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Prices Beyond Reach

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By Sister Mary-Anne Akpu

The grave impact of the COVID-19 has seen prices of goods and services skyrocket beyond reach across all major markets in Awka, the Anambra state capital. From Eke Awka to Arroma and down UkwuOrji markets, it is the same tale of woes, devastation and anguish coupled with persistent endemic poverty.

Undoubtedly, the 21st century deadly pandemic coronavirus outbreak has caused great havoc in the nation’s economy and in the world at large. To some extent, the rich and the poor alike are affected. Most people find it very difficult to put meals on their family tables.  In fact, Nigeria is awakening to a new economy as a result of COVID-19 crisis despite the rate of poverty in the country.

However, coronavirus or COVID-19, as it is popularly called, is a deadly infectious disease which originated from China and has spread to several countries. According to research, the initial transmission of the disease seemed to be from an animal source but, currently, there has been person-to-person transmission in countries. The pandemic spread like wild fire all over the globe and, as a result, has affected the global economy.

As a nation, Nigeria is not left out and is among the very many countries currently being ravaged by this pandemic. Being a third world country, Nigeria had, hitherto, been struggling to survive poverty such that the outbreak of the virus was a heavy blow that tasked the country’s appalling healthcare delivery system. That gave rise to a combination of socioeconomic and healthcare challenges in the country. soon after, the ripples of these challenges got to every aspect of the people’s lives, particularly in their basic survival needs in the open markets and such commodity exchange centres. In effect, the effect of the pandemic in the Nigeria markets have been immense, resulting in very high increase in prices of goods and services.

The pandemic could be likened to a Third World War, given its pervasive impact. It is like a situation where one is being chased by an unseen enemy; where people flee from one another because of the unseen enemy, the streets calm and quiet because people are indoors since the unseen enemy is around the corner. Markets are shut and our children no longer go to school because of the unseen enemy. Even our churches are shut all in the bid to flee from the unseen enemy.

At the end of all this comes the aftermath. Although the COVID-19 pandemic is still a reality in so many parts of the world and some parts of Nigeria, alongside it is the obvious fact that every part of the nation would appear to be suffering more its aftermath. Poverty is on the increase; many people are unable to afford even one square meal in a day, principally because of the high cost of goods and services.

A survey conducted by this reporter at the Ukwuorji market around Government House area in Awka reveals that most customers find it very difficult to purchase goods of their choice due to high cost of such goods. The traders, in turn, sell their goods with little or no profit, just in order for them to get their daily bread.

One of such traders is Madam Blessing (not real name), a dealer in imported wears, who stated that “the problem is no longer COVID-19. Rather, it is inflation and high exchange rate of the naira as the price of the naira to a dollar has gone up.”

Another trader dealing in wears and shoes at the Ukwu orji market, Madam Amara, said that, to a large extent, COVID-19 had a negative impact in Nigeria economy and that it had really affected their business. She lamented her difficulty in replenishing her stock each time this became necessary. She related an experience where she made a trip to purchase new stocks. According to Amara, on getting there, the prices had increased so much that the money she had on her fell far below her need. The reason she was given was that the suppliers did not have the goods in stock because of the closure of borders as a result of the closure of borders to contain the spread of the pandemic. That resulted in scarcity and high price for the little available stock. For instance, rubber sandals, that were sold for 500 naira, now sold for 800/900 naira, just like many other items, lamenting that she could not buy all she needed. She expressed the fear that the situation would become unbearable by the time importers exhaust their stock of goods resulting in high and spiraling inflation that will exacerbate people’s hardship.

In another chat, another trader, simply identified as Precious, and dealing in stationeries at the market lamented that prices of most of her wares had increased, except for the old stock. For example, she said, a 40-leaf exercise book that formerly sold for 100 naira now costs 120 naira. For her, “it is only God that can save the situation,” even as she ascribes the situation to the closure of Nigeria’s borders. Even those who have old stock decided to increase the prices of their goods because they are not sure of getting new supplies after selling the old ones. Some Nigerian-owned goods are still in circulation simply because their raw materials are still available in the Nigerian market. If the situation is not curbed soon and these locally available raw materials get exhausted, people will not find it funny at all. She went further to say that the prices of local farm produce like orange, plantain and others also increased as a result of hike in transportation cost. In other words, when goods are bought and transported from one locality to another, extra costs get incurred and, therefore, the sellers will devise a means to recoup their money, she said.

Ifeoma who sells baby food and diapers at the same Ukwu orji market said most of her goods were gotten from importers who still had the old stock, adding that and the prices were no longer what they use to be. She said these have increased by as much as 60 to 70 percent.

However, in another discussion with Love, at Arroma Market, who deals in buildings materials, she couldn’t hold her breath in expressing her feelings on the high cost of building materials and every other material in the market these days, saying it had almost become a daily occurrence. For her, even those who have old stock increase the prices of goods because they might go for new stocks after selling the old ones and find it very difficult to get anything to buy.

At the Mbaukwu market, the reporter had another brief talk with a provision seller, Madam Ngozi, who poured out her hearts concerning the situation of things in the nation. She said a cartoon of noodles that was being sold for 1, 500 naira had gone up to 1, 650 naira while a bucket-measure of garri from 500 naira to 850 naira. She queried: how will the poor masses survive this situation she lamented?

The restaurant business was not sparred in the current travails of businesses. Madam Joy, who manages a restaurant at Mbaukwu in Awka South local government area of Anambra state, also commented on the high cost of food stuffs. For her, it was the increase in transportation costs that led to the high cost of food stuff. She said those who travelled to various states to get grains had no option than to increase the prices of their goods because of high fares. For example, one bag of rice which was formerly been sold for 14,000 naira could now be purchased at 17,000 naira, and so many others.

From the angle of services, transporters would not wait to increase the fare as a result of social distancing, i.e. they are not allowed to carry their full capacity

In view of the above, it is evident that all sectors have come to feel the impact of the COVID-19 disease and the various measures adopted to contain it which resulted in unexpected consequences to people’s daily lives. The people are, therefore, left to adapt to these consequences for their continued existence in the new normal we find ourselves.

There is no gainsaying that this era of global virus affliction has immensely and adversely affected life in all its spheres, national economies inclusive and with its ripple effect down to even the lowest rungs of societies worldwide. Production and distribution of goods and services, on which humanity depends so critically, have been very much threatened by the protocols that have had to be put in place and observed for effective check on the spread of the virus. It is no wonder that it has all gone beyond human comprehension such that the people are now inclined to simply look up to God the more for a solution.

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