Tuesday, 30th May 2023
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Confusion As CBN, Banks Issue Conflicting Directives

By Gbenga Salau, Eniola Daniel (Lagos), Ann Godwin (Port Harcourt), Saxone Akhaine,  Abdulganiyu Alabi (Kaduna), Samson Kukwa-Yanor (Makurdi), Murtala Adewale, Ahmad Muhammad (Kano) and Charles Coffie Gyamfi (Abeokuta)
18 February 2023   |   4:38 am
Nigeria’s banking public was yesterday thrown into confusion following a directive by commercial banks that their customers could deposit the old N1000 and N500 notes with them and a rebuttal by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) that the information was fake and unauthorised.

CASH CRUNCH: Mammoth crowd at the CBN office in Lagos… yesterday

• Sanwo-Olu Appeals For Calm As Lagosians Protest
• Hoodlums Hijack Protests In Rivers, Rob Residents
• Traders, Motorists Defy El-Rufai’s Order To Accept Old Notes
• Ganduje Laments As Pregnant Woman Dies In Kano Hospital Over Failure To Access New Notes
• Anti-graft Agencies Clampdown On Shylock POS Operators In Benue

Nigeria’s banking public was yesterday thrown into confusion following a directive by commercial banks that their customers could deposit the old N1000 and N500 notes with them and a rebuttal by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) that the information was fake and unauthorised.

Sources in the commercial banks confirmed to The Guardian that the apex bank had ordered money deposit banks to commence the acceptance of the old N1000 and N500 notes from customers upon the presentation of the print out of a form and code generated from a portal opened by the CBN.

“The maximum that we can receive from a customer between now and 10th of April is N500,000 and the customer can only deposit once within this period,” the source said.

An official email issued by one of the commercial banks to its customers yesterday morning also read: “Dear Valued Customer, This is to inform you that our branches shall receive old notes up to a maximum of N500,000 after registration on the CBN portal.

“Please note that deposits more than N500,000 should be taken to the nearest CBN location.

“In addition, our branches will be open tomorrow, Saturday 18 February 2023 to receive old notes. Thank you.”

However, the Director, Corporate Communications Department of the CBN, Osita Nwanisobi, in a terse press release in the evening, denied that the apex bank gave such authorisation to commercial banks and asked members of the public to disregard it.

“The attention of the Central Bank of Nigeria has been drawn to some fake and unauthorised messages quoting the CBN as having authorised the Deposit Money Banks to collect the old N500 and N1,000 Banknotes. For the avoidance of doubt, and in line with Mr. President’s broadcast of February 16, 2023, the CBN has been directed to ONLY reissue and recirculate the old N200 banknotes and this is expected to circulate as legal tender for 60 days up to April 10, 2023. Members of the public should therefore disregard any message and/or information not formally released by the Central Bank of Nigeria on this subject.

“Media practitioners are advised to please verify any information from the correct sources before publication,” Nwanisobi said.

This was as protests against the apex bank’s cash swap policy spread across the country yesterday, over people’s inability to access their funds from commercial banks or deposit the old notes at CBN offices across the country.

In Lagos, it took a quick intervention of the State Police Command to douse the tension in Ojota and Okekoto areas. Protesters had gathered in the areas as early as 6:30a.m, preventing motorists from plying the routes. The protest was said to have been staged due to scarcity of new naira notes and President Buhari’s last Thursday’s broadcast putting a stop to the use of the N500 and N1,000 old notes.
Motorists and residents who were on their way to different places of work hurriedly turned back in panic, as the rioters went berserk with bonfire set across the road. Vehicles coming from Ikorodu axis of the state were seen turning back at Mile 12 Bridge for safety.
In other areas, the protesters were seen in clusters burning tyres on the highway, while others were armed with clubs. It was learnt that the crisis in Agege area was a fight that broke out when a food vendor rejected the old naira notes after a customer had finished eating.

However, the State Police Command said the cause of the protest in Ojota area was unknown, but added that it had to immediately send men of the Command to the troubled areas. It was gathered that the protest did not last because it failed to get popular support.
When The Guardian reached out to the Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Benjamin Hundeyin, a Superintendent of Police, he said the cause of the protest was unknown but that the police had restored order and people had started going about their normal businesses.

A trader in Mile 12 yam market, Femi Owa said: “There was a little trouble in the morning, but we are fine now. Everything is going well.” Reacting to the protest, Lagos State government noted that the protesters were angry over the naira redesign and its consequent scarcity that has caused so much hardship and confusion among residents.

A statement by the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotoso, said that Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu believed there should be no need for violence, as the Supreme Court is looking into the controversial matter and would make its position known on February 22.  
“Lagos State has since joined the legal dispute – all in the interest of our people – in the belief that the highest court in the land has the capacity to adjudicate on the matter. The fuel situation is easing following some steps taken by the government.  

“The government praises Lagosians for showing understanding, despite the pains that the Federal Government’s measures have brought. Residents should continue to be law-abiding by shunning any form of incitement by mischief-makers. Mr. Governor is working with his colleagues to ensure that this hardship does not go on,” Omotoso said.

In Kaduna State, traders, transporters and other business owners jettisoned the directive by the Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai for the acceptance of old N1000 and N500 notes as legal tender, as they collected only the new N1000, N500 and old N200 notes.

Those who spoke with The Guardian said they could only obey the directive of president Muhammadu Buhari and the CBN on the policy of naira redesign in the country.

A trader at the Kaduna Central Market, located in the metropolis, Mallam Ibrahim Abdul said: “See, we don’t collect old N1000 and N500 naira. Go to another place nobody will collect it. We can only collect N200. We cannot depend on Governor El-Rufai, because some of us travel to buy our goods from other states and we cannot spend the old notes there. We can only obey President Buhari and CBN on this matter of new and old naira notes.”

In Port Harcourt, some women, physically challenged beggars, yesterday barricaded the ever-busy Mbiama axis of East Road in Ahoada West local council of Rivers State in protest against the scarcity of the new naira notes and the consequential hardship it has brought on them.

The angry protesters blocked the road from the Mbiama boundary between Rivers and Bayelsa State, causing severe gridlock that crippled commercial activities in the area.

The Guardian gathered that some hoodlums swiftly hijacked the protest and started attacking and robbing road users. There were also protests in Ikwere Road axis in Port Harcourt against the naira swap policy.

The affected areas included Ikoku, Emenike and Education Junctions, Mile 2 and Mile 3 Diobu. Hoodlums were said to have also hijacked the protest, destroying valuables and robbing residents.

Checks by The Guardian showed a tensed atmosphere, as residents wore hard faces following their inability to access their monies in the bank and also to make fund transfers. Angry youths were said to have torched some banks in Rumokoro and Ikwere Road.

An eyewitness, John Amadi said: “Just few minutes ago, at bout 9.00a.m, I was inside the house when my wife called me at Ikoku. I came out and saw people running and scampering for safety.

“Boys were chasing people. I don’t know who they are. There was no police presence. Those boys were looting people; a lot of people fell victims. They were robbing people collecting handsets. They were shouting about the scarcity of new naira notes.” One of the victims, who were robbed during the rampage, narrated her ordeal to our reporter.

“My name is Favour. During the protest, a group of guys came to our driver when he was trying to reverse at Ikoku Junction. They swooped on him, broke his windscreen and started beating him up. On my way to alight from the vehicle, one the guys held me and stabbed my hand; dragged my phone and my wallet and ran. As he was going, the Diobu Vigilante caught him and recovered my phone. They arrested him.”

It was gathered that the suspect was handed over to the Nkpolu Divisional Police headquarters at Mile 3, Diobu, for further investigations. The Police Public Relations Officer in the state, Grace Iringe-Koko, who confirmed the incident, said tactical teams were on ground and normalcy had been restored, adding that she went out herself to see situation.

In Kano State, a 32-year-old woman, Shema’u Sami Labaran, allegedly died in her nine months pregnancy at Abdullahi Wase Specialist Hospital, Kano, owing to the failure of her relatives to make medical bills with new naira notes.

Before Shema’u had her last breath in the pool of her own blood, the mother of three was left in pains for more than eight hours without attention from medical personnel on duty.

Narrating the unfortunate incident that led to his wife’s death, the 42-year old husband of the victim, Bello Ali Baffa, told The Guardian that Shema’u bled to death while he was struggling to settle medical bills at the pharmacy through transfer.

Baffa revealed how he spent hours waiting for the cashier to confirm payment alert of N8,528 for drugs, because the hospital refused to collect old naira notes.  

The bereaved husband lamented that the medical personnel insisted that they would not attend to his late wife until he must have made the necessary payments and provided evidence of the payments.

His words: “I brought my wife to Abdullahi Wase Specialist Hospital for delivery, because she was already nine months pregnant. We were told to open file. We did that and then a doctor prescribed drug for us and they asked me to go and get it. The total amount is N8,300.

“On getting to the pharmacy, a far distance from the ward, I brought out the money only to be informed that they were old notes and that the hospital was no longer collecting old notes. I was directed to another place to make transfer. At the cashier’s place, I brought out my ATM card but the man told me there is no POS machine, I could only make a transfer and pay a charge of N200. I complied because my wife was already in labour. 

“After I did the transfer, it took me another 40 minutes before alert was confirmed and I was issued the payment receipt. I quickly rushed to the pharmacy to collect the drug and returned to the ward. On getting to the ward, I was told there was no bed space. We waited for another hour before they secured a bed space without mattress for her. 

“We accepted it so that they could attend to her. When the doctor came, he told me that my wife has lost much blood and therefore needed fresh blood. I had to rush out to call my relatives. Luckily, I got three of them; they came and donated blood. Sooner, the doctor asked me to go and get blood bags. I returned to the pharmacy, but unfortunately they didn’t have. Again, I went out of the hospital to buy that.”

Baffa alleged that the hospital subsequently requested N4,000 for blood service after he had brought his own relatives to donate blood.

“I was told I had to pay additional N4,000 for blood service. I quickly rushed out to the payment point. After I made the payment, I begged them to print out the receipt because of my wife’s condition, which they accepted. I rushed to the ward again and it was at that moment that my wife was taken to the labour room,” he added.

Baffa said the doctor later came out of the labour room about 3.00a.m to break the bad news that “my wife and unborn baby could not make it”. When contacted, the spokesperson of the hospital’s Board, Ibrahim Abdullahi, confirmed the incident, stressing that management has lunched investigation into the matter. He noted that the Chief Medical Director (CMD) would brief journalists as soon as the investigation is concluded.

The Kano State government had issued a directive against rejection of the old naira notes and threatened to sanction any outlet that violated the instructions. 

The state government, yesterday, described the suffering Nigerians were passing through as a result of the naira swap policy as most unfortunate. It accused the CBN of seeking to cripple the economy of the state by refusing to release new naira notes to commercial banks operating in the state in the last four days.

The Commissioner for Information and Internal Affairs, Malam Muhammad Garba, who made the assertion in a statement, revealed that since last Monday, commercial banks in the state got zero allocation from the apex bank.

He said the prejudiced approach by the CBN Governor, Gowin Emefiele, in the implementation of the policy, no matter the intentions, seems to be targeting Kano and its economy, given the daily volume of trade in the North’s commercial nerve centre, by starving commercial banks of money supposed to be allocated to them.

Garba pointed out that the CBN as an organ of the Federal Government has, from all indications, been reduced to a tool to settle political scores by choosing a wrong time to force a policy on the people that could have been implemented at the appropriate time in the past.

The commissioner noted that the general populace in the state has been subjected to unnecessary hardship by depriving them access to their hard earned money, ostensibly to precipitate civil unrest that could lead to the postponement of the most awaited general election scheduled for Saturday.

He, however, said the people of Kano, who are known for their peace-loving posture even in the face of provocation, have endured the hardship, calling on them to not only continue with the spirit, but also come out en mass to exercise their franchise.

Garba also assured residents that the administration of Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje identifies with them at this trying period and would do whatever it takes to see to the resolution of the present situation.

On his part, the Ogun State governor, Dapo Abiodun, yesterday called on residents of the state to continue spending the old naira notes, saying that it is only the Supreme Court that has the final say in the matter. 

Abiodun, who made the call in Abeokuta during an engagement with the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), said the Supreme Court has made a pronouncement that the status quo should remain, hence the need for the people to continue with the old notes.

“There is a court order from the Supreme Court, the highest court in our land that says status quo should be maintained on the matter of this new naira. So, I appeal to you not to be violent, but go ahead and spend the old naira notes.

“I want to apologise for the level of hardship that all of us are facing at this point in time in this country. I want you to know that I as your governor, I have no hand in it, neither do any of our colleagues have any part to play in this,” he said.

The governor maintained that though the redesigning of the naira is the obligation of the CBN, its implementation was not well outlined to ensure that the people get value for their money paid back into the banks.

While noting that the cashless policy and a redesigning policy are two separate exclusive policies that are not meant to be implemented together, he said that state governors were doing their best to bring the situation under control.

“As good and laudable as the policy is, we are shocked at its implementation. Why should we want to redesign the naira, which of course is the right of the CBN, and then turn it into a sort of cash confiscation policy?

“When you want to redesign the naira, you have an obligation to ensure that every naira that is taken, you give the same value back, that becomes your obligation because it is your choice to redesign the naira.

“Nobody says you cannot have a cashless policy, but a cashless policy and a redesign policy are two separate exclusive policies that are not meant to be implemented together,” Abiodun argued.
He reiterated his earlier warning to close down and revoke the Certificate of Occupancy (CofO) of commercial outfits that reject the old note.

“If I catch any merchant, super market or filling station in Ogun State that is not accepting the old naira notes until the determination of the suit before the Supreme Court, I will close that shop and revoke their certificates of occupancy,” he said.

Meanwhile, following the directive by the CBN that Point of Sale (POS) operators should not charge customers beyond N200 for withdrawals, operatives of anti-grant agencies began clamping down on defaulters in Makurdi, the Benue State capital, yesterday.

The team, which comprised CBN staff, Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offenses Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) operatives, moved around Makurdi metropolis to apprehend POS operators taking undue advantage of the people. Mr. Harry Agbo, a Deputy Director of the apex bank, led the enforcers who were divided into two groups. By the end of the day, four defaulting operators were apprehended in different parts of the town and handed over to the police for prosecution.