Nigerians, from all parts of the country, will enter this weekend agitated and confused over the currency redesign policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

While banks remain open to receive old notes till Tuesday, January 31, scarcity of new naira notes and rejection of the old notes, by retailers and many sales outlets, is driving the citizenry into panic mode as the deadline stares them in the face while still having large amounts of the old N1,000, N500 and N200 notes.

Few days before the deadline, the exercise had led to chaos, as well as over-stretching bank workers due to the breakdown of counting machines in many of the branches.

 Findings showed that the breakdown of the counting machines due to heavy pressure has resulted in bank tellers now counting monies in bulk manually, making many customers wait long hours on the queue before being attended to.

  It was gathered that not only are bank workers overstretched, the health implications of counting mutilated notes manually remain a concern. National President of the National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institution Employees (NUBIFIE), Anthony Abakpa, who said the situation, has not been brought to the union’s attention, called for compensation for the categories of staff, especially the bulk tellers and the notes counting officers at the end of the exercise.

 He called on employers and management of banks to ensure that workers’ safety were more paramount, by giving them all the necessary gadgets and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), like nose masks and hand gloves to protect their fingers from germs.

   Amid the confusion overheating the polity, a Professor of Law, Joshua Alobo, has approached the Federal High Court in Abuja, urging it to among others, restrain the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and its Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, from implementing the January 31 deadline.

The request form part of the reliefs being sought in a suit, marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/114/2023. Alobo also wants the court to issue a mandatory order, compelling CBN to extend the “duration where the old notes cease to become legal tender to period of three weeks when the redesign notes will be sufficiently dispensed by the commercial banks.”

Defendants in the suit are the CBN, Emefiele and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN). Alobo, who accused commercial banks of failing to make the new naira notes available to their customers, stated that as of January 25, he was still handed the old notes on the counter and through the Automatic Teller Machine (ATM).

He noted that already, major shopping malls within the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, have announced the rejection of old notes, with the ATM limiting daily withdrawal to N20,000.

Alobo contended that the terminal date of January 31 for usage of the old notes “is discriminatory against the rural dwellers, poor and less privileged persons in the society. That cashless policy of the CBN is innovative and a welcome development, but the rural dwellers that constitute bulk of the population do not have access to internet and banking facilities.

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has urged CBN to extend the deadline. NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, who stated this in Abuja, yesterday, also faulted the policy as one that was not properly thought through.

He argued that the newly redesigned notes are not widely circulated for the citizens to use, adding that CBN will throw many Nigerians, especially those in rural villages, into more hardship if it goes ahead to enforce the decision on the last day of January.

“We align ourselves fully with the position of the National Assembly because we go to the rural areas. We have workers in rural areas. We have many of our local government areas that don’t have banking facilities and some of those areas are even very hard to reach.

“So, we call for this policy to be reviewed and to give an extension so that all old notes can then be mopped up by the bank. We call on CBN, particularly in areas where you don’t have banks, don’t just go to one or two local governments as they did in Borno. Don’t select places and then tell the media that you are doing the right thing, you are doing the wrong thing.

“The new notes are not in circulation and the old notes are being rejected. They are pushing people to the wall and very soon people will react. Importantly, even in city centres, where we have banks, banks’ ATMs are not dispensing new notes.

“ CBN did not think through this policy very well. If it is targeting the rich, the rich are the owners of the banks, the rich are already spending dollars and the rich are spending other currencies. So CBN is targeting the rich, but punishing the poor.”

In the meantime, scarcity of the new notes is creating hardship for Nigerians, both in rural and urban centres. In Abuja, some workers lamented their inability to send money to their aged parents at home.

Ajibola Sunday said while he appreciates the need to prevent politicians from inducing voters financially, other collateral damages are creeping into the scenario.

“Yes, I understand what President Muhammadu Buhari is trying to do, going by his antecedents in 1984, but this is also affecting other segments of the society. For instance, my mother is finding it difficult to get new notes to buy necessities. Most people in my village now reject old notes even when new ones are not available. The CBN can stay in Abuja and speak all the grammar, the reality is that most Nigerians are not getting the new notes.”

Though the new notes are beginning to be available in a few ATMs, people are not allowed to withdraw more than N20,000 per day. Most Point of Sale (POS) operators around FCT have been off business as they decry the dearth of new notes.

Ebele Nwankwo, a POS operator in Central Business Area, said customers are rejecting the old notes. According to her, bank cashiers are still giving old notes to customers, insisting that are no new notes in the bank.

“Where are we supposed to get the new notes if not from the bank? This is why I am not open for business today,” she said.“I will go back to the bank tomorrow (Friday) to check if I will get new notes. I can’t risk withdrawing old notes that customers will reject from me.”

Investigation indicated that many PoS operators have hectic time convincing their customers to accept the old notes. Mr. Ojo Isaiah, a PoS operator, said he withdrew N400,000 from the bank but old notes were given to him. He vowed to wreak havoc if any bank refuses to accept the old notes from him on Monday to beat the deadline.

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