Abuja, Nigeria — Adeola Ehi had been looking forward to taking her two-year-old daughter home for Christmas to meet her grandparents for the first time. However, due to increased household spending, which included an unexpected rent increase, the 43-year-old communications consultant had to put the planned trip on hold.
In Nigeria, where more than half of the 200 million inhabitants live on less than 2 dollars a day, any price increase, however small, weighs heavily on household incomes. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, at least 133 million people suffer from “multidimensional poverty.” According to the National Bureau of Statistics, citizens spend around half of their income on food and another 20 percent on transportation.
The burden has become even more pronounced during the holiday season as families limit spending, including traditional trips to spend time with extended families.
“It’s safe to say that Christmas has lost its appeal this year,” said Ehi from Abuja, the country’s capital. “There is simply too much happening at the same time. Food costs are rising, landlords are raising rents and even transportation costs are skyrocketing. So what happens is that we’re forced to cut spending too much so we can’t even afford to buy Christmas presents for our kids,” she said.
As many Nigerian families are faced with a rise in the price of rice, the main ingredient for preparing the most popular Christmas meal in Africa’s most populous country, the holiday season appears to have lost its cheer.
“My food budget is now twice as high”
Unparalleled floods this year, which washed away half a million hectares of farmland in parts of Nigeria, have increased the average cost of producing a pot of jollof rice by 23.8 percent compared to the previous year, according to Lagos-based risk consultancy SBM Intelligence, which publishes the Jollof Index. Strengthened by an earlier ban on rice imports and a shortage of dollars, a sack of rice is now sold for 55,000 naira, which is almost double the national minimum wage.
With Russia invading Ukraine for the tenth month, the effects of the war are putting even greater pressure on Nigeria, as shortages of energy and raw materials, as well as a worsening foreign exchange shortage, have resulted in food budgets more than doubling.
A loaf of bread that was sold for 650 naira 10 months ago now costs 1,000 naira, while the price of eggs per box has risen from 2,200 naira to 3,000 naira.
“My food budget is now twice as high. I spend almost 150,000 naira on groceries every month and even then I don’t buy everything,” said Ehi, whose family of six lives on her and her husband’s salaries.
“It is a nightmare”
Rising transport costs due to a fuel shortage of almost a year also mean that many people won’t be going home for the festivities. According to the country’s statistics office, average inner-city and inter-city transport rates have risen by 45 percent or more. At the same time, the 5 kg refill of cooking gas, which is used in most middle-income households, has risen by 37 percent over the same period.
“I’m sad that I won’t be seeing my family at Christmas this year, but it is what it is,” said Precious Jedidiah, a teacher who said it was the first time she wasn’t going home for the festivities. “I’d rather send half the fare home than waste it,” she said.
The fuel shortage, the worst since outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari took office in 2015, has also meant that people avoid traveling by car this Christmas season. That and, according to interurban drivers, fear of abductions on the roads.
“It’s a nightmare,” said Baba Oyo, a professional driver at Jabi Motor Park in Abuja. “We haven’t seen a low turnout in quite some time, as we’ve seen this year. People are already afraid to travel because of the bad roads and abductions, and if you add this increase in traffic to everything now, they decide to stay put and I don’t blame them at all,” he said.
As food, energy and transportation prices peak over the Christmas period due to an increase in seasonal demand, higher inflation could lead to a decline in growth in the Nigerian economy in the fourth quarter, said Ikemesit Effiong, head of research at SBM Intelligence, from Lagos.
“Rising fuel costs, increased security, poorer food security due to the floods at the start of the fourth quarter and stagnating wage growth mean that the increase in economic growth experienced by Nigeria over the Christmas period would be much lower than usual this year. Negative growth is unlikely this year, but aggregate GDP [gross domestic product] will fall significantly short of typical Q4 trends in recent years,” he said.
Buhari came to power in 2015 and promised to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty, but living conditions have worsened since he took office.
“Because of this unbearable inflation, we no longer eat what we want, but what is available. I hope it gets better soon because I don’t know how long we can keep living like this,” said Ehi.