Traders Blame Border Closure for Skyrocketing Food Prices as Christmas Approaches

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SWITZERLAND, DECEMBER 09 – Amid the biting effect of border closure, fear of harsher times has continued to mount ahead of the Yuletide. The Federal Government had in the penultimate week admitted that the decision to shut down the nation’s land borders was responsible for the growing inflation in the country, but insisted that the status quo must be maintained to protect the nation’s economy from saboteurs.

But to many, the effect of the government’s decision is too much a price for the Nigerian masses. Added to this is the fear that most Nigerian families may be heading for the worse bleak Christmas in the recent years.

A pointer to this is the high cost of frozen foods in the market. A recent report by Sunday Sun revealed that the prices of frozen foods have increased by over 35 per cent since the closure of the Nigeria-Benin border, the main land-based entry point for imported/smuggled frozen foods.

For instance, a carton of frozen chicken and turkey, which hitherto sold for between N9,000 and N11,000, respectively now sells for between N13,000 and N15,000 and there is the possibility that the prices might be higher in the days ahead.

The sellers of the items blamed the increase on the closure of the land borders, saying that the decision has constrained them to sourcing the items locally.

“Most dealers have been constrained to source the products locally, which are more expensive than getting the same from Benin. Before the closure of borders we used to get them cheaper which was the reason we sold at the price then, but now that we are being forced to source our supplies locally, the prices are higher and besides, getting sufficient quantities is a major problem,” a dealer who identified herself as Mrs Iredia stated.

The ability of local poultry farmers in Nigeria to meet local demand for poultry products remains a huge doubt despite repeated assurances that the nation’s local producers have the capacity to meet the demand.

Findings by Sunday Sun showed that government’s decision to shut down the land borders took many local poultry farmers in the country by surprise just as some of them doubted its sustainability till the Yuletide period when the demand for poultry products is expected to reach the peak.

A local poultry farmer, Mr Gbenga Adebakin, said that although Nigerian poultry farmers have what it takes to sufficiently meet the demands of the nation, he conceded, however, that there could be a little shortfall due to certain factors.

His words: “Government’s decision to close the land borders is a welcome development especially to local businesses in the country. Nigerian farmers are particularly grateful to the government for taking this bold step in tackling smuggling. On whether local poultry farmers have the capacity to meet the demands of Nigerians during the festivity, I will say yes to a very large extent.

“You will recall that the issue of border closure came up late August, when most farmers were in the peak of preparing their birds for the Christmas and the New Year celebrations. Had it happened much earlier, someone like me would have at least expanded a little bit. But notwithstanding, I still believe we have the capacity to meet up with the people’s demands for the festive period.”

Also speaking, another poultry farmer, Pascal Eguaroje, said that since the government made it clear that the closure was temporary from the onset, it would be suicidal to attempt a much bigger expansion without having to test the waters first. “Smuggling is a major drawback for local businesses particularly agrobusiness. So, when the government came up with the idea of closing down the border we were really delighted, but it would be unwise to start preparing a bigger poultry in anticipation of the Yuletide until one really gets the true picture of what government’s plans are.

“Even as we speak, poultry products still find their way illegally into the country although not at the usual large scale we used to have before the closure. Nigerian farmers are more than capable to feed the nation during the festivity and even beyond. What we need is for government to find a sustainable way of protecting farmers in the country. In addition to this, we need the government to support us in making it easier for us to do our business in this country,” he said.

Not a few Nigerians are, however, worried that the closure of the nation’s land borders may fuel further hike in prices of poultry products as Christmas and New Year festivities draw closer.

But an economist, Dr Tayo Bello, said that the anticipated increase is natural and in conformity with the laws of demand and supply.

“The likely increase in prices of goods and services during the coming festivities is not necessarily due to border closure. Even when the borders were flung open, prices of goods and services have always risen during festive periods because of the huge demands during this period.

“But I will like to add that the decision to close the nation’s border is an archaic and primitive way of running the economy. It is not the right way to go. We are in a global village and what this means is that Nigeria wants to opt out of the concept of globalization. The fact that a man almost got drowned in the water does not mean he would not drink water again. You know people are neck-deep in smuggling to the detriment of the nation’s economy, the best the government should have done was to tighten the security around our borders rather than outright shut down of the borders,” Dr Bello said.

In the aftermath of the closed land borders, Nigerians have been experiencing untold hardship that no one knows when it will end. As would be expected, prices of goods and commodities, especially foodstuff have skyrocketed as the Yuletide season is fast closing in.

A recent survey in the major markets within the state like Daleko, Mushin, Ejigbo, Ikotun, among others, showed that the people are groaning as a result of rising prices.

Chukwuemeka Ibeakalam who has been in the rice business in the last 17 years while commenting on the present situation said: “The rate of poverty that my customers are experiencing now is also affecting us. I have not had this kind of experience since I started this business. From when I was an apprentice understudying this business, until now that I started managing my own business, I have not seen the rate of poverty my customers are going through because they are not coming to buy from us as they used to do in the past. If it were before, by now we would have been making serious sales.

“With the closure of the border, there has been a serious influx of many local brands of rice into the market. The foreign rice is still selling at N27,000.00 as against last year’s price of between N13,500 and N14,400. Not many people can afford this price. Even when they come, they do not buy as much as they used to because of the increase in prices. The different types of local rice have different prices, but some are high quality. Those one come in branded bag like Lake Rice and Ebonyi Rice because they are produced by companies to differentiate them from other local rice. Some are produced just like without branded bags. But the good news is that the closure of the border has created more sales for the local rice producers. Even before the border closure, some people even preferred the local rice and are still patronizing it because of the nutritional value and taste. There is this preference for Abakiliki rice that comes from Ebonyi State and Umza that comes from the North. Again, the local rice comes in bags that have 12 full paint buckets while the foreign ones are always tampered with in the warehouses and finally get to the wholesalers in bags that have only 10 paint buckets.”

Ibeakalam also added that as customers groan under the hardship, they are interested in local rice, but earnestly want the producers to improve on the quality by ensuring that the product is sand-and-stone-free.

The plight of the major sellers of frozen chicken that used to be imported (more like smuggled in) through the Nigeria-Benin land border, is not much different from those of the rice merchants.

In Ejigbo main market in Ejigbo Local Council Development Area, Lagos, Mrs Oge Osahon, is a known dealer in frozen foods.

Asked to share her thoughts on the pace of Yuletide sales, she said: “I have been in this business over the years. During the last Yuletide, we sold a carton of chicken for N8,500 as against the N15,000.00 we are selling now. In the last three weeks, I doubt if I have made reasonable sell. We cannot come down on our price because that is how we are buying it. It is even becoming a big problem now because in the process of smuggling it in, the cartons stay longer than expected and at times the product does not get the end-user in a fresh state and, therefore, not good for human consumption. Again, because of the high price, most people are not buying chicken as usual. Instead of buying a kilo of chicken for N1,500, consumers would prefer to go for fish, cow and goat meat, which in fairness is bigger in quantity. I am selling, but not at the rate of my usual sales.

“For party functions, if the celebrant gets a carton, he would cut a lap of a chicken into very tiny pieces to serve all, because the woman could not buy as much as she would have wanted because of high price.”

The story of groundnut oil sellers is not different from other traders whose businesses have been affected by the border closure. A trader at Mushin market, who refused to disclose her name, told Sunday Sun that the 25-litre keg of groundnut oil which was sold for N8,000 last year December has risen to N10, 000 since the border closure.

“The Eva bottle retail size of groundnut oil was also sold for N700 last December, but now costs N900. The small size Eva bottle that used to be N250 is now N400. Our market is seriously affected by the closure, we are still in the market, but it is not favorable,” she said.

Iya Bukky, who said that she has been selling tomato, pepper and onions almost all her life, noted that this is the season for tomato as the price is very affordable now, adding that a big basket of red tomato costs between N6,000 and 7,000.

She added that consumers are not grumbling because it is within reach from December through February and March, so also goes for pepper and onions.

But in all, the mood in the markets is gloomy as the usual Yuletide season is almost non-existent. Most women seen in the market wore long faces, and grumbling about the high cost of foodstuff.

Indeed, the markets were not bubbling as most sellers simply sat in front of their shops chatting.

Mrs Sandra Ekechukwu lamented that business has been dull since several companies downsized their operations to cut operating costs, adding that most of the affected staff went into trading, moving into the market as a survival strategy.

“I have been in the business of selling ‘fairly used’ products especially shoes and bags. The border closure affected our business badly. While some smugglers take the risk of conveying the goods by all means, the resultant effect rests on the end users who pay through their noses. Most parents depend on us to kit their children and wards during the festive season, especially Christmas; some would come and deposit for shoes as early as October and November, but since this closure, we have not been receiving money in advance not talk of selling in cash. The shoes and bags we sell are not made in Nigeria, they come in from foreign countries and that is why we have been hit hard by the border closure. Most of us have been left idle and it has been affecting us and our families. We want the government to find a way to secure the borders and re-open them so that we can survive. The situation is too bad for us. From the way things are now, we will have a very harsh Christmas experience,” Ekechukwu lamented.

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