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July 23, 2013

Soaring Ramadan Food Prices Take Toll in Northern Nigeria

by Heather Murdock

Food prices are soaring in Nigerian cities as Muslims stock up on traditional foods for the evening feasts that follow daily Ramadan fasts.
 
In a country where most live in abject poverty, many are paying as much as six times the normal price for many food items.
 
But in the country's predominantly Muslim and already impoverished north, where regional instabilities linked to the presence of the Islamist rebel group Boko Haram are ongoing, soaring costs have left many especially vulnerable.
 
Outside a market in Kaduna, one shopper says holiday season's increased prices have further impoverished many, as sellers know that customers are willing to pay higher prices in order to make particular preparations for Ramadan feasts.
 
“They feel that people are in need of these products so they inflate the prices," one shopper said. "It is very, very obvious. ... For example, when you want to buy fruit like your pineapples or your oranges and your things for breaking the fast, you see people inflating the prices.”
 
But some sellers say the increased prices reflect inflated costs that farmers charge during the holy month.
 
In Abuja's Utako market, fruit peddler Umar Mohammad says that he pays about 30 percent more per watermelon during Ramadan, forcing him to increase prices in order to make a profit.
 
"[I do] not blame the farmers for hiking prices at the only time of year people will pay more," he said. "Most of them are desperately poor."
 
Regardless of who is responsible for the increased prices, Khalid Aliyu Abubakar, secretary general of the Nigerian Islamic umbrella organization Jama'atu Nasril Islam, says northern residents can't withstand the pressure of increased poverty amid the ongoing insurrection.
 
“It is unbecoming when somebody utilizes the opportunity to suck the blood of the common poor people," he said. "Therefore let the prices go down."
 
James Sako, Kaduna state marketers’ union vice chairman, agrees, explaining that price spikes amid the Islamic holidays only aggravate the local tensions that too often fall along religious boundaries.
 
Last summer, for example, more than 100 people were killed in Kaduna city after three churches were razed, sparking violence between Christian and Muslim youth. While most northerners are Muslim and southerners Christian, Nigerians of both faiths live side by side in every city.
 
"Both the Christians and the Muslims go to the same markets," Sako said. "When a customer buys something [and] he knows that the price has been skyrocketed, he will buy it with grudges."
 
Two weeks into the month of Ramadan, with the yearly urban price surge in full swing, some shoppers take solace in humor, joking that they might be better off living in a village, eating what they grow because of their money’s diminished market value.
 
But for too many others, the inflated prices are no laughing matter.
 
Ibrahima Yakuba contributed to this report from Kaduna.