From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Fred Ezeh, Charity Nwakaudu, Okwe Obi, Adanna Nnamani and Idu Jude, Abuja
“Change in currency notes is a universal phenomenon. Nigeria went through it in April1984 under the then General Muhammadu Buhari, as Head of State.” That was the submission of Emmanuel Ozomena, who was also in search of the naira notes, when our correspondent met him in the Central Area, Abuja, at the weekend:
“In 1984, when the exercise took place, most politicians were either in detention, gone into hiding or had gone abroad on self exile. They didn’t have the courage to criticise the government.
“Politicians were alleged to have looted funds. While they were in detention, the currency was changed and it became useless. Nigerians had expected President Buhari to do this in his first tenure. But perhaps for political reasons, he might have delayed taking this decision until the last lap of his administration and a few weeks to a crucial election.
“In 2016, India with 1.3 billion people, changed its currency notes and heaven didn’t fall. The transition from the old notes to new ones happened but not without tension, apprehension, debates and criticisms by the political class.
“Incidentally, in India it was also close to a crucial general election. The opposition alleged it was aimed at starving them of access to funds. But the exercise went on as expected and the heavens didn’t fall.”
Before the extension on Sunday to February 10, some Abuja residents expressed anxiety and anger over the January 31 deadline. Others, especially the Point of Sale (POS) operators, were making brisk business from those desperate to have cash at hand. Innocent Michael, an entertainment director, was almost left stranded as he ran out of cash to pay vendors who were providing various services for his scheduled event last Saturday. They wouldn’t accept old Naira notes or settle for bank transfers:
“I left my house at 7am for the bank and met like 80 people. But as I am talking to you now, this is 1pm, there are close to 200 people who are there either to change their old notes or withdraw from the ATM.
“The POS guys around here are not helping matters. I met one who had the new notes and I wanted to withdraw N20,000. He told me his charge was N6,000 extra. Can you imagine that? And the bike men were refusing to take old notes. I had to trek a long distance back home.
“I didn’t have money on me and they wouldn’t accept transfers. Buying food has been an issue. Those not taking transfers said if you don’t have new notes they would not give you anything. It’s been terribly crazy.
“I join other frustrated Nigerians to ask government to extend the deadline and then carry out enlightenment campaigns. Many people don’t understand how this works. They should bring a task force to ensure banks compile and release the new notes to Nigerians.”
A taxi driver at Jabi Garage would not want his name mentioned. He said he bought fuel with the last N4,000 new notes on him, vowing not to collect the old notes from his passengers. A POS operator, Amina, was seen trading the new notes at NNPC Junction, Kubwa. He was charging N500 for N10,000 as against N100. When asked, he said: “I bought it from the bank too.”
Another taxi driver, Dele, said he was forced to buy fuel with new notes: “I am going to finish the old notes and I won’t be working on Sunday (yesterday).”
Alice Ade, a daily contribution collector at the Maitama Ultra Modern Market, Kubwa, said as of Friday, January 27, 2023, she had ceased collecting old notes: “I found it stressful and difficult to deposit the ones I had collected.”
At an ATM, Dutse Traditional Market, Susan Aruba said: “Look at the frustration we are going through. It took me hours to get to this place because most drivers are rejecting the old notes when we have not even reached the deadline.”
Mrs Comfort Okafor was at Fidelity Bank ATM, Karu, at about 8:20am on Saturday: “I was shocked when I came to the bank and saw the crowd already waiting for the ATM to be loaded with the new naira notes.
That’s the only place you can get the new notes. Though, I have heard lots of things from my neighbours regarding the chaos at banks but I didn’t know it was that bad. I had tried all possible ways to get the new notes within my area in Jikwoyi through the POS operators but none of them had. I met a POS operator who said he had few notes but he insisted on extra charges for each one thousand naira new note.”
Okafor’s brother-in-law’s traditional marriage was on Saturday. The bride price was done through cash transfer after several attempts to get new notes were unsuccessful: “Aside myself, some other people were sent round ATMs in Abuja and they all returned without the new notes.
“New notes are not paid to customers inside the banking hall. Bank officials insist customers should go to the ATM but there’s serious chaos there. That’s not funny at all.
“I know they (authorities) have good intentions for this policy particularly as elections draw nearer. But they should find a way to make the new notes more available for people to use.”