By Ngozi Nwoke

Concerned business owners, point of sale operators (POS), bureau de change operators and other Nigerians have expressed anger and frustration over the scarcity of the redesigned N200, N500 and N1,000 notes, especially with the fact that the old naira notes will cease to be a legal tender from February 10 as announced by the Central Bank of Nigeria. The original date was January 31.

However, in a new development, most banks and automated teller machines (ATM) have not been dispensing both the old and redesigned naira notes, regardless of the CBN’s directive that banks should sufficiently load their ATMs with cash.

Many Nigerians are speculating that the scarcity of the old and redesigned notes is a plan by the government and banks to further frustrate Nigerians and worsen their economy and livelihoods.

Interviews with some commuters and pedestrians in Lagos disclosed that they hope to see an extension of the deadline, if the government truly wants to achieve the real objective of the policy.

Comfort Yusuf, who was among the large number of people queueing to withdraw cash from an ATM stand, stressed that she was not concerned about receiving the redesigned naira notes but worried that even the old notes are unavailable.

“It is highly frustrating and exhausting that I have to leave my house as early as 7am to arrive the ATM stand by 8am, hoping to withdraw some money, only to be told that the ATM has not been loaded with cash and the worse is that the bank workers do not know when the machine will start dispensing cash. 

“So, that means we have to wait on the queue indefinitely until whenever the cash is available and we have no idea if there will be cash or not. Yesterday at a bank on Ogudu, Ojota, people waited there for hours only to be told that the ATM would not be loaded with money and they could not withdraw money over the bank counter. “Nigerians are suffering unbearable hardship. What is survival and living without cash to spend? The POS operators are making the situation worse with their exorbitant charges. You have to pay an extra charge of N1,500 for a cach withdrawal of N10,000.”

Joshua Ajayi, a PoS operator, complained that, since the introduction of the redesigned notes, he has been able to get only N3,000 new notes in the N10,000, as ATMs were still dispensing old naira notes.

“Yes, I have received the new naira notes only once when I withdrew N10,000 from an ATM. It was only once about two weeks now. I have not received it again. But I heard that the banks have refused to apply for the redesigned notes from the CBN until the date for the deadline. If that is true, then I don’t understand their reason. 

“It doesn’t make any sense to me. But I think the best thing to do is for the CBN to tell us why the redesigned notes are not yet fully in circulation. We are just waiting for any further directives from them. I am worried as a businessman over the scarcity of the old naira notes too because I don’t know what will happen next. All the ATMs and banks I went to withdraw money from refused to dispense.”

A BDC operator simply identified as Mallam stated that the scarcity of the new notes was an indication that the CBN and banks were not fully prepared for the task and were not serious about achieving the purpose of redesigning the notes.

“Since it is difficult to receive the new notes, how can you talk of banning the old notes?” Mallam queried. “It is not possible. The worst part is that both banks and the CBN have not explained the cause of the delay. So, we are just confused and watching to see their next action, whether they will extend the deadline or release more of the new notes. It also shows that maybe, they are not serious with what they want to achieve with redesigning the notes. I am not happy that this is happening for no reason.”

Another PoS operator simply called Iya Tunde claimed that she has never touched the new notes and looked in anticipation to receive them soon. “I have not received the news notes from the ATM. I have been seeing it with people in the market but I have never received it before,” she said.

Miss Eva, who was on a long queue at an ATM on Ogudu Road, commended the CBN for its initiative and decision to fight corruption with the new notes, but said she was not bothered that the new naira notes were not dispensed, so long as she could purchase wares with the old notes.

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“First, I applaud the CBN for this action taken to discard the old notes. Since the new notes were released, I have been seeing huge sums of the old notes being exposed by people. They have been bringing out the old notes in millions of bundles that they hid in soakaways, and sofas. I saw a full Ghana-Must-Go bag of old notes already decayed and useless. Obviously, the owner brought it out to deposit in the bank after the announcement but unfortunately, the monies were already decayed.

“I weep for this county because that was money that could have solved people’s needs and fed hundreds of people if they were put to proper use. For the purpose of fighting corruption, I think the CBN did a very good job. Now the challenge is that Nigerians cannot access the new notes and I’m wondering why. Why are the new notes not in circulation yet? And the old notes will soon go out of existence.

“I think the CBN or the banks owe us an explanation to this, because we are all asking the same question and no one is giving us the answers. I have received the new N500 and N1000 notes but not from the banks or ATM. It was from a trader that sold something to me, that was how I got the new notes. So, what is happening? We need answers, please.”

Mrs. Rita Wealth, who was seen shopping in a mall, also told Daily Sun that she has never received the new notes since they were released.

“I have only seen the new naira notes on television but I have never received it.  The other day, I specifically requested the new N500 from the cashier at the bank, but was shocked when he told me the bank is yet to apply for the new notes from the CBN. 

“I marveled because I expected that by now, it should have been everywhere for people to freely access. I was curious and asked the reason for the delay and the next response was most shocking when he said the bank instructed them not to dispense the new notes until the date for the deadline. I’m just hoping that Nigerians will not have to suffer another case of struggle to get the new notes if the old notes reach the deadline.”

Lagos-based financial expert, Mr. Adebola Yusuf, confirmed that the CBN had issued a warning to defaulting banks that have refused to dispense the new notes, adding that it was gross disobedience for the banks to disobey the directive of the CBN. 

“A lot of questions are being asked by Nigerians to the banks on why they are not dispensing the new naira notes. As a financial practitioner, I’m aware that the CBN has given directives on the issuance of the new notes, but we’re being told that the banks have refused to adhere to the instructions of the authority and that is totally unacceptable. The CBN should sanction all defaulting banks that have deliberately refused to release the new notes. What I find difficult to understand is the reason why they are hoarding the new naira notes. 

“The National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institution, should make a statement explaining to Nigerians why it has refused to obey the CBN directives. There must be a reason and we ought to know. We cannot understand why they asked us to deposit all old notes before January 31and the same banks are still dispensing the same old notes back to us. This doesn’t make any iota of sense to me at all.”

On his part, Christian Sunday, CEO, Supreme Trust Limited, asserted that scarcity of the new naira notes is politically motivated as it is impossible for the banks to disobey the orders of the CBN without sanctions.

“In my opinion, the delay is politically motivated. I have only received the N1000 note twice in a N5,000 withdrawal, and I have not seen it in circulation as much as I expected. The election is very close and it is an obvious reason for the high-ranking political parties to orchestrate the delay for their political use during the election. You will discover that when the election is close, the new notes will be in full circulation and this will defeat the aim of the CBN to redesign the old notes which is to stop corruption. If the banks intentionally disobeyed the CBN’s directive, by now some banks would have been sanctioned. This is a clear political plan. I attended a wedding last Saturday where I saw the new naira notes being sprayed in the air by men suspected to be influential politicians and wealthy businessmen. People were wondering where and how they got them in bundles,” Sunday said. I’m

It said that the mandate was to ensure that distribution of the new currency notes was fair, transparent, and evenly spread across the country.

The CBN also allayed the fears of rural dwellers at accessing the new notes before the deadline. It announced that it would inaugurate a cash-swap programme in rural and underserved areas of the country on Monday to boost collection of the redesigned Naira notes.

The apex bank said that the inauguration was informed by the need to maximize the channels through which underserved and rural communities could exchange

“The old N1,000, N500 and N200 notes can be exchanged for the redesigned notes or existing lower denominations of N100, N50 and N20 which remain legal tender. The super agents can exchange a maximum of N10,000 per person, while amounts above M10,000 shall be treated as cash-in deposit into wallets or bank accounts in line with the cashless policy. Bank Verification Number, National Identification Number or Voter’s Card details of the customer should be captured as much as possible,’’ the CBN said.