The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), on Saturday, reiterated his earlier position that there was no going back on the naira redesign project and ruled out the extension of the January 31 deadline for the old N1,000, N500 and N200 to cease from being legal tender.
The President’s position was supported by the Central Bank of Nigeria, which insisted that the deadline would not be extended.
This is coming at a time when stakeholders, including the 36 state governors, the Nigerian Bar Association, the Arewa Consultative Forum and bank customers, are calling for a review of the policy and an extension of the deadline.
Buhari explained that the currency redesign was not meant to target innocent citizens, but corrupt people and terror financiers hoarding illicit funds.
He also assured Nigerians that the government would ensure that they and their businesses would face no harm from disruptions caused to the entire supply chain arising from the currency redesign.
A statement on Saturday by the President’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said Buhari was reacting to reports of long queues of people waiting for hours for their turn to deposit old notes and get new ones.
The statement was titled, ‘Government will eliminate squeeze, chaos in currency swap, President Buhari assures’.
Buhari reiterated that the currency change was aimed at people hoarding illicit funds and not the common man.
He said the changes had become necessary to prevent counterfeits, corruption and terrorist funding as well as to stabilise and strengthen the economy.
The statement read in part, “While taking note that the poorest section of society is facing hardship as they often keep hard cash at home for various expenses, President Buhari gave strong assurances that the government would not leave them to their own fate.
“He reiterated that a number of initiatives by the central bank and all commercial banks are underway to speed up distribution of the new notes and do all that is necessary to forestall cash squeeze and chaos.”
The President’s explanation may have been in reaction to the position of the All Progressives Congress presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu, who last Wednesday alleged that the currency change and the lingering fuel scarcity were parts of plans to sabotage the February election and prevent his imminent victory.
Similarly, the CBN, on Saturday, insisted that the January 31 deadline for the validity of the old naira notes remained unchanged.
Refusing to yield to pressure to extend the deadline, the apex bank, via its verified Twitter handle, insisted that the deadline was sacrosanct.
Reposting a video of the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, from the just concluded Monetary Policy Committee meeting, the apex bank said, “Deadline for the return of old series of 200, 500 and 1000 naira notes remains January 31, 2023.”
Emefiele had said after the MPC meeting, “Unfortunately, I don’t have good news for those who feel we should shift the deadline; my apologies.
“The reason is because, just like the President has said on more than two occasions and even to some people privately, 100 days is more than enough for anybody who has the old currency to deposit it in the banks. And we took every measure to ensure that all the banks were and are still open to accept deposits.”
Echoing the President’s position, the CBN explained that the redesigned notes would solve the challenge of insecurity, especially kidnapping in the North-West.
The Director of Development Finance at the apex bank, Philip Yila, who was represented by Aliyu Ashiru, in Gombe State, explained that the policy would ensure sanity in the system.
The CBN team had before swapping old notes for residents visited traditional rulers of Lamido Akko in the Akko Local Government Area of the state, Umar Atiku; Mai Banganje; and the District Head of Tanglan in the Billiri Local Government Area.
“One of the benefits of redesigned notes by the Central Bank of Nigeria is to ensure integrity. We realised that overtime, there had been challenges in our cash management; a lot of challenges of insecurity border on people who hold money, people who kidnap and seek ransom from the people; enforcing the cashless policy will make it difficult for kidnappers to seek ransom, especially in North-West,” Yila said.
He noted that the bank thought it wise to set up high-powered teams across the federation to sensitise the public to the naira redesign policy.
The presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar, however, pleaded with the CBN to extend the deadline, saying as much as the policy was welcomed; a slight extension would ease the discomfort of Nigerians
The Senate and the House of Representatives had also pleaded with the apex bank to extend the deadline by six months till July 31, 2023.
‘Buhari snubbed govs’
In Kano State, Governor Abdullahi Ganduje, revealed that the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), rejected the plea of the 36 state governors to review the naira redesign policy, especially the extension of the January 31 deadlines for the old notes to cease being legal tender.
Ganduje made this known during an interactive session with scholars, legislators, political leaders and the business community in the state at the Government House, Kano, on Friday.
The governor said he and his colleagues came under one platform without consideration for party affiliation and sent delegates to Buhari to let him know about the hardship caused by the new policy.
“Governors from all the political parties put heads together and sent delegates (to the President), but to no avail. Traditional rulers also followed the same path individually. But up till now, there is nothing in that respect,” he added.
He also stated that he had written to the Presidency to postpone Buhari’s visit to inaugurate some projects in the state because of possible backlash from frustrated residents, who were unable to get the new naira notes.
This was contained in a statement by the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Abba Anwar, which was made available to Sunday PUNCH on Saturday.
The statement read in part, “As we are waiting for this important visit, we found ourselves in this situation, which puts citizens in untold hardship. For security purposes, we wrote to the Presidency that President Muhammadu Buhari’s visit to Kano be postponed.
“We got an acknowledgement copy of the letter. People are really suffering because of this policy (naira redesign).”
During the meeting, the stakeholders unanimously endorsed the decision as they all spoke in support of it.
Two serving senators on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Kabiru Gaya and Barau Jibrin, as well as 20 members of House of Representatives and 30 legislators from the state House of Assembly were among those who queued behind the governor on the decision to postpone Buhari’s visit.
“There are no banks in most of our rural communities. How these people get new naira notes is of great concern. Just look at what is happening in our urban areas, people go and spend hours upon hours in banks without any assurances of getting the new notes,” Ganduje stated.
According to the governor, one cannot make withdrawals of the new notes from Point of Sales operators as many of them have closed shops due to uncertainties.
He emphasized that Kano, being a commercial hub, must be heard loudly, adding, “This problem affects all of us. Therefore, our voice must be heard in all the nooks and crannies. We are a commercial hub. As such, our position must be loud and clear.”
A source close to the governors confirmed that indeed a delegation of the governors met with Buhari, but added that the President’s mind was already made up on the issue. He, however, declined to name the governors who made the trip to the President.
NBA seeks review
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Bar Association has said the law allows Nigerians to redeem their old naira notes at the CBN even after the January 31 deadline.
The NBA, in a letter signed by its President, Yakubu Maikyau, and addressed to the CBN governor, called for an urgent review of the policy. This was disclosed in a statement by the NBA National Publicity Secretary, Akorede Lawal, on Saturday.
While lauding the demonetisation policy of the apex bank as one with the potential to stem corruption, vote-buying and other criminal activities, the NBA President noted that “the necessary logistical, infrastructural and manpower support required for the successful implementation of the policy are in short supply and should be greatly improved upon if they are to be leveraged for full implementation of the policy with minimal loss or economic hardship.”
Maikyau expressed concerns that there was no information in the public domain as to what would happen to the old currency in possession of Nigerians after January 31 even as the law was clear on the issue.
He quoted Section 20 (3) of the CBN Act as stating, “Notwithstanding Sub-sections (1) and (2) of this section, the bank shall have power, if directed to do so by the President and after giving reasonable notice in that behalf, to call in any of its notes or coins on payment of the face value thereof and any note or coin with respect to which a notice has been given under this sub-section, shall, on the expiration of the notice, cease to be legal tender, but, subject to Section 22 of this Act, shall be redeemed by the Bank upon demand.”
Maikyau noted that “any person who shall be in possession of the old notes, which have ceased to be legal tender by January 31, 2023 is at liberty to approach the CBN and demand for the redemption of the notes and the CBN is under statutory obligation to redeem the notes.”
In view of the dearth of information in that regard, the NBA President added, “Our recommendation on this issue is that in addition to educating Nigerians on demonetisation itself, a campaign on what happens to old bank notes after January 31 should be launched so as to adequately inform the public on what to do and prevent or reverse the rising panic or agitation caused by concerns about the inability of Nigerians to swap their old notes for the new notes by January 31.”
The NBA President had on Friday paid a visit to the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Dr Zainab Ahmed, in Abuja, during which he relayed the concerns of Nigerians over the demonetisation policy of the CBN, particularly in view of the scarcity of the new notes and the difficulty Nigerians were encountering in swapping the old notes .
Extend deadline – ACF
Meanwhile, the Arewa Consultative Forum has appealed to the Federal Government to extend the deadline for the expiration and collection of old naira notes in the country.
This was contained in a statement by the Publicity Secretary, ACF, Kano State chapter, Mallam Bello Galadanci, on Saturday.
The statement said the January 31 deadline had almost grounded socio-economic activities in the state.
The statement added that people’s refusal to accept the old naira notes for commercial transactions out of fear of possible inability to deposit the notes in commercial banks was causing untold hardship to the masses.
It read in part, “This has currently made life more difficult for ordinary citizens, because banks, up till today, still give out the old naira notes to customers with the deadline only a few days away.
“We appeal to the Federal Government to reconsider its decision by extending the deadline for the expiration of old naira notes to enable residents to swap their old naira with the new naira notes.”
The National President, Ilasa Development Union in Ekiti State, Tajudeen Ahmed, said on Saturday, “So far so good, the CBN cash swap team is yet to reach our community. We are facing hell; people are running helter-skelter with the old notes.
“I think the only thing that can ameliorate the present situation is to extend the deadline. If the CBN insists on the January 31 date, a lot of people will have to be left with no option but to lose a lot of money.”
The Chairman, Ise Ekiti Development Council, Tunji Falana, who also bemoaned the plight of his community, said the only way out for now was an extension of the deadline.
Falana said although the community was expecting the CBN cash swap team on Monday and Tuesday, and had made necessary security arrangements, “what I saw when the cash swap team was at Emure Ekiti on Friday showed that there is only a little that the intervention can do.”
Depositors besiege banks
Depositors, on Saturday, took advantage of the decision of banks to extend their work hours by rushing to banks to deposit the old N1,000, N500 and N200 notes in their custody to beat Tuesday’s deadline. More depositors are expected to show up today (Sunday).
The banks had communicated to their customers earlier in the week that they would open for business on Saturday and Sunday strictly to receive deposits of the old notes between the hours of 10am and 3pm.
In most branches visited by Sunday PUNCH on Saturday, especially those located in highly populated areas of Lagos and Ogun states, scores of depositors were seen in queues and under canopies outside the banking halls.
Some of them complained about spending hours to make deposits under inclement weather and asked the Central Bank of Nigeria to listen to the voice of critical stakeholders and extend the deadline for the old notes to cease being legal tender.
A businesswoman, Mrs Florence Fadeyi, said she got to the Zenith Bank branch in the Alagbado area of Lagos State around 9am and was given a tally number 128, adding that she only got into the banking hall around 2.30pm and left around 3pm.
She explained, “I didn’t anticipate the crowd I met on the bank premises as I thought that many people had deposited their old notes. I could have done that before now, but I was out of town for three weeks and just came back two days ago.
“Six cashiers were frantically attending to the depositors and I really pitied them because of the pressure on them. Some of them tried to be friendly, but as humans, they sometimes snapped at unruly depositors. I finally left the bank around 3pm.”
Another depositor at a branch of Access Bank in the Ogba area of Lagos, Chuks Okafor, lamented the many hours he spent to deposit about N350,000, insisting that he left his shop in the care of an apprentice.
“My brother, time is money! I have wasted about four hours here. The CBN and the banks should make things easier for Nigerians. I don’t know why they are insisting that the deadline cannot be extended. I started rejecting the old notes yesterday (Friday) when it became apparent that the deadline will not be extended and I have lost opportunities to make sales,” Okafor said.
At the UBA and Access Bank branches in Ibafo, Ogun State, restive depositors complained of spending hours in the scorching sun without being able to get into the banking halls.
A security guard at the Access Bank branch, who spoke on condition of anonymity, explained that he and his colleagues have had a hectic time pacifying the aggrieved depositors, who felt that the process was not moving fast enough.
A senior bank official at the Ajose Adeogun, Victoria Island, Lagos branch of a Tier-1 bank told Sunday PUNCH that unlike the situation in the mainland areas of the state, not many depositors turned up on Saturday.
He said, “The situation here is a bit different from what is obtainable on the mainland as we did not record many depositors today (Saturday). As of the closing time at 4pm, we recorded less than N400,000 in deposits.
“The manager has directed that only one teller should come to the branch tomorrow (Sunday) to attend to depositors as we don’t anticipate a crowd as the area is a commercial area and not residential. Other tellers from branches around here have been deployed in our branches on the mainland, especially in areas with a high population of residents and traders.”