Naira Scarcity: Buhari, Emefiele Must Stop Inhabiting Alternate Universe!
The fact that Nigerians are resilient and can meander their way through every misery sown on their path should not give the Buhari government the impetus to keep pushing the goat to the wall. With the level of desperation and frustration in the land caused by poorly thought-out policies of the government, it wouldn’t matter that those in authority have barely three months when the people have nothing more to lose. It has been the hopes of their anguish being over soon that has been sustaining the people. Now that the end isn’t as near as thought, Nigerians really deserve honour for maintaining their cool.
Which country of the world would their citizens remain docile in the face of the government denying them access to their hard-earned money? Nigerians rarely look up to the government for anything as the government and its institutions have disappointed them spectacularly. A case in point is the 2023 presidential election where the people decided to give the system a benefit of the doubt. The world has acknowledged how ruinous it turned out to be. It is therefore unconscionable for the government to crash its crass ineptitude and poor imagination on the personal finances of the people, thereby throwing more Nigerians into poverty.
One week ago, the Supreme Court invalidated the naira redesign policy introduced by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), affirming that the old N200, N500 and N1000 notes remain legal tender until December 31, 2023. While delivering judgment in a suit instituted by Kaduna, Kogi, and Zamfara States, a seven-member panel of the apex court faulted the entire policy of the CBN, saying the timing and implementation were defective. Nigerians who thought that this verdict will bring relief to the acute cash scarcity have been disappointed as a result of the exacerbating crisis situation, no thanks to the nonchalant disposition of those who should give effect to the apex court ruling.
Last October, the CBN governor announced the plan to redesign the naira to control money supply and aid security agencies in tackling illicit financial flows. With the unveiling of the redesigned naira notes on December 23, 2022, the deadline for the implementation of the policy was set for January 31, 2023. Following complaints by Nigerians feeling the biting impact of the cash squeeze, this was further extended to February 10. Between, the Supreme Court restrained the CBN from proceeding with this deadline following an ex parte application brought by the three states who cited the hardships that the continued scarcity of naira notes has visited on their people. Meanwhile, thirteen other states later joined the suit as co-plaintiffs. The states rightly argued that the implementation of the policy has caused untold hardship for Nigerians.
But in defiance of the February 8 interim order from the Supreme Court, President Muhammadu Buhari in a nationwide broadcast restored the validity of only the old N200 notes, insisting that the N500 and N1000 notes had ceased to be legal tender. The continued refusal of Nigerians to use the reinstated old notes as legal tender can be better appreciated against the backdrop of this grandstanding. How can they accept them when the monetary authority and the President who told them not to, are yet to give the green light? Of course, they are the executive arm of government because they execute pronouncements and decisions of the other arms of government.
With the government’s tactical refusal to act in line with the apex court’s order, Nigerians have been left in limbo and to their own devices. Even deposit money banks that dispensed the old notes saw their customers returning with the same over their inability to spend the notes. Yet, these issuing banks refuse to collect the notes when their customers made to deposit them. It is our considered opinion that this shouldn’t be the case in a country where there is a government! Believing that the government’s intransigence with the Naira redesign policy is to curb vote buying, many eagerly looked forward to post-March 11 when the remaining leg of the 2023 election was meant to be concluded so they can have their lives back. Alas, this ray of hope has been postponed amidst the ferocity of the cash squeeze.
Naija News is worried about the pains and suffering citizens have been putting up with on account of the calamitous management of the Naira redesign policy. ATMs in banks across the country are dried up even as those loaded with cash are rationed to dispense just N2000 to customers after they must have spent about two to three hours in the queue. Whatever happened to the cash swap policy of the CBN? Who were the beneficiaries and why are the new notes they received not percolating in the system? That’s assuming that the banks are actually sabotaging the Naira redesign policy as alleged. Small businesses are increasingly going belly up on account of the low patronage that the scarcity of cash has caused. It is so bad that POS terminal operators charge N2000 for N5000 cash withdrawals. Even poor market women who have no other option than accept online payment for their wares have been swindled by dubious customers. Yet, banks’ ICT infrastructures for online transfers of money are so overwhelmed that failed and hanging transactions are the order of the day.
What Nigerians have suffered in the face of this Naira redesign policy and the fact that the authorities haven’t expressed enough sensitivity, sincerity and amelioration confirm that Buhari and the CBN honchos live in an alternate universe. If only they were in tune with the people, they wouldn’t have allowed the chaotic economic situation to persist after the Supreme Court’s ruling on the matter. Rather than abandon Nigerians at this critical time, Buhari must disembark from his high horse to bring succour to the suffering masses. Let it be impressed on the authorities that the economy is reeling from this cash squeeze and won’t quickly recover from this man-made crunch. While there was a hitherto high number of unbanked people in society, it remains to be seen how Nigerians will be convinced to open bank accounts or deposit their monies after this debacle.
Harbingers of this mess that Nigerians are currently dealing with must clean it up and not add it to the rot to be inherited by the next administration. Hard as they try, Nigerians aren’t adjusting or coping too well with this forced cashless living. They may even be venting their frustrations in ways that endanger the lives of others. The driver of the staff bus who Thursday morning rammed into a train in Lagos was said to have ignored warnings and even overtook vehicles that parked to avoid being jammed by the oncoming locomotive. This abnormal behaviour which caused the death of six persons leaving many others injured can’t be divorced from the distress and trauma caused by the current hardship in the country. Naija News, therefore, demands that every encumbrance to the people having easy access to cash be removed now. President Buhari and Governor Emefiele must see to it that the stabilizing role of the judiciary emblemized by the Supreme Court ruling, stabilizes the country in these trying times.