When Latifa Gbadebo, a law student at the University of Ilorin, resumed school in January 2021 following Covid-19 disruption and a 10-month strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, the umbrella association for university lecturers in the country, she noticed the increasing price of goods and services on campus.
“It is affecting everybody,” she says. “With no side hustle, most of us still get money from home. The fact that I am still getting the same amount I was getting before makes it difficult. The money that could last you for up to a month cannot even last you for up to two weeks now.”
Nigeria’s inflation rate is 16%, according to the IMF, after a 13.2% rise last year, placing students under unprecedented hardship as they bid to complete their studies. In March this year, Nigeria’s food inflation increased by 1.16% to 22.95%, according to Nigerian Bureau of Statistics data, putting further pressure on scholars.
That is challenging citizens in a country where the minimum wage has only recently been increased to N30,000 ($79) per month and payment of salaries is frequently inconsistent.
For Latifa, it means struggling to buy the food items she is used to. Her monthly allowance of N16,000 barely covers her expenditure, and she has to draw up a scale of preference when she shops as prices for commodities and services maintain an upward spiral.
Since she lives off campus, an increase in bus fares also compounds her worries. In February 2021, the association of bus drivers on her campus announced an increment from N50 to N80 per round, but some drivers demand even more.
Latifa would occasionally visit campus eateries between classes, which can extend from morning until late evening, but now makes do with snacks after lectures. One effect is that she loses focus in class, while the increasing cost of mobile data means that she risks missing out on vital information from her class WhatsApp group.
“Sometimes when I am broke, I reach out to my friends who are able to ease me through the moment because I cannot call home,” she says.
For Timbyen Wuyep, a history student and part-time creative director, the situation is also a struggle, even though her monthly stipend is N30,000, almost double the amount Latifa receives.
“When I first started schooling here four years ago, things were easier and the amount of money that they sent to me was enough, but as time moved on things became more expensive, food especially. Imagine me buying a crate of eggs that used to be N700 for N1700. That is not possible in the north where I am from,” explained Timbyen, who hails from Jos.
Her parents have tried to send her bagfuls of supplies intended to last her for a semester through public transit, but some of the packages end up spoiling.
“We have to eat, food is very important. I cannot even buy sardines or panla fish in the market. Half a kilo was N500 and now I cannot afford to buy one kilo anymore. Transportation is also another issue on its own, and sometimes when we have a single class in a day, I do not go to save costs,” Timbyen says.
“For my course, it is important for me to be in class when the lecturer is explaining but sometimes I have found myself unable to concentrate because my stomach was grumbling in class. Once I just left in the middle of an exam because I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind to write it. It might sound stupid but at that moment it was a genuine reason for me.”
Lack of support
The underfunded Nigerian university system offers very limited financial support to most students, with a scarcity of bursaries to cushion the effects of inflation. Inflation is also hampering students’ extra-curricular employment, which once offered a way to pay for education.
Akinwale Akindayo, a final year student and ghostwriter, says inflation has stopping clients commissioning him and forced him to eat into his savings. Akindayo is fond of referring to “Sapa” – serious absence of purchasing ability – a term that was coined by young Nigerians to capture the austerity they experience every day.
“Sapa visits you even though you put yourself in money making ventures. The inflation doesn’t only leave me broke, it leaves me extremely desperate to survive the cruellest times yet. Sometimes, I’m in absolute despair as someone who doesn’t request a dime from home. You work a lot and spend much more to survive. I am unable to invest.”
The situation has made him compulsorily frugal and impacted his social life. He previously scheduled a portion of his earnings to save using the fintech app Cowrywise, but he has had to stop for more than two months because his weekly earnings are barely enough to cover outgoings.
Aremu Adams, an economist based in Lagos state, says that the effects of inflation are not limited to consumer goods but also impact on school fees. He cites the case of Kaduna State University, which recently hiked its tuition fees.
“It is because they can no longer cater to the welfare and infrastructure of the school due to the sharp rise in inflation. And you know they are state universities. They can always increase funds to meet infrastructure demands,” he says.
Adams says that fees inflation could be having longer term consequences, including driving students away from the formal educational system into other pursuits.
“With the rate of unemployment and even the president himself declaring that the federal government has no more job vacancies for youths, a lot of them have started selling recharge cards to make ends meet while a few are learning new skills and selling online.”
Too weak to study
Dr Solomon Aboyeji, a senior lecturer at the faculty of arts of the University of Ilorin, said that it has a pernicious impact on the academic environment.
“Inflation has led students to embrace semi-nourishing food. Some of them engage in conditional fasting. Many turn out weak and unable to get involved in their academics squarely,” he says.
On the brighter side, he says, inflation has helped some students look inward and develop their entrepreneurial spirit.