Opposition to the CBN Naira redesign policy, and by extension, the implementation of the cash-less policy, reached an abominable crescendo on Wednesday, February 8, 2023, when the Supreme Court temporarily halted the currency swap, and the execution of the February 10 and 17 deadlines set by the CBN for every old banknote of N200, N500, and N1,000 to be turned in as they would cease to be legal tender thereafter.
Three State Governments from the North, Kogi, Kaduna and Zamfara, had approached the court in a motion ex-parte filed on February 3, 2023, praying the apex court to halt the CBN Naira redesign policy. A seven-man panel of the court led by Justice John Okoro unanimously restrained the Federal Government, the Central Bank of Nigeria, commercial banks et al from implementing the February 10 deadline for the old N200, N500, and N1,000 notes to stop being a legal tender. The court also ordered the FGN, CBN, and commercial banks to cease further implementation of the deadline pending the determination of a notice in respect of the issue on February 15th.
The CBN as we all know started its cash-less policy in 2012. It has been a phased implementation as part of its financial inclusion strategy policy to a cash-less economy during past administrations. Surprisingly however, the implementation has been somehow stunted, not deliberately by the CBN, but by the antics of exogenous entrenched powers. Their unsubstantiated argument had been that, the policy, considering the high level of illiteracy, highly informalized economic sector, and epileptic communication network to drive the expected volumes of transactions would further impoverish Nigerians and create unemployment, not only in the financial value chain, but the economy at large.
The beating of the drum for this macabre dance started quite early by those who felt the Naira redesign was targeted at them. However, the unsuspecting masses failed to see through their game plan. The political elites and their cohort public sector, enmeshed in corruption, and averse to transparency in government business, are the ones in arms against the CBN policy. Corruption has remained the bane of Nigeria’s socio-economic development.
When a presidential candidate of a political party first cried foul among other candidates that, Naira redesign policy, was targeted at him, people were shocked, and wondered how. Since then, it was obvious that political vultures were out to feast. The said candidate has a baggage on his neck yet to be offloaded. He has been unable to explain to Nigerians how a ‘strayed bullion van’ that entered his gated house on the eve of the 2019 presidential election is yet to be seen driving out. No doubt, he, and his political hangers-on may have perfected a repeat of that episode as he is now a contender. He is notorious for his mastery in vote buying and electoral manipulation. The parochial politician sees Emefiele’s CBN Naira redesign and swap arrangement as a ploy to stop him in his track to achieving his life-long ambition. He has been vociferous in his opposition.
His goons are out, ready to mow down like a moving train anyone that stands in their way. CBN’s Naira redesign policy may likely be their first casualty, except the apex court yields to public opinion. Nigerians are wholeheartedly in support of the policy. The petrification of this ambition is the reason for the attack to frustrate Emefiele, and the CBN.
The new Naira policy was an action taken to redress arbitrariness in the financial system. The CBN Governor while announcing the birth of the policy told Nigerians that 85 percent of the N3.2trn in circulation were outside the vaults of banks. They are either hoarded in private houses overhead water tanks or underground vaults, or in the hands of the bandits. Thus, the decision was to arrest the increasing risk of currency counterfeiting evidenced by several security reports, and the increased risk to financial stability, as well as the worsening shortage of clean and fit currency, with the attendant negative perception of the CBN.
Emefiele had said “as of September 2022, a total of N3.2trn was in circulation, of which N2.73trn was outside the vaults of the banks, describing the development as unacceptable as the act has the potential to harm monetary policy decisions, thus leading to higher inflation and currency speculation, thereby exposing vulnerable Nigerians to severe economic hardship.
The timing of the policy, being an election year, may have been misconstrued by certain politicians as a policy weapon fashioned to frustrate or derail their electoral fortunes, refusing to live above primordial assumptions to understand that the policy was in the best interest of Nigerians, and the economy. If Emefiele’s sin was the promulgation of a policy to address insecurity in the country, a menace that has impede socio-economic well-being of Nigerians, and corruption, a pastime of the elite, it is obvious that our leaders are not willing to free Nigeria from their clutches. The ‘owners’ of Nigeria are at it again. The hawks and the vultures have regrouped reminiscence of 1993 electoral debacle, veiling their obnoxious intent with the CBN redesign banknotes to achieve their evil agenda. Reading in-between their machination, the CBN Governor has said “no one can use the Bank and its policies to scuttle the 2023 general elections.”
The gains are countless. The economy stands to gain tremendously from the policy, among which are job creation, reduction in the amount of cash outside the vaults of banks, checkmating racketeers, obliterate rent-seeking, and money laundering. It also offers traceability of financial transactions, aside other multidimensional benefits of the policy which the antagonists are impatient and scared to see. Experience from other jurisdictions shows that currency redesign supports regulatory reform, increased legislative reach, and coordinated fiscal and structural policies.
But as the vultures have gathered, some of them are owners, and shareholders/investors in some of the banks being used as vehicle of sabotage, and create a state of anarchy in the country, by hoarding the new banknotes given for disbursement to their customers through the Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) and across the counter. The banks refused to make the new notes available despite records from the CBN that they were adequately, and sufficiently supplied to give to the banking public.
Regrettably, as the CBN was increasing the quantity of notes it supplies to the commercial banks for onward circulation to the public, the scarcity of old and new notes escalated. New notes were hawked on the streets, and sprayed at parties, but the ATMs were dry. There was frustration and anger. Nigerians were neither able to get money from the banks nor able to swap their old notes with the new. Procuring Naira from legitimate sources became hellish. The ugly situation calls to question the supposed role of the banks in the supply chain, and as a financial mediator.
This situation prompted the CBN to deploy its staff in collaboration with the anti-crime agencies, EFCC and ICPC, to all the crannies of the country to stem the frustration being experienced by the people and make the banks who had been hoarding the notes to dispense them. Many were caught in the act, and to avoid the escalation of peoples’ anger many of them shutdown their premises to the public. A convoluted crisis.
No doubt, the antagonists knew they had the CBN by the balls, and satisfied with their orchestrated commotion, approached the apex court, and secured an injunction, halting the process. Regrettably, the CBN was not summoned as a party to the suit to defend itself. Where lies the independence of the Central Bank of Nigeria, vested legitimately by the constitution, and the CBN Act of 2007 to redesign and print the currency at intervals in the Supreme Court’s injunction? Nigeria last change her currency about 20 years ago.
The brazen, uncooperative attitude, and collusion of the banks with some vested politicians in the country, thus flouting the guidelines, is nothing but treason. Violence witnessed in Lagos, Ibadan, Ogun, Ondo States and Delta States were engineered to pave way for their planned criminal intention, vote rigging, vote buying, and voter inducement. A temporary brake on CBN, but they will not succeed.
The CBN, ICPC, and the EFCC must therefore prosecute those bank officials apprehended for hoarding and failing to load their ATMs nor give the public new notes as a deterrent. The banks must also be sanctioned heavily for sabotage. Failure to do so may be viewed as a concocted conspiracy by the elites against the poor masses of Nigeria.
Chisom Adindu writes from Aba