Confusion, anger, hunger as scarcity of new notes lingers

ON Wednesday, February 1, one dark-skinned, rotund customer had come into the hall of the Stanbic IBTC branch on Market Street, Somolu, Lagos State. She was hoping to withdraw N30,000. What she got was the shock of her life: she could only get N1,000, and in only N5 notes. The shock distorted her facial expression into a horror. N1000 in N5 notes?, she exploded. Who wanted that denomination that had virtually gone into extinction? But the bank teller was firm; there were no other notes It was either the customer acquiesces or walk. She chose the latter.

As The ICIR later discovered widely, the N5 banks’ issue to customers is a national development. Following the initial directive from the CBN to stop issuing the old N1000, N500 and N200 notes as withdrawals across the counter, banks, a staffer at the Stanbic IBTC branch told our correspondent, had no option but to be giving out the lower denominations they had.

But, actually, beyond that, the CBN issued a release directing banks to be paying customers in whatever denominations they had, including the scorned, unwanted N10 and N5 notes. It is an opportunity for both the CBN and commercial banks to do away with those notes that Nigerians had been gradually sending into extinction, as they permanently did coins.

The initiation of the policy, there has been distortions in the economy, with businesses facing scarcity of cash from both deposit money banks and Point-of-Sales merchants.

The gaps in the policy since its initiation has led to the scarcity of both the old and new currency, which has led to more than 100 per cent hike in the transaction cost for withdrawal through PoS.

On heels of this development, many businesses are grounded to a halt as they complain of scarcity of cash for their business transactions.

Besides businesses, families are complaining of lack of cash, throwing them into avoidable difficulties.

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THESE are, indeed, unusual times. For many years, they had been off the streets in protest, which was not their wont, especially during the dictatorship years of military rule. But on Thursday, February 2, members of the human rights body, the Civil Liberty Organisation (CLO), deemed it fit to get back to the streets, this time to stage a protest to tell the Muhammadu Buhari administration how its policy on three redesigned naira notes are hurting the citizens.

In a video that went viral,  the protesters could be seen carrying banners and singing, “All we are saying, give us new notes.” The redesigned naira notes, that is.

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The protest cannot capture enough the agonising developments that have emanated since new redesigned notes of N1000, N500 and N200 came into circulation on December 15, 2022.

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) had announced on October 15, 2022 that it would be redesigning the three notes with a view to mopping up unregulated money outside the banking vault, which the CBN estimated to be 80 per cent.

A collage of the new naira notes.
A collage of the new naira notes.

The CBN initially fixed January 31, 2023 as the deadline for accepting the old three designs being rested. But as that deadline dawned last week and the new notes still as scarce as hen’s teeth, there rose appeals from different bodies to the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, to extend the deadline.

Emefiele had initially waxed unshaken, insisting the deadline remained inviolable. But federal legislators waded in on the agitations, with many of them narrating the woes of their constituents in obtaining the notes. A threat from the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, to arrest Emefiele over the issue might have contributed to making the apex bank chief budge, for on January 29, he announced the shift of the deadline to February 10.

But there has been no succour for the citizens. If anything, the scarcity of the notes has worsened. And with it have emerged unusual spectacles that bank customers have never experienced.

Nigerians and difficult experiences

A bank customer Ifeanyi Obodoeze while narrating his ordeal, said, “My search for the new naira notes started on Sunday-January 29,2023 and it has not been easy.

According to him, Providus bank, located at 62 Lobito Crescent, Wuse II Abuja, however, made it very easy for its costumers.

“For the past two weeks or so, the personnel in charge of their ATM kept the 3 ATMs in full service; filing them up with cash several times in a day.

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” The bank reserved two of the three for only their customers while one is for others.
The queue there today is something else on that general one which is the same situation across the few functional ATMs in the FCT just as I saw now at FCMB, Garki II.

He noted, however, that the Zenith located opposite the Providus branch has its ATM out of service since this year.

He alleged that managers are probably hoarding these new notes for whatever reason, while stressing the importance pointing out those few banks who truly cared for their customers.

He observed, however, that the PoS operators are a different story entirely, as many of them rose on the situation to increase transaction cost arbitrarily, even above 200 per cent.

Also, a family man, Ekene Obike, told The ICIR that he had to queue at the Automated Teller Machine, ATM for 4 hours to access N5000 cash for the family.

“I don’t have any money at home, I had to be at the queue since 4am in order to access cash for my family up keep.

Businesses share concerns

A restaurant seller in Utako, at the Federal Capital Territory FCT, Helen Osigwe told The ICIR that she had reduced the quantity of the food she cooks, as customers complain of difficulty in accessing cash.

“I have since reduced my daily restaurant sales by half, since the issue of this scarcity. Many of my customers send transfer when they come to eat, however, I find it difficult to get the money from commercial banks and PoS. The banks complain they don’t have the new notes, the PoS charge high transaction cost, while complaining of scarcity,”she said.

Another restaurant owner, Oluchi Okafor located in Dei-Dei, at the outskirt of Abuja City, told our correspondent that she had to also readjust the quantity of food he cooks per day following the uncertainty that characterised the current situation.

“I accept only cash from my customers. I try to explain to those who want to make a transfer of the difficulties faced in getting cash for business. We pay higher costs to get our money from PoS operators get our money,” she laments.

Besides, some PoS operators told The ICIR that the hike in the transaction cost is a result of the scarcity of cash from commercial banks. They complained that they had to rely on super agents, many of whom had raised the transaction costs for them.

“I get my money for my business from a super agent since it’s difficult to get from the banks. For a N500, 000 worth of the newly redesigned cash, we pay N50, 000.

I get my money for my business from a super agent since it’s difficult to get from the banks. For a N500, 000 worth of the newly redesigned cash, we pay N50, 000.

She stressed that many businesses now don’t deposit cash because of uncertainty that characterises the process.

“We charge higher costs because we don’t have it easy getting cash from the super agents. The probability of getting cash now from deposit money banks and super agents.”

On the concerns of the poor circulation of the redesigned currency, the apex bank governor, Godwin Emefiele, has assured Nigerians that banks will continue to accept the N1000, N500 and N200 notes being rested after the February 10 deadline.

Emefiele gave the assurance on February 1 2023, when he appeared before the House of Representatives ad hoc committee on the currency redesign and naira swap policy.

Last week, the House invited the CBN governor for discussions as worries mounted across the country over scarcity of the redesigned N1000, N500 and N200 notes and the January 31 deadline dawned.

When Emefiele failed to honour the invitation last Thursday, the House Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, threatened to arrest him.

Emefiele announced a 10-day extension to the deadline, with the old notes acceptable as legal tender till February 10.

Despite the extension, there has been outcry in several quarters about the gaps in the policy and how it has created problems for businesses.

Adamu in Suleja, Niger State complains of drop in Sales, citing currency redesign.
Adamu in Suleja, Niger State complains of drop in Sales, citing currency redesign.

For Adamu Mustapha, a carrot and tomato seller in Suleja market, he told our correspondent that he makes an average of N80,000 sales daily. However, he complained that his sales dropped by over 40 per cent since the currency redesign deadline extension.

“I deal on cash and pay to my suppliers once I close for the day. I noticed a sharp drop in my sales since the deadline extension of this policy. It has distorted our market and sales. The little cash I have, I cannot deposit because I might struggle to get it back,” Adamu said.

A dealer on women’s wears at Onitsha Main Market, Chijioke Ifekudu, who spoke to The ICIR said the trend at the market has been, “Madam you get cash?”, “Oga you get cash?”
It is so disturbing.”

When prodded further on how the policy is affecting the market, he said, “everywhere is so dry. There is no money in circulation, and no one is buying.”

Deserted PoS Centre at the Central Market in Kubwa for lack of cash
Deserted PoS Centre at the Central Market in Kubwa for lack of cash

Protest on the Policy

The situation is not just affecting businesses alone, in Abuja and several other parts of the country, Civil Liberty Organisation, CLO are protesting the policy and its harsh effects on Nigerians.

Already, there were recorded protests in some parts of the country over the current naira scarcity, both with deposit money banks and PoS across the country.

In Lagos, a group under the auspices of Civil Liberty Organisations for Good Governance  staged a protest Lagos State over the scarcity of an Naira notes(Old and new)

The Executive Director of the AFRICAN Centre for Leadership, Strategy and Development, CLSD, Monday Osasah told The ICIR that the loopholes in the policy is what is currently causing the present crisis and distortions in business.

“The apex bank would have come up with this earlier and allowed it to run for six months side by side to gradually face out the old notes.

He pointed out that the policy has put Nigerians into lots of avoidable hardships, which could have been corrected with better plans.

A Lawyer and Lead Partner, Centre for Social Justice, CSJ Eze Onyekpere told The ICIR that the policy has several gaps and is putting Nigerians into suffering.

Eze Onyekpere, said Emefiele misled Buhari and Nigerians

Sharing his personal experience, he said, “Emefiele has misled the President and the entire Nigerian community.

“What Emefiele and the CBN are doing has the consequences of reverting Nigeria back to deep recession or crashing whatever is remaining of the economy.

“I was looking for money yesterday, where I found money they told me they are going to charge me N5000 to give me N20 000. What do you expect if the business have come to a halt, no one is selling, no one is buying, people are exercising undue caution with the little cash they have, “he stressed.

He also noted that both rural and urban economy is affected, and many people are postponing business transactions.

Government  says there is end in sight

Meanwhile, the Federal Government has expressed concern over Nigerians’ scarcity experience over the new naira notes.

The Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed told State House Correspondents that the President is not happy with the situation, while assuring that it would be under control soon.

She noted that President Buhari is not happy with the difficulties Nigerians arw facing in accessing the new cash.

“Of course, we are worried; we are not that happy that citizens have to queue and struggle at bank ATM to be able to get their cash, but this is a temporary solution.

“Let me just give you an analogy; if you have a wound, for your to be able to heal that wound, it needs to be dressed; sometimes, when you go to the hospital, they put iodine and it is very painful but it is necessary to that to get the wound to heal.

“So, it is not easy, and the president is not happy that the citizens are really suffering; but we are convinced that it is something that needs to be done this time.’’




     

     

    According to her, the CBN has been responsive in terms of providing some extension.

    Rasheed Monguno, Director Consumer Protection for CBN, Rasheed Monguno while speaking on the fate of the rural underserved areas in the country said the cash swap initiative of the CBN is taking care of those.

    “We are targeting those in rural areas and working with the collaboration of the super agents to reach the unbanked,”she said.

    In addition, the president has asked for seven days to look into the issue.

    Harrison Edeh is a journalist with the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, always determined to drive advocacy for good governance through holding public officials and businesses accountable.

    Join the ICIR WhatsApp channel for in-depth reports on the economy, politics and governance, and investigative reports.

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