When I read in today’s guardian that the federal government is setting up a ‘joint task force’ on rising food prices across the country, my mind went straight to the small business owners and traders I met in the course of the week. How does a task force comprising of Ministers be able to solve a fundamental problem such as price increase? It is obvious that the government is too far from the people.
Mrs Ida (not real name) is a small retailer in New Benin market, Benin City’s second biggest market after Mission Road market. She was unusually late to open on Tuesday and out of curiosity I engaged her in discussions. For perspective, Mrs Ida is a hardworking trader with two children in the university. According to her, she started the trading business before she got married and has used its proceeds to sponsor her children through the levels of education. On why she came late that day;
“I am just coming from church to speak to my father and punish all my enemies of progress. When I rented this new shop about six months ago, NEPA people came and said the outstanding on the meter is N100,000. I told them I can’t pay it because I wasn’t the one who used it. I only use two deep freezers and one fridge, how can someone expect me to pay that much. The NEPA man now told me to be paying N5000 monthly if I don’t want them to disconnect me. Since then, this man has been collecting money from me. On coming this morning, I saw that they have disconnected me. When I went to their office, they said all the money I paid was not reflected in their account. What do I do now? I have stock fish, meat, soft drinks in my freezers, who will buy them before they spoil? That’s why I went to church to tell God my mind and pour fire on the people connected with this.”
In a similar encounter, I know a business owner who is currently contemplating increasing the price of his products to cover the ever increasing cost of diesel. According to him, he runs five trucks to sell consumer goods and these trucks run on diesel. Initially, diesel was sold for N200 per liter and he could still manage the margin from his distributor. However, since price of diesel increased to N275 per liter on same margin, he has been struggling with making profits which is why the only way left is to increase price in order to cover some logistics and operational costs.
The above stories are just a few of what businesses in Nigeria face everyday. Business owners struggle to make bottom-line due to ever increasing cost of operations arising from lack of basic amenities such as steady electricity, good transportation network for both agricultural and industrial goods, Forex and inconsistent fiscal and monetary policies.
In my opinion, setting up a ‘task force’ to investigate or enforce pricing is just another way of not living up to responsibilities.
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