There has been a lot of confusion within the Nigerian financial space following the roll out of the new Nigerian Naira notes. There is a remarkable scarcity of the currency. And even at that, many Nigerians are known to have rejected the issuance of the new naira notes by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Reports from across the country by 19 December 2022 showed that some Nigerians were cold to accept the new notes. Some traders and transporters completely refused to accept them.
The notes are so scarce in some parts of the country including the capital Abuja that banks are now rationing them or still issuing the old notes. Some traders told journalists that they would stick with the old notes for now and watch events over the next few days and weeks.
In Benin, traders in many markets said they could not vouch for the authenticity of the new naira notes with which some people wanted to pay for their purchases. A female trader in New Benin Market said she opted to keep collecting the old naira notes from her customers for now, to avoid regrets. Another trader at Oba Market, Benin said he decided to settle for the old naira notes, until he is familiar with the new notes.
A Point of Sale (POS) centre operator in Ibadan said none of his customers demanded for the new naira notes. Besides, he said his customers complained that they did not fancy the design of the new naira notes because it was difficult to easily identify the genuine ones from the fake ones.
A tricycle rider in Ibadan said: ” I have no option than to continue spending the old naira notes pending the deadline given by CBN. I prefer the old notes to the new ones.” A young lad hawking bananas on the streets of Garki, Area 11, Abuja refused to accept the new N500 note claiming that he was not sure whether it was genuine or fake.
In a viral video that is trending currently, a trader was seen rejecting the new naira note from a customer. She claimed that the new currency is not a legal tender in the country. Journalists in Abuja on 19 December confirmed that banks had to resort to rationing the new naira notes. Bank employees in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) confirmed that they had received the new naira notes but were being cautious in releasing them to customers.
The reason for the rationing, they said, was that the volume of the larger denominations of N500 and N1,000 was not enough to go round while many bank customers were not interested in carrying about large sums of money in the N200 denomination. The bank staff confirmed that customers appeared cold towards the new notes.
A similar situation of scarcity obtained in Ibadan where it was gathered that the new N1, 000 notes were more in circulation than the rest. A source in one of the banks said: “The new notes are not yet enough. What have been introduced so far are the N1000 notes in most of the banks. Customers are not keen about getting it, knowing they have till January. There is no rush. It is being rationed so as not to be concentrated in the hands of a few.”
Some residents of Ibadan called for the extension of the deadline for the change of the old to new notes. A trader in Ibadan pointed out that there was acute shortage of the new naira notes and urged the government to extend the one month deadline for the old notes to be phased out.
The Director Currency Operations of the CBN Ahmed Bello Umar had said that the apex bank would commence distribution of the new notes across the country from last Thursday. “That doesn’t mean that it’s going to be immediate for us to start distribution because we don’t want to create panic or stampede in the way people want to collect the new notes,” he said.
The CBN has already prepared the minds of the banking public by warning that when the new cash withdrawal limit policy kicks in, fewer higher denomination currencies would be in circulation while lower denominations would be more prevalent.
It was also confirmed that most banks in Abuja were yet to configure their Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) to dispense the new naira notes. Investigations showed that most Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) were still dispensing old naira notes across the country.
In Benin City, the capital of Edo State and its environs, ATM machines were dispensing the old notes. Commercial banks also paid customers in the banking halls with the old notes.
Officials of some commercial banks, who loaded money into the ATMs in Benin on 20 December, declined to comment on the development, and simply referred inquiring journalists to their head offices in Lagos.
The situation was the same in Abia as commercial banks operating in the state were still issuing old bank notes to their customers.
Correspondents who visited some of the commercial banks in the state reported that old naira notes were still being dispensed in commercial banks’ ATMs and over the counter by staff attending to customers who came to withdraw money in the banking hall. This was against instructions from the country’s apex bank (CBN) for banks to begin to pay their customers with the new notes.
Some of the bank customers who preferred anonymity told correspondents at various banks visited, that they were disappointed that their banks were yet to adhere to the instructions of the CBN governor. They claimed that their hope of having a feel of the new naira notes had been dashed.
Bank customers in Plateau State, were left frustrated for the second day running as most of the commercial banks in the state were still grappling with the non-availability of the redesigned naira notes.
In the wake of the situation prevailing in the country, the cash withdrawal limit policy issued by the CBN simultaneously with the redesign of the naira notes drew petitions from Point of Sale (POS) Operators in Nigeria and the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF).
The Association of Mobile Money and Bank Agents in Nigeria (AMMBAN) in a petition to President Muhammadu Buhari and the National Assembly called for the suspension of the policy to save 1.4 million bank agents from losing their means of livelihood. The National President of AMMBAN, Mr. Victor Olojo who addressed journalists in Abuja on the petition said over 1.4 million people stood to lose their jobs if the policy is not suspended or reviewed. The group specifically requested an upward review of the maximum withdrawal limit to N500, 000 weekly for individuals and N3 million for corporate organisations. They said their series of engagement with critical stakeholders would continue.
Olojo at the news conference said: “AMMBAN believes the cashless policy in its current state hasn’t provided for Mobile Money and Bank Agents in Nigeria adequately. Even as the CBN Governor made reference to the fact that Mobile Money and Bank Agents are spread across the country saying that that is one of the reasons why he strongly feels the country is ready for the cashless policy, the policy puts the jobs of over 1.4 million agents on the line in its present state. This and many other germane reasons informed the decisions of the Association to engage the CBN, the National Assembly and other relevant stakeholders. This is to ensure that while we show support for the cashless policy of the government through the CBN, the policy should recognize the categorization of Agents’ accounts as it does individuals and corporate entities.”
The group said it had interacted with the Chairman, Senate Committee on Banking, Insurance and Other Financial Institutions, Senator Uba Sani and his counterpart in the House of Representatives, Hon. Victor Nwokolo, on the matter. He said: “they were all in agreement that owing to the high relevance of Mobile Money and Bank Agents in the successful implementation of the cashless policy, there has to be categorization of the accounts to be able to serve Nigerian people especially in areas where there are no banks or basic infrastructure to enhance the usage of alternative channels of transaction.
“It is worthy of note that AMMBAN and her members have always been at the forefront since the inception of the Financial Inclusion drive in ensuring the achievements of the set goals. It is strongly believed that no success story can be told without the selfless efforts of agents who, against all odds, go to the creeks and hinterland in the drive to deepen financial inclusion goals as set by the CBN.”
The Arewa Consultative Forum in its reaction claimed that CBN’s insistence on implementing the policy would lead to a catastrophic collapse of the informal sector of the economy. Secretary General of the forum, Murtala Aliyu, in a statement said the CBN seemed to have glossed over the fact that transactions in commodity markets particularly in the rural areas are entirely cash-based
The statement: “The decision by the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, to kick start the long anticipated cashless payments regime in Nigeria with effect from January, 2023, is well justified, perhaps even well intentioned. Cash based economies are notoriously costly, inefficient and prone to attacks by evil people. A huge amount of time and money is needed to print the currency and a lot more still to steer it through the system. The currency notes themselves have a shelf life after which they have to be replaced. Cash is the lifeblood of the underworld: difficult to trace and quite convenient for terrorists, money launderers, smugglers, vote buyers, etc.
“So, yes! The less cash available for all these criminals as the CBN is trying to achieve, the better for law abiding citizens. That said, we do need to remember that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. CBN officials may have the best of intentions while contemplating this policy but evidently failed to consider the unintended consequences of implementing it in the way they have planned: consequences that may be extremely grave.
“If they insist on implementing this wholly unrealistic policy of restricting individual’s cash withdrawal from the banks to N20, 000 per day and N100,000 for a week or N500,000 in the case of corporate bodies, it won’t be long before we suffer a catastrophic collapse of the informal sector of the economy. More than anyone, CBN knows that transactions in commodity markets especially in the rural areas are entirely cash based.
“The villager that brings to the market his chickens, beans, onions, goat or cows does not typically have a bank account or internet skills. Cash remains the overwhelming medium of exchange for much of the country particularly in the North. This should surprise no one as bank offices are largely unavailable even for people who are keen and have the skills to use them.
“Even by the CBN’s reports, over 38 million adults in Nigeria do not currently have access to banking services with “women, rural dwellers, Micro-Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises and Northern Nigeria” being among the most disproportionately excluded. And despite its pious pretensions, it is on record that the CBN under the present management, apparently out of desire to safeguard the interests of the commercial banks, has done much to undermine and stifle the progress of financial inclusion in Nigeria.
“Thanks to the decisions taken by the CBN, Nigeria, today, despite its size, has the dubious record of having the lowest financial penetration in all of Africa, perhaps in the world. Under the circumstances, the CBN will do itself and the country a world of good if it invests more efforts at addressing these challenges. It should start by ensuring that various financial institutions are created in sufficient numbers and in all parts of the country.
“It should allow a level playing field for a wide range of financial providers and encourage partnerships between them. Furthermore, the CBN must enforce strict regulations that protect people’s money. It must inform, encourage and prepare the public adequately for the transition.
“Until the CBN is able to address these challenges substantially, a preemptive move or a ”frog-jump” into a cashless payments system, however well intentioned, will only land us into a bottomless pit.”
State governors are also pitching their tent with those opposed to the N100, 000 cash limit recently imposed by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). They believe the policy will hurt the economy and rural dwellers in particular. They also fear that the CBN action may set the masses against the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, and could constitute an unpalatable exit package for him when his second term expires on May 29, 2023.
Consequently, they resolved to send a delegation to the President to direct the CBN to review the policy. The Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) met in Abuja to deliberate on the matter and take appropriate decision. A source at the session said the governors also resolved to appeal to Buhari to retain the prevailing cash withdrawal limits in the country and extend the January 30th, 2023 deadline for the phasing out of the redesigned naira notes.
“Our decision was across party lines. We were all united that the policy would adversely affect the poor in the rural areas which Buhari administration seeks to protect,” the source said. ”With likely job losses of about 1.4 million by POS operators, there is no way the rural populace can survive this policy. It is like bringing down the ceiling on the economy. It is becoming ridiculous that some banks now issue out as low as N2, 000 to a customer. Also, no matter how influential you are, banks may only give N200, 000 new notes under the table.
“As governors, we are closer to the grassroots more than the President. This policy may set the masses against Buhari. It is not a good exit package from a President who has enjoyed the confidence of the masses.”