COVID-19: Price inflation unsettle consumers


Prices of commodities have risen astronomically across the country following restriction of movements announced by the Federal Government and some state governments to curb the spread of coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19).

Checks by Daily Trust Saturday show that in some cases, prices of food and medicine have skyrocketed by over 100 per cent. For instance, in Abuja, a bag of sachet water used to go for N100 before the lockdown, but the price has jumped to between N200 to N250 daily in the Apo axis of the nation’s capital.  A medium-sized tuber of yam, initially selling at N300 at the Fish Market in Utako is now between N500 to N800.

The sellers have no fixed prices to commodities as they alter prices when they suspect higher demand.

The director-general of the Federal Consumer Competition and Protection Commission (FCCPC), Babatunde Irukera, said his commission had been monitoring sellers who exploit consumers during this coronavirus pandemic. He said they were determined to ensure that suppliers and retailers did not manipulate supply to distort the market or promote high prices, or engage in excessive pricing of relevant products.

“The commission intends to enforce the law with respect to fair competition and consumer protection.  We will deploy all available statutory tools to prevent profiteering and exploitation in this inauspicious season,” Irukera said.

Daily Trust Saturday observed that while it is easy to monitor price gouging at organised stores, malls and pharmacies, the case is not the same with roadside and open markets in communities where most consumers make purchases.

A data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed that the food inflation rose by 14.90 per cent in February 2020 compared to 14.85 per cent in January.

A foodstuff market

In addition to increases in prices of pharmaceuticals, the NBS reported that spikes in the food index was caused by increases in prices of bread and cereals, fish, meat, vegetables, oils and fats.

In Sokoto, a sack of the best local rice previously sold between N29,000 and N30,000 has soared to between N35,000 and N36,000. A measure of the rice hitherto sold between N700 and N750 now sells at N900.

A lower quality of local rice, which sack was N21,000 or N22,000 now sells at N25,000 while price of a measure of it moved from N650  to N750.

Foreign rice has gone up from N16,000 to N20,000 while a measure of it rose from N950 and N1,000 to N1,200 and N1,250

It is the same story for beans. The price of a sack rose from N12,000 to N15,000 while a measure climbed from N300 to N400 and N450. A sack of garri went up from N13,500 to N17,000 just as a sack of guinea corn rose from N9,000 to N11,000. Millet, which was N11,500, is now N13,000.

Similarly, flour rose to N11,000 from N10,000.

“The sudden increase in prices of staple food and other commodities at the Sokoto Central Market followed the border closure occasioned by the need to prevent the spread of coronavirus,” one of the traders, Ali Ahmadu said.

A grain merchant, Umar Mohammed, lamented that the sales had dropped by 60 per cent. “We now record only about 40 per cent of the previous sales,” he revealed.

A consumer, Mallama Halima Ibrahim, stressed the need to cushion the effect of the measures on the masses.

In Kaduna, the lockdown has increased prices of essential commodities in the state as many markets and shops are closed down.

Our correspondent who sampled some prices in the Sheikh Gumi market observed that prices have increased across board.

For instance, before the lockdown, one kilogramme of cow meat cost between N1,200 and N1,300, but it now costs between N1,400 and N1,600. Also, a measure of rice, which cost N500, now sells between N800 and N1000.

Checks by our correspondent further revealed that a measure of beans and garri, which used to cost N250 and N200 has gone up to N350 respectively.

Even prices of vegetables have gone up as a small basket of tomatoes, which cost N400, has risen to between N800 and N1000; same goes for pepper, which has gone up by 30 per cent.

The increase in prices, according to marketers, is due to the unavailability of the items due to the lockdown.

Malam Adamu Mohammed, who sells raw meat, said the cows were scarce and that is why the price of a kilo increased.

“We hope that by the time the lockdown is over, prices of food items would reduce because many of my customers are really complaining, especially because businesses are not taking place and people do not have money to buy stuffs,’’ he said.

Also, a tomato seller, Muntari Ibrahim, who said he depended on nearby farms to get his items, added, “Because the items are becoming scare, the prices are rising, which is making it more difficult for people to buy. Sometimes when I peg prices for my goods, I have to bring them down, to the extent that I make no gain because people will come begging that their money is not up to the amount and they need the items to cook for their families. I am left with no option than to oblige them.’’

He urged government to, as a matter of urgency, find a quick solution to the pandemic in order to save many families from starvation.

The rise in prices of food commodities in Lagos has also been linked to the lockdown. Traders claim they experience a lot of difficulty before getting their goods to the market as there is no available vehicle for transportation.

A trader, Mummy Yusuf at Isolo market said the prices of all edible commodities in the market had increased.

According to the fish seller, “All foodstuffs are expensive, but fish is the most expensive. Every day, the prices of fish increase. The price that my friends bought fish this morning was still reasonable compared with the price I bought in the afternoon. And that price was different from that of yesterday.’’

A perishable food seller at Mile 12 (name not revealed) said the prices of pepper and tomatoes usually fluctuated.

“But at the moment, the price is okay. A basket of tomatoes sells at N5,000,” he said.

Another rice seller at Daleko market in Mushin, Mr Sulaimon, said that the commodity, which was sold at N18,000 two weeks ago, is now N20,000, and in other instances, N21,000. He said he did not know the cause of the price hike.

On the day the lockdown commenced, garri, which hitherto sold between N350 and N400, now sells at N800. The yellow garri, which was N500, is now between N1,000 and N1,200. Aside garri, the price of pepper in other markets in Lagos and inside streets has increased. A N50 worth of pepper has suddenly become N100. Ingredients for making fried rice, especially carrot, have suddenly become expensive.

The prices of foodstuffs from the main market still remains as it was, but market men and women who sell at smaller markets and inside different streets across the state have increased the prices, thereby making purchase difficult for the masses.

A recent communique released by the Daily Trust Board of Economists and signed by its chairman, Professor Nafizi Abdullahi Darma, predicted price hikes in essential commodities as COVID-19 takes toll on the economy.

The board said increased inflation was expected in view of existing border closure, proposed adjustment in electricity tariff and negative effect of coronavirus pandemic on global economy in terms of decline in crude oil prices, rise in prices of imported goods and financial stability.

“The Board urges retailers of goods, especially food, not to engage in price gouging and exploitation at this auspicious moment when people are desperately struggling for survival. It also urges the government to develop a strong food security management strategy towards insulating Nigerians from opportunistic food price increases in view of our low income level and the high proportion of income spent by Nigerians on food,” the communique reads.

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