These are not the best of times for owners and operators of businesses in the recreational and entertainment sub-sector as the high cost of living triggered by the removal of subsidy on Premium Motor Spirit or petrol has made most of their patrons cut back on spending such activities as alcohol consumption, eating out and engaging in amorous relationships.
The removal of fuel subsidy, which was announced by President Bola Tinubu on his inauguration on May 29, has seen an astronomical rise in the pump price of petrol from N187 to N586 and N616 per litre currently, and corresponding increases in the cost of virtually everything in the country, including food items and transport fares.
Pub owners, hoteliers, restaurateurs, fun spot owners, parks and gardens, and commercial s3x workers are now feeling the heat as many of their customers have significantly scaled down on their spending in order to survive the difficult times.
Sunday PUNCH gathered that many patrons of these and other similar businesses had limited their revelry in order to conserve their increasingly dwindling income, making Nigerians not live up to their former reputation as the happiest set of people on earth and one of the heaviest consumers of alcohol.
Visits to many pubs, joints, bars, hotels, and nightclubs in Lagos, Ogun, and Rivers states and the Federal Capital Territory revealed dwindling patronage of the outlets and the associated ventures as the number of patrons had considerably reduced, while ancillary traders and service providers complained of low sales and patronage.
A commercial s3x worker, who gave her name as Joy Bassey, told one of our correspondents that last year, she used to have clients pay for her flight from Abuja, where she is based, to Lagos, but that had now changed.
The PUNCH reporter, who posed as a prospective customer, reached out to her on Twitter for a romp.
The lady, who claimed she was a graduate, said, “I have to pay for most of my travels now. Clients will say whenever I am coming to Lagos, I should let them know and they will invite me to a guesthouse. They no longer send transport fares or book flights for me.
“The high cost of flights and cost of living generally has reduced the premium treatment I used to get.
“Even the pay has been reduced. I am a special babe as you can see. I do not charge anything less than N50,000 for a night. This was not how it was before. I got clients who paid more than N100,000. One client in 2018 even paid as much as N500,000 for just one weekend, and he still footed my hotel bills, feeding and travel ticket back to base. How do you think I pay my rent in this Abuja? But, this economy has ruined everything.”
At a popular bar along the Lekki-Epe Expressway, Lagos, on Thursday evening, a lady, who the receptionist said was simply known as Lizzy Baby, said she used to charge N20,000 for a night, but she would accept N10,000 as long as it was just for a night “because of the condition of the country at the moment.”
“Bros, pay 10k (N10,000). I no say na there you dey go. Economy bad, I know,” she said as she sipped her beer and puffed at a stick of cigarette.
From 7.10 pm to around 10.30 pm when our correspondent left the bar, only nine men and a lady came in to eat roasted meat and drink beer.
The receptionist at the bar, who gave her name as Tessy, said the business had slowed down from the end of 2022 till now.
“Our madam (boss) has sacked like seven of the sales girls/attendants this year alone. There are only three remaining. Before now, we used to sell only beers and other liquor. But now, in the morning, we cook rice, beans and soups. It is just a means to keep the business open,” she added.
Attempts to get her boss to speak were abortive, as she claimed to be busy inside the kitchen.
Another bar painted yellow and peach right beside the Blenco Supermarket on the expressway was dry when our correspondent visited around 10.35pm.
The bartender was not at his duty post and there was no music playing in the background as bars are known for their loud and boisterous music.
When the receptionist emerged from the dark opening inside, she said the beer available was not cold. She also noted the electricity units of the bar had just finished, adding, “As you can see for yourself, business is dull. This month (July) has been the worst month for us.
“On a Friday night, we do not makeup to N200,000. The situation is really bad.
“The problem is that the economy is so bad that people only save their money for food and nothing else. It is someone who has comfortably eaten that will talk of going out to the bar to drink with friends.
“Our performance this month has been the lowest considering the fact that we used to make more than N3m in one night even without organising any event. The economy has really hit us badly.”
Her boss, Madam Beatrice Ogeneme, who claimed to own three bars in Delta, Port Harcourt, and Lagos, said all her outlets performed poorly in the first two quarters of the year.
She stated, “I used to think that the workers were the problem, so I rotated them, but the performance has been the same. We get some up-and-coming artists to come to perform but, even on those days, we don’t get the money we are supposed to get.
“The situation is really bad, not just for us who own bars, but for guesthouse owners too.”
During a visit to a club close to the Lagos Business School, Pan-Atlantic University, Lagos, on Friday evening, one of our correspondents saw a half-empty room.
Asked why the hall was not full, the receptionist, whose name tag read as Marceline, said it had been like that for a few months.
A singer at the club, Gbemi Gbemi, said patronage had been poor for the past months.
“I have worked here for more than three years as a singer. We have never had it this bad except during COVID-19. Before, whenever I was singing, people would be spraying cash on me, but now, if not for you who gave me some cash this night, nobody here has even looked at my face despite all my singing. It is tough.
“Look at their tables; they are filled with smoothies, beer, and other cheap liquors. It was not like this. I know the economy is bad, but this is really the worst.”
Speaking to one of our correspondents, the supervisor of Akubueze Executive Bar and Lounge on Oremeta Street, Ojodu, Lagos, who refused to give his name, noted that business was ongoing on a small scale despite the consistent rise in the cost of living.
He added that customers have been visiting but there was a slight decline in profit margin owing to the rising cost of running the business, adding that he had not effected any major change in prices in a bid to stay competitive with competitors.
He added that one of the major challenges being faced was running generators from the evening till closing time around 11 pm with the rise in pump prices of petrol and diesel.
The owner of an open-air relaxation joint in Ojodu, simply identified as Lady T, told one of our correspondents that some customers would still patronise outlets like hers come what may.
She stated, “People that will come, will come. Things are not going very well in the economy though and we have not really increased our prices. For instance, we still sell cow leg pepper soup for N2,000 per plate as against N1,800, and we sell nkwobi for N1,700 as against N1,500. So, there have not been too significant changes in the prices.
“We still sell beer at the normal rate but the prices might go up as things are becoming more expensive. We have to go with what the economy is saying.”
An attendant at Empire Bar and Lounge in Ikeja, who preferred not to mention her name, noted that customers were still visiting the facility but at a reduced rate.
The Business Development Manager, Maracana Lounge and Bar, Bodija, Ibadan, Oyo State, Ayoola Kolawole, disclosed that revenue had dropped by about 60 per cent after the removal of fuel subsidy.
Affected by the economic realities, Kolawole stated that his workforce had been reduced from 21 staff members to nine.
He said, “Except if you are not in this country in the last three months you will say it’s not affecting your business. I can tell you that if we were doing 80 per cent in terms of revenue generation before the removal of subsidy, currently we are doing less than 20 per cent. There is low patronage and the cost of production is high and these are the two things that drive the business.
“We run on diesel and petrol. Before, we used to start running on the generator around 5 pm, but now we switch on the generator around 8 pm. We had to get rechargeable bulbs that will run till around 8 pm when we put on the generator. As a matter of fact, I am running that generator with faith because I still don’t know if customers will come.
“We retrenched almost every day. My staff strength when the going was good was around 21, but as I am talking to you, I only have workers left. In the last three weeks, I have retrenched 11 workers because the situation has forced us to do so and we don’t have a choice, because I can’t be paying people when I am running at a loss.”
Similarly, a supervisor at Hail Henrietta Hotel, Olubadan Estate, Ibadan, Tunde Adeyemi, lamented that he used to sell out 34 rooms during peak periods before the removal of fuel subsidy, but now sells less than 10 rooms.
He also said the management of the hotel recently had to cut down the staff size from 34 to 22.
He said, “The cost of running the business has increased so much that we have to adjust things. The use of petrol generators during the day time has been stopped except where we have customers who specially request for it. We still try to maintain standards, but we must also do things to remain in business.
“We also downsize staff members in order to meet up with the current realities. We had about 34 workers before, but we were forced to reduce the number to 22.
“The number of rooms we sell out has also been affected. Before the increase in the pump price of petrol, we were selling around 25 rooms per day at peak periods, but now the maximum number of rooms we sell out per day during rush hours is 10. I think everyone is trying to adjust and reduce what they spend money on. Some contractors that used to pass by and stop over to spend the night don’t do so again.
“Another problem is the increase in the prices of food items that we usually stock. We now travel out of town to buy low-cost items although it’s just a little different. Generally, the business has been greatly affected. We now sell less than 50 per cent of what we used to sell before.”
A supervisor at Q7 in Arepo, Ogun State, who gave her name simply as Anuoluwapo, said the increment in the prices of beers and whiskies had led to low patronage by customers who used to visit on a regular basis.
She said, “The problem of low patronage is because of the country’s economy. It’s someone who has eaten very well that will consider drinking alcohol.
“The patronage has dropped. It’s half of what we used to sell before that we now make. We used to sell a lot, but the reverse is the case now.
“We’re not happy that things are going on this way but that’s the reality now. We’ve been reaching out to our customers, but what we hear from them are lamentations of the hardship in the country. They tell us that when they’ve money, they’ll come.”
The manager of Genesis Cinema at the Ceddi Plaza in the Central Business District of Abuja declined comments on the matter.
However, one of our correspondents noted that the few visitors mostly went for the less expensive movie tickets and small-sized popcorn, and cheaper refreshments.
The manager of a guesthouse in the D/Line area of the metropolis said he was considering shutting down the place and converting the rooms to rented accommodation.
He said, “The cost of diesel alone is something else. I have seven rooms here. Each goes for N5,000 for overnight lodging and N2,500 for short rest.
“But the patronage is low. So, what I do is that if someone comes and says he has less than N5,000, even N3000 for the night, I will accept it rather than keep the room empty because some of them still buy drinks from us.”
Madam Jennifer, who runs a bar in Elekahia, Port Harcourt, said before now, she used to make between N15,000 and N20,000 profit daily but lamented that the situation had changed.
Beggars also lament
A middle-aged beggar with bandages on a deformed leg, who has created a niche for himself on the busy overhead pedestrian crossing bridge at Berger, Lagos, revealed that almsgiving had significantly reduced since the naira crisis at the beginning of the year and made worse by the removal of fuel subsidy.
He said in smattering English, “We thank God for everything. Sometimes, people have pity on me and give me alms and sometimes, they don’t give. I know that things are difficult everywhere.”
A beggar, who identified herself as Adijah Ibrahim from Jigawa State, told our correspondent that people were no longer giving alms to beggars again as they used to do.
She stated, “Before the removal of petrol subsidy people always gave money to us freely, but now, they don’t give us again. I’ve not eaten since morning; we’ve been here waiting for who’ll help us.
“We beg the government to give us money to go back to the North and start business so that we can stop begging because all of us here are from Kano and other parts of the North.”
A trader, Salisu Muhammed, who renders occasional help to the beggars, also lamented the hardship in the country.
“I’ve put my goods here since Monday, I’ve not sold anything and I’ve not been able to feed well. I’m tired of this hardship,” he said.
Aisha, a roadside beggar on the streets of Wuse, said she had to use her child to appeal to the emotions of passers-by to give her alms, noting that people were usually more sympathetic to her one-year-old son.
Commercial s3x workers, who usually hang around Casablanca, a popular spot in the highbrow GRA area of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, also complained of dwindling patronage. The same goes for some of the nightclubs in that area.
Three commercial s3x workers, who claimed that they were students, said they could settle for N7,000 anytime from 9 pm till dawn instead of N20,000 previously.
A s3x worker in Abuja, Treasure, who spoke with one of our correspondents on the phone, said she previously charged between N30,000 and N70,000, depending on whether it was a short time or overnight arrangement, but would gladly accept N20,000 now.
Experts weigh in
Commenting on the development, an economic expert with a United Kingdom-based consulting firm, Dr. Kamsiyochukwu Obi, told Sunday PUNCH that the situation was bad for the tourism and recreational sector because of the tight economy of the nation at the moment.
He stated, “Fuel is now almost triple the former price. Children’s school fees have increased. House rents have increased as well. Transport fares have also skyrocketed but for most people, salaries have remained the same.
“It is when one is full of life and comfortable that one can say they want to go for a tour or grab a bite with friends. People no longer celebrate birthdays anymore. Even the rich are struggling to stay in that cadre.”
According to him, the nation has to do better to mitigate this suffering with better economic policies that are human-faced and not stifling.
“Most of the economic policies that are reeled out have actually proven to be good, but the timing and implementation have ruined everything. At the centre of all these policies are the citizens, and if they are not happy with them, then the government will begin to become unpopular and may lose the people’s trust,” Obi added.