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Desperate Nigerians looking for new naira queue up at ATMs

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As the Governor of the Central Bank Godwin Emefiele and members of the House of Representatives play Russian Roulette, thousands of Nigerians have Friday been queueing up at ATM machines across Lagos and other major cities in a desperate bid to lay hands on the new Naira notes before a Jan. 31 deadline that will render the old bills useless.

There are only two more working days after Friday for Nigerians to exchange their old notes for new ones but it is getting easier to make the money than to lay your hands on it in Nigeria.

The Central Bank has maintained that the deadline will not be moved and the apex bank seems to have the support of President Muhammadu Buhari but it is unclear how well-briefed the president is of the misery Nigerians are facing.

According to a Bloomberg report, an ATM belonging to Guaranty Trust Bank Plc was the only one dispensing the new notes on one of the busiest streets in the Victoria Island district of Lagos, where most of Nigeria’s banks have their head offices. Even then only one of six ATMs in the building was dispensing the new bills.

Bloomberg said four other banks within a block of the GTBank branch — First Bank Plc, Providus Bank, Keystone Bank, and UBA Plc — all had ATMs that weren’t dispensing cash when a Bloomberg reporter visited around 11 a.m. on Friday morning.

“I have been to more than six ATMs today trying to get the new notes and none of the ATMs are paying,” Abibat Abdullahi told Bloomberg at a First Bank ATM on Adeola Odeku Street after being unable to withdraw the new notes. Her wallet contained old notes that she was unable to spend because many merchants are refusing to accept them.

“I want to use the money to buy foodstuff and daily needs,” Abdullahi said. “I have children, they should help us.”

Read also: New naira: Reps to issue warrant of arrest on Emefiele

Business activities in Nigeria’s large informal sector, which runs mainly on cash, is grinding to a halt due to fear by traders they may not be able to exchange old bills for new ones by Tuesday. The new notes can only be collected from ATMs or swapped with the old ones from bank agents across the country.

The central bank has insisted that the deadline for the old notes to cease to be legal tender will not be extended despite calls from lawmakers to do so.

Speaker of Nigeria’s house of representatives Femi Gbajabiamila warned on Thursday that he would order the arrest of Central Bank of Nigeria Governor Godwin Emefiele if he fails to appear before lawmakers to explain shortages of the new currency.

Africa’s most-populous nation started issuing redesigned 200-, 500-, and 1000-naira notes since mid-December to mop up excess cash sitting outside the banking system. Central Bank of Nigeria expects at least 2 trillion naira ($4.3 billion) of cash to return to banks by the deadline.

Nigerians are fuming because while the new notes are not available at the banks, videos are circulating showing how partygoers in Lagos are being sprayed with bundles of the scarce notes.