Lagosians groan under heavy economic burdens

•Traders tell survival tales •Some residents considering relocation •Why there may be hike in rents —Expert

FOR Mr Gbadebo Raphael, it not only rains but it pours. The events of the past few months in Lagos are fast making this resident of Akinola Street, a community on Abule Egba/Iyana Ipaja axis of the metropolis, have a rethink about his continued stay in Lagos.

For him, the Centre of Excellence is fast losing its glamour, and as far as he is concerned, the cityscapes hitherto seen as paved with gold, especially when he newly arrived in the 80s, seem to be giving way to thorns and bristles. And for this father of four, never in the history of this former federal capital city have things been this bad for its inhabitants.

While the advent of the coronavirus pandemic seems to be putting paid to ambitions, lives and livelihoods, perennial increase in the price of petroleum products and the attendant implications are becoming cumbersome for Mr Raphael’s  and others’ fragile shoulders to bear.

For instance, after losing his means of living a few months ago when he was asked to proceed on compulsory leave at the body cream-making company where he was eking out a living due to the pangs of COVID-19, which had made the company and many others resort to skeletal services, he was still hoping against hope. But the recent hikes in the price of petrol and the hyper-inflation this has brought on residents of the metropolis look like the last straw.

Besides finding it difficult to take care of his wife and four children, the two-room apartment he has been living in for close to two decades seems to be gradually slipping out of his hand. He might be ejected soon. Although the reason given was that the ownership of the building had changed, whispers that the landlord was actually treading such an unpopular path in order to review the rent upward are quite deafening. “Nobody is sure whether the caretaker is telling the truth or not. But all I am sure of is that we are being asked to look for an alternative accommodation; since the building has been sold and the new landlord could take ownership of the place anytime from now,” he stated. According to the 57 year-old electrician, he suspects that this is a way of pushing him and other tenants out of the building so as to give way for new tenants that are ready to pay new, and higher, rents. For now, he is considering relocating to the land of his birth since living in Lagos is becoming increasingly difficult and burdensome.

Lukman, a media practitioner, shares Raphael’s sentiments. His situation may not be as dire as that of the electrician, he is also not holding back for whoever cares to listen that the amount he spends on fuel nowadays is leaving a gaping hole in his pocket. He said to Saturday Tribune: “The new price of petrol and the attendant inflation we are presently experiencing are becoming unbearable. I know how much I spent on fuel and food items during the naming of my child on Monday. As you know, electricity supply is no longer stable. I use 20 litres of fuel on the average daily. This morning, I had to look for some fuel to operate the generator, at least for two hours, to preserve the food items and meat that are in the freezer. But how long are we going to continue with this situation?”

According to Lukman, the recent hike in the price of petrol has put paid to the hope of many residents that the high transport fare occasioned by COVID-19 some months ago would be reversed. “We had hoped that since transporters have now resorted to carrying up to full capacity instead of the 60 per cent of their vehicles. As stipulated by the state government, the old transport fare would be reverted to. But the recent increase in the price of petrol has put paid to such optimism,” he stated. According to him, the BRT buses which carried a passenger for N500 from Ikorodu to Lagos Island during the most trying times of the pandemic still maintain the rate, even now that the law of social distancing is no longer obeyed and buses are now loaded to their full capacities with some passengers even standing for the whole journey. He also recalled that the transport fare from Ikorodu to Lagos Island before the breakout of the pandemic was just N300.

For Kayode Ajibade, also a father of four, the increase in fuel price couldn’t have come at a worse time. He said, “The recent action shows that the people in the corridors of power are insensitive to the people’s plights.” He argued that it was wrong for the government to have embarked on a price hike a few months after the citizens had cried out against a similar increase. Ajibade added that the increase had affected the prices of virtually all other commodities, especially foodstuffs, in the country. “That is why I see this government’s latest action on fuel price as an act of wickedness. For instance, the cost of living has continued to soar,” he stated. Ajibade, who works in Lagos on a N55,000 monthly salary and had just  relocated to Atan-Ota in Ogun State, is currently in a dilemma regarding how he would sustain the family with the income, especially with the rising inflation induced by the perennial hikes in the price of fuel and other factors. “Honestly, I don’t understand how to manage my salary in this kind of situation. The cost of transport alone is killing. I spend between N1,000 and N1,200 on transport to and from office every day. If not that I leave home as early as 5.00 a.m. and work from home for two days, I would have called it quits with the job because I would not be able to cope,” he said.

Even at that, Ajibade still covers up to three kilometres of the journey on foot in order to save costs. “I trek some distance, especially from my house to the bus stop, and back. It is not that I don’t like taking motorcycle, at least from my house to the bus stop, particularly after the day’s work and the heavy traffic on the road, but I can’t afford doing that with this salary. So, it is like Buhari has left us to our fate,” he stated.

Madam Janet Akpotobo, a petty trader on Capitol Road in the Agege area of the metropolis, also has her own unpleasant tale to tell. The mother of two, in a chat with Saturday Tribune, lamented that the cost of living in the city was already too high and any “truly responsible and responsive government” would not have done something that would further compound the citizens’ plights. She said the economic situation of the country often causes friction between her and her husband, a security personnel with a private firm in Opebi, Ikeja.

She said: “My husband is a security personnel at a private firm in Opebi on a salary less than N25,000 monthly while I hawk cooked rice around his office and make an average of  N1,500 profit a day. We have been managing, with our children attending public schools, and sponsored through our joint earnings. But recent developments are adding further burdens on our shoulder. Things are getting costlier in the market by the day, even salt. Prices of food items, organic or factory-produced, keep increasing as if we don’t have a government in place. And whenever I ask for more money from my husband to take to market, he turns it into a fight. It is not as if I don’t know that he doesn’t have the money I ask for or he doesn’t know either that things are costly in the market but these things just happen, and I don’t know how long we can do that for.

She added that the economic hardship was beginning to take its toll on their relationship. As a way of cutting cost, the husband now sleeps in the office from Monday to Friday and at times, Saturday only to come home on weekends, a development she is not favourably disposed to. Interestingly, with the new fuel price regime, the itinerary might change further. Her husband, who is also into subsistence farming, is already considering coming home on a monthly basis, leaving the care of the four kids entirely to her. “I think it has become necessary for the government to consider the plight of the people and reverse the pump price of fuel and take steps to address inflation which has continued to ravage everybody’s pocket,” she said.

 

Small business operators lament

A business centre operator at the Police Barracks Market in Alausa, Ikeja, who would not want his name in print, said it was not easy doing business anymore. He said the recent fuel price hike was already taking its toll. When asked if the increase would not affect his charges, he said, “We are considering something like that very soon.”

 

We are selling to survive –Leader of traders in perishable goods

Chairman of Oyingbo Market Perishable Goods Traders Association of Nigeria, Victor Chukwuogo, said the hike in pump price of petrol and transport fare had affected the cost of transporting perishable commodities from the northern and eastern parts of the country. In a chat with Saturday Tribune, Victor disclosed that many of the traders no longer  made sales to make profit as they did sold their goods at giveaway prices to prevent the wares from going bad and avoid running into total loss. Commenting on the effect of persistent hikes in prices of goods and services, he said: “Traders in Oyingbo Market are affected by the persistent inflation. Most of our goods are brought in from the northern and eastern parts of the country. By implication, any hike in pump price of petroleum products affects the cost of transporting the goods from the North and from the East to our market here in Oyingbo.

 

“For instance, a plastic paint container of melon before the increase was N1,200 but now it is between N1,500 and N1,600; same goes for other commodities. Prices of foodstuffs have also gone beyond the reach of ordinary Nigerians. We source most of our commodities from the North and the East. Before the upward adjustment in prices of goods and commodities, we paid N1,000 to transport a bag of melons from Ebonyi State to Oyingbo Market but now it has gone up to N3,000. Many of us are trading not to make profit but we are selling at giveaway prices so that our perishable items would not rot away. Just yesterday, a trader told me that he had bags of rice stocked in his store but for many months, nobody had come to make a purchase,” he stated.

Victor is even ready to sell below the cost price just to be able to feed his family. “At the beginning of the year, it was coronavirus, then the EndSARS protest and now the Federal Government compounded our pain and suffering with an increase in the price of petrol.

“This is not the best time to increase the pump price of petrol. We are still battling with the negative economic impacts of the coronavirus and its disastrous effects on businesses and trades and what the government could do was to increase the pump price of petroleum. This is not the time for the government to increase the price of such an essential commodity like the petrol because many businesses rely on the product to survive,” he stated. According to him, the increase had, in the last few weeks, led to an increase in transport fare and consumables which he believed consumers would not be able to cope with. Even farmers are not left out, he said. “For instance, I used to buy 40 boxes of vegetable from the North in the past but I have reduced this to five boxes because of the increase in prices and low patronage. The unsold boxes of vegetable eventually get rotten and end up as losses to farmers. We are at a stage now that profit-making isn’t the priority. We are more concerned with disposing our perishable goods at lesser prices so that we won’t run into debt. Besides, people are not buying because there is no money in circulation,” Victor added.

 

Why rents may hit the sky –Expert

Incessant increase in fuel price from N145 to N161, and to N170 in the last three months is already causing crisis in the housing sector as prices of building materials have skyrocketed in Lagos’ property market. Checks by Saturday Tribune in some of the markets within the metropolis revealed that the price of cement,  a major component in the building production process, has gone up by 34.6 per cent from N2,600 per 50-kilogramme bag to N3,500.

Also, the price of iron rod (16mm) has risen by 15.3 per cent from N260,000 per ton to N300,000 in the market.

A Lagos-based property consultant, Sesan Fajingbesi, attributeed the jacking up of the prices of cement and iron rod to the recent increase in fuel price.

From Ajah on the Island to Ikeja, the prices of all brands of cement remain the same. As a result of this, home builders and property consultants are predicting a major rise in the cost of housing units, an indication that residents may pay more for the spaces they presently occupy.

The president of the Nigerian Institute of Building (NIOB), Mr Kunle Awobodu, said what this simply meant was that workers who have been saving money  to enable them relocate to their own houses would still have to tolerate their landlords for a long time due to high cost of fuel. He said increase in fuel price might shatter the dream of the low cost housing programme of government, noting that the price increase would further drive up production, distribution and transportation costs.

Going  down memory lane, the NIOB boss said that past market survey showed that a 50 kilograms (kg) bag of cement rose from N1,600 to N2,000, while  steel  reinforcement bars (locally manufactured TMT) increased from N135,000 to N140,000 due to hike in fuel prices from N65 to N120 per litre in 2012. The increase in fuel price from N120 to N145 in 2016, he said, resulted in the rise of cement price to N2,300 per 50kg bag and steel bars to N180,000 per tonne. Just before September’s upward review of fuel price to about N151.56, Awobodu stated that a 50kg bag of cement sold for N2,600, while steel bars was N230,000 per tonne. “Sadly, these two prominent building materials are being manufactured locally, thereby questioning the rationale behind backward integration and local content policies,” he said.

Currently, market survey shows that cement price has jumped to N3,500 from N2,600. From the NIOB archive, Awobodu noted that hikes in fuel prices have always been responsible for the increase in the prices of building materials. “Hence, it does not require a Nostradamus to predict inflation in the prices of building materials with the latest increase in fuel price,” he said. To this end, the NIOB president called for the reversal of the fuel price increase, saying only that would do the masses and the nation’s economy, especially the construction industry, some good. “It is our view that reversing the recent increase will do the critical masses and Nigeria’s economy, especially the construction industry, some good,” he said. Awobodu said the disposable incomes and purchasing power of Nigerians were being further eroded due to fuel pump price increase, pointing out that without appreciable construction activities, employment challenges would remain.

He said he was of the opinion that increased construction activities would benefit both the government and the citizens. “The Federal Government, through its agencies, might have adduced reasons for these increases such as appropriate pricing based on market forces, NIOB finds it necessary to explain the unintended effects of such increases on the construction industry that produces our housing and other infrastructure stock,” Awobodu said.

He argued that the construction industry engaged a lot of actors, including professionals, artisans and business organisations such as contractors, material manufacturers, equipment manufacturers or leasing organisations, adding that many of these organisations are small medium enterprises that remained the engine room of growth in national economies. According to him, the use of the construction industry to grow national economies cannot be overemphasised.

He stated that a survey of some building material manufacturers revealed that many were beginning to close shops on account of cost of production, combined with the harrowing effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. Increasing energy costs, he said, would further asphyxiate the few building material manufacturing companies still surviving. He argued that what the nation needed at this time was to look inwards, in line with the government’s espoused policy pronouncements and executive orders on local content.

Gripping as the tales may sound, the end to all these seems not in sight yet. The government is insisting it is a bitter pill the citizenry must swallow before things get better. But time will definitely tell whether residents still possess the will to tarry a bit longer for the promised ‘Eldorado’ before reaching the breaking point.

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