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Mixed reactions herald christmas at markets, shopping malls

Just few days to this year’s Christmas, even though the celebration is already in the air, but this is not reflecting in the usual hustling and bustling that normally heralds the occasion, as most markets, shopping centres and motor parks are not witnessing the expected increased activities. It is believed that many would still engage in last-minute shopping before Christmas Day, even as the cost of items, especially those used during such celebration, are gradually going up and could remain high into the New Year.As the count down continues, traffic in most major cities has become chaotic and nightmarish for motorists, commuters and even pedestrians, increasing the time spent on the road and loss of valuable man-hour of office workers.

The situation is compounded by the activities of roadside car dealers/sellers, some of who park their vehicles indiscriminately on the roads and sidewalks/walkways, as well as impatient drivers, particularly commercial drivers desperate to maximise returns during the season.In market areas, traders display their wares on the roadside, rather than inside the markets, thereby blocking part of the roads and adding to the traffic snarl, as commuters jostle for space with traders and their customers.Nowadays and close to the celebration, almost every available space has been turned to mini-markets in commercial areas.

All these come with the attendant security implications. For instance, activities of petty thieves and bag snatchers are on the increase as more people go shopping; hence it is not unusual to see shoppers clutching their handbags and purses to their bodies.Of major concern also are the rising cases of criminal activities, including rituals and fraudsters. As customers visit the banks and their Automated Teller Machine (ATM) points, this is a time to watch one’s back and be on the alert and look out for criminally-minded individuals loitering around such places, looking for who to prey.The Guardian went to town across the states of the federation to see how people are preparing for the Yuletide, in the midst of the biting economic conditions in the country. Like every year, this year comes with its peculiarities.

CROSS-RIVER
Traders Hope For Increased Patronage
From Tina Todo, Calabar
It is not business as usual even for the popular yearly 30-day Calabar Christmas festival, as some residents, kiosk owners and fun seekers in the ancient city feel the lull.With just a few days to Christmas, the city was devoid of its usual activities at this time of the year. Motor parks are still not busy with passengers, same for sellers of clothes and shoes, who were seen seated in wait for customers to come.

Most shopping malls were not witnessing anything different from the normal daily activities and this could be seen from their near-empty car parks, although few customers patronised vendors of Christmas toys by the roadsides of major markets and streets and as expected, more cars were observed coming into Calabar. Some residents and park owners who spoke to The Guardian were optimistic of business activities picking up before Christmas and New Year.

Manager of one of the popular motor parks along Etagbo road, who identified himself as simply Chinedu, said there was no cause for alarm in the transport business, saying they would start experiencing boom from today.He explained that the parks were not busy yet because most workers had not closed for the celebrations, adding: “There is no cause for alarm in this business, our customers are going to start coming from December 22. Most of them are still working and some that deal in things people use for the festival are still making sales.

“I bet you that people will still want to travel on January 1, so I am not afraid of bad business.”But a bus driver, who gave his name as Charles, lamented that the previous year was better, as patronage has been low.Charles, who plies the Calabar-Aba route, said: “The last time I experienced this kind of bad market was in 2016, during recession, but I am surprise that this is occurring again. By this time of last year, I was busy, but now, I am still here looking for passengers. I don’t know if it will be better tomorrow.”

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A foodstuff seller in Marian Market, who declined to give her name, said prices of items are better this year, but complained of low patronage.A customer, who wished to be identified as Mrs. Gift, lamented that the cost of children clothes and shoes was too high, noting: “I came to the market to get my children’s Christmas wears, but I have been parading since and all the ones I saw were on the high side. Children clothes are very expensive in the market.”

The Christmas village in Calabar Municipality, constructed with temporary kiosks and mostly used as a drinking joints, with a stand for musical performance to entertain customers, which attracts fun seekers every December, seems to be busy at night than in the day. Queeneth Adams, who deals in Ankara products, lamented low patronage, saying the cost of production of goods have gone high, forcing her to increase the price of products she make.

“Sales have been fair, but compared to last year, most people that come in here price very low because they thought we are still selling at the price of last year. Things have really changed, because cost of production is high now and we are charged more for the stands, compared to last year,” she explained.But Muhammed Abubakar, who deals in jewellery, said: “I have been in Calabar for over 10 years right from when the village was in the cultural centre.

He stated: “Sales are better this year, compared to last year. The prices of things this year are better than the previous years, at least a little bit. For instance, a bag of rice is cheaper this year than the previous years. Even in my line of business, we are selling cheaper than last year, because cost of the transportation was higher last year.“I think it was the recession that affected us then, but now, thank God that it is better.”

At a time like this, residents blamed government agencies and landlords who build houses without parking lots for the parking of cars, trucks and trailers on streets and highways. Streets, such as Goldie, Main Avenue and Ikot Ansa, which are highly populated, experience gridlock during rushing hours of the morning and evening. The popular Murtala Muhammed Highway is also not spared, as trailers waiting to load liquefied products, have taken over both lanes, sometimes causing serious gridlock, particularly along Abo junction, which leads to the Calabar Free Trade Zone (CFTZ), where tank farms are located.

Residents who owned shops along the streets lamented that some drivers who deliberately abandoned their cars in front of their shops for days, accusing the state government of not doing anything, but rather encouraging car owners to park for a levy of N100 or N200 on streets close to markets.Some of them advised government to build more parking lots for trailers, expand roads on streets, and charged landlords to include parking lots in plans for their houses.

A shop owner along Main Avenue, Madam Elizabeth Oko, said: “This is affecting my business, because some people will not know what we are selling here since the shop is obstructed by cars. Sometimes, we even have to quarrel with some of those drivers that will want to park their cars here. Some will tell you that it is government road and you cannot do anything to them.”

A resident in Ikot Ansa, Frank, said he parks his car by the road because his residence does not have parking lot, adding: “I don’t enjoy parking my car by the road, but I don’t have a choice since where I live does not have a parking lot and if you notice, this area is highly populated and most of the houses here do not have parking lots, even my neighbors park their cars along the road. We are even at the risk of losing our batteries. I have to remove it every night and fix it in the morning.”

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When asked what could be done to reduce gridlock caused by the situation, he said: “For those of us that are living in houses that do not have parking lots, I think we should relocate, but government also has a role to play by expanding the roads. As you can see, the road is very narrow for this kind of busy area and the population here is large.”

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A businessman who sells clothes on a street close to Marian Market, Kenneth Ugbo, lamented that the front of his shop has been turned to parking lot, buoyed by the activities of the Department of Public Transport (DOPT), adding: “These DOPT boys have taken over the front of my shop. They use it to make money and tell you that the land belongs to state government. They direct people to park their cars here and collect N100 for parking and this is affecting my business, because my customers who come with cars cannot park, they rather go to where they can park and get their goods immediately.

“They claim to be remitting to the state government, but most of them look and behave like thugs. They fight and threaten you if you challenge them.”When The Guardian visited the DOPT office for comments, its head, who was recently appointed by Governor Ben Ayade, was not on seat.

ENUGU:
Shopping Picks Up Ahead Of Christmas
From Lawrence Njoku, Enugu
Residents continued to prepare in various ways for the celebrations. Apart from the parks, which are bubbling with increased number of travellers, some shopping malls and centres, as well as other public places wore festive looks to herald the period.At some joints, the owners have mounted signboards with good wishes of Christmas and New Year to their customers, while in many others; some activities have been introduced to woo customers, including live performances by musicians and comedians.

Some streets have been decorated with Christmas lights, while some musicals and jingles ushering in the Christmas dominate the airwaves. Banners, posters and handbills of churches, with information on their programmes during the season have been on display since the middle of the month.Major markets, such as Ogbete Market, New Market and Kenyetta Market have become beehive of activities, with movements in and around them are no longer easy, as goods and humans compete for space, as residents made purchases for the Christmas or other celebrations.

Shopping centres, such as Shoprite, Roban Stores, Eastern Shops and Spar witnessed influx of customers. At Shoprite and Roban Stores, certain items were being sold at reduced prices, even as their operators began what they termed “Black Friday,” weeks ago, to reward customers for their patronage by slashing prices of some goods to enable them buy and enjoy the season.

Asked how he was preparing for Christmas, a resident, who simply introduced himself as Nkwachi, said he came “to pick up some wine drinks” in preparation for a major traditional outing of Iwa-Akwa in his Ohuhu-Umuahia community after the Christmas, even as “Christmas affords us opportunity to do those things we ordinarily will not do due to time factor.”Ngozi Ugwu said she was preparing to celebrate her traditional wedding on December 27 and was at Ogbete market to make purchases for the event, adding: “It is not about Christmas celebration; it is about my wine-carrying. The unfortunate thing here, however, is that prices of commodities are very high and do not exclude those who are not preparing for Christmas.”Her major challenge, she stressed, was how to raise the needed funds to meet her purchases required for the ceremony.

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Yinka Ajakaiye, a motorist along Ikotun-Idimu road, said it is rare to move along roads in Lagos without coming in contact with traders on the walkways, calling for the intervention of the state government to save the situation.Another motorist, Moses Olowofila, wished the government tackle roadside trading, just as Mrs. Bisola Adebayo, a teacher, said: “You need to see the congestion caused by the roadside traders every morning and evening at Ikotun Market and from Ijegun, which government has practically abandoned.”
A pedestrian, Nikolas Asokwu, added: “I am sure they have opened markets where they can relocate to. Street hawking slows down traffic a lot, displaying goods on the road and walkway wears out and destroys the already poorly maintained infrastructure, not to talk of the menace of refuse generated by these street traders. “If you want to sell goods, go to the designated market areas. Period!”

Some of the traders who spoke to The Guardian on why they display their wares on the walkways, said it is because a lot of those who patronise them feel comfortable doing so at the spot, where they could easily make purchases.Mama Fausa, who sells plastics along the Ijegun-Ikotun axis, noted: “All government is interested in is making a mega city, but gives no regard to people living in it. The point is, we all want a better Lagos. No one is at fault here, because some were brought up with the proceeds of street trading. After all, not all are born with silver spoon,” she said.

For Oge Madusha, who sells men’s wears: “I cannot afford a shop for myself because of government officials who come with all sorts of bills as tax.” Another trader, Cypriano, said: “I sell along the road because that is the only way I can get the full attention of my customers. Most times during the day, the roads are usually filled with people and they are calmer when buying dresses on the roadside.”

ONDO
Indiscipline Breeds Traffic Congestion
From Oluwaseun Akingboye, Akure
RESIDENTS of Ondo State have raised the alarm over the flouting of traffic laws by vehicle owners who park their cars indiscriminately on the roads, especially during the season, as well as display of wares, buying and selling of wares by the roadside, thereby, violating traffic rules. At Oba Adesida Market, traders display their wares on the pedestrian paths, while taxi drivers abandon their special routes to stop indiscriminately on the main road to pick passengers, causing traffic bottlenecks.

A resident of Akure, Jacob Akintunde, lamented that the trend was becoming a big menace along the major roads in the state. Aside vehicles parked on the roads, he also faulted the excesses of commercial taxi drivers who drive recklessly on the roads, flouting traffic rules and regulation. He said, “This has resulted in several accidents, which led to wanton destruction of lives and properties across the state. Most times, the drivers fail to apply common sense.”A commercial motorcyclist, Joseph Daramola, said the traffic laws are not being adequately enforced, accusing some of government officials saddled with that responsibility of double-standard.

But Special Adviser to Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, Mr. Tobi Ogunleye, dismissed the allegations against his officers, insisting that the ministry was on top of the situation to reduce the anomalies to the nearest minimum. Ogunleye, however, attributed the menace to disobedience of civil laws and traffic regulations by car owners. He said there has not been any prosecution of offenders because “most of the violators accept the fact that they are on the wrong side of the law. They don’t argue and the stated penalties are enforced on them.”He pleaded for cooperation with the government to reduce the incidence of traffic abuses across the state.

News Reporter