As Nigerians continue to cope with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, they are now facing a new challenge: rapidly rising living expenses.
After falling into its deepest recession in forty years during the height of pandemic restrictions, the country’s economy had a softer landing with the availability of vaccines and subsequent easing of restrictions.
According to the World Bank, Nigeria’s economy contracted by -1.8% in 2020, lower than the -3.2% loss the organisation had predicted at the beginning of the pandemic. Unfortunately, this is still the lowest decline Nigeria’s economy has experienced since 1983.
While COVID has played a huge role in these economic losses, insecurity, questionable policies (such as the land border closure) and rising prices of goods and services have also contributed to the economic losses the country has suffered in the past 18 months, the World Bank said.
But what does this mean for the average Nigerian? Well, at least seven million people have been pushed into poverty in 2020 alone due to rapidly increasing prices and the resultant high living expenses.
“The impact of higher inflation is severe: In 2020, rising prices alone—even without incorporating the direct impacts of COVID-19 on welfare—may have pushed an estimated 7 million Nigerians into poverty,” according to the World Bank.
Global Citizen went into the streets of the commercial city of Lagos and spoke with some Nigerians across various walks of life about the rising cost of living and here are five living expenses they have been struggling with in the past few months:
Motunrayo Omobolanle had been to her neighbourhood market to buy some food items a day before Global Citizen caught up with her at her brother’s home in Lagos.
“Onions, pepper, all types of meat and poultry, rice, yams — any staple food you can think of right now has increased dramatically in price. The same amount of pepper I could buy with N500 ($1) now costs twice as much. It is unbearable,” said Omobolanle, who is a photographer in Lagos.
Omobolanle’s experience is backed up by World Bank statistics, who link the high food prices (which pre-date the pandemic) to inflation.
“Driven by a steep increase in food prices, since September 2019 headline inflation has risen dramatically. Although inflation declined slightly in April 2021, it is still the highest in four years,” says the World Bank in a June 2021 report. “On the supply side, a combination of unfavorable weather, insecurity and conflict, and pandemic-related shocks affecting food production and market access are pushing food prices up.”
The increase in staple food prices is also widely reported in Nigerian media and it has driven up the cost of meals at restaurants.
2. Petroleum products
Nigeria’s economy relies heavily on oil and with the natural resource losing value on the international market due to COVID-19-related supply and demand constraints, trade and travel restrictions, petroleum products have gotten more expensive as a result.
We caught up with Ernest Nwokocha at his shop in Lagos where he sells petroleum products. In the last quarter of 2020, his business was in a good place after Nigeria rolled back lockdown guidelines but in the past few months, he has lost those earlier gains and patronage is slow.
“A four litre keg of engine oil sold for N5,000 (~$10) in March. Right now, I don’t think anyone sells it for less than N7,500. These days, people are usually discouraged from buying the products I sell because the increase is just too much but I have no choice because I have to keep my business afloat and take care of my family,” he told Global Citizen.
3. Medical products
A land border closure that has been in effect since August 2019, coupled with insecurity in many parts of the country and scarcity of foreign exchange have also driven up the prices of medical products like medicines, oxygen and certain drugs.
In a pharmacy on the Lagos mainland, Global citizne spoke Grace Akomolafe who runs her business with her staff of four. She told Global Citizen that some specialist drugs have increased dramatically in price over the past few months, especially “drugs used to treat hypertension, diabetes and other illnesses that need continuous management.”
Since Nigeria has no health welfare programs of note, many Nigerians have been unable to access medical products they need to stay alive and take care of their responsibilities.
4. Clothes and Baby food
Clothes and baby formulas have risen in price thanks to a Central bank of Nigeria policy to deny importers of milk (and other food items) access to the official foreign exchange market it controls. Basically, if you import milk then you can’t get dollars (which you need to import milk) from the CBN or banks it regulates.
This has driven up the price of baby formulas and other milk-based products, which are mostly imported goods. Clothes also cost more as transportation and production costs have increased with lower demand as the pandemic slowed down economic activity.
We met Doyin Thomas, a nursing mother, as she looked through grocery options at her neighbourhood supermarket in Lagos. What would normally be a routine trip now fills her with anxiety as she compares prices to the cash she has and decides what to put in her shopping basket and what to leave out.
“Baby formulas have gotten so expensive, I’ve started to look into alternatives for my baby. It’s not ideal and I am worried about his nutritional needs but I am running out of choices fast. My husband and I have had to cut down on several expenses — we even eat smaller meals — to be able to afford to feed our child,” she said.
Most of Nigeria’s employed people work in the informal sector thanks to an already existing lack of jobs that was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Boko Haram insurgency and very slow economic growth.
These economic circumstances have led to an increase in the cost of services like transportation, education, security and personal grooming, which in turn means fewer Nigerians are now able to afford these services, per the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
“Everything is getting more expensive, very fast! I can barely keep up. I’ve had to take on two more side jobs which pay in dollars to maintain a semblance of my pre-pandemic life,” David Kehinde, an IT consultant, told Global Citizen at his house in Lagos as he sipped from a glass of water and prepared for another job interview.
“I can’t imagine what it must be like for Nigerians who don’t live in commercial cities like Lagos because if middle class Nigerians like me are struggling, what must the poor people of Nigeria — the most in the world — be going through? It’s so sad.”