• We‘re bound by CBN’s guidelines -Commercial banks

From Ndubuisi Orji, Godwin Tsa, Adanna Nnamani, Abuja and Aloysius Attah, Onitsha

The House of Representatives has threatened to issue an arrest warrant against the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, and managing directors of a commercial banks that fail to honour invitations on the crisis trailing the January 31 deadline for the phase out of old naira notes, and scarcity of new ones across the country.

Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, issued the threat, yesterday, while reacting to a letter by Emefiele that he would not be able to appear before an Ad-hoc Committee set up by the House to interface with the apex bank and commercial banks on the issue. The CBN boss, in a letter, said he would not be available as he was out of the country on official assignment.

The House had, on Tuesday,  adopted a motion by Sada Soli, calling on the CBN to review the cashless policy, as well as extend deadline for the phase out of old N1000, N500 and N200 notes by six months.

The House had also resolved to meet with the management of the apex bank on Wednesday, after which it would meet with the managing directors of commercial banks. Nevertheless, the CBN was absent from the meeting.

House Leader, Alhassan Ado-Doguwo, had explained that the apex bank sent words to the ad-hoc committee  that it got the communication from the House late on Tuesday and so could not be available on Wednesday. Consequently, the House leader said the CBN management would  appear before the panel on Thursday (yesterday).

However, Gbajabiamila, who read Emefiele’s letter, said it was unacceptable that no official of the apex bank honoured the summon.

He threatened to invoke  Section 89 (1)(d) of the 1999  Constitution ( as amended)  and Order 19 (2)(1) of the Standing Orders of the House to issue an arrest warrant on the CBN governor and  CEOs of banks who shun its summons.

However, Reps have said they suspect that the scarcity of the new notes might be an act of economic sabotage.

The members spoke during a meeting between the House Ad-hoc Committee set up to interface with the CBN on the deadline for the phase out of the old notes and scarcity of the new ones and commercial banks.

At the commencement of the meeting, Ado-Doguwo said the ad-hoc committee would recommend to Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila to issue an arrest warrant against the CBN governor.

In his intervention, a member of the panel, Uzoma Nkem-Abonta said: “For every money printed, there is a value for it. If at the end of January, the new notes are not accepted, don’t you think it’s an economic sabotage? Operators should let us know.”

Nevertheless, the commercial banks Chief Executive Officers, who were represented by their staff said the banks were bound by the CBN guidelines on the deadline.

The bank Staff,  in their separate responses to lawmakers queries, explained that the new naira notes can only be accessed at the Automated Teller Machines ( ATM) at the moment and not across the counter.

According to them, as soon they get new notes they quickly load their ATMs so that customers can access them through that avenue. They noted that the volume of new notes they are currently receiving from the apex bank is insufficient.

“We are paying put as much as we get. We are collecting the money and loading them at the ATM as quickly as we get them. Unfortunately, we are not getting them quickly. We have gotten about 10 percent of the total money. That’s is challenge that we have. We are doing the best we can up until the deadline,” representative of Access Bank, Hadiza Ambuza, explained.

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 Mohammed Abdul, who stood in for Lotus Bank said: “We have been receiving the new notes and returning the old notes. However, in the last few weeks, it’s been very insufficient what we are receiving. We received an average of N40 million weekly for our bank in Abuja.”

Similarly, representative of Sterling Bank, Orlando Umoren, said: “Looking at the issue on the ground, CBN presents allocations to banks. Whether or not this allocation is sufficient is a different ball game. As I speak with you, all our ATMs are dispensing. Allocations are shared. What we received flutuates. We received a minimum of N150 million to be shared.”

• NLC, COSEYL seek extension of deadline 

Meanwhile, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has called for an extension of the deadline.

 Its president, Ayuba Wabba,  said the country’s economy and residents in rural areas would be adversely affected by the new naira policy.

According to him, though the policy may be targeted at the rich, workers and the poor masses were more likely to suffer the consequences of the deadline.

The labour leader, while speaking to journalists at his office in Abuja, yesterday, declared that the NLC was in full support of Senate’s position on the matter as the new notes were no available for use across the states of the country. 

“In fact, most of the banks now, if you are lucky they are dispensing, they will dispense only few new notes. So the new notes are not available, they are not in circulation and the old notes are being rejected.  You are pushing people to the walls and very soon, people will react. If you go to the rural areas, and see the chaotic nature of how people coming with theirs monies to change is becoming a problem. No policy should be made to hunt people like what is happening now,” he said. 

In the same vein,  the Coalition of South East Youth Leaders (COSEYL), the apex socio-political youth group, said the  deadline was unrealistic given the scarcity or unavailability of the new notes.

Its president, Goodluck Ibem in a statement  in Awka, Anambra State, said they were putting the CBN on notice that if it failed to extend the deadline as demanded by majority of Nigerians, it would mobilise Nigerians from the 36 states and the FCT to embark on a five-million-man protest at the CBN headquarters until their demands are met.

Also, the  Abuja division of the Federal High Court has been asked to restrain the CBN from making January 31 as the terminal date for old Naira Notes.

The plaintiff, a professor of Law, Joshua Alobo,  in the suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/114/2023, equally urged the court to issue a mandatory order, “extending the duration where the old notes cease to become legal tender to period of three weeks when the redesign notes will be sufficiently dispense by the commercial banks”.

He listed the CBN, its governor, Godwin Emefiele and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami, as 1st to 3rd defendants.

In a 21-paragraphed affidavit deposed to by one Musa Damudi, the plaintiff,  admitted that though CBN’s decision is geared towards reducing inflation and entrenching cashless society so as to curb money laundering and corruption. He, however, said majority of Nigerians, especially the less privileged one, are yet to have access to the new naira notes that were unveiled on November 23, 2022 by President Muhammadu Buhari.

While accusing the commercial banks of failing to make the new naira notes available to their customers, the plaintiff told the court that as of January 25, he was yet to  handed the old notes on the counter and through the Automatic Teller Machine (ATM.)

No date has been fixed for the matter to be heard.