Christmas Pains

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With just few days to Christmas, the expected enthusiasm and ecstasy among Nigerians is nowhere to be seen, writes Martins Ifijeh

While many families across the globe are looking forward to Christmas, Mr. Jude Emeka is hoping the day never comes. He is wishing he could run away from the reality that in a few days, his children will be expecting new clothes, shoes and wristwatches. They will also expect at least a special ‘Jollof’ rice with unusually big chicken, as has been the case in previous years.

But Emeka will have none of that this year. The economic hardship in Nigeria has taken a toll on him, shrinking his once-booming business to a state he is no longer making profits and providing gifts and treats for his family. Inflation of goods and services hit an all-time high of 18 per cent in the country, and the apathy by customers to patronise his line of business has weaned down as prices soar everyday. He is now barely able to fend for his family on a normal day, not to talk of providing much more at Christmas.

“This is the worst Christmas period of my life. I am yet to buy even the tiniest of things needed to enjoy a family Christmas. I remember years ago, before August or September, I would have bought my children’s Christmas clothes and shoes. Also, I would have bought gifts that should be taken along with us to the village for the New Year celebration,” he said.

Emeka often spends Christmas with his family in Lagos State where they reside, and spend the New Year in Imo, his state of origin. Now that seems to be a luxury to him.

“But as I am talking to you, I am yet to fully pay the school fees of my children for this term. I had to beg the school management to exercise patience until January next year to be able to complete the fees. If I haven’t paid that, how then can I settle their Christmas needs,” the business man who deals on clothing materials, laments.

He said generally, the year has been bad for business as several policies of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration have affected businesses in the country. “Before, when I take N40,000 to the market, I end up filling my shop, but now, even if I go with N300,000, you won’t see it in the shop. Most painful aspect is that the customers we are expecting to patronise us also have a severed income flow. If you don’t have money to patronise us, no matter how beautiful our goods are, you won’t buy. That is the vicious circle we have been experiencing since the beginning of the year,” he added.

He said with the increase in prices of food items, like rice and groundnut oil, he may have to settle for a low key Christmas, as he plans to explain to his children that the year has been unique in a negative way, hence he may be unable to make the yuletide an enjoyable one for them.

Like Emeka, a secondary school Chemistry teacher, Mrs. Grace Adedeji is planning a structural adjustment for her family during the Christmas and New Year celebrations. She wonders why prices of food items are continuously on the increase while there is scarcity of funds everywhere.

“It is not rocket science, there is hardship everywhere. My salary has not been increased in recent years, but most food items have more than tripled in the market. So it will be difficult spending our lean funds on purchase of a bag of rice, which is around N20,000, as against its previous price of N9,000.”

Adedeji said people who used to benefit from her in terms of gifts during Christmas and New Year season would have to wait till next year celebration as the small cash flow would not be enough to accommodate the usual routines due to inflation and recession.

“My elder sister and my favourite uncle would have to give me a break this season, as our monthly take home from the government can no longer take anyone home,” she added.

“I and my retired husband were planning to take our children to Ibadan on the 26th of December, which is Boxing Day, but that will not happen again. The economic hardship this year has been terrible. Though I still constantly receive my salaries, I wonder how many Nigerians without source of income will be able to celebrate the Christmas with their families,” she retorted.

She predicts that the celebration will be a low keyed one for millions of families across the country, as the economic hardship was not only peculiar to people living in Lagos State alone. “I listen to the news and I hear how Nigerians are grumbling with scarcity of money all over. Even those who used to go abroad to shop for the season are no longer able to afford it as one dollar is said to be nearing N500,” she adds.

For a Lagos cab driver, Waheed, his response to how the Christmas day will be spent elicits laughter among his colleagues when asked by THISDAY. According to him, he always cautions his children on going to neigbhours’ and family friend’s houses to eat on Christmas and New Year day, as there was always enough to eat and drink in his house every yuletide season. He also believed it was not the right way of bringing up children.

“But this time, I will give them an opposite instruction. I will tell them to dress nicely that morning and make sure they eat everywhere they go. They have to be full by evening before they come home, so I and my wife won’t have to stress ourselves spending money for special meal for them,” he said jokingly, triggering his colleagues to say they may adopt the same method for their families, as business has gone down for them.

“Before, I used to work between N5,000 and N7,000 daily, but since this year, it is most often N2,000 per day or less. From that money I will buy fuel, give my wife some for food, as well as repair my car.”

He added that people who would ordinarily take a drop for N4,000 before, now prices between N800 and N1,500 for the same distance, even during traffic hours. “How do we cope like that, when we are supposed to be making more money each year, the reverse is the case,” he said.

He said he has no business buying special Christmas clothes for his children, as he was still struggling to feed them daily. Waheed who has five children said, “Now my wife cooks a pot of soup for N2,000 or above. You can imagine just how many times we will use the soup with the number of children I have.”

On how best to maximise the little he has for the yuletide, he said since he has been unable to save due to high demands and less revenue, he would buy a paint rubber of rice and buy other food ingredients in small quantities, and hopes his family gets satisfied with the little he could offer.

Tina Eromonsele, who sells cosmetic products but switches to celebratory items every Christmas season, said this year she was skeptical about investing her money into the items, adding that they may not be patronised like in previous years due to several complaints by Nigerians of lack of money.

“I am still contemplating whether to invest in the part-time business or not, as it is increasingly difficult for people to part with money these days. I won’t blame them because getting money now is like a camel passing through the eye of a needle.”

She added that she would have to observe the mood and enthusiasm towards the season before she makes any decision. “If I observe that people are becoming excited and looking forward to Christmas and the New Year, I may change my mind and then buy some things. But it may have to be in small quantities,” she added.

Lending his voice, a car washer, Callistus Nwadike, says with the little he gets from his business, he will try to give his family a treat for Christmas and New Year, only that he may not travel home this season as against previous years due to lack of funds.

He complained that business has been terrible this year and that Christmas will not be as enjoyable as before. “These days, people prefer to wash their cars themselves rather than give them to us, and this has affected business negatively. So it’s difficult making the same amount during this economically difficult period than previous years,” adding that the Buhari-led government has not provided a better alternative than the previous government.

For a banker, Samuel Ajeh, he is not bothered with preparation for the season, as he sees the yuletide period as a season of reflection, rather than a period of incurring so much expenses. “We should all take such period as a season of sober reflection, draw nearer to God and be with our loved ones and families.

“Most people cause problems for themselves during celebration periods like this. They would want to go above their income just to please their neigbhours or the society. If your money can’t buy turkey or chicken, use fish. If you are unable able to make that special delicacy you crave for during Christmas, then cook the meal your money can afford, because what matters is that you understand the reason for the season, which is the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Ajeh said the only thing he prays for was for the government and the citizens to create enabling environment for peace during the period. “Government should ensure security of lives and property these periods, as experience has shown in recent years that yuletide seasons come with crimes, terrorist attacks and all manner of unrest due to the anxiety to meet up with societal demands,” he added.

Emeka, Waheed and Eromonsele are not the only Nigerians grappling with the harsh economic situation during the yuletide season. Several millions of Nigerians will not be celebrating the season as they would have loved to. In fact, many Nigerians are wishing the season never comes.

With U.S. dollar now at N486, many local and international business interests folding up, plus increased laying off of employees due to lack of money to pay for their salaries, and the resultant inflation rate at 18 per cent, which has further stifled the economy and caused increase in the prices of food, clothes, among other items, the Christmas and New Year celebrations may just be bleak for Nigerians, who never dreamt that this era will ever come their way –an era like no other.