It was a messy weather on Wednesday; the heavy rain which began early in the morning did not end until late in the evening. The general mood at the famous Alaba International Market in Lagos was the same: morose and gloomy. As if to reinforce this, traders at the Fancy and Furniture Section were seen observing a solemn procession in honour of one of their members who died recently at the age of 41.
The market was generally quiet. The road which divides the entire space into two, and which is famed for its extreme rowdiness, was relatively free.
“The recession has affected us adversely,” Hillary Ugoji, a trader at the Electrical Section told Saturday Tribune. “No matter what any importer sells in this market, they are losing money. That’s because there is no demand. If you want to keep it and calculate it at the current rate of dollar, you can’t sell at all. Even if you increase the price and sell, you are still losing money, because you don’t sell in bulk any longer. Customers would want to buy on credit, and if you sell on credit, to get the money back is a problem.”
The middle-aged man sat on a high stool in front of his shop, a newspaper in his hands; two teenage boys sat inside, listening and smiling. Ugoji’s shop was in the middle of a long row; a sandy path which served as the main entrance to the Section separated it from a similar stretch of shops. Most of the traders stood or sat in front of their shops, chatting and laughing.
“Because of the exchange rate, when you buy goods and sell, you will not be able to buy the same quantity again,” Ugoji continued. “For instance, I received some goods last year; I calculated the rate with N400 dollar; and I decided to sell. Even for the ones I sold when I wanted to buy dollar and send to my customer over there, I bought the dollar at N440. So whatever the gain I made, I had to add it, together with some extra money; so automatically I lost. Today, if you are selling, you don’t know how much you will use to buy the dollar. So, that is the problem in the market.
“If you imported three containers last year, you can only import one now. For someone who imports with 50, 000 dollars, if he imported 50 000 dollars at the rate of 178, he got about 9 million naira; but 50 000 dollars today will be about 21.5 million naira. Every importer is losing money. And now, school fess have increased – both private and public, both university and secondary school; house rent is increasing, as well.
“Customers have reduced. If you call them they tell you there is no money. What is the time now? It is 10.30am, and we have not made any sales at all. And if you look around, you can’t see anybody in any shop there. You don’t see anybody busy writing invoice. And today is Wednesday, immediately after Sallah. It is supposed to be bubbling here. It is only at banks that you see long queues, these days. So many people are there withdrawing their savings.”
Asked if he had any suggestions for the government, he said: “I will just ask them (the government) to stabilise the naira, so that we know exactly what rate it is. Let it be steady. So that if it’s 450, you know that after selling your goods, you will still be able to buy another one.”
Face of God
Every now and then, loud shouts and clapping would erupt from different corners of the market: traders were praying.
Saturday Tribune gathered that “prayer warriors” are “contracted” on a daily basis by shop owners to conduct elaborate prayer sessions at their shops. Even though the prayer warriors do not officially demand payment for their services, it is understood that an unspecified amount is almost always offered to them.
“We have to seek the face of God in this time of trouble,” Mr Ndubuisi Ofor, a trader at a shop at Fancy and Furniture Section where prayers were going on, said. “He (God) said we should come to him with all our worries, and He would take them away.”
Unity Plaza is a large square surrounded by shops where second-hand motor parts and home appliances are sold.
Mr Godwin Eze who sat idly on a wooden bench beside his shop told Saturday Tribune that the crisis could be resolved if the President would reshuffle his cabinet.
“We are dying in silence,” he said. “We know what the solution is but we don’t want to do it. Let President Buhari reshuffle his cabinet. That is what will save us now. The situation is bad, and we are waiting for them to solve the problem; they are our leaders; that is their responsibility. If you go to the Wharf, everywhere is empty. No shipping line is coming; no container is coming, because of the dollar. Everywhere is dry. Let him reshuffle the cabinet, because we don’t know where we are heading, anymore.”
To pose for the camera, Eze rested his chin on his left hand. “I want everybody to understand that we are suffering,” he explained.
The Chairman of Unity Plaza, Pastor Eze Emmanuel, was taking a nap in a comfortable armchair in his shop when Saturday Tribune arrived.
Asked whether the economy had affected his business, he smiled and said: “Thank God you found me sleeping; so you know the answer already. Ordinarily, I am not supposed to be sleeping in my shop at this time of the day. The situation is nothing to write home about.”
Emmanuel, however, asked the Federal Government to “overlook party differences” and unite the country, because the current situation requires “all hands to be on deck.”
“It is not a party that rules or governs,” he said. “It is the people that govern; it is government of the people, by the people, and for the people. So, let us all throw away our differences for the good of all. That’s the way we can come out of this.”