• Protesters smash ATM terminals, vandalise vehicles, barricade highways as banks shut down operations in Lagos   • Buhari meets leadership of Governors Forum, Emefiele

From Adetutu Folasade-Koyi, Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Okwe Obi, Adanna Nnamani, Abuja, Laide Raheen, Abeokuta, Ighomuaye Lucky, Benin  

Hungry and angry, some Nigerians spilled out in several states including Abeokuta, Lagos, Benin and Port Harcourt, yesterday, to protest ongoing cash crunch occasioned by the new naira notes swap.

Armed with placards and some with cudgels, the demonstrators barricaded roads, forced banks, schools and commercial businesses to shut down. Motorists were seen clipping green leaves on their vehicles in solidarity with the protesters.

Some banks officials who resumed for work were forced to shut down for fear of being mobbed by the irate protesters who besieged the banks in search of new notes.

In the Ogun State capital, protesters moved through streets of Sapon, Asero, Panseke and Oke Ilewo in the metropolis. 

The protests, which started from a new generation bank branch at Asero when the bank customers began agitations over their inability to withdraw cash,  was intense in the Sapon Area where an ATM terminal belonging to a first generation bank was smashed, while some vehicles were vandalized. 

A viral video on some social platforms indicated that a male protester was allegedly shot and wounded by the police. In the 15-second video, the protester was seen clutching his blood-soaked arm. 

Spokesperson of the police command, Abimbola Oyeyemi, said no life was lost during the protest, but could not confirm the level of vandalisation.

On the viral video, the PPRO said investigation was ongoing, on the circumstances surrounding the person shot, as it could be ascertained immediately who fired the shot.

He, however, said the victim was taken to the Federal Medical Centre, Idi Aba, Abeokuta, where he was treated and was responding to treatment.

In Benin City, demonstrators under the Edo Civil Society Organizations (EDOSCO), blocked the Akpakpava axis and caused a gridlock at the city centre and its adjoining streets.

Leader of the civil rights group and former Coordinator General of EDOSCO, Omobude Agho told CBN officials during the protest that the financial policy was killing Nigerians and crippling business activities.

“We are here because Nigerians have started dying inside their houses. Since the day, you, Godwin Emefiele came up with the new policy of not being able to withdraw not more than N20,000 in the bank, you also said you have extended the date for expiration of the old naira notes  from the 31 of January to 10 of February.  In all of these, you are retrieving the old money and you refused to give us the new money. You said we should start using electronics means, ATMs and POS. And you people failed to give the commercial banks the money to stock their ATMs, you people still didn’t allow the commercial banks to allow the money gets to the POS operators. As at today, we use N3,000 to buy N10,000 in Nigeria, this is not dollars anymore. We are now using naira to buy naira,” Agho said.

•Nigerians reaching breaking point -NLC

Decrying the situation, President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Ayuba Wabba,  said Nigerians were being pushed to the wall or into chaotic situations in banks and filling stations, but that the NLC was restraining itself from responding so as not to sabotage the general elections.  

The labour leader spoke at the Congress’s 13th National Delegates’ Conference held at the International Conference Center, Abuja,

“This conference is taking place at a time when many Nigerians and workers are being pushed to the wall or into chaotic situation in our banks and filling stations. Nigerians are queuing up endlessly to assess the new currency notes and PMS. This is certainly not acceptable, and it is condemnable.

“We have more than enough to actually address those two issues. First, we are a major oil producing country; therefore we are the only country in the world that is a member of OPEC that still depends on importation. Secondly, we don’t understand the rationale that you lodge your money in your bank account and you are limited from withdrawing what you want to use. No economy in the world have practiced this economy model. People forget that our economy is rural and informal, and therefore people need to transact business in cash. Go to our local markets, our commodity markets, you will see people transacting business actually in cash. These policies if not addressed within the shortest possible time, nobody can predict what will be the outcome. Yesterday,  I trekked at to almost midnight;  I went to get some funds in POS, all the ATMs in area were not dispensing. We have seen a situation where people are protesting in banks. They want to access their money, yet they can’t access the money. There is a theory that possibly we’re also working towards making sure that the forthcoming election does not take place in an atmosphere of peace and tranquility. And that’s why Labour had restrained itself to make sure that we’re able to have a peaceful transition.”

Wabba called for swift intervention to address the situation, lamenting that those living in cities such as Abuja were now forced to send money from their limited funds  to friends and relations in the villages. 

 •Buhari meets Tambuwal, Bagudu, Emefiele 

Apparently to find a solution, President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, met with Chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) and Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal;  Chairman of Progressives Governors forum, Atiku Bagudu; Governor Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele; Chief of Defence Staff, Lucky Irabor and Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Abdulrasheed Bawa at the council chamber, Abuja. 

The initial meeting with the Nigerian Governors Forum was canceled for unspecified reasons. Emefiele’s attendance, however, suggested that the meeting was arranged purportedly to discuss the crisis trailing the currency swap programme, which has been the subject of public uproar for days, especially from the governors.

The All Progressives Congress (APC) governors at a meeting on February 3 with the president requested that Buhari allow both the old and new notes to circulate in order to alleviate the widespread cash shortage and suffering of Nigerians. 

Presidency sources, however, said the meeting with the larger governors’ forum was cancelled due to a court decision prohibiting the government from extending the February 10, 2023 deadline for exchange of the old naira notes.

None of the parties present at the meeting agreed to speak to the media.

•Opposition parties frustrating deadline extension –Lai 

Meanwhile, Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, has described the litigation and threats of 14 political parties to pull out of the general election if the February 10 deadline for new currency swap is extended as anti-people.

He stated this at the 23rd PMB Administration scorecard series (2015-2023) in Abuja, yesterday accusing opposition political parties of politicking with national economic issues.

On Monday, 14 opposition political parties, under the aegis of the Forum of Chairmen of Nigerian Political Parties and Candidates of the 2023 General Election, insisted at a press conference in Abuja that the February 10 deadline for the new Naira notes currency swap and February 25 presidential election were sacrosanct.

Also, a High Court in Abuja has restrained President Muhammadu Buhari and the Central Bank of Nigeria Governor, Godwin Emefiele, as well as commercial banks in the country from suspending, stopping, extending or interfering with the February deadline.

Mohammed who spoke against the backdrop of this litigation  and threat by the 14 parties said:  “…let me use this opportunity to assure Nigerians that the Federal Government is mindful of the inconveniences currently being endured by citizens as a result of fuel supply disruptions and the recent redesigning of some Naira notes.  Government is working assiduously to restore normalcy to these critical enablers of economic activity and to take added measures, where necessary, to alleviate the pains of Nigerians. After after his meeting with Progressives’ Governors last Friday, Mr. President urged citizens to give him a seven-day window to resolve the currency crunch that has emanated from the implementation of the Naira redesign policy.

“Unfortunately, on Monday some opposition political parties ran to court to obtain an injunction restraining Mr. President and the CBN from extending the February 10 deadline for Nigerians to exchange their old notes for new ones. The court action came after a number of opposition parties threatened to boycott the 2023 general elections if the deadline was extended.

“These curious actions by the parties concerned is clear evidence that the opposition has turned this whole issue into a political game, preferring to make Nigerians suffer more on the altar of an unconscionable political gamesmanship.”