Nigerians, especially bank customers, were gripped with confusion and uncertainty over whether today’s deadline by the Central Bank of Nigeria for the phasing out of the old naira notes still remains or it has been suspended following the Supreme Court injunction obtained by some northern governors.
The Supreme Court had on Wednesday ruled that the deadline should be suspended pending the determination of the case brought before it by the governors of Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara States.
The court has fixed February 15 to entertain the case. However, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, in a response to the suit later on Wednesday, among other things, said the Supreme Court lacked jurisdiction on the matter.
However, on Thursday, a day before the deadline, commercial banks in the country and bank customers were thrown into confusion as to whether the old N1000, N500 and N200 would cease to be legal tender by Friday (today) or will retain the status pending when Supreme Court will look into the suit brought before it by the governors.
Several top bank executives, who spoke to The PUNCH on condition of anonymity, because they were not authorised to speak on the matter, said they could not tell whether the Friday deadline would be enforced.
They hinged their argument on the grounds that the CBN-the banking sector regulator-had yet to give directives to banks.
They also argued that the governors did not join banks in their suit.
When contacted, a top official of Access Bank, who would not want to be quoted said, “I cannot say yes or no. You know there is a court judgment so for now, there is a Supreme Court judgment and we have not received any further communication from the CBN on it.”
Another top source of Ecobank, while reacting to enquiries by The PUNCH said, “We don’t know what will happen yet. You know the deadline is Friday (today), so we will still collect old naira notes on Friday but after that, we don’t know what will happen.”
Furthermore, a top management official of Zenith Bank, who spoke to The PUNCH on condition of anonymity, said, “As it is now, Friday is the deadline but there is a Supreme Court judgment so, we don’t know what will happen. For now, there is no new circular from the CBN that there will be any extension.”
Also, an executive of Polaris Bank said the lender was awaiting communication from the CBN on the matter.
“As it is now, we don’t know whether Friday is the deadline for the phasing out of old notes or we need to wait till next week when the Supreme Court will sit on the matter,’” the official said.
Also speaking on the matter, a top executive of a tier-2 bank, said, “There has been no directive from the CBN on the matter, as to whether to stay with the February 10th deadline or not. As the situation is, new notes are not coming in from the CBN as they should.
“The banks only have a few old notes in their vaults which they can’t even pay out. Sadly, because of the paucity of new notes, some banks only load their ATMS once a day, instead of three to four times”.
POS operators cash-trapped
The development came as cash-strapped Point of Sale operators shut their businesses while several banks remained shut on Thursday.
Officials said Nigerians might face hard times over shortage of cash in the coming days as the situation worsened.
Some bankers claimed that the CBN had limited the volume of cash it distributed to banks.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the bankers revealed that the CBN could do more to alleviate the cash scarcity that Nigerians are facing.
One of the bankers, who spoke with our correspondent, said, “The CBN is hoarding supply to branches. They refused to release the new naira notes. Old lower denominations are what they are giving banks now but in low quantity.”
Another banker said, “Cash is limited. We know it’s all about financial inclusion but if people are unable to use their account for its original purpose and they want us to go all tech, there will be issues. Regarding cash supply, there’s more that CBN can do.”
Dismissing any notion of pressure, a banker said, “People are not moved by the CBN’s deadline. Unlike the last one when people were sure that if they deposited old notes, they would be able to get the new notes in a swap or N500m in old notes and get the same in the old notes. People are not moved. I haven’t seen anything to suggest people will comply but let’s see how tomorrow will be.”
Asked whether customers are bringing in their old naira notes ahead of the deadline, one of the bankers said, “No they are not. In fact, banks are begging customers to bring cash so they can have money to support cash activities.”
Another banker, who gave his name as Emese said, “The reactions have been mixed. There’s the Supreme Court ruling on the matter for instance.
“Customers are bringing in cash. The crowd isn’t that much but about 2 pm to 3 pm. today (Thursday), people started coming into the bank to deposit their cash.”
A banker in one of the leading banks added, “It is not what we expect but it is in line with the CBN cashless policy. It is not going to be a case of taking one trillion out of circulation and putting it back.”
The President, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, (retd.) had on Friday last week, asked Nigerians to give him seven days to resolve the naira crisis.
But Nigerians on Thursday faced hard times as the crisis persisted. Traders and business owners have said that they would consider keeping their money at home rather than using the banks even when the naira scarcity that has hit the country abates.
For weeks, Nigerians have queued at empty automated teller machines and banking halls have been filled with customers barely able to get the amount of cash that they need.
Speaking with our correspondent on Thursday, some traders across Lagos State expressed wariness with the banking system, while others said that they had no choice but to continue to use the banks.
For Mrs Fatima Oyebisi, who sells building materials at the Maza-Maza plank market, would not be banking her money immediately unless things return to normal.
She said, “I’m not keeping money in the bank again, even when things go back to normal. I will watch how things go.”
A shoe seller, Mr Emmanuel Osita, at the Trade fair market along the Lagos-Badagry Expressway, lamented the effects of the new naira policy on him. He said that he would be keeping his money at home.
Osita said, “We are already discouraged. My sister went to the bank from morning till about 3 pm yesterday (Wednesday), and she didn’t get any cash. It will be hard for people to carry cash, say, N300,000 or N500,000 to the bank. I will keep it at home.”
However, there were other traders who worried about the risk involved in keeping money at home.
Adaku Nkwor, who sells makeup items at the Trade Fair market, said that there was no way she would be carrying cash around.
For Wosilat Taiwo, who sells perishable food items at the market in Ketu, there is no way she would be taking her money to the bank again.
She claimed that her money wasn’t that much that she would be taking to the bank anyways.
Meanwhile, the World Bank in a report released in 2022 said that the population of unbanked Nigerians had jumped to 45 per cent in 2021.
The report titled, ‘The Global Findex Database 2021: Financial Inclusion, Digital Payments, and Resilience in the Age of COVID-19’ said that about 64m of Nigeria’s nearly 200m population still do not have an account with a financial institution or mobile money platform.
The report included Nigeria in the list of seven countries with a high unbanked population. The other countries are Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, and Pakistan.
Speaking with our correspondent, an inclusion consultant, David Owumi of the Salt House—Institute for Inclusive Governance and Sustainable Development, expressed worry about the effects of the naira scarcity on the Central Bank of Nigeria’s drive for financial inclusion.
He said, “The scarcity of money has a tremendous impact on individuals and businesses. These experiences will mutate our economic approach and definition of financial institutions. Nigerians will seek better strategies and platforms to optimise control over their monies.”
As the CBN policy deadline takes effect today, our correspondent observed that major banks within the Redemption Camp vicinity did not open for business.
A GTbank customer, Frank Boku, said residents were not bothered about the deadline.
Also, an Access Bank customer, Bolanle Lukman said, “I am managing the cash I have at the moment, I don’t care anymore. Thank God I have been able to get the new notes. I know that the deadline will still be extended.”
A UBA customer, Fatima Jaiye, said she was fed up with the system.
Our correspondent observed that the Fidelity Bank along the Palm grove area of Lagos State closed by 2 pm on Thursday. Also, several ATMs were not functioning.
An accountant, Nike Olusanya, noted that the GTB and Wema Bank located at the Ago-Iwoye axis of Ogun State had to shut down due to the influx of people for fear of rioting.
A Point of Sale operator, who doesn’t want her name on print, said she was gradually going out of business as she does not have cash to operate with.
In the Federal Capital Territory, anxious Nigerians were not taking chances as they stormed the banks on Thursday to deposit their old notes.
Our correspondents who visited banking halls and ATM stands observed an increase in the number of people depositing old naira notes at Guaranty Trust Bank in the Central Business Area, First Bank in the Jabi area and United Bank of Africa at NICON Luxury Hotel.
The same situation was noticed at some banks at Garki, Area 3 including Access Bank, Keystone Bank and Eco bank.
But some banks appeared to be out of the new currencies as the cashiers were seen paying out N50 naira denomination.
Many ATMs in the city centre were out of service as the usual large crowds were absent.
However, at the First bank ATM, people were seen hanging around hoping the bank would load cash into the ATMs.
Amid the naira scarcity crisis, the Association of Mobile Money and Bank Agents in Nigeria had said it would not shut down.
Supermarkets, fuel stations
In an interview with The PUNCH, the Chairman of, the Association of Mobile Money and Bank Agents in Nigeria, Osaro Ekhator, stated, “The issue is not peculiar to point of sale agents alone, however, some of the agents are able to source funds from unconventional sources like going to the filling station, and supermarkets, among others.”
As the uncertainty over the CBN policy persists, the apex bank on Thursday admitted that the ongoing scarcity associated with the naira redesign and cash withdrawal policy was not anticipated.
A Deputy Governor of the bank in charge of operations, Folashodun Shonubi, made the admission at the 22nd fellowship conferment lecture and ceremony organised by the Nigerian Society of Engineers in Abuja.
The lecture was titled, ‘The intricacies of the naira redesign and its benefit to Nigerians.’
He explained that contrary to public opinion, the redesign plan which has been in the works for two years was not to punish anyone but to improve the economy.
The deputy governor, while stating that challenges faced were caused by a new line of business created by indigenous Nigerians, revealed that numerous benefits have been achieved which include retrieval of N2tn to the banking system.
He said, “As you know, Nigerians are very ingenious. And we created a whole new line of business for people that we never envisaged.
“An aspect of that is queuing, where you sell your position on the queue for money. Night crawling, where you wait till night, collect numerous cards from your friends and family and go to an ATM and empty them using different cards and then take the cash to sell.
“So it’s been a bit stressful to be honest because we did not anticipate this kind of behaviour.”
Shonubi further pleaded for noting that the necessary challenges will soon be of the past, adding that the apex will allow within its powers to salvage the current situation.
Efforts to get a response from the CBN through its Director of Corporate Communications, Osita Nwanisobi, were futile, as he never responded to the WhatsApp messages sent to him on Thursday.
However, a top official of the CBN who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, said the apex bank had yet to communicate to commercial banks on the matter as of Friday.
He said the CBN’s position on the matter would be made known in due course. The official said, “For now, the CBN has no position on it. We have not also given any directives to the banks on it. The bank will make its position known on the matter in due course.
The presidential spokesman, Shehu Garba, did not respond to inquiries on the deadline.
FG to comply
But the AGF on Thursday said the said the Federal Government would comply with the apex court ruling.
Speaking on Arise TV on Thursday night, he said, “There is no doubt about the fact that the ruling of the Supreme Court, regardless of the prevailing circumstances, is binding, and then within the context of the rule of law, you can equally take steps that are available to you within the context of the spirit and circumstances of the rule of law.”
He said that the government was challenging the order because it was not satisfied with it.
He added, “It is all about the rule of law. The rule of law provides that there has to be obedience to the judgment and orders of the Supreme Court. We will operate in obedience. The rule of law provides that when you’re now not happy with a ruling, you can now file an application among others, for setting aside, and in compliance with the rights and privileges vested in us as a government, we are equally looking at it from the perspectives of challenging the order and seeking for it to be set aside.”
“So, it is all about the rule of law, rule of law relating to obedience and compliance, rule of law relating to filing an application seeking for the judgment or orders to be set aside. We are operating within the context of the rule of law.”
Although the AGF said the Federal Government would comply with the apex court ruling, banks on Thursday said they had yet to receive any directive from the CBN.
In a related development, the Edo State Government has distanced itself from the comments and moves by the Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai and some other governors against the currency swap policy.
In a statement by Special Adviser to the Edo State Governor on Media Projects, Crusoe Osagie, the state government said the Kaduna State governor does not speak for Edo State and urged “guided utterances and inferences in such critical matters, especially in the heat of the political season.”
But Governor Bello Mattawalle of Zamfara State described the bad comments trailing the decision of the apex court as mere political vendetta.
Matawalle who spoke through his Special Adviser on Media, Zailani Bappa said he was fully convinced that those against their action and subsequent triumph at the Supreme Court were either misguided or blinded by political chauvinism.
Matawalle said, “I and my Kaduna and Kogi states counterparts found it necessary to approach the Supreme Court in order to save the economy of Nigeria from being plunged into more crisis”.
“Our action will also relieve the excruciating pain the ordinary Nigerian is experiencing in the face of scarcity of both the old and new naira notes.”
Meanwhile, the National Vice Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (North-West), Malam Salihu Lukman, has expressed concerns about the naira swap policy, noting over 300 out of 774 local governments, especially in the North, have no banks.