• Nigerians groan as they go through hell getting food, petty cash

By Cosmas Omegoh

Nigerians are a resilient people – so resourceful, so resolute. And that is the truth, which  veracity can neither be refuted, nor be wished away. 

Just when one thinks Nigerians are out there in the pit of despair, held down by some grim odds, they resurrect. They conjure the dramatic and simply soldier on. Indeed, Nigerians are like the beetle. And as it is often said, there is no killing the beetle.  

But not many Nigerians have fared well over the past weeks. The pains brought about by the redesigned naira policy have left many people crushed – clearly leveled out, leaving them very slim chance of fighting back with some comprehensive responses. 

Problems brought about by the redesigned naira have been too heavy for many to bear. The crisis has turned a vast majority to beggars of some sort. 

Many people merely wake up to find themselves like fish cast out of water, battling for life. They have no food eat. They are seething with sorrow and sadness while dwelling in hell, whose many twists and turns they can now tell.     

When our correspondent went to town to gauge the mood of the people, findings showed that the magnitude of pains brought about by the naira redesign regime has been, to say the least, humongous. The complaints, the anger, the pains of the people have been unbelievably unprecedented. The vast majority, including the rich, had no money to spend. That had never happened in the near distant time. The last time a semblance of what is happening happened was in 1984, when the military under Major General Muhammadu Buhari changed the colour of the naira. It was an exercise that equally brought untold pain to the people. But not in the same degree that the people are experiencing it now. What happened then didn’t last long. Within a week or so, Nigerians had cash once again to spend; they simply moved on with their lives. But nearly 40 year after, what is happening now is different. 

In Lagos, the story is the same at every turn. People didn’t and still don’t have money to buy their basic needs. The worse hit are salary earners. Surely, many of them have some cash in their bank accounts. But the truth is that they cannot access their money because the bank vaults are dry and empty. There is no cash in them. The banks’ ATMs have no cash either. At the few banks that intermittently manage to dispense cash, not more than N5,000 is handed out. Some give out a paltry N2,000 over the counter, after the customer have spent long harrowing hours on the queue. Oftentimes, the banks start giving out what they have at 7:00p.m when many have waited in vain and gone home immersed in sorrow. 

Every day, a market population masses at the banks’ premises. Customers are handed tally numbers which on a normal day range between number 1-700. The unlucky customers remain on the queue for a whole day and still get no cash to compensate for their efforts. Sometimes what the lucky ones get is only good enough as their transport fare back  home. They come back the next day for another vigil either at the same bank or at another bank. And the beat goes on. 

Many state governors had called on President Muhammadu Buhari to reconsider the policy, even as quite a number of them had taken the Federal Government to the Supreme Court over the matter. 

Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, had remarked that “this (the policy) is not right. Our people are suffering; now you have money in the bank, you cannot spend it; go to the banks and see the queues.”

In some communities, some locals have had to resort to the primitive trade by barter. People were reported to have been exchanging what they had for their basic needs, food especially. 

Now, amid the naira redesign debacle, only traders, and transporters are the ones smiling. They are new indisputable kings. Those of them making cool cash are graciously lending money to those it pleased them to do so. Then what about the food stuff dealers? Some of them have attained new status as mini-gods. And, indeed, they are worshipped as people besiege their shops begging to be sold some food. They must do so or starve since the situation has become existential; even people who are estimated to be well of, need food to feed their starving young ones waiting for them to return home. 

Our correspondent learnt that across Lagos, for people to get food, they must transfer cash from their mobil apps to foodstuff traders – particularly those who have bank accounts, and who are willing to agree to such a deal. 

But there is the common danger everyone has come to now know. Often something goes wrong with the transfer. And the moment the trader fails to get instant credit alert, the buyer has two options: stay for long hours until the trader gets confirmation, or abandon the goods and trudge away. The latter often prevails. 

Mr Anthony, a resident of Isheri-Oshun related his experience to our correspondent thus: “There was this young man down the road who deals in food stuff. I used to buy from him often. But our relationship never went beyond that. 

“Last Tuesday, there was virtually nothing in my house to eat. When I decided to approach him for credit sales that morning, I saw a large crowd gathered around his shop. He was very helpful as he kept selling food to those who came for it. People were transferring money to his account and he was getting his credit alert. I got to know that the situation was critical when I saw some prominent persons in our neigbourhood literally queuing to buy from him, just before his stock sold out.”

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Anthony recalled that things grew worse when the trader’s phone battery went dead. 

“He simply suspended sales despite passionate pleas for him to continue. He claimed there was no way he could reckon that the transactions were going to be successful since he could not get instant credit alert.

“It was at that point that a lady who was operating Point of Sales (POS) service close by weaved in. Desperate parents transferred the worth of the food they purchased to the woman for onward transfer to the traders later on. She charged N200 for every deal.  

“Then, the foodstuff trader wiped out his sales book and began recording every transaction he made. On each occasion, he crosschecked with the POS lady before letting his customers to go. 

“But sensing that he could run into trouble with the POS lady, he suspended sales, and began to lock up his shop. He rebuffed every entreaty to continue. I was dejected as people began to walk away resigning to fate.” 

According to Sunday Sun investigation, many people who experienced failed transactions had a rough patch like Mrs Ikeka.

She said: “Penultimate weekend, when I visited this young man to buy food, we agreed I would make a transfer of N13,500 being the cost of what I bought from him. Transfer made, I showed him evidence of deductions from my account. But he said he could not release the food items until he saw a credit alert on his phone. I used to buy items from him, but on that occasion, he was a different person.

 “I sat with him between 4:00p.m and 6:30 p.m, but the alert could not come. I couldn’t go home without food to feed my children; but at some point, I felt I was being held hostage. It got embarrassing. So, I left the place without food I had paid for. As I made my way home, I was enveloped by shame and anger. ‘What a country,’ I kept repeating to myself.”

She said that when she returned the next day, the young man maintained he had not received any credit alert, and so there was nothing she could do.

“At that juncture,” she said, “I headed for my bank. But the massive crowd I saw discouraged me. About one hour after waiting to lodge a complaint at the customer care desk, the bank closed for the day.”

She recalled that when she eventually made it into the bank, on Monday last week, she was told that the transaction failed and the money would be reverted to her account within eight days. 

A civil servant, Mr Amadi, who lives in Surulere, told our correspondent that assistance from his in-law who operates a commercial bus for a living was all that had sustained him and his family. 

As a driver, he brings home cash each day.   

“Every evening I noticed that some people used to approach him to get cash. Since then, he has been my sustainer. Out of what I have been getting from him I have managed to run my home. I transfer the equivalent to him on every occasion and that is also how I have been seeing transport fare to go to work.”

Further investigation conducted by our correspondent revealed that most of the POS operators were out of cash. Those of them that managed to get cash charged exorbitantly. 

On Tuesday, in Ijesha, Surulere, a POS operator who had cash was charging N1,000 for every N5,000. But people never minded. There was desperation written on every one who besieged him for help.   

At that moment, there was a queue with no fewer than 15 persons eagerly waiting to collect cash. Our correspondent was handed No 11. Just before it got to his turn, the man had exhausted his supply. 

“I had hoped to get at least N5,000 from this man to be sure of going to work tomorrow and food for the family,” a man who have number 13, said. “Now where else do I go to?’ he asked with a strong note of disappointment in his voice.