BusinessDay

One week of madness in Nigeria

Nigeria, the touted giant of Africa, has been in chaos in the past few days. The confusion created by the duo of President Muhammadu Buhari and Godwin Emefiele, governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), has left many citizens in tatters.

The currency redesigning, a project which Buhari said became necessary to ensure that politicians do not mobilise their “illicit wealth” to compromise voters in the forth-coming general election, may have run into a hitch. He said he was protecting the citizens from such abuse. The way things are going now, it would seem that those against whom the project was being carried out may have outsmarted government. On the other hand, Emefiele said that the reason for the exercise was purely to properly regulate the volume of money in circulation. He said that it was wrong for excess cash to be outside the banking system. He strongly believed that greater part of the money in circulation was stashed in certain individuals’ houses which they deploy wrongly for untoward purposes. Again, from what is happening, the resigning of the currency may have missed the target. This is because, videos that are available on social media show bandits bragging about having unfettered access to the new money. Nigerians also watch in amazement as the new currency bills are being sprayed with careless abandon by party revelers.

For the two reasons stated above, the CBN went to work and rolled out new notes for the three highest currency bills in Nigeria- N1000, N500 and N200.

In what looked like a scam, both Emefiele and Buhari vowed that the January 31st date for acceptance of the old bills as legal tender was sacrosanct and that there would be no extension of date.

The CBN went ahead to direct commercial banks to open offices on Saturday, January 28th and Sunday, January 29th to enable those who still had the old bills to deposit them. Nigerians were thus stampeded into rushing to the banks to dump their “last card”, with the hope that the CBN was going to massively roll out the new bills as promised. But by Sunday afternoon, Emefiele announced an extension to the chagrin of citizens. That quadrupled the crisis in society and the misery of Nigerians. People began to ask, why the volte face? Why waiting until everybody emptied his pocket before announcing the extension?

From the ugly experience since Monday, it became obvious that the leadership of the country does not mean well for the people. Between last Sunday and now, Nigerians have gone through hell. Families are stranded as they have no money to take care of their children. A viral video showed an angry woman charging at bank workers in Lagos, pulling off her blouse to show her level of desperation.

A man was shown removing his cloth and climbing onto the counter of a bank, creating a scene because he had no money and the bank staff on duty said there was no money. He couldn’t take it. There have been viral videos of Nigerians engaging each other in fisticuffs at automated teller machine (ATM) points and even inside the banking halls. What have Nigerians not seen in the last one week? Last Thursday, the CBN ordered commercial banks to begin to pay some specific amount of money to customers across the counter. But investigations have shown that the banks are not being given enough money by the apex bank to serve their customers. By Friday last week, those that went to some of the big banks got only N5000 apiece. It was discovered that the banks would load the ATM in the evenings when people did not expect it, and the staffers, who also need money, would rush to empty the trays before outsiders got wind of what’s happening. A security officer that accompanies a bank’s bullion van to the Central Bank office to get the allocation for the bank he works with told our reporter last Tuesday that the cash crunch was from the CBN.

“If you go to the CBN and see the queue, you will understand that this country is in a deep mess. They just gave us small amount which we shared across our branches in Lagos. The little amount they gave us now cannot serve anything,” the security officer said on condition of anonymity.

Many of the point of sale (PoS) operators have also gone out of business, waiting for when normalcy will return. A few of them that still have small reserves are making a kill out of it. Most of them no longer have the old bills, they are now charging N2000 for N10,000 new notes!

An operator told our reporter, “I only have small amount of the old naira that I give out. The highest I give at once these days is N2000. Even the new notes that I have, I am being careful. How am I sure these people will not change their story again at the expiration of the extension date. I tire for this country jooh.”

In some places, some miscreants have begun to take advantage of the messy situation to attack bank facilities. A bank was attacked a few days ago outside Lagos. The glasses of the bank’s building were smashed by some boys, some of whom do not even have an account with the bank. They thought it was the commercial banks that caused the problem.

Several people are already frustrated with the situation at hand.

Speaking on Channels Television Sunrise Daily programme, Seyi Adetayo, a former State Security Operative, said that the policy had already started to breed negative implication on the economy.

According to him, the crisis has forced many hawkers out of the traffic where they used to make their sales. He explained that because commuters no longer have enough cash on them to make involuntary purchases in transit, the hawkers are no longer selling and those who produce those hawked items are also being affected.

For instance, those producing or selling plantain chips are out of business, because without purchases there is no need to produce more.

Adetayo reasoned that “If this situation continues, some of the hawkers may be forced to consider other dangerous options.”

When Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso appeared on the same programme last Thursday, he said that the policy was hasty and that it had negatively impacted the lives of ordinary Nigerians. He wondered how Emefiele expected a sugar cane seller, for instance, to have a bank account.

Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State, who also was a guest at the television station last week, deplored the haste with which the CBN was pursuing the implementation of the policy.

According to him, “…but doing it at this time within the time allotted doesn’t make any political, economical sense. And for such a programme to work; we have to be involved as governors and sub-nationals, because look at my state, there are two local governments without banks. In Borno State out of 27 local governments, only two have banks. In Yobe State, out of 17 local governments, only two have banks; so how do you expect famers in every state to change his currency within the time limit?”

There has been bitter lamentation across the country, with many saying that Emefiele and Aso Rock have something up their sleeves.

On Saturday, Femi Fani Kayode, a staunch supporter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Presidential Candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, flayed the “rush, rush,” approach to the currency swap project, and he was of the opinion that there was more to it than meets the eye.

He tweeted: “Let me make this clear. Emefiele has No intention of releasing new naira notes until March. He wants people to suffer, he wants chaos and he wants to scuttle the election. He is a dangerous pawn in the hands of sinister anti-democratic forces. Remove, arrest and detain him Now!”

Martin Onovo, a former presidential candidate of the National Conscience Party (NCP), said that Nigerians got themselves into the mess.

Onovo said that he had been speaking about the ‘draconian” regime of the APC and the Buhari administration, but that Nigerians behaved as if they hypnotised.

“We got ourselves here. We are witnessing outrageous impunity, when some people will brag, ‘I can do anything and nothing will happen. I can crash the whole economy and nothing will happen.’ Nobody hoards a product that is not scarce. Emefiele is just fooling everybody. He didn’t print enough money. If you give a bank N500,000, the bank staff will finish it because they too need money and they also have relations that need money. Why not give the banks N5million. They will not finish it so quickly. Emefiele and Co. are playing a dirty game. This is targeted to impoverish the Southern Christians,” he said.

With the look of things, many Nigerians may not survive the next one week if the situation does not improve. The question remains, why punishing ordinary Nigerians when the targeted moneybags are having their nice time? Wisdom is profitable to direct.

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