The rising prices of commodities

By Muhammad Ajah

I am one of those men who hardly go near the kitchen or go to the part of markets where food items are sold. I am quite aware that many Nigerian men do not do the opposite. Likewise, a reasonable number of the highly placed women do same. They do not go to buy food stuff by themselves in nearby markets.

For many of the manhood, it is one of the primary assignments of the wife to take care of the kitchen necessities. But I have taken it a responsibility to, from time to time, discuss domestic issues relating to all aspects of my family wellbeing.

I am also not of the types who specify certain amount for every household demand. In most cases, I give certain amount of money, according to my income, to my wife. She is free to use and retire it. Once she retires it, I give her more money without questioning, except if I suspect otherwise. And in most cases, it is the low income earners who bother so much on their expenditures. However, it may be after a day, a week or a fortnight that I give money to my wife for housekeeping. But I know that many people have monthly budget for the household keeping, save for emergencies.

But recently, I have observed that she asks for money more often than before. So when I sat down with her and listened carefully about her experiences in the market, I was not only shocked but was also angered by the way the Nigerian big men spoil our market to the detriment of the masses. The case is that the price of everything is rising and there is little hope for income increase by Nigerians.

Revelations on food stuff show that even the staple stuffs have gone up in prices. Count them: garri, yam, tomato, onion, fish, flour, sugar, beverages, and others. The irony of this is that even the poor Nigerians do not often differentiate between the time of scarcity and the time of abundance. Some people always think that the increase of ten or twenty naira on the prices of any commodity makes no difference. And because most Nigerians are of the types who either do not care of the impact of these increases on the generality of the citizenry, or they are always in hurry for no just cause, the traders make the increases at will.

One thing that justifies this claim is that some people do not even attempt to bargain in markets. Either because they pretend to be “big men or women”, because the traders will employ their sugar-coated tongues to address them as “oga', “hajiya”, “yellow”, or just because they feel the increases are insignificant. This is why the traders make jest of the customer. A shop can sell a bottle of oil for N200.00, while the one adjacent to it will sell the same quantity and quality for N300.00 or even above. The trader who sells higher will have no impressive explanation other than the claim that he bought his from a far distance and so the transport fare for the goods is added up. Still, one sees people hurriedly patronizing such traders with the claim that they are customers.

A bag of garri which was sold for little above N6,000.00 few months ago has gone up with additional N2,000.00. Although it must be acknowledged the fact that some food stuff are seasonal due to our weather and yet our inability to employ modern technologies in farming which promote production of any kind of crop throughout the year, it is unfortunate that the common Nigerian is left to the whims and caprices of these greedy traders who have already strategized to spell doom for the citizenry in the event that any single kobo is added to the income of the civil servants. This is a serious case for the government to look into in its attempt to increase the wages of the poor Nigerians who labour for the nation under the civil service. It is a case that the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and all trade unions which have the interest of the common Nigerians in their hearts must pursue when government finally increases the salaries of the civil servants.

The prices of beans, yam, onion, potato, flour, among others have added by over thirty percent. One can even observe this on the streets as the hawkers have drastically reduced the quality and quality of their wares with the claim to meet up with other life demands. The prices of sugar, tooth paste and other toiletries are on steady increase. Even the fairly used dresses popularly called okirika which have unfortunately become the main source of clothing for millions of Nigerians have begun to go up in prices. When the situation is so of okirika, one needs not to be embarrassed with the question of how costly the new clothes are. Boutiques are nowadays no-go- areas for the Nigerian commoners.

Bread is also steadily increasing in prices. The case of bread reminds me of the drastic demonstration the people of Egypt carried out against their government because of the increase of five piastres on the prices of their local bread called “aish” in the 1980s. Despite explanations given by the government, the masses fully supported by the middle class and a good number of the well-off grounded the civil activities. This forced the government to recant its policy, added to the establishment of citizen consumer minimarts which sell commodities to the citizens at steadily subsidized prices. The establishment of such outfits which were always fully equipped and ready to serve the people overpowered the greed of independent traders to exploit the citizens. These public minimarts directly controlled prices and traders had no option than to make insignificant increase in prices in the areas where the government markets are not immediately situated or sell even less in order to attract patronage. Can this happen in Nigeria?

In transport, one is shocked at the indiscriminate increase by transporters both for the inter-city and intra-city journeys. It is surprising that civil servants die in silence in this country. This is why many of them would leave their homes as early as 4.00 am for two reasons: to beat the traffic jams on the routes leading outside Abuja municipal where they pay lighter charges to “Shylock” landlords, and pay far less to the greedy transporters who exploit commuters at rush-hours and during heavy traffic.

To ameliorate this aspect of sufferings by the civil servant, the authority of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) initiated a transport scheme which is popularly referred to as el-Rufai busses. State governments, in turn, have instituted state transport corporations. But all these have yielded no or very insignificant impact. Any patriotic citizen and any human being with conscience cannot but pity the harrowing condition of the civil servants queuing as long as over a kilometer, waiting to board the busses. The busses, surely very insufficient, pack Nigerians like stock fish. And the people have no choice because they can only afford to pay N60.00 for a trip instead of N200.00 charged by other private transporters. It is a glaring truth that some residents of Abuja, including the married ones, earn as little as N5,000.00 per month. And they must go into the metropolis for their work.

Also, those who control inter-city transport have shown that they are not left behind in this vicious circled exploitation of the citizenry. A journey of less than 200 kilometers which should not cost more than N500.00 goes for N1,000.00 and above especially from recognized motor parks. This is why it is worthy to commend the efforts of Peace Mass Transport which has shown that some Nigerians still have the human feeling for the citizenry. Apart from festive periods when the prices of petroleum products are jerked up in many states of the Federation, Peace Mass Transport has maintained its transport fares and has intensified efforts to connect all parts of the country including the remote areas. The Federal Government should pick this company as a study case to transform the transport sector of the country. And for Peace, this spirit must be sustained added to the training of its drivers and staff especially on interpersonal relationship since they serve diverse characters in the society.

When we explore the markets where building materials are sold, one can prefer not to comment because despite the so many promises to reduce prices by the producers of the likes of cement, zinc, tiles, iron, among others, nothing has really changed. The cost of building a one-bed room flat in the suburbs of Abuja is shocking. Even in villages, many Nigerians still prefer to build with the mud and thatch because they cannot afford the high prices of building materials.

To round it off, there is urgent need for government to secure the trio of life for the citizens: food, clothing and shelter. Why should there be increase in the prices of commodities without any just cause? For the past three and half years, the prices of petroleum products especially fuel have been steady; kudos to the government of the late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adau of blessed memories. The increase in the price of fuel used to spell doom for Nigerians, both the business and non-business class.

On this note, the matter that must be vehemently tackled by governments at the state and federal levels before adding a kobo to the wages and salaries of civil servants is to study how best to control prices of life necessities for the citizenry. If not, what difference will it make for a man who received N10,000.00 per month and spent it all before each month draws its curtains and the same man receiving N20,000.00 for instance in a new pay-scheme regime but the traders and all other service providers collect it from him, leaving him to live from hand to mouth.

The worth of the money should be in the ability to make little savings at the end of the month. It is only when the prices of commodities are strictly controlled that this will be possible. And when it happens, assuredly, it will put smiles on the faces of the people, enhance productivity and dedication in the civil service and, in no small way, reduce corruption in the country. The authorities must look into this.

Muhammad Ajah is a writer, author, advocate of humanity and good governance based in Abuja E-mail: [email protected]