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Fuel, naira scarcity depletes productivity, worsens inflation

By Gloria Nwafor (Lagos), Msugh Ityokura (Abuja) and Rotimi Agboluaje (Ibadan)
06 February 2023   |   4:35 am
After enduring a year of petrol scarcity, citizens’ inability to access cash for day-to-day living is mounting pressure on many households. With another deadline approaching this weekend, many are still unable to access money in the banks to buy basic things and meet up with business demands.

Scene at an ATM gallery in Lagos… at the weekend.

• ASCSN: More workers to sit at home over intolerable fares
• Not producing will lead to food shortage, retrenchment, says food union
• ‘Economy has disenfranchised MSMEs’
• We are starving, Nigerians lament
• Protest playing into hands of those seeking election shift, NLC president warns
• Govt making mockery of monetary system, says NECA
• House may reconvene before February 25 elections over cash crunch, says Gbajabiamila
• Falana, activists warn of social unrest
• Afenifere: Buhari’s seven-day request to resolve currency crisis too long

After enduring a year of petrol scarcity, citizens’ inability to access cash for day-to-day living is mounting pressure on many households. With another deadline approaching this weekend, many are still unable to access money in the banks to buy basic things and meet up with business demands.

Many Nigerians lamented that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)’s policy to change the naira notes with new ones, allowed them to deposit all of their old notes with the hope of getting the new currencies without hitches, before an extension of 10 days was announced for the cash swap deadline.
A civil servant with a family of five, at the weekend, told The Guardian that the situation triggered many homes to go into hunger strike as he was helpless and went begging to feed his family because he could not make any withdrawal.
Another woman, Anita Okonkwo, said she was not with any cash to meet up with her needs, adding that her problem was compounded when her debit card got stuck in an Automated Teller Machine (ATM) and she was unable to conduct any transaction due to network challenges.

Expected this week is a nationwide protest from concerned citizens under the auspices of the Network of Civil Societies for Economic Sustainability (NCSES). Convener of NCSES, Mohammed Shuaibu, stressed that Nigerians were suffocating as a result of the fuel and naira scarcity.
The group vowed that there will be a showdown and a shutdown of Abuja and other strategic cities until the problem is satisfactorily addressed. Even organised labour is worried that the situation is getting out of hand and might become a problem. President of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), Tommy Okon, who expressed Nigerians’ concerns and pains, said the economic advisers to the government have failed in their capacities, which is hurting the informal sector badly.
Okon, however, said labour leading a protest or shutting down the economy this period would only make government have an excuse to postpone the elections. He said if the situation is not urgently addressed before the week runs out, many civil servants would remain at home due to lack of transport fare to get to their places of work.

Corroborating Okon, President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Ayuba Wabba, condemned the sufferings the masses are being put through. Noting that labour does not want to be seen as wanting to derail the current transition programme, Wabba said going on strike would only play into the hands of those that do not want the nation’s democracy to work.
He said what was required from government was to fix the refineries and also allow an enabling environment for other key actors to build refineries. A visit by The Guardian to some banks in Lagos, over the weekend, showed that they were still not compliant with CBN’s directive of making cash available to citizens.
All the banks visited claimed they were yet to receive cash from the apex bank, while they continued with just funds transfer. A few who earlier in the day dispensed cash to customers over the counter pegged it at N5,000 limit and others N2,000 ceiling. The move, according to the banks, was to make the cash go round.
Lamenting, one customer, Seun Ajoke, said: “After staying on the queue for more than three hours, is it this N2,000 note I will use to feed my family for the weekend? How many market women will accept transfers when they don’t know how to operate them? How many of us can afford to go to the grocery to make use of our debit cards, even with the issue of network glitches?”

Director-General of the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA), Adewale Oyerinde, who said the policy has good potential, noted that the implementation is poor and absolutely below par. With the challenges faced by Nigerians, he said the government was making a mockery of the monetary system.
According to him, the economy thrives when consumer spending is enabled, while Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) thrive significantly on cash transactions. 
“Now, the economy has technically disenfranchised MSMEs because money is not available in the banks. At the OPS level, it is becoming a challenge for workers to go to work due to the cash crunch,” he said. He urged those in the informal economy to remain calm, trusting that the CBN will see reasons to sit up to do the needful.

MEANWHILE, some concerned human rights activists and lawyers have warned that anarchy is looming over the scarcity of naira notes as they called on government to act fast to douse the tension.

Recall that President Muhammadu Buhari had, on Friday, urged citizens to give him seven days to resolve the cash crunch.The rights activists, who include Femi Falana (SAN), Femi Aborisade, Olanrewaju Suraju, Ugwummadu Malachy, Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, Adewale Moshood, Rasheedat Adesina, among others, lamented that it would be impossible for Nigerians to stay for another one week in the face of acute scarcity of naira and petrol.

They stated these, on Saturday, during the emergency meeting of the Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond (ASCAB) on currency notes and fuel crises, which was held virtually.

‘’We need to move fast to avert the looming anarchy on the horizon’’, they said. Falana, who was the chairman of the meeting, decried the hardship the twin policies have inflicted on Nigerians, pointing out that about 80 per cent of Nigerians have no bank accounts.

He said: ‘’I don’t see how Nigerians will cope in view of the crisis staring us in the face. We are in a terrible situation. Some of the presidential candidates have substantial interests in the banks and they can commandeer bank chiefs.”

On his part, the Ibadan-based labour lawyer and activist, Aborisade, said ASCAB would meet to provide leadership on the manner of peaceful demonstrations to be embarked on over the crises.

“If care is not taken, anarchy is likely to occur. This is the reason we have called this meeting. Seems there is an orchestration to plunge the country into crisis. Pockets of protests are already ongoing across the country. Something needs to be done fast. We will address a press conference on Monday and the day of action for Wednesday.”

SPEAKER of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, has said the green chamber will have no option but to reconvene before the February 25 elections if CBN fails to address the hardship Nigerians face due to the currency swap policy, adding that the House will continue to monitor CBN’s implementation of the policy closely.

Addressing a townhall meeting with some ethnic groups in Surulere, Lagos, yesterday, Gbajabiamila said he was on the verge of signing an arrest warrant against CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, following his initial failure to appear before an ad-hoc panel of the House.

“The House of Representatives intervened on several occasions. We summoned the CBN governor the first time and again, but he refused to answer, because we had many hard questions for him.

“It was until I issued the threat of warrant of arrest before he came, and I would’ve signed that warrant; it would’ve been the first time in the history of National Assembly that a CBN governor would be arrested. I would’ve done it.

“Many have argued on the independence of CBN, the autonomy of CBN. That does not make CBN above the law. The Constitution gives the House the power to issue an arrest warrant against anyone, we can summon anybody, and that was exactly what the House was going to do until the CBN governor came.

“So, we are watching, and we are monitoring very closely. If need be, we will reconvene the House, even though we’ve all been away for our elections. I will call the House back, if need be.”

THE pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, yesterday, declared that the seven-day request made by President Buhari to resolve the problems associated with cash crunch in the country is too long.

In a statement signed by the organisation’s National Publicity Secretary, Comrade Jare Ajayi, Afenifere said that the seven days’ request tends to suggest that President Buhari “does not appreciate the enormity and intensity of the pains Nigerians are going through.”

It argued that several lives have been lost already just as social and economic activities have been seriously paralysed.

“For the nation to have to wait for another seven days is to say that the people can continue to go on suffering. That lives can continue to be lost and that businesses can continue to be crippled.”

Recall that President Buhari had said he will take a decision ‘one way or the other’ within seven days that the new deadline for the currency exchange remains after his meeting with members of the Progressive Governors Forum at the State House last Friday.

The governors had met the President to inform him of the excruciating pains Nigerians are going through in their attempts to withdraw money from the banks and exchange the outgoing naira notes with new ones.

It was learnt that the governors of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) had appealed to the President to reconsider his stance, especially as the policy was threatening the “good records of the administration in transforming the economy.”

“As at the time this statement is being issued, there has been no indication that the President is prepared to ‘act quickly’. This was what prompted Afenifere to urge the President to act fast because lives and economies of Nigerians are seriously in danger as a result of the difficulties in getting cash and fuel,” Afenifere said.

Afenifere recalled that it took the President about six months to constitute its cabinet in his first term, just as his administration seems to be noted to dilly-dally where decisive steps are required – a situation that made some people to dub the President as ‘Baba Go-Slow’!

The organisation’s spokesman then said that the situation on ground presently “calls for urgent, well-thought-out and pro-people steps so as to quickly put an end to the avoidable sufferings of the people.”