Stampede as Nigerians tackle CBN deadline on cash swap
Nigerians, from all parts of the country, will enter this weekend agitated and confused over the currency redesign policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
While banks remain open to receive old notes till Tuesday, January 31, scarcity of new naira notes and rejection of the old notes, beginning from today, by retailers and many sales outlets, is driving the citizenry into panic mode as the deadline stares them in the face while still having large amounts of the old N1,000, N500 and N200 notes.
Few days before the deadline, the exercise had led to chaos, as well as over-stretching bank workers due to the breakdown of counting machines in many of the branches.
Findings by The Guardian showed that the breakdown of the counting machines due to heavy pressure has resulted in bank tellers now counting monies in bulk manually, making many customers wait long hours on the queue before being attended to.
The Guardian gathered that not only are bank workers overstretched, the health implications of counting mutilated notes manually remain a concern. National President of the National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institution Employees (NUBIFIE), Anthony Abakpa, who said the situation has not been brought to the union’s attention, called for compensation for the categories of staff, especially the bulk tellers and the notes counting officers at the end of the exercise.
He called on employers and management of banks to ensure that workers’ safety were more paramount, by giving them all the necessary gadgets and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), like nose masks and hand gloves to protect their fingers from germs.
This was similarly echoed by the National President of the Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions (ASSBIFI), Olusoji Oluwole, who cited the stress and health implications on workers.
AMID the confusion overheating the polity, a Professor of Law, Joshua Alobo, has approached the Federal High Court in Abuja, urging it to among others, restrain the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and its Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, from implementing the January 31 deadline.
The request form part of the reliefs being sought in a suit, marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/114/2023. Alobo also wants the court to issue a mandatory order, compelling CBN to extend the “duration where the old notes cease to become legal tender to period of three weeks when the redesign notes will be sufficiently dispensed by the commercial banks.”
Defendants in the suit are the CBN, Emefiele and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN). Alobo, who accused commercial banks of failing to make the new naira notes available to their customers, stated that as of January 25, he was still handed the old notes on the counter and through the Automatic Teller Machine (ATM).
He noted that already, major shopping malls within the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, have announced the rejection of old notes, with the ATM limiting daily withdrawal to N20,000.
Alobo contended that the terminal date of January 31 for usage of the old notes “is discriminatory against the rural dwellers, poor and less privileged persons in the society. That cashless policy of the CBN is innovative and a welcome development, but the rural dwellers that constitute bulk of the population do not have access to internet and banking facilities.
INFURIATED over absence of Emefiele to address lawmakers yesterday, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, expressed readiness to issue a warrant of arrest on the CBN Governor if he fails to appear before its committee next week Tuesday.
Gbajabiamila said instead of the House adjourning plenary till February 28 for the elections as planned, the lawmakers would reconvene on Tuesday to take an action against Emefiele and other bank chiefs who fail to show up.
The Speaker, who noted that Emefiele is his friend, pointed out that he would not hesitate to demand the Inspector-General of Police to effect the CBN governor’s arrest and forceful appearance before the House.
The House had set up an ad hoc committee to investigate scarcity of the new naira notes at the Deposit Money Banks, also known as commercial banks, leading to tension over the January 31 deadline.
Chairman of the committee, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa, at the plenary, on Thursday, informed the House about the non-appearance of the CBN chiefs. However, the Speaker said the House would exercise its powers as contained in Section 89 of the 1999 Constitution. Gbajabiamila also noted that the CBN Act allows the admittance of an old naira note by banks, even after it had ceased to be legal tender.
THE commercial banks, yesterday, told the House that they were bound by CBN guidelines, as their regulator in the implementation of the cashless policy. The banks in a meeting with the adhoc committee of the House set up to interface with them on the withdrawal of old notes said they are getting allocation of the new notes from the CBN and dispensing same to their customers through the ATMs. According to them, the January 31 deadline of the CBN was still sacrosanct.
It will be recalled that the committee chaired by the leader of the House, Ado Doguwa had invited the various commercial banks to confirm or refute the claims by the CBN that there was sufficient new naira notes in circulation.
Represented by their various staff, the banks took turns to respond to the issues. They said that due to the cashless policy, they were not expected to collect as much money as deposited with the CBN, stressing that the public should first understand the import of the policy. They also revealed that the new notes can only be accessed through the ATM and not at the counters.
While the debate raged over his non-appearance at the House, Emefiele unveiled the Nigerian national domestic card scheme. The move, the apex bank added, is part of efforts to reshape the country’s payment landscape.
“The domestic card scheme is expected to strengthen the national payments system and deepen the usage of electronic platforms in Nigeria,” Emefiele said at the virtual launch.
He maintained that the new scheme is set to provide more options for domestic consumers and promote the delivery of services in a more innovative, cost-effective, and competitive manner.
Emefiele also assured Nigerians that the move will bring more opportunities to integrate the informal segment of the country’s economy, reduce shadow banking and bring more people into formal financial services.
THE Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has urged CBN to extend the deadline. NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, who stated this in Abuja, yesterday, also faulted the policy as one that was not properly thought through.
He argued that the newly redesigned notes are not widely circulated for the citizens to use, adding that CBN will throw many Nigerians, especially those in rural villages, into more hardship if it goes ahead to enforce the decision on the last day of January.
“We align ourselves fully with the position of the National Assembly because we go to the rural areas. We have workers in rural areas. We have many of our local government areas that don’t have banking facilities and some of those areas are even very hard to reach.
“So, we call for this policy to be reviewed and to give an extension so that all old notes can then be mopped up by the bank. We call on CBN, particularly in areas where you don’t have banks, don’t just go to one or two local governments as they did in Borno. Don’t select places and then tell the media that you are doing the right thing, you are doing the wrong thing.
“The new notes are not in circulation and the old notes are being rejected. They are pushing people to the wall and very soon people will react. Importantly, even in city centres, where we have banks, banks’ ATMs are not dispensing new notes.
“ CBN did not think through this policy very well. If it is targeting the rich, the rich are the owners of the banks, the rich are already spending dollars and the rich are spending other currencies. So CBN is targeting the rich, but punishing the poor.”
IN the meantime, scarcity of the new notes is creating hardship for Nigerians, both in rural and urban centres. In Abuja, some workers lamented their inability to send money to their aged parents at home.
Ajibola Sunday said while he appreciates the need to prevent politicians from inducing voters financially, other collateral damages are creeping into the scenario.
“Yes, I understand what President Muhammadu Buhari is trying to do, going by his antecedents in 1984, but this is also affecting other segments of the society. For instance, my mother is finding it difficult to get new notes to buy necessities. Most people in my village now reject old notes even when new ones are not available. The CBN can stay in Abuja and speak all the grammar, the reality is that most Nigerians are not getting the new notes.”
Though the new notes are beginning to be available in a few ATMs, people are not allowed to withdraw more than N20,000 per day. Most Point of Sale (POS) operators around FCT have been off business as they decry the dearth of new notes.
Ebele Nwankwo, a POS operator in Central Business Area, said customers are rejecting the old notes. According to her, bank cashiers are still giving old notes to customers, insisting that are no new notes in the bank.
“Where are we supposed to get the new notes if not from the bank? This is why I am not open for business today,” she said.“I will go back to the bank tomorrow (Friday) to check if I will get new notes. I can’t risk withdrawing old notes that customers will reject from me.”
It was a similar situation at the popular Berger junction along airport road, as the pool of POS operators was scanty. Aliu Ahmed, one of the few POS operators with new notes described the day as his ‘lucky’ day. “I have had a lot of customers today because some of my colleagues are not here, they are looking for new notes.”
He explained that he withdrew the new notes from one of the banks in a nearby town yesterday morning. Aliu, however, said that he was only able to withdraw N20,000, being the highest amount a customer can withdraw per day.
“With that little amount, I was able to exchange old notes of N5,000 for new N4,000 instead of the regular charges of N100 for N5,000 as people are desperately in need of the new notes to exchange goods for cash on the streets,” he said.
Many customers have begun to reject the old notes in Ogbomoso, Oyo State, while ATM points in the ancient town are deserted. Traders, PoS operators and residents complained bitterly about scarcity of the new notes, which they said is hampering businesses and socio-economic activities.
Investigation by The Guardian indicated that many PoS operators have hectic time convincing their customers to accept the old notes. Mr. Ojo Isaiah, a PoS operator, said he withdrew N400,000 from the bank but old notes were given to him. He vowed to wreak havoc if any bank refuses to accept the old notes from him on Monday to beat the deadline.
He said: “I was informed there were new notes available, which was why I filled teller to withdraw N400,000 but there was no single new one in the notes I was given.”
PRESIDENT Buhari’s visit to his Katsina home state, yesterday, stalled many business activities, even as commercial banks were unable to provide needed services for customers.
Buhari is on a two-day working visit, where he is expected to commission some state, federal and private projects. Some of the projects being commissioned are located on major streets, especially the IBB Way, where most of the commercial banks are located.
For security reasons, roads leading to and from project commission venues were cordoned off, making it difficult for businesses to open. The development also put serious setback to efforts by residents to swap their old naira notes for the redesigned ones.
A visit to some of the banks showed hundreds of customers struggling to access the few ATMs dispensing old notes.
A customer, Mrs Sarah Okpanachi, said the late commencement of banking activities, which was due to the President’s visit, affected efforts to swap old notes.
“They told us to be patient, that they would soon load the ATMs with the new notes, but nothing has been done as at 2:30p.m.” Okpanachi said though she managed to deposit the old notes she came with at the bank, effort to access and withdraw the new notes from the ATMs, didn’t yield positive result as cashiers in the banking hall directed customers to the ATMs.
IN Enugu State, investigations by The Guardian showed that while banks have resorted to paying lower denominations of the currency, including N100 and N50 over the counter, ATMs that should disburse the new currency notes have become empty.
While some banks stopped receiving the old notes from Wednesday and approved such receipts in designated branches in the state, churches have asked their members not to send in the old notes from yesterday. Some businesses have also started rejecting the old notes.
Benson Ugwu told The Guardian that efforts to withdraw from ATM proved abortive as none was dispensing cash. Perturbed by the development, Igbo youths under the aegis of Coalition of South East Youth Leaders (COSEYL) have called on CBN to extend the deadline for the use of old notes. They stated that they would embark on street protests to persuade the apex bank to review the deadline directive, its National Coordinator, Goodluck Ibem, stated.
A former Minister of Information, Prof. Jerry Gana, yesterday, called on the Federal Government to find a permanent solution to the nation’s persistent scarcity and increase in price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), also known as petrol, claiming that the unavoidably queues at the filling stations are intolerable and unacceptable.
According to Gana, the country’s economy has been severely hampered by what he described as needless scarcit.y The former Information Minister, who disclosed this at the 106th anniversary of the Archbishop Vining College of Theology in Akure, Ondo State, said drivers and commuters have been facing untold hardship nationwide.
Gana also expressed displeasure at what he termed needless difficulties Nigerians are going through over newly redesigned naira notes. He claimed that despite the approaching deadline, many citizens were unable to obtain the new notes.
To give the populace access to the new notes and head off the issue, he demanded a quick extension of the due date.
SPOKESMAN, Middle Belt Forum, Isuwa Dogo, yesterday, said Nigerians would soon realise the major error of allowing the CBN Governor to singlehandedly convince President Buhari to change to new currency notes without carrying the National Assembly along.
Dogo, while speaking with The Guardian, tasked the media to do thorough investigation behind the motives of Emefiele and those behind the new naira notes at this delicate election period.
He said: “The action of the CBN governor completely undermined the Constitutional role of the National Assembly, which represent the Nigerian populace. The action again undermined the fundamental rights of 200 million Nigerians, who were not given the opportunity to have input in such a critical and sensitive issue of currency change that have effects even on children that are in the womb.”
The Middle Belt Forum’s spokesman urged the National Assembly to use its constitutional power force the CBN governor to extend the deadline of January 31 to about six months.