ABUJA - On a Thursday afternoon, Patience Michael gathers her children into the living room of their two-room home for prayer time and a Bible reading. Her twelve-year-old daughter reads a passage in a clear voice.
Michael, 33, watches her daughter closely. The girl is one of the best performing students in her public school. But Michael may not have the funds to pay for another school term for her daughter or three other children.
“Now that the economy is like this, it’s not easy to provide many things for our children like school fees, clothes, feeding and house rent, because now there’s no gain inside the business,” she says.
Michael is a market woman, among millions in Nigeria who make a living in Nigeria’s vast informal sector.
For seven years, she’s been selling local food products in front of her house, in a neighborhood of Abuja, the capital. She sells tomatoes, fresh peppers, palm oil, greens, grounded spices and crackers. But these days, she’s barely making a profit.
The annual inflation rate is at 17 percent, the highest in eleven years.
“It was never this bad,” she says. “Many things are very costly in the market. We’re not making any gain inside.”
High cost of food
Africa’s largest economy formally entered a recession last week and Nigerians are feeling the pain. Market women are suffering under the soaring price of local food products.
The recession is the result of several things – attacks in the south that reduced Nigerian oil production, a drop in world oil prices, and a shortage of foreign currency. Also, the removal of government subsidies for fuel purchases and local farmers means transportation and agricultural production are more expensive.
Nigeria has not experienced an economy this weak in 20 years and no one knows how long the recession will last.
Mama Emmanuel is a popular seller in her community and the leader of a local market women's association. She blames her financial woes on Nigeria’s weak currency, the naira.
“Our currency is very, very poor. Being the giant of Africa, what we are seeing in our currency is not what we’re supposed to have,” she says.
Her storefront neighbor, Justina Agu chimes in using pidgin English.
“If you take some money go market buy something, before you know it, money don finish. Only two things that you buy,” she says while chopping up greens for a customer. “Make President Buhari do something so that things will come down.”
Inflation is squeezing customers too. They say they go to the market and leave with very little.
'Everything is just so hard'
“And you expect me to eat like three times in a day? I’ll just be eating like two times in a day so that we’ll minimize and the next day we’ll continue because there’s no money,” says Godwin Amaana, a taxi driver who stopped inside a market to buy a plate of hot lunch.
“Everything is just so hard,” he says. “We don’t know what’s happening.”
Advocacy groups are working overtime to figure out how to pressure the government to take action.
“Market women are in a vulnerable position because they don’t have access to credit. A woman provides a lot of the time for her immediate family that is because even the man, tendencies are he already lost his job,” says Salaudeen Hashim, a senior program officers at the Abuja-based Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Center.
“It is going to be counterproductive for the country not to create an emergency around the economy as a matter of fact now.”