By CHUKWUDI AKASIKE, TUNDE AJAJA, OLUWAFEMI MORGAN, GODFREY GEORGE, DEBORAH TOLU-KOLAWOLE, ABIODUN SANUSI, DANIEL AYANTOYE, UTHMAN ABUBAKAR, ADEMOLA ADEGBITE, TUNDE OYEKOLA, NATHANIEL SHAIBU and DENNIS NAKU
As the lingering scarcity of both old and new naira notes continues to cripple economic activities nationwide and inflict enormous pains on Nigerians, an aide to the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), has revealed that his principal was misled by the Central Bank of Nigeria.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Ajuri Ngelale, in an interview monitored on TVC News, described as false the report by the CBN that it had supplied all bank branches in the country with sufficient amounts of the new notes.
Prior to the extension of the deadline for the exchange of old naira notes from January 31 to February 10, the President had defended the CBN governor, Mr Godwin Emefiele, for adopting unorthodox economic models that put people at the heart of the apex bank’s policies. “Because the governor follows a model outside of the economic orthodoxy, he is labelled political, but the orthodoxy has proved wrong time and again,” Buhari said.
Owing to the naira redesign and the renewed cashless policy of the CBN, the non-availability of both the old and newly designed naira notes at all channels, including banking halls, Automated Teller Machine points and Point of Sale terminal operators across the country, has subjected majority of Nigerians to serious hardship, with many finding it difficult to access cash to buy basic things or transport themselves from one place to the other.
In what many have described as unprecedented in the history of the country, Nigerians now pay exorbitant charges to get the naira notes from PoS operators. As of Saturday afternoon, in some parts of Lagos, N5,000 old notes attracted N1,000 commission while N6,000 new notes attracted as much as N2,000 commission.
In the interview however, Ngelale said, “They (Nigerians) feel that the Federal Government of Nigeria is unintentionally or intentionally impoverishing them overnight. That is the perception they have, whether it is right or wrong.
“What we are working to do is to ensure that Mr President is given effective and true information and that the report that was given by the CBN that they have supplied all bank branches in the country with sufficient amounts of the new naira notes is absolutely false and it is evidential at this point.
“Mr President, being the pro-people defender and defender of the masses that he has always been and an upholder of social justice, did the right thing when intelligence reached him that he was getting false intelligence from the CBN, which was to extend the deadline from January 31 to February 10.
“Now, clearly, with the adjustments in the deadline, it was also announced that other agencies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission are also actively involved in the oversight of the distribution of the new naira notes to banking branches across the country as well as rural areas with cash swops with the over 30,000 super agents that are being sent out.
“So, there is an extra level of oversight and monitoring that is being done now and added to the process.”
He said the President would defend the masses no matter whose ox is gored, adding that he wouldn’t be opposed to an extension if it became necessary.
He added, “If he gets any intelligence that during the length of this 10-day window that the wrong things have been done or the right things have not been done and that the new naira notes have not been distributed among the people, Mr President has that option on the table of extending that deadline and that will be left to his discretion. Certainly, it is going to be based on what he sees happening across the country in the course of these seven days.
“We are heartened by the new information we received from the CBN that now over-the-counter collections of the new naira notes will now be made available to banking customers.”
Even though the President on Friday asked for seven days to solve the naira scarcity, many Nigerians are apprehensive about the extent to which the crisis could have degenerated at the end of the seven days.
Meanwhile, as protests and anger continue to spread across the country over the scarce naira notes, coupled with pockets of attacks on banks and their staff members by furious customers, bank workers have expressed concerns over their safety.
The President, National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institution Employees, Anthony Abakpa, in an interview with one of our correspondents on Saturday said bankers were stressed due to the situation, noting that their work had become hectic.
He added, “Honestly, the situation is hectic, it is not a healthy environment at all. Even as a bank staff and an individual, the masses are angry because there is no cash available and their money is in the bank. The situation is worrisome.
“We will continue to engage and ensure that the safety of every individual working in the bank and insurance sector is upheld, and that is our demand.”
Similarly, the Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions called on security agencies to ensure the safety and security of bank workers and property.
The News Agency of Nigeria reported that ASSBIFI President, Mr Olusoji Oluwole, in a statement on Saturday condemned recent attacks on some financial institutions, saying such endanger the lives of bank workers.
Oluwole stated, “We strongly condemn this act which is borne out of the propaganda against banks as the sole cause of the inability of the public to have access to cash across the country. We have seen a few videos of bank branches allegedly hoarding cash in their vaults.
“While we do not hold brief for these isolated cases or condone any verified bad behaviour, we expect the same sources of these videos to also project the many locations that have continued to provide cash to customers or have empty vaults due to the unavailability of cash. Unfortunately, we do not deem it security conscious for us to share videos or pictures of our vaults with the public as professionals.”
He said bank workers had in the past few weeks worked tirelessly, every day for long hours against the prescribed work hours, noting that such sacrifice was to ensure customers were able to deposit their old currency notes and make the new ones available for withdrawals at Automated Teller Machines.
He added, “This exercise has taken its toll on their health, work-life balance, and families while being faced daily with the fear of physical assaults by irate customers. While we assure the public of our commitment to ensure their pain is ameliorated, we appeal for calm and understanding at this time as we call on the security agencies to ensure the safety and security of our lives and bank property.”
The Nigeria Labour Congress has ruled out the possibility of embarking on strike action to compel the government to find urgent solutions to the dual crisis of naira and petrol scarcity.
It said going on strike when general elections were a couple of days away could present the union as insensitive, heat up the polity and cause problems. It said Nigerians should rather make use of their permanent voter cards to elect the leaders they believe could make their lives better.
Independent of the naira notes scarcity, the prolonged fuel scarcity, which begun last year, has subjected commuters, business owners and individuals to untold misery, with people spending hours in queues, while a litre of petrol sells for about N500 in some places as against the N185 control price.
But, reacting to the dual impact of the scarcity, the NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, said, “We cannot go on strike on the eve of an election; we also cannot join retrogressive forces. We can use the power of the ballot and our PVCs to bring about a system that will make everybody happy. But if there is a call to go on strike on the eve of elections, I am not sure it is a better option.
“Things will not get better, people should be ready; we cannot change a system through lamentation. Lamentation has not changed any system. What will change the system is for the people to be wise, because this same issue we are talking about, either the fuel or the economy, has been around for the past 30 years.”
He said since the advent of democracy, promises were made but not fulfilled but that it was fruitless to dwell on that.
“Our suggestion is that all of us must work together to hold people in government at all levels accountable and this is important; from the president to the governors, National Assembly members and others,” he stated. “Everybody must be seen to be improving the system, not improving themselves.
“We cannot go on strike on the eve of the election. Have you ever seen that on the eve of elections, the NLC mobilised (people) to go on strike? So, if there is a problem now and the election did not hold, won’t you come back to say the same NLC made the election not to hold. Which is a better option? Is it to use your PVC to elect people who will change the narrative or we continue to lament?”
The National President, Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria, Tommy Etim, has lamented that some workers have been unable to go to work because they do not have cash for transportation.
In an interview with one of our correspondents on Thursday, Etim, who doubles as the Vice-President of the Trade Union Congress, noted that the only condition for the Central Bank of Nigeria’s February 10 deadline to stand was for there to be enough new notes in circulation.
He stated, “The policy is a good one but unfortunately, it is not working as planned. Now, it is not even politicians who are suffering, it is the poor masses. From the socio-economic outlook, the informal sector is bearing the brunt. A lot of workers don’t even have money to go to the office, how will productivity come to place? If there is no productivity, how will the economy grow? A civil servant cannot pay taxi N200 with bank transfer because drivers only believe in the cash they see with their hands.
Similarly, the Chairman, Senate Committee on the Army, Ali Ndume, has raised the alarm that the naira scarcity, occasioned by the naira redesign and the cashless policy of the CBN, is affecting military operations, especially at the battlefield.
He told journalists in Maiduguri on Saturday, “Naira redesign and the CBN’s cashless policy are gravely affecting the strategic operations of troops at battlefields across the country. Troops find it difficult to survive on the battlefields because they lack access to cash to buy their daily, basic needs in the remote communities across terrains of insecurity in the country.
“Now, a soldier stays for hours in the ATM or POS queues just to access the stipend, when he should be discharging his duties on the battlefield. This situation has dampened the morale of the troops at the battlefield.”
He said terrorists had said they were already in possession of the new notes, which undermines part of the objectives of the policy to block terror financing. He called on the Federal Government and the CBN to make arrangements for troops to access cash easily, given the critical nature of their duties.
Following the violence and protests that erupted in states like Ondo, Oyo, Delta, Enugu and some other parts of the country, the Nigeria Police Force has urged citizens to eschew violence.
The Force Public Relations Officer, Olumuyiwa Adejobi, said, “We appeal to our people to be patient and eschew violence as the government and all relevant agencies and stakeholders are working on how to resolve this problem.
“We also urge bank customers affected by the naira scarcity to be patient, and those attacking bank facilities should desist from such. It is illegal. Nigerians should be patient and not resort to violence. No one asked people not to protest; they could have held their protests with decorum and maturity without resorting to violence or attacking a police station.”
He said the violence in Ibadan on Friday would have escalated but for the timely intervention of the police.
The Kwara State Police Commissioner, Paul Odama, has ordered an aggressive patrol of banks across the state to prevent hoodlums from fomenting trouble as a result of the naira scarcity.
The spokesperson for the command, SP Okasanmi Ajayi, said in a statement, “Intelligence available to the command indicates that hoodlums have perfected plans to replicate the lawlessness that was unleashed on some banks in some states.
“The command wishes to assure the good people of Kwara State of its capacity to deal ruthlessly with any law-breaker. Anyone arrested would meet heavy consequences. Criminals are therefore advised to shelve any such dastardly idea. Consequently, the Commissioner of Police, Paul Odama, has ordered aggressive patrol of banks and other financial facilities across the state.”
The General Secretary, Association of Mobile Money and Bank Agents in Nigeria, Mr Odion Andrew, has also lamented that many of his members have not started receiving funds from the banks to cushion the New Naira note crisis.
Odion told Sunday PUNCH that the cash swop directed by the CBN suffered setbacks because it had refused to recognise many of its members.
“These agents, Mobile Money Operators and Microfinance Banks, compiled lists and sent them to the CBN. You can imagine over 1.4 million agents; the CBN said it has over 30,000 MMOs on its list and there are just a few of our members there.”
When our correspondent asked why PoS operators were charging higher rates for withdrawals, he said they were responding to the factors of demand and supply, adding that since the PoS operators were not recognised by the CBN, the association could not regulate them.
To ease the pain of commuting in the state on account of the naira and fuel scarcity, Oyo State Governor, Mr Seyi Makinde, has announced the provision of free transportation on designated routes.
According to a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Taiwo Adisa, the governor announced this in a statewide broadcast aired on the Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State on Friday night.
The governor, who frowned at the resort to violence by protesters earlier on Friday, said people have the right and even responsibility to protest when they have reservations about certain things but that they must be conscious that a peaceful protest could turn violent and lead to the loss of lives and property.
“I urge all law-abiding citizens and residents of the state to go about their lawful activities. All our security agencies are on high alert, and so peaceful residents have no cause to fear. As a palliative measure, I have directed that the Omituntun Mass Transit Buses be deployed to more routes within the state for free.”
Meanwhile, the Enugu State police command said it arrested 39-year-old Joseph Chinenye and 29-year-old Onyeka Ezeja for possessing, transacting and selling 180 pieces of counterfeited new N1,000 notes.
The Police PRO in the state, DSP Daniel Ndukwe, in a statement on Friday night, said, “The suspects claimed to have secured the counterfeited naira notes from an unidentified woman in Benin, Edo State. In addition, they confessed to attempting to sell the naira notes to a PoS operator, who rejected them.”
He asked residents of the state to be vigilant, noting that the duo would be arraigned in court upon conclusion of investigation into the case.
Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, on Saturday urged Nigerians not to vote for any candidate supporting the manner in which the currency redesign policy is being implemented.
Speaking at Opobo during the state chapter of the PDP’s campaign rally, he stated, “The primary target of this policy is to provoke Nigerians to embark on civil disturbance which they will capitalise on to say they cannot conduct election and push for enthronement of an interim government.
“No matter the provocation, I urge everyone to be calm. This election must hold because nothing will stop an Opobo man from becoming governor.” The governorship candidate of the PDP, Siminialayi Fubara, is from Opobo.
He also asked a former Minister of Transportation, Dr Abiye Sekibo, whom he had been at loggerheads with to explain why former President Olusegun Obasanjo sacked him from his cabinet.
The National President, Association of Small Business Owners of Nigeria, Dr Femi Egbesola, told one of our correspondents in an interview that the dual impact of the fuel and naira scarcity was killing businesses and making it impossible for some MSMEs owners to meet their loan repayment obligations to banks.
He stated, “Some businesses that are cash-dependent are constrained because there is no cash anywhere, while PoS operators who have it charge up to 20 per cent of the amount you want to withdraw.
“If you go to some areas, you realise that quite a number of shops are closed. Some of them don’t even have cash for transportation to their workplace. People’s livelihoods are also being affected, except the select few who are rich. If nothing is done about it, it could lead to agitations because people are frustrated. Even online banking is sometimes hampered by network problems.
“On fuel scarcity, many businesses can’t operate because electricity is not stable, there are long queues at filling stations and they sell at exorbitant prices. Just this morning, some of the banks called me saying that our members are not meeting their loan repayment obligations. How will they be able to when their business is not running?”
Similarly, an economist and Chief Executive Officer, Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise, Dr Muda Yusuf, said the naira scarcity could end up pushing many small business owners out of operations because the working capital of many MSMEs and the money of those who should patronise them were already trapped in the banks.
He added, “Many businesses have been paralysed as a result of this. Also, in the ECOWAS sub-region, naira is a dominant currency and the bulk of the trade in the sub-region is informal and they deal in cash. Now, there is no cash to do the trade. The PUNCH reported during the week that many border communities are now trading in CFA franc because the naira is not available.”
He however pointed out that the withdrawal of the old notes and replacement of the new notes should have been gradual. “I hope they will allow more time, because there is nowhere in the world where you print all the currency at the same time. It is gradual. The shock on the system is too much.”
The presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Mr Peter Obi, has called for calm on account of the hardship caused by the naira and fuel scarcity.
Obi who spoke in Lagos on Saturday said, “The currency redesign is not peculiar to Nigeria. It is an exercise that comes with some inconvenience and pain but it has significant long-term economic and social benefits.
“Even though there are improvements that can be made, I urge Nigerians to bear with the CBN and the Federal Government with the hope that the general populace will harvest the gains that will come with the reforms. We equally implore the CBN and the banks to expedite efforts to make the new currency available.”
Some bank customers in Sango-Ota, Ogun State, have asked the central bank to sanction Deposit Money Banks that are not paying the N20,000 maximum limit to customers over the counter.
The customers, who spoke with NAN in separate interviews on Friday, said the scarcity had almost paralysed their business and economic activities.
One of them, Mr Joseph Ogunyemi, said he wanted to withdraw N20,000 from the counter but he only got N5,000, adding that the apex bank should impose stiffer sanctions on any bank that disregards its directive.
Another customer, Kunle Lawal, also said he visited the bank to withdraw N20,000 but only got N5,000. “It is really unfortunate that we found ourselves in such a situation but I believe the regulator should be able to put them in check,” he said.
A security expert, Nnamdi Anekwe-Chive, has advised the Federal Government to resolve the lingering crisis to avoid escalated negative reactions from the public.
He added, “Nigerians are going through a lot this period; there is fuel scarcity, naira scarcity, power supply problem and rising inflation and people are not happy. It is similar to what happened during the #EndSARS protest and people stormed the street. If actions are not taken to improve on the current situation, more people will move to the street to protest.”
PUNCH Nigeria Ltd