Before October 26, 2022, when the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) announced its plan to redesign the three higher denominations Nigeria’s currency – N1000, N500, and N200 notes – Nigerians had been left with sour notes in their mouths. The people were daily given smelly, torn banknotes right from the banking hall or the automated teller machines (ATMs) instead of the expected crisp notes. That was because the naira had not been redesigned for about two decades, coupled with its criminal hoarding in unsavoury environments by unscrupulous elements. So, in fact, the redesign was long overdue.

Godwin Emefiele, the CBN helmsman, explained that currency redesign is generally aimed at controlling currency in circulation, mitigating counterfeiting, preserving the collective national heritage, improving the security of banknotes, and reducing the overall cost of currency management as well as to take control of the currency in circulation. 

Emefiele disclosed that about 85 percent of the nation’s currency in circulation was outside the banking system and that the CBN would not allow the situation to continue because it was adversely affecting the monetary policies of the apex bank.

Of course, some kicked against the idea, citing the timing and the clumsy preparation.

As genuine as these concerns are, it is impossible for any government worth its name to gloss over the muddling and demeaning of the value of the country’s legal tender by rapacious politicians, who have been exposed for hoarding the naira in farms, septic tanks, and other unlikely places to rot before being deployed for their heinous purposes.

President Muhammadu Buhari eventually unveiled the redesigned banknotes on November 23, 2022, he affirmed that it was part of measures to mop up excess cash in circulation, curb ransom payment for kidnapping, terrorism financing, and counterfeiting, among others.

However, the most contentious of this policy was the January 31 deadline fixed by the CBN for the validity of the old notes. This became the crux of the whole matter because as the date approached; the new banknotes remained unavailable.

However, it is apparent that opponents of the new policy have tried all they could to frustrate the new naira policy, using sabotage, court processes, intimidation, trumped-up charges by vested security and legislative interests, and induced scarcity. Nevertheless, because neither Buhari nor Emefiele seemed to be ready to succumb to the cry for extension of the deadline.

The president, realising that this is his last dance, insisted on dictating the steps by deciding not to dance ‘Buga’. As his terminal date in office approaches on May 29, he recognises that the occasion demands a definitive punch to enable him to end with a desirable flourish and etch his name on the sand of history. Hopefully, this would make Nigerians forgive and forget his tasteless, shambolic strides of the last eight years during which a ruthless cabal held him hostage. So, like he rightly said, the new naira policy is also targeted at ensuring a free and fair election without abuse. 

Methinks that the new naira is actually redesigning Nigeria as well, knowing the real danger posed by leaving humongous sums of money in the private vaults of jackals and dodgy politicians during the electoral period.

The desperation of the politicians is palpable because before their very eyes, Emefiele, with Buhari’s strong backing, has set on fire their hopes of using huge sums of money stashed away for the purpose of circumventing the electoral process through their traditional illegal electioneering logistics, like vote buying, ballot snatching,  bribing electoral officials, and sponsoring all manner of malfeasance, including wreaking mayhem in the country.

Expectedly, the new naira would shunt out other criminal elements like bandits, kidnappers, and ten percenter contract inflators. That is why everywhere is in a frenzy. The best they could do for now is to collude with bankers to mop up the new naira and increase the hardship of the people.

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Nigerians have been having a harrowing time, getting the new naira notes. The scarcity has made life unbearable for many. People accuse CBN of not printing enough or releasing the new notes to the banks. The apex bank insisted that it had massively supplied the new notes to commercial banks to dispense both over the counters and ATMs. Shockingly, the new banknotes are practically non-existent in the banks because of evil collusion with racketeering politicians. Many Nigerians are, therefore, at a loss why they cannot access the new notes.

It has been established that the banks are colluding with politicians to starve the people of the new notes and thereby taint the new policy. The commercial banks are now reserving or selling the new naira notes to politicians and party goers for their campaigns and merry-making while bank customers are told that there is a shortage or non-availability of the banknotes. 

The question on many lips is where politicians get the new naira notes that they freely share among their hired supporters on campaign grounds whereas bank customers languish inside suffocating banking halls or bereft ATMs without any sign of the new naira notes.

A video of a wedding ceremony has been trending online where a man was seen spraying the couple with bundles of the new naira notes. Such people should be arrested for sabotage and made to explain their source. Even bandits boast that they are in possession of the new naira notes and use them to buy more deadly weapons. How come, where did they get them from?

Meanwhile, the CBN has promised to protect Nigerians, more so “Nigerians in unbanked, underserved and rural areas” to ensure they don’t suffer any loss in the proposed naira redesign. Sadly, it is inexplicable why it deployed its staff to the North to carry out this exercise, but neglected the entire South.

The lawmakers in both chambers of the National Assembly have declared war on Emefiele because of the January 31 deadline and insist on an extension. They are also unhappy with the daily cash limits, leaving one to wonder why they would insist on carrying huge cash around when they could conveniently transact legitimate businesses electronically.

No doubt, if well implemented, the cashless policy would help the fight against endemic corruption in both the private and public sectors of the economy. It would also frustrate the activities of criminal gangs, especially kidnappers and bandits, who kidnap for huge ransoms, which would no longer be possible under the circumstances.

Deputy director, Central Bank of Nigeria, Dr. Rekiya Opemi Yusuf, reportedly acknowledged revelations that some commercial banks were hoarding the new notes, as was also discovered during a raid on some banks by the ICPC, EFCC alongside some CBN officials. She threatened that any bank caught for such sharp practices would be sanctioned.

However, merely making empty threats of sanction against the recalcitrant banks is not enough. They should be treated as the economic saboteurs they are and, perhaps, withdrawing the licence of one or two culpable banks would have been more deterring. 

Sadly, these never-say-die politicians have managed to have their way, but just a little bit. Despite his hardline posturing, Emefiele seemed to have got confused. After being blackmailed or arm-twisted to extend the deadline by ten days, the CBN governor has also made funny promises that people would still be allowed to deposit their old naira notes in the banks; banknotes that cease to be legal tender after the deadline on February 10, as stipulated in the CBN Act. Maybe those who still have Biafra pounds should also join the queue o. 

We are sitting on gunpowder about to ignite. You cannot access your money in the banks, even if it is the old naira notes. No money anywhere whether over the counter or in the ATMs. Fights are breaking out in banking halls. Protesters, even those that strip themselves naked, even want to turn the halls into bedrooms. 

We are assaulted on all fronts, marooned in confounding turpitude. There is naira scarcity. There is food scarcity. There is fuel scarcity. Even as we head to elections in barely three weeks, there is governance scarcity. Who can rescue Nigerians from this self-imposed madness? Oh, what a cowNtry!