For most people living in Nigeria, the Christmas season is very important. It’s a season where people take an extended break from work beyond the annual leave, which some companies do not really observe as a significant part of the workforce are daily earners. People get to rest well and bond with family and friends during Christmas.
As the days draw nearer to December the 25th, more people are drawn to the euphoria of the season. Simply, Christmas comes with a feeling of excitement and freedom. Freedom from labour, freedom to rest, to mingle, to spend and go broke (if you like) and whatnot.
The Christmas holidays are when people get to do a lot of shopping for themselves and their loved ones. According to the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System Plc (NIBSS), Nigeria recorded a total of N6.43 trillion ($14.4 billion) in POS transactions in 2021, hitting the highest levels on record. The surge was significantly triggered by the Christmas festivity of the year in view. POS transactions that December rose to N699.75 billion ($1.6 billion), the highest ever recorded in a single month. The volume of transactions had soared by 50% to N982.8 million ($2.2 million) in 2021, compared to 655.8 million ($1.5 million) transactions recorded in 2020.
That was the highest transaction volume ever recorded in Nigeria since its adoption of POS. These statistics show how much Nigerians value spending during Christmas. After a year of hassle, all they want to do is spend and feel good. Among the many things to spend on such as holiday outings, gifts, and clothes, a bulk of the spending goes on consumables such as drinks and food, especially rice, Nigeria’s top staple.
If you have never lived in Nigeria, you will not understand the importance of rice and the premium Nigerians place on “Christmas rice” during Christmas. It is often said that Christmas rice tastes better than the regular rice delicacies eaten all year long. Especially the Christmas Jollof. Suffice it to say that rice is one of the lifelines of Christmas in Nigeria. But will there be rice this Christmas?
At the beginning of the year, a 50kg bag of rice was sold between N23,000 to N25,000. As of the time of writing this article, the same quantity is sold for N46,000. This is about a 95% increase and prices are still expected to surge. Nigeria is experiencing surging inflation, causing a rise in living standards. According to the National Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) report recently launched by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), 133 million Nigerians (63% of people) are multidimensionally poor. They lack more than one essential survival need (good health, good living standards, primary education, and gainful employment). As Nigeria wallow in severe poverty, dangling like a pendulum is the question: will there be rice this Christmas? This is what a few Nigerians have to say:
“Yes, there will be rice this Christmas, but it will be limited. So, If I often bought half a bag of rice, I’ll just buy a quarter bag this Christmas. I have to cut costs based on the status of my finances. It’s not as if my salary is increasing,” said Boluwatife Sharon, a working-class Nigerian based in Lagos.
Tolu Oyagagha, a young mother living in Ogun state with her family of six said, “Of course, there will be rice this Christmas, Although, it is not looking like the usual Christmas due to the hike in fuel prices and high inflation in the country. Rumour has it that the situation would get worse. As we speak, long-grain rice is now N45,000 to N47,000 in my area. Prices of goods are really high. I was considering buying our local Ofada rice but that too has become more expensive. I don’t know how Christmas will go but we believe in God for a miracle. We are Nigerians. We will always cope.”
“Well, I don’t know. We will manage. we will eat rice but we might not just buy as much as we did last year,” said Doris Abiodun, a working-class mum living in Gbagada, Lagos, with her family of four. When asked if she would observe the food-sharing tradition she said, “with the way things are going, I am not yet sure whether I will share food this Christmas. I may share soft drinks and snacks instead.”
“If this rice matter becomes a problem, we will eat beans and bread. The high price of rice this year is really scary. Still, we thank God. No matter how the situation of the country is, we will still celebrate Christmas as long as we are alive,” said Nnenna Ogbuagwu, a businesswoman living in Mushin with her son.
“Looking at the way the price of rice is going up, I don’t think that companies would give out bags of rice to employees this year. I think they would prefer to give small cash bonuses of maybe N30,000 to cut down on spending,” said Tumininu Abayomi, a Senior Quantity Surveyor in Lekki. Abayomi is alluding to the practice among big organisations where they gift staff with food items like rice and vegetable oil during Christmas. Beneficiaries often say it alleviates Christmas spending and eases them into the first two months of the new year.
“For me, God has been faithful. I think I saw this coming so I made plans. I bought two bags of rice in October for N33,000. By the following week, the price of rice went up. I have a tradition of always giving rice and other food items to my domestic staff during Christmas. But I’m thinking of just giving them money this year,” said Mrs Adegboye, a nurse, living with her family of five in Palmgroove Lagos.