…as Customs rake in N9 billion daily
By ADEBAYO OBAJEMU
Barely weeks to Christmas, the annual celebration by Christian all over the world, the ongoing border restriction exercise ordered by the Federal Government, may impose the stiffest hardship of Nigerians as prices of some basic food items have skyrocketed, with traders and consumers appealing to President Muhammadu Buhari to reverse the order. From our investigations prices of basic items such as rice, turkey, oil and their comparative alternatives or substitutes have reached their levels in 2016-17 when the naira was reeling under devaluation and the economy in recession.
A market survey by BusinessHallmark in some major markets in Lagos State showed that the hike has not only affected foreign brands but also influenced the prices of local products due to the law of demand and supply. Items affected the most include rice, frozen foods, groundnut oil, okra, stockfish, and beverages.
At Ikotun Community Market, a 50-kilogramme bag of foreign rice, which was between N15,000 and N16,000 prior to the closure, is now between N21,000 and N23,500, while the locally-produced brand which went for N15,500 six months ago is now sold at N17,500. This is N2000 above its former price. The implication for retail buyers is that a ‘Derica’ cup of rice now costs between N350 and N400, instead of the N250/N300 for which they were purchased.
Similarly, a 25 litres of refillable groundnut oil, which sold for N8,000/N9,000, six months ago, now costs N15,000 while non-refillable costs 11,800, against the former price of N7000, which is N3800 above its former value. Frozen foods appear the most affected, as a kilogramme of frozen chicken, which sold for N1,200, now costs N1,600, while a kilogramme of frozen turkey now sells at N1,700, a whopping N400 above its former value. Meanwhile, Orobo Fryer, a local frozen chicken, commonly used by fast foods and other restaurant operators, which sold for between N800 and N900 per kilogramme, now cost N1200.
When BusinessHallmark asked why Nigerians would not patronise Orobo Fryer for its affordability, Miss Mayowa, a frozen food seller at Igando Market, another major market within Alimosho area of Lagos, said the item was very problematic. She said:
“The problem with Orobo Fryer is that you must not boil it, because if you do you will not see any part of it to eat. It becomes very soft and breaks into pieces when boiled. So, it is only fried.”
Meanwhile, a carton of frozen turkey which sold for N13,000as at August 19, was selling at N18,000 in Igando Market as at weekend. Also, a carton of chicken which was N9,500, was selling at N 14,000.
At Daleko Market, in Mushin, a rice trader, who simply identified himself as Chinedu, spoke furiously against the border closure, as he accused the government of “acting without thinking.” He said:
“The government does not think before it acts. Nigeria still cannot produce the quantity of rice needed to feed the entire country, but it went ahead to close the borders. Many locally-produced brands have tiny grains that melt quickly.
“The one I would have managed is Lake Rice, but getting it in large quantity is difficult because I was told I cannot purchase more than two bags at a time. Even the volume of Okra needed to feed this nation cannot be produced in Nigeria. We rely so much on Cotonu for okra. That is why its price has also shot up since the border was closed. A big basket of okra, which sold for N4,000 or N5,000, is now N8,000.”
Further findings by BusinessHallmark revealed that other staple foods like spaghetti, crunches, beans, and pastries were affected. Also, the survey revealed that the prices of salt, sugar, palm oil and seasonings remain as they were. At Mile 12 Market, Mr. Chike Emodi, who sells frozen foods, said the commodities are scarce in the market. He said:
‘’I have exhausted my stock and I don’t know where to get the product. A customer who usually buys fours cartons of croker fish on weekends has now resorted to this small fish called ‘’Panla” due to the scarcity of the items
In Agege, a trader Madam Ovie Elizabeth urged the government to lift the ban.
‘’Nigeria is not self-sufficient. Our government should let us have enough local foods in stock before coming up with the restrictions.”
“My fear is that I don’t know what will happen by December. If this madness continues, we the masses have no choice but to put our religious and ethnic differences aside, and go the Sudan way. This suffering is too much.”
A civil servant who identified himself as Ola, in anger complained to BusinessHallmark. Speaking to BusinessHallmark, Public Relations Officer, PRO, of Nigeria Customs Service, Joseph Attah said the exercise is not targeted at anybody but to right the wrongs of the past. He said:
‘’What we are doing has blocked the chances of smugglers who are supplying substandard items at reduced prices which may not conform to the approved standard and quality. The exercise has led to the arrest of 33 illegal migrants while over 4,000 bags of substandard rice and thousands of bails of fairly used clothes have been impounded by the Joint Task Force.
‘’Nigerians should be happy at the exercise and support the fight as we can no longer condone illegalities. The team is working in synergy with the people regardless of their civic responsibilities.’’
The Federal Government had recently closed Nigeria’s border with Benin Republic over what it described as activities of smugglers. It consequently deployed a combined team of military and para-military agencies to the borders. Last week the Controller General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali, said the agency is raking in more revenue for government more than ever, describing the closure as a blessing in disguise. According to him, the agency is making the sum of N9billion daily, which will translate to N3.3 trillion a year; this is almost double what it generated in 2018.