President Muhammadu Buhari
Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari

…Next year will be tougher — warns Buhari

By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA

The Christmas season used to be a time for festivities among Christian faithful with many people looking up to the celebration with great expectations and enthusiasm.

However, this year’s event is turning out to be an exception, with things looking gloomy for many Nigerians families.

Economic hardship coupled with several extraneous factors, have conspired to put them in terrible conditions, promising to make the season an agonising one.

Less than a week to this year’s celebration, Business Hallmark’s findings across the nation revealed that the usual expectations, preparations and frenzy that usually accompany the season are largely missing.

In its place, the atmosphere is that of frustration, apprehension, grumbles and hopelessness among Nigerians due largely to the gloomy and austere living conditions occasioned by the country’s stagnant economy.

And even the New Year may not promise better; just weekend President Buhari told state govern ors after a meeting that the economy is in bad shape and “all Nigerians should think together and work together to come out of it”.

The Christmas blues, according to findings, is not going to be limited to only Christians, but to Muslims and traditional worshippers who usually bask in the atmosphere of merriments with their fellow Christians.

Though, Nigeria came out of recession fifteen months ago, according to figures released by the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in September 2017, the recovery had been slow and largely ineffective.

Also, the recovery, which was driven by improved performance of the oil, agriculture, manufacturing and trade sectors of the economy, has been eroded by dwindling oil revenue, the recent flood disaster that destroyed millions of hectares of farmlands, high cost of production, namely energy and transportation, weakening naira, as well as weak government fiscal and monetary policies.

Checks revealed that several business concerns that couldn’t cope with the hostile operating environment had closed shops. The trend is not abating with many more firms daily quitting business. In the last one year, several companies, both local and international have closed shops, throwing millions of Nigerians into the unemployment market.

According to the last unemployment report released by the NBS, out of a total active labour force of 85.08 million people in Nigeria, about 16 million people were unemployed in the third quarter of 2017 and the figure is rising.

The report said the category of unemployed persons comprised 8.5 million people “who engaged in an economic activity for at least an hour” and 7.5 million people “who did absolutely nothing”.

Also, 18.02 million people were underemployed, as they worked for 20 to 39 hours a week, which is less than the 40 hours required to be classified among the workforce.

Fully employed persons, who worked for 40 hours and above in the third quarter of 2017 were 51.06 million people, resulting in a total of 77.6 million people engaged in an extent of economic activity.

The report said among the 77.6 million people who were engaged in some extent of economic activity, 29.66 million people were self-employed, engaged in agriculture and 21.66 million were self-employed in non-agricultural sectors.

About 19.72 million were working for pay or wage, which, is equivalent to 25.42 per cent of the total workers in the third quarter of 2017, while paid apprentices and unpaid house workers constituted 7.30 per cent and 1.11 per cent of the total working force engaged for at least one hour a week.

The report also revealed that more men worked full-time than women, while a higher percentage of female worked part-time between 20-39 hours and below 20 hours per week.

“A larger percentage of men to women were self-employed in the agricultural sector, while a larger percentage of women were self-employed in non-agricultural areas of work”, the report said.

Economic experts however argue that though the figures were for last year, current figures should be higher. Meanwhile, the NBS has not been able to undertake another unemployment census due to non-availability of funds from the Federal Government.

In October 2017, the World Bank painted a gloomy picture of what Nigerians were passing through when it announced her new poverty indices.

In the report, it defined extreme poverty as living on less than $1.90 a day and set the poverty benchmark for Nigeria at $3.2 per day, because it falls in the category of low middle-income countries. Nigeria, Egypt and India are grouped together.

For the upper middle-income countries like South Africa or Jamaica, poverty benchmark is $5.50 a day while for high income countries; it is now $21.70 per day.

Before the World Bank classification, the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics had said in 2016 that 72 million Nigerians were living below poverty level of $2 per day. With this new classification, however, Nigerians living in poverty might have ballooned to 87.2 million of the 196 million population, according to recent World Bank report, making Nigeria the poverty capital of the world..

Owing to the harrowing experiences they are facing in the country, many Nigerians have continued to flee the shores of the country. Unfortunately, most of them did not succeed in the quest of seeking greener pasture abroad.

The Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) said in a report obtained by BH that no fewer than 10,000 Nigerians died between January and May 2017 while trying to illegally migrate through the Mediterranean Sea and the deserts. These Nigerians were on their way to Europe to escape unemployment and poverty.

According to the NIS Assistant Comptroller, Training and Manpower, Mr. Maroof Giwa, 4,900 died in the Mediterranean Sea while the rest died while going through the desert in their bid to reach Europe.

In November 2017, a report by International Organisation for Migration (IOM) revealed how Nigerian migrants were sold for $400 in Libya. CNN also released a documentary detailing a well-organised syndicate where male immigrants were sold to work in farms and mines while ladies were sold as sex workers.

Despite the unfavourable conditions, however, many Nigerians still prefer to travel abroad, even to Libya, rather than staying home.

According to the General Medical Council (GMC) of United Kingdom, as of July 2017, over 4,765 Nigerian medical doctors were working in that country. This is in spite of the fact that Nigeria has a 1 to 3,500 doctor to patient ratio.

An official of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), OlayiwolaOdusote, recently said that at least 40,000 of the 75,000 registered Nigerian medical doctors are practising outside Nigeria. Many of those who qualified more than six years ago in Nigeria are still seeking employment, he said.

An economist, Dr. Hakeem Oyelaran, who lectures at the Osun State University (OSU),while speaking with our correspondent on phone from Osogbo, said that with 34 million out of total labour force population of 85.1 million not fully employed by September 2017, Nigerians should expect a more distressing unemployment figures by the NBS when it releases its latest figures in 2019.

While many Nigerians have lost and are daily losing their means of livelihood, the cost of living has continued to soar beyond their means.The National Bureau of statistics (NBS) last Friday released the latest Consumer Price Index (CPI), which measures inflation. The NBS report said inflation increased to 11.28 per cent (year-on-year) in November 2018 from 11.26 per cent recorded in October.

According to the bureau, the figure is 0.02 per cent points higher than the rate recorded in October. On a month-on-month basis, the NBS said the headline index increased by 0.80 per cent in the period under review by 0.06 per cent points from the rate recorded in October (0.74 per cent).

It said the percentage change in the average composite CPI for the 12 months period ended November over the average of CPI for the previous 12 months period. It, however, measured the CPI at 12.41 per cent in the period under review, showing a 0.37 per cent decline from 12.78 per cent recorded in October.

The bureau said that increases were recorded in all Classification of Individual Consumption by Purpose (COICOP) divisions that yielded the Headline index.

A market survey conducted by BH across the six zones of the country showed that prices of goods have soared and are rising every day. The average price of a 50kg bag of rice in Lagos and Ogun States is N17,000 for Aroso (Caprice) and N16,000 for Agric. Meanwhile, a Derica cup measurement sells for between N220 and N280, depending on the brand.

Our correspondent gathered that the high cost of rice in the country, particularly in Lagos and the South West, was due mainly to the unavailability of LAKE Rice, a Lagos-Kebbi States collaboration brand of local rice.

Visits to some of the major markets and distribution outlets within the state showed that there were no LAKE Rice on display or in stock for sale to consumers.

Some retail traders at major markets and distributors of the product said that they had yet to restock after exhausting the stocks they had since September and October. One of the distributors, Mrs. Augustina Nwanze, said she was still expecting new stocks which she had ordered for since October.

“I paid for new stocks of the product but unfortunately they had yet to be delivered. Once I receive a phone call from Alausa to come and pick the products, I will go and pick them.

The delivery is usually on first come first serve, so l am waiting for my turn,” Nwanze said. Another distributor, Mrs. Bimbo Ogun, said she ran out of stocks since early November.

“Since then, I have been waiting for new supplies from the state secretariat.The product is not readily available like the foreign rice. The state government is still fine-tuning ways to flood the market with the product.

“I have been telling my customers to be patience as the product will soon be available, especially since it is festive season, “she said.

Ogun explained that she sold the rice along with the other goods, saying that now that the product was not available, other goods had been sustaining her.

A senior member of staff in the state Ministry of Agriculture who pleaded anonymity, said that the product was not available now for sale to the public.

“There has been some logistics challenge which accounted for the delay and scarcity of the rice. “However, the ministry is working hard to make sure that the product is available especially during the festive season.

“For now, we are appealing to the distributors and customers to bear with us. A 50kg bag of LAKE Rice sells for N12, 000; 25 kg at N6,000; and 10kg goes for N3,000,” he said.

BH however gathered that the scarcity was due the destruction of rice paddies in Kebbi and other Northern states by flood that ravaged the nation recently. A source confided in our correspondent that Kebbi’s portion of the rice grains destroyed during the flooding was 75%.

“Kebbi alone accounts for 75% of the rice paddies destroyed in the entire country during the flood disaster”, the source disclosed.

Due to the scarcity of the local brand which resulted in under supply, marketers have increased the prices of other brands, making it unaffordable for poor Nigerians.

“Don’t be surprised if a bag of rice sells for as much as N20,000 by Christmas”, a trader at the popular Daleko Market in Lagos said.

The prices of other goods such as beans, groundnut oil, frozen foods, sugar, flour, beverages and drinks have gone up. For example, a crate of bottled Bigi carbonated drinks (Cola, Apple, Orange and others) which sold for between N850 and N900, now sells for between N950 and N1,050, depending on locations.

A Derica cup of beans is sold for between N300 and N370. A 5litre keg of vegetable oil sells for between N2,000 and N3,800 depending on the brand. While locally refined ones are lesser, popular brands such as Kings, Turkey and Power sell for over N3,500.

The prices of toothpastes, toilet soaps and detergents have also gone up, though slightly. A pack of Joy, Imperial Leather and Lux soap that used to sell for N500 now sell for between N550 and N600.Also, a tube of Close Up toothpaste by Unilever now sells for betweenN250 and N300 instead of its former price of N250.

Meanwhile, the situation is not all that gloomy. The price of LPG, popularly known as cooking gas, has crashed in the market. Instead of the former selling price of between N4,200 and N4,500 for a 12.5 kg cylinder in Lagos some months back, it now sells for between N3,150 and N3,800.

The cheapest cooking gas in Lagos goes for N3,150/12.5kg at NIPCO plants scattered across the state.

Many Nigerians who are fortunate to be employed, particularly public workers, are owed several months, if not years of wages, while many live on wages that cannot sustain them.

According to Trading Economics, an online platform that provides historical data, economic forecasts, news, and trading recommendations, an average Nigerian family needs a living wage of N131,700 while that of individual stands at N40,100. It also disclosed that an average highly skilled worker earns N57,200 per month while his low skilled counterpart is on N25,500 for the same period.

Like it happened during past festivities, cost of transport fares has also gone up, and is expected to soar by Christmas and New Year. The situation is particularly bad in Lagos. A trip from Ogba to CMS which used to cost N300 was N400 on Friday.

A civil servant with the Lagos State Universal Basic Education Commission (LSUBEB), Mr. Wale Olaniyan, lamented that things have been rough for him and his family in the last two months due to the ever-rising cost of living.

“My salary barely feeds my family now. I have to borrow to pay rents and school fees of my three children.

“To worsen the already bad situation, transportation cost has gone up. Many of my colleagues have parked their cars at home and are hopping on buses. You dare not go to Oshodi from Ijaiye with N1,000. You will surely be stranded. I’m on my way to Oshodi now and the trip that used to cost N200 is now N500. This is going to be a bleak Christmas,” he complained.

In Oyo, Rivers, Abuja, Kano, Abia and Anambra States, cost of transportation has gone up.

Owing to their poor economic state (low income and irregular wages), the future, not only the Christmas season is bleak for many Nigerians who live barely on minimum wage.

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