New Telegraph

Coping with Ramadan fast and rising cost of food

The ongoing Muslim Ramadan fast has effects on various aspects of our societal lives, correspondent, ADEYINKA ADENIJI, reports

Prices of consumer goods had seen a steady upward movement weeks before the commencement of Ramadan; even as the adjustment to communal sleep schedule, created as Fasters observe the Suhoor – a mandatory pre-dawn meal usually before each day’s fasting – amidst a nationwide security challenge. Over the years, security and inflation concerns are the most constant of all issues associated with the Islamic fasting period; food prices escalate with the demand- pull inflation occasioned by people stocking up on food items, while reduction in social gatherings and the shift in the pattern of sleeping drives attention towards communal security.

Social gatherings are reduced, if not totally off, as crowded social engagements are forbidden throughout the 30 days period. The Islamic observation of Suhoor largely altered night life in eyebrows; and the resultant alteration equally fiddles the overall sleep pattern in the society.

Usually, boys and men organise groups of night chanters, who also sing and dance around at night to wake people up in preparation for the Suhoor. Popularly called the ‘Ajisaaris’ among Yorubas in southwest Nigeria, the entertaining groups of boys sleep a bit after iftar at sunset and only come out by 2:00 in the morning, roaming the streets, singing and dancing, creating awareness till about 4:00am when they disperse to go prepare for that day’s fasting. To this extent, crimes like theft, vandalization and “breaking and entry”, which observers say are associated with the pre-dawns, are drastically decreased consequent upon the activities of these ‘Ajisaaris’. Nights periods become lively and bubbly.

Security situation improves and the entire public, irrespective of religion or cultural affiliations feel respite from their palpable safety concerns. Nonetheless, the ongoing fasting is a box of mixed experiences. Shop owners across the states say the ongoing fasting period is the least commercialised they ever witnessed apart from the COVIDmarred 2020 edition.

Rising demand for food items

The Ramadan period is always preceded by weeks of increased demand for food items. It means brisk business for sellers and suppliers as people patronise them for different purpose ranging from personal consumption to charity. A cross-section of the public contacted by our correspondent concurred that the general increase in prices as observed are not necessarily a reaction to surging volumes of demand as a result of the annual Islamic fasting; but a reflection of the crashing state of the national economy and a continuation of a recession, which they say is resultant of a higher cost of forex, since the Nigerian economy is import oriented. Others agree that prices have moved northward as a result of the fasting, but maintain that they are marginal, compared to what obtains in the past.

Our correspondent equally learnt that, the widely acknowledged impact of Rama-dan – as informed by the ritualistic activities of the Ajiweres and the Suhoor – on communal security is now being drowned by the plangency of the horrors of terrorism, kidnappings and other violent crimes – which, our respondents recalled, have bedeviled the country for over a decade but has been heightened in the last seven years.

Having witnessed numerous violent attacks of terrorists and kidnappers at unbelievable hours of the day and at the least expected portions of the Nigerian public space, especially locations of high security presence, many of them concluded that, the advent of the Muslim holy month has added little or nothing to allay their heightened safety anxieties, the reason for which they say they have now ceased reliance on public security provisions, to that of the proverbial crab, “who opted for self-surveillance as a means to self-preservation.”

Security worries

One of them, an Aboru – Alimosho resident, Abubakar, a foodstuff seller at the popular (Ile Epo) Oke-Odo market, who boasts to have lived in Lagos State for 45 years, said the worsened security situation was unprecedented. While lamenting heightened security state of alert, Abubakar was particular about the growing menace of street urchins, popularly called “area boys” who he says do not wait for the cold Ramadan nights before fomenting their troubles. Abubakar said: “The receding state of the national economy has contributed to the country’s security problems.

Ramadan has neither reduced the problem nor added onto it; whether day or night, Ramadan or not, we must see to our personal security without waiting for others. “For instance in my area in Aboru, we organise ourselves to watch our area. Robbers don’t wait until night again”, Abubakar declared adding that; “Before Ramadan, whether Muslims or non-muslims, we watch over ourselves without waiting for security from any police or ‘maiguard’, (Nigerian parlance for watchmen); if three of us are in the house, each of us will join others in the neighbourhood to watch over the community in turns, daily between 12 midnight and 5am.

“Ramadan has not stopped the activities of Area Boys, they are now everywhere in Lagos. They can rob anytime. Not only at night. One of them asked me for money in Agege, he brought out a knife, but I showed him I have been in Lagos for 45 years. I am a Lagos man.” Abu, the Yola-born however pitied those who may not have the courage to defend themselves in the face of similar attack. Another trader at the Oke-Odo market, Mrs Adeyemi, also maintained that the biting economy had sadly sustained its receding trend. “The prices have been on the increase before Ramadan.

We don’t really know why. Ramadan is not the cause. Prices have been going up since last year,” Mrs Adeyemi said. She also emphasised that the current upswing in rates of foodstuffs like Yam Flour, Garri Wheat, Semolina, e.t.c., had subsisted since 2021, and not only a reflection of the effect of bulk purchases pattern recognised with the Ramadan period.

Poor Sales

For the Aare Iyaloja of Egbe Kingdom, Chief Mrs Maria Adekunle, the galloping prices have their roots in the general economic down turn in the country, which she says started long ago; adding that the market has been unable to respond accordingly to the slight reduction in prices of certain commodities like frozen foods, one of her various lines of the business, due largely to a receding economy.

In her words: “Sales are low now and it’s not because of Ramadan. Usually, the fasting period once started is characterised by low sales, due to reduced productivity and the Islamic orientation of moderation, which prevents them from having social parties during the period. There are no social parties during Ramadan,” she stated. For the Customs retiree, the major concern is the continued non responsiveness of demand for edibles even when some prices reduced after the contaminated petroleum crises. “There is no money. Even when the price of rice reduced after the crisis, before picking again at the commencement of Ramadan, we only sold the regular quantities we were selling.

We have not made request for our weekly supplies since last week, because there is no sales” The subsisting general increase in prices prior to Ramadan are indicated in the inflation figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), for the months preceding the Ramadan. The data office records revealed an 0.1% increase in February to 15.7% from 15.6% recorded in January, 2022, this can be attributed to the deregulation in prices of diesel, (AGO) and the scarcity caused by the importation of contaminated Premium Motor Spirit, (PMS) in January, even as the government contemplates subsidy removal. Madam Joy, a soup stuff seller also confirms that the price escalation this season has become unbearable and the resulting low sales are worrisome. She says prices have maintained an upward movement since last year.

“You know what I sell, some of them are imported, and we all know what the dollar is saying now. The situation is getting out of hand; the price of that one,” pointing to a metal gallon of King’s Vegetable Cooking oil on her shelve, “for example, has added about 30% in the last one month. We sold at N6,000 bits now it’s N7800. Gino Thyme, which we sold for three thousand four hundred, is now five thousand naira”.

Joy concluded by declaring that the same thing applies to almost all the items in her shop. A seller at Sango Ota, Ogun State market, Mr Samuel didn’t have much to say. When asked what could be responsible for this inflation in prices, he simply opined that “the galloping started with Change.”

He spoke in defence of the Muslim fasting period. “Don’t give the period a bad name, it didn’t just start. Ramadan added to it, fine; but we all know that the inflation started long ago, the galloping in general prices started about seven years with ‘Change’ and not today,” he stressed. In Owode Market, Offa, Kwara State, the situation is the same, Mrs Dunni Olajide says the prices of food have all gone haywire especially since increase in the pump price of petroleum products, which she says has jerked up food prices. According to Olajide, Rice, a staple in the Nigerian diet, is the most volatile in price. “Nigerian rice that was sold for N27, 000 is now sold at N29,000, while foreign rice, hitherto at N28,500 now goes for N33,000.

Bulk purchase

According to her, as a result of Ramadan, bulk buyers like politicians and other faithful, who buy to share among the less privileged according to Islamic injunctions have driven only increase witnessed in the demand for rice. The mother of two says the increment in the price of Semovina is natural at this time of the year and not as a result of the holy month. Social gatherings and operators in the leisure and hospitality business are also feeling the brunt of the season.

The Islamic conditioning of abstinence from social activities during the Ramadan period is responsible for low sales in the sector. Elaborate parties are forbidden during the period known for reflections, the pursuit of purity and moderacy.

Hoteliers, pub operators and outdoor caterers say the Ramadan has further compounded the lull in business which they have managed to cope with, since the end of the COVID-dictated global lockdown. Ejima sells ‘solid/swallow’ foods at Oregun – Ikeja, Lagos. He says, the alteration situated in the peoples’ eating pattern is taking a toll on sales revenues. “People have changed the way they now eat. We also adjusted when the fasting started. We now close later than we used to because many people don’t eat until the evenings.

Majority of customers who patronised the public canteens now cook and eat at home.” An hotelier on the popular Ring Road, Ibadan, Oyo State, who declined to mention his name nor have his enterprise name in print says: “The economy is bad now. The naira lost totally against the dollar, that’s why everything is like this. You know we depend on dollars too much in this country…” Imagine the price of the dollar at almost N600 to one.

Nothing meaningful will come out of an economy that depends solely on other countries’ currencies because we don’t produce.” On the effect of the fasting period on business, the America returnee says, that the diminished patronage for hotels and other leisure services providers is expected. “There are no parties or shows throughout the month. This affects our business but we are used to it,” he added.

There certainly is an unusual interaction between the price and demands for food items. Even when prices of commodities reduced, it didn’t translate to increased demand because there subsists a scarcity of money. The official inflation figures is a direct reflection of market realities in terms of the responsiveness of demand to the Ramadan season occasioned by a receding economy. As the populace assumes a self-surveillance mode, they also hope that state provision for security which is in a deplorable state will improve.

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