After a tiring day at work, Mrs. Grace Osas (not real name), a fashion designer dealing in ready-to-wear outfits in Benin City, Edo State, decided to treat herself to her favourite local snack, boli (roasted plantain) and fish. On reaching the boli stall, however, she discovered that prices had nearly doubled from the last time. When she inquired from the seller, Mama Aminat explained that the increase in the prices of her boli and fish was as a result of a general rise in the cost of goods and services.

“Everything has gone up,” Mama Aminat said. “The worst is transportation. I hardly make profit these days. I thank God that my capital has not been affected.”

Mrs. Osas could understand Mama Aminat’s lamentation. She too felt the pain as the prices of both machinery and raw materials she used in her fashion business continued to rise daily as a result of the dwindling value of the local currency, naira, against foreign currencies like the dollar. Poor power supply, logistical and supply issues, inflation, material shortages, among other issues had caused her to miss numerous customer demands. She also faced the dilemma of raising funds for expansion and upgrading her machinery while contending with high interest rates and a lack of accessible, affordable loans, even as staff frequently requested salary increases to manage their personal expenses.

But Mrs. Osas and Mama Aminat are not alone in this situation. Many businesses across Nigeria have been struggling to survive amid high operating cost, but their woes have worsened since May 29, 2023 when, at his inauguration, President Bola Tinubu announced an end to the costly petrol subsidy as well as liberalisation of the exchange rate system.

Pump price of petrol, which fuels vehicles as well as generating sets on which many businesses rely to power their machines amid frequent power outages, jumped to over N600 per litre from about N190 before subsidy removal. Inflation has been on the rise, reaching 26.72 percent in September 2023 from 25.80 percent in August, while the naira has been on a free fall, exchanging at above N1,000 to the dollar on the parallel market. All of these have further compounded the woes of businesses as higher costs threaten their margins while consumers are left with less disposable income.

“I find it difficult to maintain my profit margins due to the frequent power outages that further hamper my business, causing delays in servicing customers and adding extra costs for backup power solutions,” Mr. Emmanuel Ikponwosa, a small electronics retailer in Benin City, said.

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Mr. Ikponwosa has been facing an uphill battle as the foreign exchange crisis pushes up prices of imported electronics.

Mrs. Juliet Nwakaego, an agribusiness owner in Enugu, has been experiencing her fair share of difficulties. As a farmer and producer of various agricultural produce, she has been grappling with issues like rising costs of fertilizers and pesticides due to inflation. She also faces stiff competition from imported agricultural produce and is keen on finding ways to improve the value chain for her locally grown goods.

“Transportation challenges make it hard to get my products to market, affecting both my income and the availability of fresh produce for consumers,” she said.

Mr. Adebayo, who owns a printing press on Airport Road in Benin City, lamented the increase in government taxation and levies, unreliable power supply that disrupted his work and hindered his ability to meet his financial obligations, delayed delivery of printing materials he ordered from overseas, as well as high import duties he had to settle.

When asked how he managed to maintain quality printing standards amid these challenges, he said it had been exceptionally difficult due to the inconsistencies in material supply and skilled labour.

“Our only hope is that collective efforts, innovative solutions, and advocacy for supportive policies will pave the way for a more favourable and conducive environment for all SMEs to thrive and overcome these substantial challenges,” he said.