By Kabir Yusuf
President Muhammadu Buhari has left Nigerians confused as he kept mum on Friday, a day he promised to address citizens on the severe cash crunch hurting economic activities in the country.
The extended deadline to phase out the old notes was Friday, 10 February. However, the Supreme Court gave a order restraining the CBN from enforcing the deadline for the phasing out of the N200, N500 and N1,000 notes, pending the hearing of a lawsuit brought by three northern states challenging the new currency redesign. It adjourned that hearing until 15 February.
The Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, is challenging that interim ruling by the Supreme Court and the central bank has not spoken on how it intends to comply with the ruling, thus leaving Nigerians confused.
The president held an emergency meeting of the National Council of State on Friday to discuss crucial issues affecting the country including the currency crisis. However, Mr Buhari has not taken a decision on the cash crunch.
Parts of Nigeria have descended into chaos as frustrated Nigerians beseiged ATM units in a bit to access to their own money.
Violent protests have been recorded in parts of the country, including in Ogun, Oyo and Akwa Ibom in the country’s south, and the social media is awash with lamentations of suffering Nigerians, who are not able to access their funds for transactions.
The president acknowledged “hardship” in the country last week and urged citizens to give him seven days to resolve the cash crunch. But he also blamed banks for being “inefficient” and “only concerned about themselves”.
“Even if a year is added, the problems won’t go away,” Mr Buhari said, adding that he had been reassured by the central bank that it was capable of supplying enough notes.
CBN governor Godwin Emefiele admitted to the supply constraints on Friday, saying the limited capacity to print enough new Naira notes is responsible for the severe cash crunch hurting Nigerians.
Like Buhari, Mr Emefiele also lamented the activities of saboteurs in the banking industry, who, he said, are hoarding the new notes.
At least two unnamed bank branches have been busted for hoarding new notes while customers endured long queues and were unable to withdraw their money, Mr Emefiele said at the National Council of State on Friday.
Some commercial banks have, however, denied hoarding the new notes, saying the Central Bank failure to print enough notes left lenders struggling to meet demand.
The council of state has advised that there is need for aggressive action on the part of the central bank as it relates to the implementation of the new naira policy. The leaders said the CBN should urgently make more new notes available or recirculate the old notes.
The International Monetary Fund also urged the central bank to consider extending the deadline for the old notes to cease to be legal tender if the lack of access to new notes persists.
Many Nigerians are asking for the currency swap policy to be suspended immediately and only resumed when the equivalent of the money withdrawn from circulation has been printed and is available to replace the old currency notes.
Both Mr Buhari and the CBN have not said anything as of Saturday morning.