The economic downturn is taking its toll on car dealers, writes Peter Uzoho who visited some car showrooms in Lagos

As the economy of the country keeps crumbling, many have been forced to adjust their budgets to give more priority to the basic needs, leading to a break in the patronage of such commonly perceived ostentatious goods like cars. Consequently, car dealers who depend on their business to survive alongside their families are now left wailing and groaning as the business is not moving again, due to the sharp drop in patronage. The large number of young men who are on the verge of losing their only source of livelihood, is no doubt an issue that poses a threat to national security. Nevertheless, the alleged extortion by custom officers from car buyers, at various checkpoints on the road, as revealed by a source, is another source of concern that needs to be checked.

The usual buzz has ceased and the bubbling burst. The lifeless automobile wares are apparently calling for attention as ignition has long eluded them. The ambience likened to cemeteries with inactivity and cold silence. The excitements and merriments that used to take place following sales boom on good days have obviously gone to sleep. A first comer at the popular Berger, along Oshodi/Apapa Expressway, where tokunbo cars are parked for sale, may mistaken the park for the normal commercial Lagos parking lots. The anxiety and aggression to make a sale has come down, as sighting a prospective buyer no longer leads to closing a business.

Under a firmly standing umbrella housing groups of associates in the Agha Car Shopping Park at Berger, Lagos, he was found sitting, leaning back and front, apparently leading in a chat.

“Market is not as usual”, said Chief Nathan Akonkem, a car dealer at Agha motor shopping park, Berger, Lagos, while speaking to THISDAY. According to him, they used to make more sales before,but at the moment, nothing is happening again. “Usually, we used to make a lot of sales, but right now nothing is happening. The customers are no longer coming because of the economic crunch; market is stagnant and we are just here for nothing”, Akonkem said.
“The dollar is actually high, and we cannot buy, we cannot sell. Even if we sell, the money we make from the sale cannot be able to purchase another vehicle.” he said.

Revealing other issues they are facing in the business, Akonkem said that the cost of clearing vehicles had gone so high that some of them now find it difficult to clear their vehicles at the wharf.

“There are a lot of issues we are facing. When you look at clearing, the cost has gone so high that people find it very difficult to clear their vehicles at the wharf. And if you are able to clear it and bring it back, you would discover that the price of the vehicle will go high too. So it doesn’t help us to sell; selling becomes very difficult. So that’s what we are suffering here. We are only looking for a way out, and we are calling on the government to come to our aid so that we don’t suffer from unemployment”, Akonkem added.

“We are really finding things very difficult now”, said another car dealer at Berger, Mr. Ndubuisi Omerua.”We Nigerians are suffering. The car business is not moving again like before. They’ve raised the tariff. And majority of the poor and the middle class go for tokunbo vehicles. How many salary earners in this country can be able to afford new cars? Is it not those who steal government money that can buy new cars? Government just want to make things difficult for us in the car business? They are always talking about car importation when we don’t have car manufacturers here. Apart from Innoson Automobile, who else manufactures cars? Even the Innoson himself is not encouraged. How many Federal Government’s vehicles are Innoson’s? If not Anambra State government that helped him, who else?

“In our business here, the customs are over-billing us. There’s what they call OD (Officer on Duty). If you buy a vehicle and you are going to the East, custom officers along the road will collect money. Some will collect N1000, some others will collect N2000 from you anywhere you stop, even when you have paid all the duties, and you have been issued all the necessary papers. If they ask you to pay and you refuse, they will delay you. When you pay them at Ore, and you get to Benin, their fellow officers there will still ask you to pay again”, he further noted.

According to him, young men in their large numbers depend on the business for their families’ survival.“All these things are seriously affecting our business.Youngmen are trooping in here every day to come and hustle; some wash cars, some do marketing, others are agents, and we pay them. Some of them are married with children. So the more life is difficult for us here, the more things will be difficult for them. We have thousands of Nigerians that feed from these Tokunbo vehicles”, Omerua explained.

In his seemingly patriotic tone, he said “Really, it has not been easy for me and my family this period, including other Nigerians. I want things to be better for all of us. I see Nigeria as my constituency. So I beg the government to try and improve the lot all of us. Feeding is not easy now. To pay school fees is even more challenging, but we just have to manage”, he added.

On his part, he said that the situation is not peculiar to them, the car dealers, but rather an issue affecting everybody in the country.“It’s not easy. Everybody is complaining. It’s a general thing in the country. So it’s not only we, the car sellers that are affected, but the buyers and other people in the country inclusive”, said Evangelist Umeh Emeka, also a car dealer at Berger.

Stating the major cause of the hardship he said, “The exchange rate is very high. Dollar has gone up. You know we deal with dollar and every other currency. Everything has gone up. The cost of buying a car is high. They have increased the cost of shipment and clearing”, the Evangelist said. “An average Nigerian is supposed to have at least one car, but that cannot happen with the current economic situation. Even the money to maintain the old one is not there again”, he added.

“For about a month now no sales. We only come here every morning, sitting and looking”, Prince Adebisi Taiwo, who sells car at Shola park, Berger, Lagos, told THISDAY.He said that thousands of people are making their daily living from the business, noting that if they are provoked to go on protest, that it may be very dangerous. “If you look at this Berger here, there are thousands people working here who feed from here. If such number is provoked and they go out to protest, it may be very dangerous”, Taiwo warned.

THISDAY also spoke with car dealers at Amazing Grace Car Plaza at Igando, Lagos, and they shared their experience.
“Well, it’s very challenging now, but we are managing to survive. God has been helping us”, said Mr. Wale Ola, a tokunbo car seller at the plaza. He said that before, one could sell about four or five cars in a day, but now none of them can boast of selling one in one or two weeks. “This is a hard time for us; none of us can even boast of selling one car in a week or two. But before, one can sell about four or five cars in a day”, Ola said.

Another dealer, Mr. Olusegun Adetoye, said that their problem stems from the unfavourable disposition of government towards car importation, noting that such attitude is a way of increasing unemployment. “Our problem is the way government is treating the issue of car importation”, Adetoye said. “Their policies towards importation is not encouraging us, rather it is a way of increasing unemployment. And you cannot stop importation, even if you have those that produce it here. So let the president look for those that will advise him well on this kind of economic issue”, he added.

When THISDAY approached one of the prospective buyers who breezed into the plaza, and was on his way out, he declined to talk. An insider later explained that he actually came to buy but the price he was told forced him out.