Little cheer as high prices dampen Christmas in Nigeria

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At a crowded market in Nigeria’s commercial capital Lagos, 27-year-old Blessing Abah negotiates the price of a turkey and other food items as she goes about her Christmas shopping, which she complains now costs more than ever before.

She paid 2,500 naira for the turkey, up 25% from two months ago, while the 10 tomatoes she got for 200 naira are now reduced to seven, a reminder that prices in Africa’s biggest economy are still rising sharply even though inflation has eased.

In many parts of Nigeria, Christmas is a time to feast with family and friends while exchanging gifts. But Abah said there is little to share with neighbours this year.

“Things are very hard, food is very expensive, source of income is not as before so giving this time around will be really hard,” said Abah.

Nigeria exited recession last year, but growth is fragile and the International Monetary Fund said recovery will be “subdued”, as the West African country grapples with double digit inflation, dollar shortages and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year’s crash in the price of oil, which accounts for more than 90% of its foreign exchange, led to acute shortages of forex and put pressure on the naira currency.

Dollar shortages mean traders like Felix Okafor, who runs an electronics shop at Computer Village neighbourhood of Lagos, are forced to buy forex on the black market at a higher price to pay for the goods he sells and pass on the cost to consumers.

“You know it’s the end of the year that people buy new electronics and gadgets as gifts for friends and relatives but this year sales have been very low,” Okafor said.

Abah’s friend, Owuza Sheidi, who is a tailor, has doubled the price of some of her clothes in the past two years to keep up with escalating costs of fabric and sewing tools.

She yearns for stability in prices and exchange rates.

So does Afis Adewale, another tailor, cutting cloth for a new outfit at a roadside shop in Ikeja neighbourhood in Lagos.

“This time of the year I normally sleep in my shop to meet deadlines for my customers,” he said. “But this year I only have a few clothes to sew.”