​Volunteers prepare to transport packed boxes of food and other relief materials to the site for distribution for those in need at Ikotun Egbe, in Alimosho Community area of Lagos State on June 7, 2020.
Volunteers prepare to transport packed boxes of food and other relief materials to the site for distribution for those in need at Ikotun Egbe, in Alimosho Community area of Lagos State on June 7, 2020.
Photo by Olukayode Jaiyeola/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Fatal Consequences of Nigeria’s Economic Crisis

Rising inflation and food prices drive desperate measures in Nigeria, causing tragic stampedes while NGOs struggle to provide humanitarian assistance.

Nigeria is battling historically high levels of general inflation and soaring food prices, stemming from the battered value of the naira and the drastic increase in fuel prices that took effect shortly after President Bola Tinubu took office. Now, individuals and households need more money to afford basic food items, in an economy that has greatly reduced the purchasing power of many Nigerians.

In its economic outlook for 2024, PwC predicted that the poverty level in Nigeria will increase to about 39 percent. This is after the World Bank stated that the number of poor people in Nigeria rose by 24 million between 2018 and 2023. This means more Nigerians will be vulnerable to injuries and even death at charity and subsidy-related events.

Making things worse is that charity organizations and non-governmental organizations are also finding it harder to fulfill their missions due to the spike in prices. “We used to go on field dropoffs regularly but that has reduced recently because donations keep coming in but the amount of things we can buy with the money we get has reduced,” says Felicity, a field officer at an Abuja-based NGO who gave an interview on the condition that her full name not be published.

Recently, seven people died in a stampede in Bauchi, northeastern Nigeria, during a charity event. The deceased, four women and three young girls, were amongst dozens of people who had gone to the house of a prominent, local businessman who had invited less privileged members of the community to receive charitable donations of ₦5,000 (less than $4).

The invitation drew in lots of people, mainly women and young girls, resulting in a frenzy that led to the deaths. No injuries have been reported so far. These casualties are part of a string of worst-case happenings, as the biting economic situation in Nigeria pushes many to latch onto any charity openings or subsidization events.

In Yaba, a central area in the commerce capital Lagos, at least seven people were trampled to death in a stampede, during a fire sale of 25kg bags of rice. Sold for ₦10,000 ($7) per bag, the sale attracted a long line of buyers due to its drastically lower price – the same bag of rice currently retails for about ₦40,000 (less than $29). Going into the evening, many in the long queue were anxious to buy the subsidized rice, and there were already hushes that there were not enough bags to go around, since the sale had been going on since morning. The ensuing chaos led to an unconfirmed number of deaths and injuries.

Felicity says the organization she works for primarily caters to dozens of homeless shelters in Northern Nigeria, delivering food items and basic household items like soap, sanitary pads and clothes. “Especially with food, we buy things in smaller quantities now,” she says. “Two to three years ago, we could drop two big bags of rice in one place, but we don’t do that anymore.”

In addition to their own mission, Felicity’s organization has helped coordinate aid drops from a few international aid organizations, including the UNHCR, and she believes Nigeria is in the midst of a, “not-so-mild,” humanitarian crisis, adding that local charitable organizations are also being pushed by the country’s economic situation.

Michael Sunbola, founder of Lagos Food Bank, recently told Reuters that the facility’s major donor had cut supplies by 93 percent. This means the food bank has scaled down on what it gives to those who come to the warehouse, while also narrowing its focus to, “women from the age of 50.”

There’s also the security aspect in Nigeria’s northern region, due to insurgent attacks and public pushback from some individuals who believe many NGOs in the region are, “paint(ing) the country bad with fake narratives to get foreign grants,” according to X user @Kayloaded1.

A faceless, self-proclaimed investigative journalist, known by just their X handle, @PIDOMNIGERIA, made yet-to-be-substantiated claims accusing the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) of supplying arms to Boko Haram insurgents, stating that “NGOs & international aid organizations in the Northest [sic] must be investigated.”

“What happened in Bauchi is very unfortunate,” Felicity says. “But it’s just a glimpse of the desperation in Nigeria right now because other things like that have definitely happened and they didn’t get to the media. The only way it stops happening is if our economy becomes better and no one can guarantee that.”

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