VOICE AIR MEDIA, News Update
Many are dying of hunger, while so many others are suffering from one kind of ailment or the other, due to malnutrition. The level of inflation is frightening and it has virtually affected the price of everything, including food items.
Unfortunately, the government has been unable to find a solution to the situation, particularly to the consistent rise in the price of wheat flour, the raw material for bread. The situation has become a big source of worry to both bread bakers and consumers.
The development has become so unbearable that only on Friday, February 2, local bread bakers in Kano State, Northwest Nigeria, took to the street to protest the high cost of flour, saying that the price hike was threatening to force them out of business.
The bakers lamented that they used to buy a bag of flour for N16,000, but now, the same bag is sold for N43,000 and they cannot afford it.
At the forefront of the protest was the chairperson of the association, Fatima Awwal, who called on the Federal Government to, as a matter of urgency, look into the incessant increment in price of the commodity.
She further noted that many of them would definitely be forced out of business if the government failed to act and fast too.
She said: “We are out here on the streets protesting to let the leaders know the economic hardship that we are facing at the moment.
“This is our small scale business facing deterioration due to the high rise in the price of flour. It is a business for the poor, which the rich cannot dare to venture into.
“It is such that only 25 percent of us are now remaining in the business, as many others have closed down due to lack of capital.
“We used to buy a bag of floor for N16,000 in the past, but now it sells for N43,000. This is absurd. What we produce is a common food for the poor, and it is now becoming unaffordable. Anytime we go to buy flour, we get an increase of between N1,500 and N2,000.
“We are calling on the authorities and those concerned to look into this matter, because we are running out of business, and it is affecting our families.
“Currently, we use the IRS flour produced by Abdussamad; it is the best for our products, but we cannot afford it any longer. If nothing is done, we have no choice, but to close down, and this will affect the public.
“We cannot engage in any act that is not in tandem with the religion of Islam, hence, the need for governments at all levels to wade into this high price of flour by engaging those companies producing flour on the need to bring the price down.
“We call on the government to find positive ways to assist those flour companies, to source for foreign exchange, so that the cost of production would be favourable to them.”
Generally, in the north, Gurasa is a kind of local bread produced, using a combination of flour, yeast, sugar and water.
It is a local staple for many people, particularly the downtrodden. It provides job opportunities to many because it is sold almost in every nook and cranny, including the market places, motor parks and road sides.
The protesters carried placards bearing such inscriptions as, ‘Inflation is too high in the country,’ ‘We are not in support of the hike in flour price,’ ‘FG must act now, we are tired of increment of flour price,’ ‘Look into flour price hikes,’ ‘Nigerians are hungry’ and ‘Gurasa is the only staple food for the poor,’ among others.
However, while some people blame the development on the fuel subsidy removal, which they argued had affected virtually prices of everything, including transport, others blame it on the continued fall of the Naira against the dollar.
Those pushing the fuel subsidy removal argument are insisting that the policy raised the prices of fuel and diesel by more than 400 percent, and this has correspondingly moved the cost of transport to the rooftop.
“It has affected the bread bakers very adversely to the extent that many of them have closed shops. They spend so much to transport the flour from the place of purchase to the factory, and to the point of distribution, and at the end of the day, all those extra expenses are factored into the cost of production, thereby pushing the price of bread beyond the reach of the common man,” a bread baker, Kolade said.
Kolade is not alone on this line of thought.
Livinus Eze is an engineer who ventured into the bread baking business in a bid to create employment for the youths, and equally increase his personal income, but he has since closed his factory due to the persistent rise in the cost of flour, and other raw materials for bread baking.
He told our correspondent that, “The root cause of all these is fuel subsidy removal. Fuel is very important in all the economic activities in Nigeria.
“Even in the villages, they use vehicles to get their products to the end users and the transporters have increased the transport fare due to high cost of fuel; this automatically will reflect on the prices of bread because the bakers who paid more to buy and transport flour, which is the raw materials for bread, would automatically reflect the increase on the price of the bread.”
Continuing, he said: “Fuel increased by 400 percent following the fuel subsidy removal, and you don’t expect all things to be equal. It has affected prices of virtually all goods and services. Diesel is also there and for those who use trucks to convey their products, the prices will go up.
“This situation is telling on bakers because a lot of them have been thrown out of business. They can’t afford the price of flour now.
“I am a living example; I am out of business because I couldn’t afford the price of flour. A bag of flour that used to be N12,000 before May last year here in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, is now sold for over N50,000; how many people can afford it? How much will you sell the bread after baking? Is it not because of children that people still buy bread now?
“Most people today buy bread because of the little children that cannot do without bread for their morning tea. But, even at that, how many people can still buy bread because of their children?
“Many people cannot afford bread any longer, not even the ‘Agege bread,’ which ordinarily is being patronized by the lower class, is affordable today. People no longer drink tea because they can’t afford bread. It is a terrible situation.”
Eze, who warned that an urgent step to address the trend must be taken by the government, equally lamented that the astronomical price hike does not only apply to wheat flour but also virtually to all essential commodities.
“Imagine that an ordinary toothbrush that used to be N150 is now about N400. Everything has changed, and people are really suffering. It is horrible,” he said.
Much as the subsidy argument remains tenable, another school of thought has attributed the development to the high Naira to Dollar exchange rate at the international market.
One of the proponents of this argument is a bread baker based in Kebbi State, North West Nigeria, Mr. Okechukwu Godwin.
He argued that wheat flour, a major raw material for baking bread, is imported, and as such, the Dollar to Naira exchange rate is a major problem.
This, according to him, is because if buyers go outside the country to buy wheat, when they come back to Nigeria, they will convert the dollar to Naira and whatever equivalent they get is what they will factor into the price at which they sell to local bread producers.
“Wheat is imported, and when the importers come back to Nigeria, they would sell according to the Naira value of the dollar with which they bought the flour, and you know what that means.
“With the value of Naira falling to as low as 1$ approximating to between N1,500 and N1,510, you can understand what we are going through.
“Many people are already out of business, and more would soon follow if nothing is done by the government to address the continued fall in the value of Naira, particularly against the Dollars,” he said.
“Price of sugar is very high; the cost of gas and fuel for transportation is equally very high, and all these contribute to the high cost of bread as we have it today.
“In time past, many people could just buy a loaf of bread worth N100 or thereabout, and with a bottle of mineral water like Coke, Fanta or Sprite, a meal is gone.
“But, with the price of bread today, only a few Nigerians can afford that; it has become a luxury to eat bread today in Nigeria. And it shouldn’t be so because bread is one of the major staple foods that is affordable to the common man,” he said.
On the effects of the rising cost of flour to him as a bread baker, he said: “It affects us seriously because most of the time, after production and sale, when you go back to buy again, the price would rise beyond what you bought the last time.
“For instance, you could buy a bag of flour for N38,000, and after production and sales, when you go back again, they would tell you it is now N42000. So, at this point, you need to borrow money before you can buy another one. This has put everybody into confusion right now.
“The government should do something urgently to arrest the trend. The people are frustrated, angry, disillusioned and disenchanted, and can do anything anytime.
“Remember that a hungry man is an angry man, and an angry man is a violent man, and a violent man is an unreasonable man, and an unreasonable man is a danger to the society, because he could do anything,” he submitted.
For the bread consumers, it is a dark moment, with a loaf of bread which was sold for N750 by May 2023, now sold for N1500 and above.
Commenting on the development, Rowlande Akande, a Lagos based estate agent, said he could only advise the government to do something about the situation.
He noted that most low class families that rely on beans and bread to feed their children find it extremely difficult to do that today.
“Whatever is the cause of this crazy increase in the price of bread should be tackled. Whether it is an increase in transportation as a result of fuel subsidy removal or the high exchange rate of the Naira to the Dollars, the government should be able to address the problem squarely.
“Remember that food is one of the three necessities of man to survive. In fact, it is second to air, and a hungry population is a disaster waiting to happen to any nation.
“So, the government must not allow this hardship to continue; something must be done urgently to arrest the situation,” he said.