•Nigerians groan, demand immediate end to crisis

By Cosmas Omegoh, Agatha Emeadi (Lagos), Sylvanus Viashima (Jalingo), Noah Ebije (Kaduna), Scholastica Onyeka, (Makurdi), Sola Ojo, (Kaduna), and Tony John (Port Harcourt)

The crisis trailing the short supply of the redesigned naira notes is causing excruciating pains among Nigerians across the federation. 

Citizens who are unable to access either the new or old naira notes are suffering untold hardship. Most of the affected persons are  exhibiting a cocktail of frustration, anger, and disappointment. In some areas, people are exhibiting wild, weird and even absurd behaviours to compel the banks to give them money no matter how little to survive the rash and hard times. Everything is looking like where the people are staging a return to the Stone Age. 

Drama in Lagos banks 

In Lagos, the residents have been fighting the odds for cash just to buy food and provide for their daily needs. 

Our correspondents who went to assess the situation, report tales of high drama, unbelievable acts exhibited by agonising Nigerians at the various banks – all in a desperate bid to get cash to eat. 

About 2:00p.m last Thursday, for instance, as the sun beat savagely, a crowd was seen massing at a popular ATM centre operated by a new generation bank at the edge of Gate-Ijegun expressway, Ejigbo, Lagos. Everyone in the crowd was evidently restive. There was indescribable desperation and frustration etched on many of the faces. 

The people’s presence reminded one of the surges of angry waters of the Atlantic Ocean in those days at the defunct Lagos Bar Beach. 

Men, women and youths at the arena were gathered waiting to withdraw anything cash from the ATM machines, which often load because of its strategic location.  Some of the people, it was gathered, had thronged the scene as early as 6:00a.m. 

“I was here yesterday to see if I could get cash, no way,” a woman who identified herself as Rukayatu said, adding:

“I returned to this place this morning at about 8:00a.m. We were yesterday till 6:00p.m when we left only to hear that they loaded money at 7:00p.m which was exhausted as soon as people knew about it. We are waiting to see if they will load money again today. Now, you can see the jostle even before money arrives.”

Hours later, there was commotion as a man was seen being yanked off by his angry colleagues as he allegedly attempted to withdraw money with his multiple ATM cards. The machine was dispensing N5,000 per individual. The money loaded finished soon after it was dropped. 

A woman told our correspondent: “I came all the way from Ijegun with just my transport fare. Now, how do I go back home without money? What is all this suffering about?” 

Another woman, Rose, told our correspondent that she had visited the spot for three straight days without getting cash. On each day, she had been parading all the banks in the area and could not get anything.  

At one of the banks, a source told how a man caused a stir when he stormed in requesting to make withdrawals. 

The moment a teller told him there was no money, in anger, he yanked off his shirt, scampered unto the teller’s table, demanding instant cash and complete closure of his account. Commotion ensued as the staff ran for safety. It took the intervention of security and the bank manager’s plea to clam his frayed nerves.  

Another source disclosed about a woman in Lagos who went half nude in frustration right inside a banking hall when she was told she could not get any money. To underline her seriousness before the bankers, she pulled off her dress, leaving her tight and bra. The situation was captured in a video, which has long gone viral.    

Angry Nigerians express anger, pains 

In Taraba State, most residents of Jalingo spent hours on the queue at ATM spots. Some who came to town from remote areas, spent days in the city hunting for cash.

Mr Albert Ulegha, a trader from Bali Local Government Area of the state, told our correspondent that he had been in Jalingo for three days, yet was unable to get cash even from POS operators.

“I locked my shop since Monday to come and get money here in Jalingo, only to discover that there is no money. The POS people are charging me N100 for every N1,000. At this rate, what profit will I make?

“Some of us just want to do our small businesses and take care of our families. We don’t want anything from the government, but even at that, we are still being frustrated. What have we done wrong?” he queried. 

Transport manager of Benue Links in Taraba, Mr Pinga Gessa, complained bitterly that the policy was affecting businesses, pointing out that people often came and made transfers that never went through.

His words: “Some people will come and plead that they want to make transfer since they could not get cash. They will make the transfer and show you the debit alert from their ends and out of sympathy you give them ticket to travel. Sadly, sometimes you will not get the money; they will simply ignore you when you call them. It is a major challenge; now, we have resolved that if one makes transfer, we will only consider it valid when we receive the alert from our own end. It is not easy, but we just have to do that to cut down on our losses.” 

Similarly, Mrs Victoria Nuhu, a petty trader in Kaduna State, lamented the hardship caused by the naira swap, saying: “Look at my shop; it is going down every day.”

A resident of Benue State, Mr Sunday Ogli, told our correspondent how he visited several ATM machines in town without withdrawing money because he could not withstand the crowd.

“I have gone to several ATM machines today just to get N10,000, but from what I saw, it looked like the crowd slept there. So I left.” 

Asked if he checked with the POS operators, he said he was charged N1,000 just to withdraw N10,000.

Another resident of Benue State, Dorcas Ogwuche, looking tired said that she was relieved to withdraw money after waiting for three hours. 

“I have been here for the past three hours. First, I went to Zenith Bank, and after waiting for three hours, I was told I was number 173. Then they said if I were operating a Zenith bank account, I could only withdraw N10,000. But I don’t; I could only get N5,000. So, I got angry and left.

“On getting to UBA, they said I could withdraw N20,000 and that is all for the day. I have been standing here for a long time. This is very stressful and annoying. How can you have money and be begging to withdraw it. People are suffering. People can’t even eat because they don’t have cash.

“I’m a businesswoman. People will buy things and will need change. That is why I insisted on waiting for the sake of my business,” she said.

Also another resident of the state, Jeremiah Oloche, lamented: “I have been on queue for 1hour trying to get cash, but no way. This CBN policy might have been intended for good, but the effect on the masses is more.

“We appeal to the government to look at this policy critically so that they can reduce the suffering of the people. 

“The prices of goods have increased to over 300 per cent and this N20,000 a day will not be enough to solve the problems waiting back home.

“Today, I have lost one hour waiting just to withdraw N20,000, and if I have to do that tomorrow, I will lose another 1hour if not more. This is unfair. So, I appeal to the government and the CBN to reconsider their position.”  

At another ATM machine, Michael Audu was visibly angry after he spent over 4hours on the queue waiting to make withdrawal. He noted that because of the scarcity of the new notes and the higher denominations, people spent so much time withdrawing just N20,000 amid a large crowd. 

“We got here earlier and they refused us from entering the bank. They insisted we must use the ATM. I have five children and a car to fuel. What will N20,000 do for seven people?

“I just saw my friend pushing his bike along the way now. His fuel finished; he has money, but he can’t get it. I don’t like this policy and if the government must go ahead with it, they should print enough money so we can get it at the ATM and at the counter,” he added.

In another instance, Joel Emeka, an ICT specialist based in Port Harcourt, told how after he deposited N200,000 and wanted to withdraw N50,000, the bank cashier gave him N10,000 old currency, saying that the bank did not have enough cash to release to customers.

Angry Nigerians accuse POS operators of extortion 

In Kaduna, a POS operator, Musa Haruna, said that he was contemplating packing up his business as he could no longer get the money from the bank.

He accused banks’ staff of collecting as much as 10 per cent of the new notes given to the customers as cuts, thus heaping more misery on their customers.

But as far as Ms. Jessica Bartholomew is concerned, the scarcity of the new notes has empowered POS operators whom she accused of robbing Nigerians without guns.

“The level of extortion is crazy. It is as if the banks’ officials are working with POS agents to extort money from us. You can imagine, for a transaction of N27,000, I was asked to pay N3,400 against the usual N300.

“Again, we could not go through daily purchases through transfer because the network is having an issue. I also found out that most of the people we do everyday transactions with don’t have functional bank accounts. 

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“Some of them opened a bank account for other purposes like collecting loans which sooner or later become dormant. 

“I have resorted to using Uber because I could not use the normal public transport system to go to work due to paucity of cash. The whole thing makes life very difficult. I have to spend more because of this very bad regulation,” she said.

POS operators too, complain  

In Taraba State, a POS operator said that they too were feeling the heat because their business depends on liquidity. 

Jediel Faith Apollos, a POS agent around FGGC Road in Jalingo metropolis told our correspondent that it was extremely difficult to access funds from her accounts for business as a lot of people were coming for cash withdrawals, especially from the rural areas, thereby putting enormous pressure on the banking facilities.

“There are a lot of people coming to withdraw money from POS, but we don’t have cash at hand at the moment to give them. Banks are not ready to give us money; the ATMs are overcrowded. This makes it very hard to get money, and it is really affecting our operations.

“I wonder if I would be able to pay my workers at the end of the month because the more transactions you make, the more you get profit. We have asked the POS handlers to provide us with business ATM cards that will enable us withdraw more than the normal daily limits which they did.  They later came and reviewed it, and now we can only withdraw N10,000 with the card per day. So, what’s the point? It’s so frustrating,” she lamented.

Just before the reality of the times began to settle in, a woman Mrs Sarah Adepoju at Ejigbo market, fought a POS operator. 

“I cannot make withdrawal of N25,000 and pay N3,000 as service charges, and collect all old notes,” she roared at Alhaji Mustapha. “No, you must give me at least N10,000 new notes and N15,000 of the old currencies.”

But Alhaji Mustapha popularly known as Alfa, while responding to her said: “Madam, you should be grateful that you are seeing some money at all.  

“Go to the ATMs and see if any is dispensing cash. Or rather walk into any commercial banking hall and see if you can make withdrawals. Go and ask.”

However, POS operators who manage to access cash have become king of the Manor. 

Some of the POS businesses are believed to be owned by bank officials who corner cash to fund them. And now, they are making huge profits. 

Before the crisis started, service charges for N5,000 withdrawal was mere N100. But now, it has gone up to N1,000 if at all cash is available. 

An artisan, Mustapha, told our reporter that a POS operator in his neighborhood in Ikotu area of Lagos demanded N1,500 for every N3,000 withdrawal. It did not matter whether she gave out new or old notes.  

Until recently, people who made withdrawals of N50,000 through POS paid N600. But now, it attracts a whopping amount of N6,000 or even more.  

To survive, our correspondent learnt, some POS operators pay certain commission to the bankers to get money. 

Before the crisis attained the current level, some POS operators waited for depositors and collected cash from them at the entrances of the banks. They later transferred the money into their customers’ account. They resold the same old notes for profit.  

Students groan under crisis 

Kamal Umar Muhammed, a student at the Taraba Sate state-owned university said that the situation was seriously affecting ongoing examinations at his school. 

“I am currently writing my exams. I have been on the queue (at the ATM) since last night. Almost the whole day is wasted. I am not the only one. Most students have run out of provisions, but they cannot access funds from their accounts to buy the basic things they need. 

“I just hope that the Federal Government addresses this issue expediently because it is not funny again at all. The worst part of it is that, even the cashless policy is a sham. The cashless platforms are also not even working. You try to make transfers for a whole day in vain and even when you succeed, it could take days for the other person to either get the money or for you to get a refund.”

Mixed feelings 

A senior banker at one of the commercial banks along Isolo-Ejigbo-Ikotun corridor who pledged anonymity blamed the CBN for the debacle, regretting that “a lot is happening at the apex bank.” 

While trying to explain away the challenge to customers, he said: “Banking policy makers want to make Nigeria a cashless economy; it is going to be like what obtains overseas where a few notes exchange for goods and services; they want to end the era of bullion vans in residential homes which means, most payments would be made through cards.” He promised that the pains would ease.

To the Speaker, Arewa Youth Assembly, Mohammed Salihu Danlami, Nigerians should try as much as they can to cope with the current situation as the policy is good though not easy.

“It hasn’t been easy; but I see the success of the policy as the necessary sacrifice Nigerians must make to give a final blow to the menaces of kidnapping for ransom and the emerging evil of vote buying.

“Yes, I have had reason to be hurt over the policy, but I see it as a necessary sacrifice I must make for the sake of our country and the future of my children. If there is no pain, there will not be gain.” 

He described the scarcity of the new notes as “the creation of corrupt elements in commercial banks to frustrate the well-intended policy of President Muhammadu Buhari and the CBN Governor, Mr Godwin Emefiele. 

“Indeed, fighting corruption is extremely difficult. When you fight it, it fights back. Nigerians are, therefore, urged to keep fate with the CBN until the policy is fully rolled out. They should equally keep records of banks that punished them so that at the right time, those commercial banks can equally be punished.

“The CBN should also fine erring banks heavily for trying to derail the well-intended policy.”

Similarly, former Secretary General of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Anthony Sani, while lamenting the situation,  applauded the decision of the CBN to extend the period for the exchanges by 10 days and the decision to continue to accept the old notes after the period of the extension, saying: “That is good development. That smacks of sensitivity of the apex bank to the cries of most Nigerians.

“We, therefore, appeal to CBN to double down efforts and ensure the availability of the new currencies in all banks, ATM and in all POS.”

Jamilu Muhammed, a trader at Bakin Dogo foodstuff market, reasoned that the cashless policy might not be a bad idea after all, but its implementation which he said was taking place at a time the new notes were yet to saturate the economy.

“I sell onions, but I’ve not been making sales because a lot of buyers were asking for my account for transfer. I have an account number though, but ‘Yahoo boys’ hacked my account, and withdrew my money. 

“I went to the bank to rectify the issue, but since that time, I lost interest in the account. 

“So, I only collect cash which many of my customers don’t have. People like us are suffering so much. They should have started giving us new notes since the beginning of 2022 so that by December, the old notes would have found their way back to the CBN. It is not easy at all,” he stated. 

Meanwhile, residents of Rivers State have decried the CBN policy, lamenting how it has brought untold hardship to the citizens.  

President, Admiralty Lawyers Society of Nigeria, Mr Angus Chukwuka, said that although the apex bank has the constitutional power to redesign the Nigerian currency, the timing and the management of issues arising from that were faulted.

“Redesigning some of the Naira is basically lawful and legal.

“But what is, however, faulty is the timing and the management of the issues arising from the printing. The timelines given are too poor, and the information management related thereto is also poor,” he said.

Chukwuka, who is a former Publicity Secretary of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Port Harcourt branch, admitted that the policy would checkmate vote-buying. 

He advised the Federal Government to  watch its policy management carefully, adding that “allowing fuel scarcity to be torturing the people at the same time with the hardship imposed by the currency redesign is sinister.”  

In the same vein, Mr Alloy Khenom, a veteran journalist, also decried the secretive manner behind the currency redesigning and implementation. 

“The rationale behind redesigning the three currencies is as hidden as the poor qualities of the currencies. 

“The qualities are poor just like the timing of implementation, which results in the massive hardship caused the entire nation. Where are the notes?”

Also, Prince Odoyi, a postgraduate student, lamented that accessing the new notes had been a tug of war, regretting that none of the three banks he visited in Port Harcourt City, was paying cash.