As Nigerians wait for the much-needed reprieve to the current cash squeeze ahead of Friday’s deadline of the cash swap policy, a meeting between President Muhammadu Buhari and the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), apparently, scheduled to discuss the sensitive situation failed to hold yesterday. It was gathered that the President canceled it in view of the court order restraining government from extending the February 10 deadline for the swapping of old naira notes for the redesigned ones. Sources disclosed that the President was careful about the possible perception of disregard for lawful orders should the policy be further discussed at this time.
A presidency source had late Monday disclosed that President Buhari would meet with governors to discuss, among other things, the nationwide crisis trailing CBN’s new naira policy. The cancelled meeting comes only four days after the President met with governors elected on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) after which he appealed to Nigerians to give him seven days to resolve the crisis. On Monday, APC governors: Nasir el-Rufai (Kaduna), Yahaya Bello (Kogi) and Bello Matawalle (Zamfara) dragged the Federal Government to the Supreme Court. The governors prayed the court to declare that the Demonetisation Policy of the Federation currently executed by CBN under President Buhari’s approval contravenes the extant provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), CBNAct (2007) and other relevant laws on the matter. Despite the cancellation of the meeting, chairman of the NGF and governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal and chairman of the Progressives Governors’ Forum (PGF) and governor of Kebbi State, Atiku Bagudu, had a private meeting with President Buhari in his office. Also at the meeting were governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele and chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Abdulrasheed Bawa. It was not immediately clear what they discussed as none of them spoke to waiting reporters. When asked whether there was a contemplation of policy change, the CBN boss declined to answer and instead sought to shield his face from correspondents. Recall that a Federal Capital Territory (FCT) high court had, on Monday, stopped CBN from extending the use of the old naira note beyond February 10. AS panic sweeps through the banking industry over cash scarcity, the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN), the umbrella professional body for bankers, has said relevant stakeholders are working “assiduously” to correct the situation. “Whilst we understand the plight of bank customers, we passionately appeal for calm and understanding as the regulator (CBN) and operators (the banks) are working assiduously to bring the situation under control,” CIBN said in a statement signed by its Registrar/Chief Executive, Akin Morakinyo. The body sympathised with depositors over the difficulties faced in accessing their deposits these past days, a situation that triggered pockets of violence across different parts of the country and heightened social tension. It described the challenges as “unintended consequences” of the naira redesign and promised that relevant stakeholders were being engaged on the issues that could be addressed. CIBN assurances came on the heels of protests by displeased bank customers. Nigerians have continued to pay through their nose to make a withdrawal, especially at point-of-sale (PoS) terminals, where they are charged as much as 30 per cent of the ordered amount. Electronic payment channels have continued to fumble even as banks still do not have sufficient cash to go round visiting customers. Some of the lenders have pegged withdrawal limit at N2,000 just as a handful of automated teller machines (ATMs) dispense cash.
In Abuja, filling station attendants now operate PoS and sell naira directly to car owners. While queues for Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) has abated in most parts of Abuja, cash crunch is threatening dispensing of the product as most filling stations decline to sell petrol to people that are without cash. Some of the attendants ferry the available cash to third parties, who are PoS operators. In the meantime, the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) has issued a seven-day ultimatum to the Federal Government to resolve the twin problems of naira and petrol scarcities. In a statement signed by its President, Festus Osifo and General Secretary, Nuhu Toro, TUC said: “We demand that the Federal Government within seven days, beginning from Tuesday, provides a solution to the twin problems of currency unavailability and fuel shortages.”
TUC maintained that it is not interested in the blame game going on in government and political circles, neither is it fascinated by the endless promises and assurances made by government that the situation will soon be brought under control. If N200, N500 and N1,000 are not in circulation because they are redesigned, TUC wondered why N100 and N50 noted that are not redesigned are equally not in circulation. It argued that the lengthy explanations on why there are long queues at fuel stations and prices of PMS being far above the official price can no longer be tolerated.
TUC said all state council executives are put on red alert and the union’s leadership would be monitoring the situation closely to give further directives should the situation not improve. Presidential candidate of the ruling APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, has appealed to Nigerians to remain calm as the government and relevant agencies continue to work out solutions. Speaking in Abuja, on Tuesday, Tinubu said he sympathised with the people, especially the downtrodden, who have been made to bear the brunt of the new naira policy and irregular supply of petrol that have combined to inflict avoidable pains on the masses. He commended NNPC Limited for the fuel supply relief being enjoyed in FCT and urged the company to step up its act to bring relief round the country. He also urged CBN not to be dogmatic in the deadline it has fixed for the transition from old naira notes to the new one, especially as the unintended consequence of the policy has been massive pain on the people.
Also, the Atiku/Okowa Presidential Campaign has said the hoarding of new naira notes is causing Nigerians unimaginable pain, wrecking their means of livelihood. The campaign said it stands with Nigerians in calling for an end to the criminal activities of intercepting and hoarding the new notes, for vote buying plots, despite excruciating hardship the sinister action is causing millions of Nigerians across the country. Spokesman of the campaign, Kola Ologbondiyan, in a statement said: “Our campaign is alarmed by the exposed plot by some APC governors to secretly swap a whooping N22.5 billion in old N1,000 new notes for vote buying. “Already, Nigerians are forced to face a worse situation than the COVID-19 experience because Tinubu is hoarding the new notes to manipulate the election. “Our campaign counsels Tinubu to lift his knees from the neck of Nigerians by ending his new notes hoarding activities so that the new notes can freely flow to Nigerians to run their daily lives.” Protest, yesterday, erupted in some parts of Ondo and Ogun states. Angry residents blocked the busy Ore-Benin expressway, causing traffic gridlock and preventing vehicular movement for several hours.
A commuter, Segun Olaitan, who was stranded in the traffic, revealed that he spent over two hours at the Ore intersection without any hope of how soon the road will be free. In Abeokuta, residents took to major streets to protest lingering naira and fuel scarcities in Ogun. Vehicular and other business activities were grounded, while shops and other outlets were hurriedly shut. Banks shut down as workers were seen rushing home to avoid being caught in the crisis. Also, parents were seen rushing to schools to take home their wards, while motorists displayed loyalty to protesters by attaching leaves to their vehicles. According to eyewitness account, the protesters took over the Aladesanmi, Fajol and Somorin in Obantoko area, along the Abeokuta-Ibadan road, to register their displeasure with the CBN’s policy, which has subjected Nigerians to untold hardship and suffering in the last two weeks . It was learnt that the riot also spread to other parts of the metropolis like Sapon and Adatan, where political posters and billboards were destroyed. At least, one person was reported hit by stray bullet during the protest. When contacted, the Ogun State police spokesman, Abimbola Oyeyemi, confirmed the incident, saying the problem has been contained. He added that no arrest was made as at 5:00p.m. The Lagos State chapter of APC, yesterday, suspended its campaign towards the forthcoming elections.
According to a statement by the party, the chairman, Cornelius Ojelabi, said the decision was reached as a result of the state of the nation due to scarcity of fuel and pain occasioned by the naira redesign. He empathised with the general public, especially the downtrodden, who, he claimed, are at the receiving end. Ojelabi expressed the view that it would be insensitive to forge ahead with the various rallies with the situation of things. Ojelabi enjoined Lagosians to remain law abiding as all issues are being resolved in due course.