High cost of foodstuffs: A new dimension of hardship

•Nigerians lament growing pains in putting food on the table

In this report by KOLA MUHAMMED and ADEOLA OTEMADE, Nigerians express disappointment at how things have turned out as daily living has become an agonising experience for the man in the street.

For the second time in three months, the Federal Government announced a hike in the cost of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), also known as petrol and it has, unsurprisingly, attracted the reactions of Nigerians over what they perceive as “a new dimension of hardship”.

After the news broke, many Nigerians looked in the direction of labour for a strong reaction but there was none until some days later when a tame reaction came. In fact, labour was still in a dialogue with the Federal Government over the last hike when the new hike came.

Before the latest increase in the cost of fuel, there was one in September which saw the pump price of petrol increase to N151.56k. The recent increase means that petrol now sells for not less than N162 per litre.

For an oil-producing country like Nigeria, many are of the opinion that the citizenry should enjoy a commodity that is in abundance at a much cheaper rate, but they are rather telling tales of frustration arising from constant hikes by successive governments.

Given that many sectors in the country rely on fuel to run, any spike in the price of petrol invariably affects the cost of other commodities, and would ultimately impact on the standard of living of Nigerians.

With the effect of the coronavirus outbreak still telling on socio-economic activities and with the Christmas season approaching, Nigerians have not held back in reacting to the further increase in the price of petrol.

A food seller who plies her trade in Owode-Ede, Osun State, Omolara Muhammed, says incessant increase in fuel price has meant that she has to buy foodstuffs at a costlier rate but is unable to reduce the quantity she sells in order to keep her customers.

“Even though I don’t directly use fuel that much, the effect is telling on everybody. The prices of foodstuffs have skyrocketed and to even transport them from the market to the shop costs more than ever before.

“For instance, we used to buy a keg of groundnut oil for between N8,000 and N10,000. Now, it’s N20,000. The price of rice is even terrifying.

“Yet, as a food seller, you can’t drastically reduce the quantity of what you sell, else you risk losing customers. Customers are fond of saying that they are not the government making life harder by the day,” she stated.

For a journalist and entrepreneur who resides in Ibadan, Oyo State, Bosede Atolagbe, the fuel price increase suggests that government knows that citizens are helpless to challenge them and would find a way to adjust.

“It’s becoming an every two-month routine now. They give the price and allow the citizens to shout and react without any action and after two months, they roll out another price, knowing full well that the citizens have no option but to buy because it is an essential commodity and the economy depends largely on it.

“And those that are supposed to fight for the citizens – the NLC and TUC – have become like an extended arm of the government. So they are not working in the interest of the workers they claim to represent.

“We are helpless and we can only shout in our living rooms. Now that the government is clamping down on protests, we don’t have any option but to rant and return to the filling stations to buy,” Atolagbe stated further.

A transport worker in Ibadan who simply wants to be identified as Akpan told Sunday Tribune that the hike in fuel price is making it inevitable for commercial bus drivers to charge passengers more.

“This whole saga of increasing the price of petrol is really frustrating. Everybody knows in this country that fuel is the one thing which can trigger every other good and service. Increasing it time after time is just making life harder for us citizens.

“We didn’t see all these coming with this government. This is not the next level we voted for. Everybody has no option but to increase prices of commodities. It costs more to fill the tanks of our vehicles, we must charge commuters more.

“For instance, when we charge traders more, they in turn will charge their customers and the cycle just continues. I hope this government realise that it is there to make life easier for us and not the other way round,” Akpan added.

A Lagos-based advertising practitioner, Adewale Aderibigbe, in his response said that the economy was already grappling with inflation, and increasing fuel price was adding insult to injury.

“It is really exasperating when a government that should protect the interest of the people turns around to make life difficult for everybody. I know the government removed the subsidy but the irony is that it was the Federal Government that announced the increase, meaning that there is funny deal between the government and the petroleum agencies.

“Ideally, the Federal Government has no business with whatever happens to fuel because they have told us that subsidy has been removed. There is inflation already. Now, increase in pump price of petrol is adding insult to injury. People are already suffering; now it is more suffering,” Aderibigbe stated.

With workers and artisans expressing anguish in the face of economic constraints, Sunday Tribune engaged the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) on its efforts in representing the interest of its members.

NLC chairman, Oyo State chapter, Comrade Kayode Martins told Sunday Tribune that the labour union is trying its best to ensure that things get easier for the people but the government has not been straightforward in dealing with them.

“The tussle between the NLC and the Federal Government did not just start recently. From the national to the state bodies, we have been doing our best to make sure the government understands the plight of the people with their policies but they have not been straightforward in dealing with us.

“Their way of doing things has been frustrating for labour leaders.”

When asked why it took long for the NLC to respond to the most recent fuel hike, Martins reiterated that government’s ways of doing things is frustrating for the union, but it remains resolute to ensure reversal of the recent policies.


Buyers and sellers also cry

Across the nation, foodstuff sellers and buyers are also lamenting bitterly, blaming transportation and COVID-19 as reasons for the high cost. Some of the major foodstuffs particularly hit by the price hike include rice, beans, onion, maize, millet, sorghum, tomato, pepper, palm oil and yam.

At the popular Kuto market in Abeokuta, a bag of beans sold between N19,000 and N23,000 in October, is now sold for N28,000, while a plastic measure of the foodstuff has increased from N350 in October to N550 in November.

Rice, has however, maintained a fairly stable price, as a bag of 50kg, which was sold for N22,000 in October is now sold for N23,000 at some of the markets in Ogun State with a plastic measure hovering between N700 and N800, up from the N600 it was sold in October.

Speaking to  Sunday Tribune, Ibrahim Musa, who sells beans at the popular Oja’ba market in Ibadan, Oyo State, lamented how dull market has been because customers have not been coming to buy.  He says a standard measurement of beans now goes for between N600 and N650.

Aminu Muhammed, who also sells beans and rice in the same market, expressed similar frustration, noting that the few customers who come to buy always are far lower in number and even request for ‘jara’.

“You sometimes see a family man coming to buy two cups of rice, five cups of beans, and even asking for ‘jara’. Since the past three days, I have not finished selling this bag of rice you are looking at. Now we buy a bag of rice for N23,000, coupled with transportation fares and the increase in price of fuel. Things have not been easy; we hardly see people coming to buy from us,” he said dejectedly.

Ashimolowo Ishola, a foodstuff trader, also told Sunday Tribune that though prices of foodstuffs often fluctuate, especially during certain times of the year, but the COVID-19 pandemic and the #EndSARS protest have further compounded the problem. According to him, transporting foodstuffs from the North to the South has become more difficult and expensive.

“We buy most of these foodstuffs from the North, and the northerners now sell to us at expensive prices; transporting these foodstuffs has not been easy either. The increase in fuel price has affected the cost of transport. Getting to the market, customers complain that the price is high and often buy in bits rather than the large quantity they buy when it was cheaper,” he said.


Costly onion

Perhaps one of the costliest items today is onion which Sunday Tribune learnt is about N100,000 per sack while a bag of beans is N21,000. Traders also blame insurgency and Boko Haram activities in the North which have largely scaled down farming activities as reasons for these.

Kafilat Dasola, an onion seller said onions have never been this expensive in all her experience as a seller.

“I was born into this onion business, and I have never experienced such an increase in the price of onions. The cost of one bag today is equivalent to the cost of four bags before now. We now buy a bag of onions for N95,000; the wet onions that are even meant to be cheap are now N75,000 per bag. We are tired, and we plead with our government to do something about it,” she said.

A palm oil seller who pleaded anonymity said, “the palm oil that we used to buy for N6,500 per keg now goes for N15,000; five litre kegs now sell for N3,000. Same goes for vegetable oil. Things are just expensive generally.”

Mr Saheed Ismaila, a yam seller at the popular Shasha market in Akure North Local Government Area of Ondo State, said five pieces of medium yam tubers, which were sold between N1,500 and N1,800 in October, are now between N2,500 and N3,000.

“We are selling based on how much we bought the item. We usually travel to Minna and Abuja to buy them and we have to add the cost of transport, hence the price increase,” Ismaila said.

Mrs Toyin Adams, who sells palm oil at Shasha market, Akure, said that a 25-litre keg of palm oil, which used to cost N11,000 about a month ago, is now sold for N13,500.

“Only God knows what the future holds for foodstuff prices in the country,” Adams lamented.

It was gathered that before the COVID-19 pandemic, a 25-litre keg of palm oil was sold between N8,000 and N9,000 in many markets in the South-West.

Although, the commodity increased to N12,000 shortly after the pandemic, it is now sold for N14,000 in most markets in Ogun State.

Mrs Omobonke Adunola, a tomato seller at Bodija market, Ibadan and Mrs Munirat Akinade, a housewife, decried the rate at which prices of foodstuffs kept going up in the last one month.

While Adunola complained of low sales caused by the price increase, Akinade said that huge sums of money now chase fewer goods, with incomes remaining stagnant.

A cross section of residents in Ilorin decried what they called astronomical rise in food prices in the last few months.

Mr Adebayo Michael of Sabo-Oke area, Ilorin, lamented the hardship he faced in putting food on the table for his family, as essential commodities are fast getting out of the reach of the common man.

“Many people have resorted to buying what is known as broken rice, which is the least grade of milled rice, and even at that, a measure, which was sold for N300 before is now N550, while a measure of guinea corn is now N400,” Michael said.

A resident of Ilorin, Mr Sheu Ismail who has two wives and six children, with a monthly wage of N50,000 says that survival for himself and his family is gradually becoming tough.

“How do we survive in a situation where a 50kg of rice, which we used to buy for N13,000, is now sold for N26,000?” Ismail wondered.



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