined the gloomy trend. Those that managed to decorate did it scantily and shabbily.

Also, a regular feature on the streets of Lagos seems to be non-existent this year —the poultry seller. Usually as December closes in, you find people trying to cash in on the season setting up temporary stands where they sell live chicken and turkey. You will find such stand in almost every intersection you pass by. This time around, there is no such thing. This reporter could not find one as she traverses major areas in Ikeja, Lagos.

The only place she found one was at Yaya Abatan Road in Ogba. Just last year, there were over six of such stands on that same road.

Speaking with the owner of a chicken stall, he says, he regrets even setting up in the first place.

“I don’t blame the rest for not selling this year. My wife also used to open her own stall down this road every Christmas season, but this year, we decided to just have this one. I am even regretting the decision. Nobody is buying and these things (chickens) are expensive. I buy one at N1, 500, last year, it was just N900 from the far. I pay to transport them here and I also need to feed them four times a day. At the end, I sell for N3, 000 yet people are not buying. At N3, 000 I am already selling at a loss because I spend so much to keep them.

“I can tell you that I have only sold two. All I have been getting is promises. They will pass and say that I should keep one for them yet, they do not come back to buy. I have told them that anyone who wants me to keep anything should pay first,” James, the chicken monger says.

Businessmen and women who usually relish in festive season like Christmas because of high demand of food items and fashion items are complaining bitterly about low turnout of customers.

A boutique owner in Surulere, Lagos, Anayo Ugo lamented that since he displayed his goods on clearance sale, he is yet to make a reasonable sale. “The idea of the sale is for people to take advantage of the reduced price and buy as many as possible. We want to have new stock so we are selling below the cost price, yet we are not making sales. We have made the prices so low, I just don’t understand.”

The story is not different in Enugu State. Chinelo Nnenna, a rice seller in Kenyata market in Enugu said he was not happy with the turnout this Christmas. “Things seem to be going at a slow pace unlike the Christmas season we used to know. There are very few people buying rice in bags while many others prefer to go for local rice, which is far cheaper than foreign rice, this year is the worst,” he says.

From Oreoluwa, a seven-year-old boy’s point of view, if he has not started hearing the loud sound of fireworks, then Christmas is not close by. “It is not like Christmas before when we will be throwing banger.”

Despite the few days leading to Christmas, some are still hoping for a miracle. Fade who works for a media house in Lagos says, “I am just hoping for a miracle this time around. I am yet to do my Christmas shopping; I am yet to buy anything for my children. I just hope something happens.”   According to her, she is being owed five months’ salary by her employers.

Some, however, have taken the situation as it is and are already planning to live with what they already have. Mrs. Afolabi, a tailor advises, “One should be grateful to God for being alive.  The situation has one solution — cut down on expenses. If you used to eat five chicken laps, reduce it to three and if there is no money for chicken, then manage fish,” she says.

Already, it is looking like a gloomy Christmas.


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