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New naira: Anger spreads over scarcity, Reps oppose CBN extension - PUNCH

JANUARY 30, 2023

BY  Friday Olokor, Dirisu Yakubu, Sami Olatunji, Deborah Tolu-Kolawole, Solomon Odeniyi, Lilian Ukagwu, Nathaniel Shaibu, Gift Habib, Edidiong Ikpoto, Anthony Ufoh, Anozie Egole, Damilola Aina, Godwin Isenyo, Tunde Oyekola

The House of Representatives has rejected the February 10 deadline for the phasing out of old currency notes announced by the Central Bank of Nigeria on Sunday.

The House of Representatives Ad hoc Committee on New Naira Re-design and Naira Swap Policy on Sunday described the new date as a mere political gimmick to further deceive Nigerians and worsen their economic and social livelihood.

The development came as anger spread across the country over the scarcity of the new notes with several bank customers becoming stranded due to lack of access to the new notes. Retailers and traders have been rejecting the old notes amid long queues at ATM galleries across the country.

However, announcing the new deadline for the phasing out of the old N1,000, N500 and N200 notes on Sunday, the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, said the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), gave permission for the deadline to be extended to February 10 after his recent meeting with him.

He also gave additional seven days to enable Nigerians to deposit their old naira notes after it ceases to be legal tender on February 10.

The PUNCH reported that the CBN had earlier fixed January 31 as the deadline for the exchange of old N1,000, N500 and N200 notes.

Before extending the deadline, the apex bank had refused to shift grounds despite coming under severe criticisms and significant pressure from the National Assembly, politicians, banks, customers, and key stakeholders.

The CBN governor had also failed to appear before the House four times, prompting the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, Tuesday, to declare his readiness to issue a warrant of arrest against him if he fails to appear before its committee last Thursday.

Gbajabiamila said the lawmakers would reconvene on Tuesday (tomorrow) to take an action against Emefiele and other bank chiefs who failed to honour the house’s summons.

CBN extends deadline

In his statement, however, the CBN governor stressed that the currency redesign programme was necessary to enable more efficient monetary policy decisions alongside curtailing banditry and ransom-taking.

Emefiele said that for 19 years, the CBN hadn’t re-design the naira, whereas, he said, this should normally have been done within a five to eight years window.

Enumerating the merits and benefits of the re-design, Emefiele said, “Our aim is mainly to make our Monetary Policy Decisions more efficacious and like you can see; we’ve started to see inflation trending downwards and exchange rates relatively stable.

‘’Secondly, we aim to support the efforts of our Security agencies in combating banditry and ransom-taking in Nigeria through this program and we can see that the military is making good progress in this important task in Nigeria.”

He noted that out of the N3.23tn currency in circulation and N2.7tn currency in people’s homes, the apex bank has retrieved N1.9tn with N900bn yet to be collected from those hoarding the notes.

He noted, “Ladies and Gentlemen, available data at the Central Bank of Nigeria has shown that in 2015, Currency -in circulation was only N1.4tn. As of October 2022, currency in circulation had risen to N3.23tn; out of which only N500bn was within the banking industry and N2.7tn was held permanently in people’s homes.

“Ordinarily, when CBN releases currency into circulation, it is meant to be used and after effluxion of time, it returns to the CBN thereby keeping the volume of currency in circulation under the firm control of the CBN.’’

“So far and since the commencement of this program, we have collected about N1.9tn; leaving us with about N900bn the CBN governor said.

He said that the president approved a “10-day extension of the deadline from January 31, 2023, to February 10, 2023; to allow for the collection of more old notes legitimately held by Nigerians and achieve more success in cash swap in our rural communities after which all old notes outside the CBN losses their legal tender status.

‘’Our CBN staff currently on mass mobilization and monitoring together with officials of the EFCC and ICPC will work together to achieve these objectives.”

He added that there will be a seven-day grace period after the new deadline.

“A seven-day grace period, beginning on February 10 to February 17, 2023, in compliance with sections 20(3) and 22 of the CBN Act allowing Nigerians to deposit their old notes at the CBN after the February deadline when the old currency would have lost its legal tender status,” he further disclosed.

The CBN governor appealed to Nigerians to work with the bank to ensure a hitch-free process for the implementation of the programme.

Emefiele also noted that the CBN regularly meets with banks to provide them with guidance in the collection of old notes and distribution of new notes.

He said that there is an ongoing nationwide sensitisation through collaboration with the National Orientation agency to reach Nigerians across multiple channels.

According to him, 30,000 Super Agents have been deployed to assist in the cash swap initiative in the hinterlands, rural areas, and regions underserved by banks.

The CBN governor further said that its staff, particularly assistant directors, deputy directors and directors have been deployed for mass mobilisation campaigns and monitoring programmes, adding that there is an ongoing collaboration with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission to monitor the implementation of and compliance to stipulated guidelines.

Also, the CBN Ilorin branch, Kwara state on Saturday assured residents of the state that, no one would  be denied of having access to the new naira bank notes so as to boost the economic transformation of the country.

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The apex bank, however, said that it had made available enough new naira notes to the commercial banks in the state in order to be distributed to their ATM points for the residents of the state.

The Ilorin branch controller of CBN, Mr. Lamidi Najim stated this in Ilorin during the monitoring activities embarked on by the management of the branch to some banks in the state.

Najim said that the CBN had put all measures on ground that would assist the residents of the state to have access to the new bank notes.

New deadline rejected

Unimpressed by the new date, the Ad hoc committee, chaired by the Majority Leader, House of Representatives, Alhassan Ado Doguwa, rejected the extension, insisting that the CBN must comply with sections 20 sub 3, 4, and 5 of the CBN Act.

The Lower House, during its sitting last Tuesday, constituted the ad hoc committee to look into the issue.

Expressing his displeasure in a statement on Sunday, Doguwa said, “The 10-day extension for the exchange of the old naira notes is not the solution. We as a legislative committee with a constitutional mandate of the House, would only accept clear compliance with section 20 sub-section 3, 4, and 5 of the CBN Act and nothing more.

“Nigeria as a developing economy and a nascent democracy must respect the principle of the rule of law. And the House would go ahead to sign an arrest warrant to compel the CBN Governor to appear before the Ad hoc committee.”

According to him, under his chairmanship, the committee would continue its work until it gets the demands of Nigerians addressed in accordance with the laws of the land.

While describing the extension as a mere political gimmick to further deceive Nigerians and worsen their economic and social livelihood, Doguwa said the CBN governor must appear before or stand the risk of being arrested on the strength of legislative writs signed by the Speaker on Monday.

He also said the policy was capable of frustrating the forthcoming general elections.

“Security agencies and their operations especially at the state level are generally funded through cash advances and direct table payments of allowances to operatives during elections,” he said.

Speaking in the same tone, the Chief Executive Officer, Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise, Dr Muda Yusuf, described the new deadline as grossly inadequate.

He said, “The 10 days and the grace period is grossly inadequate. What’s the rush about?”

He further warned that the short deadline could put a N100tn component of the national Gross Domestic Product at risk, particularly in the trade and commerce and agriculture sectors.

This came as the Supreme Council for Shari’ah in Nigeria also kicked against the 10 days. The council declared that five months extension should be the ideal period for the exchange of old naira notes for new ones.

The Secretary-General of the Supreme Council for Shari’a in Nigeria, Nafi’u Baba-Ahmed, while addressing a press conference in Kaduna on Sunday, said five months extension would be the ideal period so as to accommodate rural dwellers who had no access to banks.

“We are in line with the National Assembly for five months for the old naira notes swap because people in the rural areas may have to travel. And There should be massive awareness of the naira swap,” he said.

Meanwhile, popular human rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, observed that the CBN governor failed to put enough plans in place to ensure that the policy succeeds.

Falana in a message said, “Instead of preparing for the printing of new naira notes and distribution to the banks, Emefiele travelled out of the country. While he was away, the State Security Service declared him wanted for terrorism financing.

‘’In the absence of Emefiele, the members of the Board of the Central Bank of Nigeria had no information on the quantity of the new currency notes that had been printed.

“However, Emefiele returned to the country after a month and was alleged to have been shielded from arrest by some senior military officers. Emefiele, who claimed that he was on his annual vacation, has been battling to make the new currency notes available to members of the public.

The lawyer also accused the President of failing to learn from the naira policy he initiated in 1984.

According to Falana, the change of the naira colour which was introduced by Buhari, who was the then military head of state, crippled the economy and led to untold hardship in the country.

“In 1984, the Buhari military junta changed the colour of the naira. In a country of 81 million people, bank customers and other citizens were given only two weeks to deposit old notes and replace them with new ones.

“The poor implementation of the policy caused untold hardships including loss of lives in many parts of the country,’’ he added.’’

Falana described as laughable the failure of the National Assembly to curtail the excesses of the apex bank, noting that all its resolutions were being  ignored by the Central Bank, adding that the bank has been spending trillions of naira without appropriation.

Churches go cashless

Meanwhile, many churches in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, on Sunday rejected the old N1,000, N500 and N200 notes as offerings, insisting on the new currencies.

This, it was gathered, constrained many worshippers to give their offerings electronically, following their inability to get the new naira notes which have remained unavailable.

Our correspondents who visited some churches in Abuja observed that old notes were not accepted in many churches.

At The Redeemed Christian Church of God located along Airport Road, the announcer said, “We have been given a directive last week to stop collecting the old notes, so please today, it is the new notes.

“I’m sure you have it and if you don’t have it, you can please make a transfer to the church account. Thank you.”

Also, a branch of the Church under FCT province 2 rejected the old notes and encouraged members to go cashless.

However, a new-generation church did not give preference on notes to be given

A member who spoke to our correspondent said, “We just collected offerings, old or new. People gave what they had.

“Every seat has a customised envelope that is usually on the chairs before the service starts and we either pay in the envelope or transfer it to the church account.”

At the Living Faith Church in Kubwa, a satellite town in FCT, it was observed that the church was no longer accepting old notes for offering and tithes.

The members were encouraged to transfer their offerings and tithes electronically or write a cheque.

However, a worshipper, Stephanie Ekpo told The PUNCH that in the past two weeks, the church has been announcing that it will no longer accept the old notes with effect from January 29.

Our correspondent who visited the regional headquarters of The Apostolic Faith Church, Jabi, observed a notice on the board warning members against offering the old naira notes.

One of the pastors also reiterated the warning during the Sunday service.

At the Dunamis Church along Airport Road, Lugbe, it was observed that old notes were still in circulation but the church prohibited members from spending the money with effect from Sunday.

At the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Sanctuary of Great God Parish, Dutse Tipper Garage, the collection of offerings went on normally, and there was no announcement regarding the new naira or any preference of notes.

At the Petra Christian Centre, Peka Park and Gardens, Wuse Zone 3, members were seen offering both the old and new currencies.

Equally at the Celebration Church, Eden Park and Gardens, Utako, there was no preference for the new notes.

The Living Faith Church in the Lokogoma area of FCT did not reject the old notes.

Also, at the Celestial Church of Christ, Central Cathedral, Garki, our correspondent reports that there was no restriction on the old notes but it was observed that the majority of the congregants gave the new notes as offerings.

At the Living Faith Church, Jikwoyi, Abuja, parishioners had no directive on the use of old or new currency notes for either offering or tithes.

The Senior Deacon, Gabriel Idris, who monitors offering and tithes’ collection told our correspondent that the bulk of monies collected in the church were old notes.

“You know ours is a big church. Banks come at every service to take the money away. What we collected today were mostly old notes. I can say more than 90 per cent of what worshippers gave the church in the form of offerings and tithes were old notes,” he said.

The same situation was observed at the Holy Spirit Catholic Church, Kubwa, Abuja, where members freely gave the old notes during the mass.

 The PUNCH also observed that some churches around Lagos and its environs are still collected the old notes as offering on Sunday.

A leader in one of the churches along Ikotun-Idimu Road, Alimosho Local Government Area, who simply gave his name as Mr Augustine said, “Churches can still collect the old currency for today because they have tomorrow to go and make the deposits in the bank. But no one may be collecting the old notes within the week.”

A member of the Redeemed Church along, Liasu Road, Egbe, Ikotun, who doesn’t want his name on prints, said there parish still collected old notes as offerings and other things on Sunday.

Anger spreads

Meanwhile, several bank customers on Sunday expressed anger visibly as they became frustrated over their inability to access the new notes to pay for basic needs and services.

Also, members of the organised private sectors expressed anger over lack of adequate new notes in circulation, insisting that the central bank must use the extended period to provide more new notes for the public.

The developments came as  more retailers and shop owners rejected the old notes amid long queues of customers in banking halls across the country.

Lengthy queues and new naira scarcity have triggered anger and frustration among many Nigerians, who find it challenging to get the new notes for their regular transactions.

Findings by The PUNCH showed that many could not access the new notes at the ATMs while several retailers and shop rejected the old notes over fear that they might not be able to exchange ahead of the deadline.

Many Nigerians expressed anger and frustration just as the scarcity of the N1000, N500 and N200 old notes left many stranded.

One of our correspondents, who visited a First Bank branch in Akowonjo area of Lagos, saw long queues of customers seeking to withdraw cash from the ATMs. They were however, disappointed due to lack cash in the ATMs.

Several customers including some of our correspondents had to borrow money from friends and acquaintances to enable them to pay for purchases.

Speaking to one our correspondents, Okupu Ikoh, a security official at First Bank in Ikeja, said he could not withdraw both the new and old notes in several ATMs he visited in the Ikeja axis.

He said, “I went to a First Bank ATM and there was no money, not even the old notes. Now, I have been to Heritage Bank, GTB and but could not get any cash to withdraw. The banks did not load their ATMs with new notes. They also refused to load the ATMs with old notes due to fear of CBN sanction. We are in a dilemma and I am very angry over this.”

 A bar owner, Olaiya Adekemi, who visibly angry, told The PUNCH she stopped accepting old notes from her customers because she found it difficult to exchange them for new notes in the bank she visited.

She said, “I have told my customers I will not accept the old notes from them again. I cannot go and keep queuing again. I would rather lock up my shop and let my goods stay here till the government comes up with what they want to do over this currency matter. This is very annoying. The government is inflicting pains on us.”

Adelowo Oyebamidele, an Ikoyi-based mason said the government planned to punish Nigerians by refusing to release enough new notes into circulation.

He said, “This is not good for Nigerians at the moment. We have been queuing up at the banks for cash, our own money for that matter. The government knows that it is not easy to exchange currency and looking at the time frame, they should extend it because we cannot lose our money for nothing.”

The PUNCH also observed that some bars across some cities in Lagos including those in the Yaba and Mile 2 axis have stopped accepting old notes since Saturday.

A Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation fuel station along Liasu Road, Idimu, Lagos, on Saturday, refuses to sell fuel to customers with old currency.

They insisted that customers could make use of PoS for payment.

A resident of Sango Ota who gave his name as, Yusuf, in a chat with one of our correspondents, said, “Imagine in my area, a fuel station stopped selling the products because they don’t want to collect old notes. I almost became stranded.

It was also observed that operators of PoS now charge higher to deposit old notes even though they don’t have new notes to give.

Our correspondent, who visited five lenders in Lagos cities, namely Ojodu, Isolo, Egbeda, Mushin and Igando, observed that none of the ATMs dispensed cash as commuters continued to move from machine to machine, hoping to catch a lucky break.

The banks are Access Bank, Zenith, Union Bank, First and Ecobank in Ojodu,  the Ojodu area-

Our correspondent then proceeded to Ajah, where he visited two banks — Sterling Bank at Ikota complex and Wema Bank, Ilaje. While the Sterling Bank ATM did not dispense cash, there was a crowd of commuters arguing fiercely at Wema Bank, with many trying to break into the queue and withdraw some cash out of fear that the machine might soon run out of cash.

The situation was much worse at Sterling Bank in Awoyaya, where commuters were seen getting into heated physical exchanges as cash was being loaded into the bank ATMs.

 While speaking with our correspondent, an official at Sterling Bank said security agents had to be deployed in its Awoyaya branch to get the crowd in line as the verbal altercations degenerated into physical violence.

The source said, “Many banks did not load their ATMs today. At our branch (Awoyaya) the crowd there was very wild. The people just refused to obey the simple rules of queuing up. Everybody wants to withdraw at the same time. We had to bring in external security to get the crowd in check.”

NECA, NESG advise

Reacting to the extension of the deadline by CBN, the Director-General of the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association, Mr Wale Oyerinde, described the new CBN deadline as a welcomed development.

He however urged the apex bank to ensure availability of the new note in adequate quantity.

He said, “The extension by the CBN as approved by the President is a welcome development. The extension is more important as there is visible unavailability of the new naira notes. The long queues at ATMs coupled with the frantic rejection of the old naira notes have conspired to further aggravate the hardship on Nigerians. While we commend the CBN for listening to the many voices of reason, however, beyond the extension, the CBN must ensure the availability of the new notes in adequate quantity both at the Banking halls and also at the various Automated Teller Machines. If this is not done before the new deadline, there might be a call for another extension.”

Also speaking, a facilitator with the Nigeria Economic Summit Group, Dr Ikenna Nwosu, said that although the CBN had responded to concerns by extending the deadline, the bank still needed to ensure sufficient new notes were available to meet rising demand.

He said, “Well, half-bread is better than none, at least they have responded to the yearnings of Nigerians from different constituencies. The Nigerian Bar Association, Governors Forum, bankers group, and the general public, they have responded to the stakeholders’ concerns. The only point is that I hope within that number of days, they can supply enough new currencies that is the most important thing.”


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