Thursday, 28th September 2023

CBN backtracks, increases weekly cash withdrawals

By Geoff Iyatse (Lagos), Adamu Abuh, Matthew Ogune, Sodiq Omolaoye (Abuja) and Saxone Akhaine (Kaduna)
22 December 2022   |   4:36 am
Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), yesterday, bowed to pressure, changing its earlier limit on weekly cash withdrawal for individuals from N100,000 to N500,000 across all channels.


• Foreign interests weigh in on Emefiele, DSS conflict
• Pro-Emefiele protests hold in Abuja, Kaduna
• Stop ‘illegal’ plot to remove CBN boss, say Arewa youths
• CBN gov explains inability to appear before lawmakers in person
• Don’t politicise security, DSS operation, Saraki cautions
• Market will find its course despite controversies, says Fasua

Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), yesterday, bowed to pressure, changing its earlier limit on weekly cash withdrawal for individuals from N100,000 to N500,000 across all channels.

Corporate entities are also allowed to withdraw as much as N5 million weekly, according to a circular signed by Director of Banking Supervision, Haruna Mustafa.

The policy still takes effect on January 9, 2023. Currently, individuals and corporate entities can withdraw N500,000 and N5 million daily without penalties.

The new directive might put to rest or reduce the controversy generated by the policy, marked for suspension by the House of Representatives.

The latest circular came on the heels of heightened protests, especially in Abuja, by interest groups calling on stakeholders to stop politicising CBN’s monetary policy interventions.

As protests and conflict of ideas hold sway across the country, foreign interests are beginning to weigh in on the travails of Emefiele.

Yesterday, Daniel John Hannan, the Baron Hannan of Kingsclere in the United Kingdom, aired his position on purported plan by the Department of State Security (DSS) to arrest Emefiele, saying, “rule of law, due process and independence of public officials” -virtues which bind Commonwealth nations together – matter in nation building.

“I am not Nigerian. It is not for me to say whether it was time for a redesign of naira notes, or whether such a change will make elections cleaner. But I do feel that friends of Nigeria and friends of Nigerian democracy should defend the rule of law there.

“At a time when democracy is in retreat globally, we all have a stake in Nigeria’s success. The country is Africa’s greatest economy, Africa’s greatest population and Africa’s greatest hope.

“That is why I have raised the issue of the attempt to detain the Governor of the CBN in parliament. And that is why I hope that democrats on all sides will join Nigeria in supporting the independence of its institutions in the run-up to the 2023 election – including, of course, the central bank,” Hannan said.

The CBN has come under intense criticism since the cash withdrawal limit plan was unveiled, with some economists warning that the new regime would stifle growth of the informal sector.

The Guardian could not confirm whether the CBN governor or his representative would still have to appear before the House of Representatives today to brief members about the policy.

Earlier yesterday, Emefiele disclosed via a letter that he would not be available to respond to questions on redesign of the naira and cash withdrawal policy of the apex bank.

In the letter, read on the floor of the House by the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, Emefiele explained he would not be able to appear due to a health challenge.

“We refer to your letter of December 20, 2022 on the above subject, inviting the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria to appear in person before the House on Thursday, December 22.

“Regrettably, the Governor is out of the country on official engagement, as well as attending to some health challenges. He is, therefore, unavailable to attend this briefing.

“Given the urgency associated with the briefing, the Committee of Governors, led by Mrs. Aisha Ahmed, Deputy Governor, Financial Systems Stability, is prepared to brief the House,” the letter reads.

The position of the CBN boss led to divergent views among lawmakers, with some insisting he must appear in person while others, including the Speaker, said it was alright if Emefiele was represented.

Gbajabiamila said: “At this stage, we have to rise above certain things and not make it personal anymore, in the sense that there is a very critical issue, which is the issue of the new cash policy.

“If the Governor has said he is out of the country and, in good faith, is attending to health conditions, if that is the case, would it serve this House to continue to insist on his physical appearance? Would it serve the interest of the country to say we would wait till whenever he comes back in January because a lot would have happened between now and then?

“But if he has asked somebody who is fully equipped with all the facts, who can be questioned by the House, who is the Deputy Governor, Financial Systems Stability, which is what this is about, and who is coming with the Committee of Governors, I think the point has been made. Let’s hear from her. Because if we hear from her, we are hearing from the Governor.”

The House, therefore, resolved to re-invite the CBN governor or his representative to appear to brief the House on the issue unfailingly Thursday (today).

The CBN Governor was initially billed to appear before the House on December 15 to brief the lawmakers. But he appealed for a rescheduling, citing official engagements outside the country with President Muhammadu Buhari.

Amid the cashless policy controversy, at the beginning of the week, the DSS reportedly approached a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja demanding an order to arrest Emefiele in connection with alleged terrorism financing activities. The application, however, was dismissed for frivolity.

MEANWHILE, the planned arrest triggered protests in Abuja on Tuesday. Yesterday, the protests intensified, spreading to Kaduna and drawing the involvement of Arewa youths and some politicians.

A section of Nigerians has insinuated that Emefiele, through the latest policy (considered a potent weapon in curbing vote buying in next year’s general elections), has played into the hands of desperate politicians.

A former Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, joined the growing list of individuals calling for protection of the sanctity of the CBN as an independent institution.

Yesterday, he advised security agencies to be wary and avoid being manipulated by politicians as the elections approach. Saraki, in a statement issued by his Media Office in Abuja, said there was need for further clarification on the action of the secret service, to prevent misunderstanding and wrong perceptions about its motive.

Without holding brief for the CBN governor, Saraki said he was concerned, as a victim of a similar politically-motivated accusation, that there are some clouds around the DSS court action, coming two months before the general elections, and particularly at a time the apex bank introduced tough guidelines on the cashless regime and a change of currency, which could work against those who are intent on vote-buying next year.

The former lawmaker and governor of Kwara State said: “As somebody who had been wrongly accused of involvement in the Offa robbery by political opportunists and manipulators before their evil plots now began to unravel in the court of law, I feel that a similar intrigue is being weaved by those who are bent on sabotaging the 2023 elections, as the obvious outcome is not going their way.

“In this court case in which the CBN governor is being accused of terrorism through a suit which the Federal High Court has now described as frivolous and without concrete evidence, my position is not to support Emefiele but to support democracy, which is being targeted by the plotters.

“With all the due respect that I have for the DSS as a very professional security agency, I still found it very difficult to understand what led to the charges, why concrete evidence that will enable the court to take a good decision was not provided and why the Department gave room for suspicion and speculations as the case file had gaping holes, as noted by the Honourable Judge John Tsoho.”

Saraki, who said the cash limits would frustrate plans of desperate politicians and those who plan to manipulate next year’s election process, noted: “One of the suspicions this case has raised is that it is part of a grand plot by those who want to undermine and sabotage the coming general election because their calculation on vote buying, rigging, and excessive use of money is falling apart.

“The new CBN regulation on a cashless regime in which individuals can only withdraw N100,000 a week and N20,000 per day is sure to frustrate the partisan fraudsters, the mischievous politicians and unpatriotic elements who aim to win the election at all costs, even when they are being rejected at the polls.

“The CBN guidelines have derailed the plan of those who believe that they will not allow the ‘one man-one vote system’ in which the electorate freely choose their representatives in a fair and peaceful atmosphere.

“I urge the DSS, police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, the military and all security agencies to be wary of political manipulators, despots, and anarchists who may want to use the case to derail the free and fair election regime that the new Electoral Act, Independent National Electoral Commission, and President Muhammadu Buhari have promised.”

THE Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) also called for caution, accusing unpatriotic politicians of inventing diverse tactics to turn the table in their favour.

CNPP, in a joint statement with Coalition of National Civil Society Organisations (CNCSOs), accused politicians of manipulating DSS against the CBN to thwart the new policy.

The statement, signed by CNPP Secretary General, Willy Ezugwu, and National Secretary of CNCSO, Alhaji Ali Abacha, reads: “Those who want to receive and spend money without any trace are those who have been kicking against the cashless policy of the CBN. If you have legitimate money, why are you afraid to wire the money through bank transfers?

“Why are you afraid of cash withdrawal limits? There is no limit to the amount you can transfer through the bank. But because they have stolen money, they don’t want to make traceable transactions. And that is the ‘sin’ of Godwin Emefiele. That’s why they want him out of the way before the election, so that someone who can do their bidding is appointed to reverse the cashless policy implementation.”

CNPP said: “We must note that President Muhammadu Buhari has shown maximum support for the economic stability and reform efforts of the CBN Governor. And that was probably why they wanted to remove him from office without the consent of Mr. President. At this juncture, we hail the Nigerian judiciary for refusing to be used for the planned hatchet job. It is unfortunate but it happened.”

The statement noted that the country was jolted when a group of human rights lawyers and some civil society organisations raised the alarm that there was a plot to frame Emefiele in terrorism financing allegation.

“The gravity of what Nigeria was confronted with came to the front burner when members of the group revealed that the DSS had even gone to the extent of approaching the court to obtain a warrant to arrest Godwin Emefiele without the consent or knowledge of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

ALSO, at a joint press conference in Abuja, National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) and other civil society groups alleged that some disgruntled politicians were bent on exploiting discordant tunes over the naira redesign to throw the country into chaos. The groups further warned against continuous harassment of the CBN governor

Northern youths, under the umbrella of the Arewa Youth Assembly, on their part, called on the international community to intervene in the ‘illegal’ plot by some politicians to kick Emefiele out of office for selfish reasons.

The youths, specifically, urged the World Bank, Internal Monetary Fund (IMF), African Development Bank (AfDB) and other development partners to ensure Emefiele’s tenure is not truncated on false charges.

Addressing journalists in Abuja, Publicity Secretary of the group, Ali Muhammad, alleged that criminal politicians who are against the cash withdrawal limits were responsible for the recent move by the DSS to arrest the governor. He maintained that politicians who have stockpiled funds to rig the 2023 polls were behind the move to remove the CBN governor.

Muhammed wondered how a member of the House of Representatives would publicly boast of how he had instructed the DSS boss to detain Emefiele for six hours. He said: “Having lost the fight, following circulation of the redesigned naira notes, the enemies of our country have decided to launch a different fight, with the sole aim of rubbishing the integrity and reputation of the governor of the apex bank.

“The first phase of the failed battle is being spearheaded by Gudaje Kazaure. In his macabre dance, he has been dropping unrealistic figures, which he claimed are monies deducted from various transactions as stamp duties. The Presidency swiftly distanced itself from the one-man committee, as no member of the said committee has openly come out to identify with him.”

IN a related development, officials of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Kaduna State chapter, yesterday, lampooned those criticising the CBN over its monetary policy and demanding the arrest of Emefiele.

The Kaduna CAN Chairman, Rev. Joseph John Hayab, in a statement, said: “These people kept quiet when bandits and kidnappers made life in Kaduna and other northern states hellish.

“We are concerned that what should be a monetary policy has become a tool for some politicians to pick a fight with the governor of the Central Bank and his board. Why would a spokesman of a political party be releasing a statement encouraging the DSS to go after the CBN governor? That shows that this is a case of the voice of Jacob and the hand of Esau. Surely, every right-thinking Nigerian knows that politicians had stockpiled huge sums of cash to manipulate the 2023 elections.”

There are growing concerns the CBN governor’s arrest debacle and the increasing involvement of political actors could trigger a severe crisis of confidence in the market.

But a leading economist, Dr. Tope Fasua, maintained that the market would find its course, irrespective of the debate, which he said, is good for the system.