Thursday, 30th March 2023
Breaking News:

CSOs picket offices as banks beam searchlight on branch managers

By Geoff Iyatse (Lagos), Seye Olumide (Ibadan), Odita Sunday, Collins Olayinka, Terhemba Daka and Sodiq Omolaoye (Abuja)
03 February 2023   |   5:03 am
As Nigerians mark a week of anguish and frustration over naira swap policy, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has placed cash operations of banks on strict monitoring, as concerns over handling of new naira notes disbursed to the lenders continue.

People queue to withdraw new Naira notes from ATM – In October 2022 the Nigerian government announced without warning to change the banknotes (including their color), and decided that the old notes would no longer be valid on January 31.<br />A few days before the fateful date, very few banks were distributing the new banknotes, leaving Nigerians, the majority of whom live in poverty and depend on the informal economy, without cash, and therefore without money. (Photo by Audu MARTE / AFP)

• FG concerned, naira swap is necessary ‘pain’ for Nigeria’s economy, says Minister
• Tellers sell cash to retail customers, PoS operators
• CBN warns against abuse, tightens noose on cash operations 
• Pay new notes over the counter, regulator directs
• Extra security presence at CBN, NNPC headquarters
• Protests in Lagos over new naira notes at banks’ head offices
• CHRICED: Nigerians queuing to get cash, PVCs depressing

As Nigerians mark a week of anguish and frustration over naira swap policy, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has placed cash operations of banks on strict monitoring, as concerns over handling of new naira notes disbursed to the lenders continue.
There have been speculations that some bank officials sell the new notes to politicians and other VIPs for a premium, leading millions of Nigerians to scramble for cash for transactional purposes.
Different sources told The Guardian, yesterday, that searchlight is on branch managers who are believed to be involved in all manners of under-the-table deals with the currencies.
It was learnt that some managing directors have, through memos, threatened to sack any branch manager found wanting as the industry faces one of its toughest moments.    

Notwithstanding the tight monitoring, rent-seeking and other fraudulent behaviours have increased with tellers exploiting the situation against retail customers, especially agents.
Findings by The Guardian, yesterday, showed that some bank officials have started trading in available cash with depositors paying as much as N50 for every N1,000 received at the banks.
Desperate customers, it was learnt, are briefed on the unofficial arrangement and their consent is secured even before they are allowed into the banking hall. The charges, it was also learnt, are deducted from the ordered amount and the balance is handed over to customers.
The Guardian was shown a debit SMS at one of the second-generation banks in Lagos. The customer, a Point of Sale (PoS) operator, was debited N20,800. She was handed N20,000 while N800 was retained by the teller.

“When we ask customers to pay N300 for N2,000 withdrawal, they say the charges are high. Many of them do not have an idea what we go through to get money. I spent over one hour only to be charged N800 extra inside a banking hall,” the customer narrated.
In Lagos, yesterday, most of the banks were sealed with armed police officers and other security agents manning their gates. A customer could only gain access after much screening on the purpose of their visit.  
With almost all major banks besieged by customers, the standard response to those visiting customer service personnel or cash tellers was that “there is no network.”  
Meanwhile, the apex bank has urged Nigerians to be patient as it addresses the challenges. CBN also directed banks to commence payment of the new notes over the counter subject to a maximum of N20,000 daily withdrawal.
Director of Corporate Communications of CBN, Osita Nwanisobi, disclosed this in Abuja, promising that the apex bank was working assiduously to address the challenges that have led to long queues across the country.

There was uncommon presence of police operatives at headquarters of the CBN and Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) located at Central Business District, Abuja, yesterday. At least, seven police patrol vehicles were sighted by The Guardian at the NNPC house. The same situation played up in CBN head office, where many police and military operatives were stationed.

Although police spokesperson of the command, DSP Josephine Adeh, declined commenting on the development, it might not be unconnected with the tension across the country over fuel and naira scarcity forcing severe hardship on citizens who are unable to get money to purchase food, other essentials and transport themselves.

There was massive protest in Marina, Lagos Island, yesterday, over non-availability of the new notes and suffering of the masses. The protest, organised by a Coalition of Civil Society groups, saw hundreds of protesters storming banks on the island, where many of the banks’ headquarters are located, to demand availability of the new notes.

Spokesperson of the group told newsmen: “The new naira notes belong to all of us. We have gone to ATMs, we cannot access them, we have gone to banks, we cannot access them either.

“We are aware that CBN has made available the new notes to the banks, and that is why civil society leaders have taken it upon themselves to storm various banks, to tell them to stop suffering Nigerians.”
Against the backdrop of current hardship faced by citizens, the Federal Government has stated it is concerned, but describes the pain as transient. The Minister of Finance, Budget, and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, made this known, yesterday, during the weekly ministerial briefing at the State House in Abuja.

She said President Muhammadu Buhari is unhappy with the situation but by the same token likened it to a wound that needs to be dressed.

According to her, the harsh realities citizens are facing over the swap are temporary and a necessary price to pay for the nation’s economy to grow.

The Finance Minister equally expressed the conviction that the new policy is timely and required to curb corruption, adding that there have been positive sides to the policy, evident in the huge mop-up of idle funds.

She said government is, however, pleased that a sizeable quantum of old notes have been mopped back into the banking system, which will in turn give the regulatory agencies control over the nation’s currencies.

The Resource Centre for Human Rights & Civic Education (CHRICED) has also lamented that the forthcoming elections will take place at a time when the country is facing numerous challenges. Ibrahim Zikirullahi, CHRICED executive director, made the observation at a media briefing on the ‘state of the nation’ in Abuja yesterday.

Zikirullahi condemned the sufferings Nigerians have been subjected to in a bid to get cash and Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) in the last few weeks.

“CHRICED finds it untenable that while CBN keeps insisting that it has supplied the redesigned currency to banks, the new notes have hardly ever been available in banks, resulting in serious currency scarcity. The situation has deteriorated to the point where PoS operators now charge between 20 and 30 per cent of any amount their customers wish to withdraw as a fee for providing cash.

“Chriced strongly condemns the suffering and agony inflicted on millions of ordinary Nigerians in recent weeks. These travails are the outcomes of CBN’s sloppy implementation of the currency redesign and swap policy,” Zikirullahi said.

A former CBN Deputy Director, Bashorun Olorunfunmi, yesterday, called on the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, to resign immediately before he drags the country into a revolution.

Olorunfunmi, who served for 21 years and resigned from CBN, as deputy director in charge of currency operations in October 1979, warned that Emefiele is gradually dragging the country into a dangerous situation and that any moment from now, Nigeria may erupt in a revolution if the hardship goes beyond what it is at present.

In a statement yesterday, the octogenarian said: “Since CBN was established in 1959 (and I was a foundation staff), no governor has taken Nigeria for a ride as Emefiele. The multiplier effect of his directive is to close down all businesses in Nigeria and further add to the hardship Nigerians are experiencing in recent times. I make bold to state that unless this oppressive directive is withdrawn within the next 48 hours, Nigerian masses will have no choice than to rise and compel government to take positive action to reverse it.

In this article