Naira crisis may disrupt poll
Barely 16 days to the general election, there are strong indications that the new naira notes scarcity may disrupt the exercise.
The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Mahmood Yakubu, said this during a meeting with the Central Bank Governor, Godwin Emefiele at the CBN headquarters, Abuja, on Tuesday.
He explained that many service providers to INEC had no bank accounts.
He, therefore, solicited the support of the apex bank to address the concern related to the CBN cash withdrawal policy which had caused chaos across the country.
The apex bank had last year pegged weekly cash withdrawal limits set for individuals and corporate organisations to N500,000 and N5 million, respectively.
It also introduced the currency redesign policy which involves the issuance of new N1000, N500 and N200 notes last December.
But explaining his concern to the CBN chief, Yakubu said the service providers needed to be paid fully or partly, adding that there were fears about the withdrawal limits.
He said, “The Nigerian election is a huge and complex one. It requires the engagement of critical services and in line with the provisions of the exchange laws and regulations, service providers are generally paid by means of electronic transfer to their accounts.
‘’However, there are crucial areas such as transportation and human support services that have to be immediately enumerated, either partially or in full because services are rendered.
“In addition, emergency situations may arise requiring immediate cash payments. Some of the critical service providers are unbanked. Over the years we have worked with the Central Bank of Nigeria and commercial banks to pay for such services seamlessly during general elections, as well as off-cycle and by-elections.
‘’Over the years, the commission has migrated all its accounts at national and state levels to CBN and this arrangement has worked without hindrances to our activities.
“In view of the recent policy involving the redesigning of some denominations of our currencies and the limit on cash withdrawals and availability, we consider this meeting important in addressing some of our areas of concern with just 17 days to the 2023 general elections.
‘’We are confident that an aspect of this meeting will reduce the anxiety expressed by some of our service providers. We are determined to make the 2023 general election one of the best elections in Nigeria but we cannot do it alone. That is why the commission is mobilising every critical national institution for the success of the election.”
CBN allays fears
The CBN governor assured that cash would be made available for payment of the service providers and added that the apex bank would not allow itself to be used to frustrate the efforts of the electoral body.
Emefiele promised that the apex bank would do everything possible to support the 2023 election, stressing that it has never failed Nigerians.
He stated, “Now, just aside from the issue of storage of election materials and together with transportation of these election materials from CBN locations to your own specific or designated locations; where do you want these materials to be?
‘’I know that just a few months ago, I visited your office and you raised the issue of how foreign exchange can be procured for you to import your BVAS and other election materials that need to be imported. And I give you my word that foreign exchange will be provided for that purpose.
“I stand here or I sit here to confirm that today, not $1 is owed. All the dollars that are needed to import those items have been provided and those items have been imported.
“So, it is all part of our commitment. Now this issue of payment and logistics for people who are going to be transporting election materials, even to visit wards; the assurance I give to you is that because we regarded the INEC project as a topmost or urgent national assignment, it cannot fail and the central bank would not allow itself either to be used or itself to be seen as an agent that frustrated a positive outcome of that election.’’
Emefiele said the CBN would provide the cash support with the electoral body needed to prosecute the poll.
‘’It is not just about cash and you have done electric electronic payments before and if in this case after making your electronic payments, you require some money to pay transporters, in this case, cash; the assurance I give to you is that we will make it available so it is nothing to worry about,’’ he said.
NSA on security
Meanwhile, the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, has assured Nigerians of a secured voting atmosphere, saying the security personnel were well prepared ahead of the poll.
Speaking while hosting the INEC chairman on Tuesday, the NSA noted, “We had several meetings with the chairman of INEC, the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security, which I co-chair. We know what we have done. We are sure of what we have on the ground.
“All of us here who are the managers of security in the electoral process know what we are doing. We are not in any way in doubt but we need to let the entire country know that agents of bad news are peddling all kinds of stories we see on social media. If these are intended to scare people, I want to dispel such illusions.
“Everybody that is concerned in carrying out his legitimate undertaking, casting his or her vote will do so in a secure atmosphere. It’s very important that Nigerians are not pushed to the limit where they will abandon their number one responsibility as citizens. All security agencies are up to the task.’’
On his part, the INEC chairman said the commission was confident that the recent security actions would further reassure voters, its officials, service providers and stakeholders of their safety during the election.
Yakubu appreciated the security assurances from the NSA and other security chiefs.
“We are aware that additional security has been deployed in our facilities nationwide. We also note the increasing tempo of activities in many troubled spots nationwide.
“We are confident that these actions will further reassure voters, our personnel, service providers, and stakeholders of their safety during elections and a free, fair and peaceful process. We look forward to a comprehensive plan for the deployment of security personnel,” he noted.
Buhari, govs’ meeting
Also, a meeting between the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), state governors, Emefiele and other officials, meant to discuss the disastrous new naira policy of the CBN was cancelled on Tuesday.
The development, it was gathered, followed the two separate lawsuits filed by three governors and five political parties, which have stalled Buhari’s intervention.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, confirmed to The PUNCH on Tuesday that the meeting was “put down” due to the legal battles surrounding the policy.
Governors Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna, Yahaya Bello (Kogi) and Bello Matawalle (Zamfara) on Monday dragged the Federal Government and the CBN before the Supreme Court, seeking a halt to the full implementation of the naira redesign policy.
The applicants in the suit were the Attorneys-General and Commissioners of Justice of Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara three states, while the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, was the sole respondent in the matter.
In furtherance of their support for the currency redesign initiative, four parties obtained an order from the Federal Capital Territory High Court restraining the FG, CBN Governor Godwin Emefiele, CBN and 27 commercial banks from halting the policy or extending the February 10 deadline handed down by the apex bank.
The order was handed down on Monday by Justice Eleojo Enenche following an application by the five applicants.
Also on Monday, 14 political parties threatened to boycott the February 25 election, should the CBN extend the time limit.
Speaking on behalf of the parties at a news conference in Abuja, the spokesperson for the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties Chairmen, Kenneth Udeze, warned that the parties would pull out of the election if the apex bank bows to pressure and suspend the policy.
But explaining why the planned meeting between the governors and the President was shelved, Shehu said, “According to the programme, he was to meet the Nigeria Governors Forum in attendance with the CBN Governor, the IG of Police, EFCC and so on.
“Because of the legal matters in court over the naira redesign, that meeting was put down and a smaller meeting was convened with the Chairmen of the NGF and the Progressives Governors Forum. So, they were called into a private meeting.”
Despite the cancellation, Buhari met privately with the Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State, Chairman of the Progressives Governors’ Forum, Governor Abubakar Bagudu of Kebbi State; the CBN governor, Emiefele, the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, AbdulRasheed Bawa, Director-General of the Department of State Services, Yusuf Bichi, Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba and the Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor.
However, the Presidential spokesman did not disclose the details of the meeting.
Asked whether any policy changes were discussed, the CBN governor declined to answer but instead shielded his face from correspondents.
The PUNCH reports that the scarcity of naira had not eased despite promises by the apex bank that it had taken some measures to address the challenge which had worsened the hardship in the country.
Several banking halls and ATM points were daily besieged by citizens desperate for cash.
After a meeting with APC governors last Friday, Buhari appealed to Nigerians to give him seven days to resolve the crisis.
The seven-day window ends on February 10.
But the Federal Government lambasted the opposition political parties that went to court to restrain the President from addressing the new naira debacle.
It also accused the parties of politicising the situation, stressing that they were not mindful of the plights of Nigerians due to the cash crunch.
Speaking at the 23rd edition of the PMB Administration Scorecard Series (2015-2023), which featured the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development in Abuja, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, said the action of the parties was unscrupulous.
He said, “Recall that after his meeting with progressives’ governors on Friday, President Buhari urged citizens to give him a seven-day window to resolve the currency crunch that has emanated from the implementation of the naira redesign policy.
“Unfortunately, on Monday, some opposition political parties ran to court to obtain an injunction restraining Mr President and the CBN from extending the February 10 deadline for Nigerians to exchange their old notes for new ones.”
Mohammed said the court action came after a number of opposition parties threatened to boycott the 2023 general elections if the deadline was extended.
He added, “These curious actions by the parties concerned is clear evidence that the opposition has turned this whole issue into a political game, preferring to make Nigerians suffer more on the altar of unconscionable political gamesmanship.
“Or how else can one explain the fact that these unscrupulous opposition parties do not want any action that could reduce the pains being experienced by Nigerians?
“How else can one explain the fact that they have decided to legally hamstring Mr President, in particular, from providing any relief for Nigerians suffering from the cash crunch?”
Mohammed argued that it was bad politics to put the interest of desperate political parties over and above that of Nigerians.
He, however, stated that despite the antics of the opposition, the government was willing and able to take decisive steps to bring succour to Nigerians in the shortest possible time.
The minister further said the Federal Government was mindful of the inconveniences being endured by citizens as a result of the fuel supply disruptions and the recent redesigning of some naira notes.
“Government is working assiduously to restore normalcy to these critical enablers of economic activity and to take added measures, where necessary, to alleviate the pains of Nigerians,” the minister assured.
In the meantime, the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Bola Tinubu, has again appealed to Nigerians to remain calm and allow the FG to proffer solutions to the naira and fuel issues.
Addressing journalists in Abuja on Tuesday, Tinubu sympathised with Nigerians, especially the downtrodden, whom he said have been made to bear the brunt of the policy.
He commended the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited for the fuel supply relief being enjoyed in the FCT and urged the company to bring relief to other parts of the country.
He also admonished the CBN not to be dogmatic in the deadline it has fixed for the transition from old notes to the new currency.
He said, “This is a challenging period in the life of our country when our people are made to stay on the line for hours to get fuel and even get their own money from the banks.’’