In Abuja, signs it was a bleak Xmas and probably a more bleak New Year celebration, abounds - Paul Ukpabio's Blog

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Friday, 30 December 2016

In Abuja, signs it was a bleak Xmas and probably a more bleak New Year celebration, abounds

By Paul Ukpabio

"It’s a Christmas like no other in the city of Abuja this year 2016," lamented Abdul Gabar, as the recession bit harder by the day. "The streets and roads were devoid of Christmas lights and decorations like in previous years." And while some homes have tried to keep the tradition of Christmas decoration display going, it is obvious according to traders of fireworks and Xmas decorations that, it’s only the upper class that had had time and money for such luxury this year end.

Except for the lighter traffic on the roads and the harmattan weather that are characteristics of Abuja at Xmas period, the yuletide season, is devoid of its usual excitement. And the lack luster of celebration is openly attributed to the on-going recession by the residence.

Though some corporate organizations like banks and other prosperous organizations have had the luxury of Xmas decorations in their offices, a new generation bank manager at Utako confessed to this reporter, that his bank branch had to fall back on the Christmas tree and other Xmas decorations of last year’s celebration, for this year. He commended the wisdom of the staff who kept the items safe in the bank store, to be used this year. “We just had to dust them and use. The white Christmas tree was still looking new.”

At the more urbane part of Abuja, the elite shopping malls and homes of a few visited affluent people still had semblances of Christmas celebration. Nevertheless, though affluent in status, everyone had a word or two for the biting recession. While shoppers were seen at the popular upper class shopping centres like Ceddi Plaza and Shoprite, picking items, a few staff spoken to at Ceddi Plaza, admitted that the crowd, definitely has reduced this year.

At the popular Garki market in Garki 2, shoppers besieged the market for last minute shopping during the Christmas week and days after. But according to Madam Stella Ukaegbu, who sells fireworks and Christmas gift items at the market, the shoppers were not buying fireworks or Christmas decorations, they are more particular about buying food! “It’s a bad market for us this year. It is worse than last year. People are not buying fireworks, even the children are not buying! The market for decoration has been poor this year. Though sales picked on Christmas eve. That is why we traders did not even order for as much fireworks as we usually order for from our suppliers. As you can see, we didn’t stock much too. Now I am praying that I can even sell off these few that I was able to stock. Go around the market you will notice that only a few of us are selling it this year.

On a tour of some of the new generation banks around the Central area of Abuja, one could notice the sights of hampers being ferried out of the banking hall every now and then, few days before Christmas representing the happy signs of the season, but the bank workers growl and complain of the recession and inflation when spoken to. “It’s a hard time for families now,” replied Aliyu, “I have a family of four; presently my mother is in my house with my wife and children. So also are my two sisters with their children, they are presently in my house for the coming holidays. They have come because they know that I am a banker, that at least there will be food in my house. My two sisters’ husbands are unemployed, my younger brother has been retrenched from work this year, my two sisters are unemployed and they have families. So everyone is on me now. Tell me, how do we enjoy the holidays, with such financial burden and pressure on us: May Allah help us.”

Perhaps, the only sign that reminds one that Christmas took place in Abuja, is the carols that are still being played all around the open markets in Garki, Wuse, Area one, Maraba and the Model market, perhaps in a bid to remind and woo prospective 'last minute' shoppers that the season of celebration is still on.

“But how are we to celebrate?” Asked Hajia Musa Aliu, a civil servant who came to the Model market with her young son and daughter, to have a good outing and also shop for the holiday. “There is little or no money in the system and inflation is staring us in the face. Palm oil for instance has gone up by over 200%, so also groundnut oil. A keg of 5 litres of palmoil which at a time used to sell for N1,200 is now selling for N4500 while groundnut oil is now N4000. So where is the celebration? She asked again.

The chicken and turkey section of Garki market when visited seemed like an area only the very daring could approach with confidence! The healthy looking birds were very much inviting, but the purchasing power spoke differently. Here, Mallam Aminu a major player in the market, told this reporter that for the chickens, the price is N2000 for the big ones while the small ones are N1500. As for the turkeys, to take home a turkey for the New Year celebration meal, means parting with N19,500.

While there is abundance of tomatoes and pepper at all the markets visited, Ogbonna who sells grains at Garki market says, “people are not buying things. There is no money. We have brought down the price of a bag of rice from N20,000 to N18, 500, still people are not buying, instead they are buying in smaller re-wrapped bags. People don’t have money to buy foodstuffs in large quantities as it used to be in previous years.” However, as against the imported rice, the made in Nigeria rice flooded the market. This according to some lucky workers at a few establishments, were shared among workers at some lucky organizations.

The worse hit by the recession and inflation, seems to be the civil servants as those spoken to, complained of delays in salary payment and salaries not being able to meet up with prices of consumer items that have kept spiraling up.

“But other businesses have also been affected,” says Ibrahim who has been driving a taxi in Abuja for over seven years. He simply declared, “I have never seen a year like this. I am leaving this town this weekend because the town will more or less close down this weekend. There is no money in people’ hands. Abuja is tough now, no free money, though I will return here in late January or February when things pick up again.” Ibrahim complained that coupled with the bad business for taxi drivers, more and more people have joined the business as the white collar jobs in the city has kept on reducing.

Another taxi driver Issa Mohammed insist that if his brother who is a top government official in Abuja does not give him money to start a business soon, he might have to return to Kaduna, to his family and to farming, at least to sustain himself and his family.

However, the transporters, those who ply interstate, have been having a boom since the last few days to Christmas and now a day to the New Year. According to Simeon Nwosu, a manager of a popular transport company in Utako area of Abuja, “business has been dull all these past months, but we thank God for the Christmas season. Though people did not start traveling early for Christmas, it is still a good business now for us as more and more people are traveling by the day.”

A bus trip from Abuja to Lagos which hitherto used to cost N5,500, is now officially going for N12,000 and N15,000 for the Sienna buses. But the truth is that, it is not available. The buses have been booked ahead by the residents, who had long planned for the journeys back home to their families in different parts of the country mostly the east, Lagos and Ibadan.

According to Simeon, “The buses have been booked ahead, and as you can see, we have passengers who sleep at the parks, waiting to board a bus the next day. And each of the popular transport companies have fewer buses to ply the roads on long journeys these days. The spiral effect is that the cost of traveling to farther distances like the east and Lagos, have been hijacked by the forces of demand and supply which has taken over the market. I won’t be surprised if we are forced to further increase the fares.

Simeon is happy that his company buses get filled up early. “We also thank God for the problems that the airlines are facing right now. Most of the people, who depended on flights out of Abuja, have been coming here in the last couple of days. It’s just that it is painful that business have been bad during the year, and due to the skyrocketing forex, we were not able to repair or refurbish most of our out of the road vehicles. We could not afford spare parts to repair our problem vehicles, which would have come handy now. So it is still a sad story for us even though we have good business now.   

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