Dousing tension in the land
To the discerning and non-discerning, this cannot be the best of times for our country. To manifest the rowdy and confused situation, there are pockets of protests here and there. Before the whole country is engulfed, the government should move swiftly to douse the storm. The land had been simmering with general discontentment over sundry matters but notably insecurity—killings, banditry and kidnapping. Then came fuel shortage all over the country! The smouldering dangerously being fuelled by scarcity of petroleum products soon got compounded. Where there is fuel, the price is headed for the roof, going between N300.00 and N500.00 a litre. The standard it would appear is N350.00. The situation is made more combustible waiting only for a cigarette end to set off a conflagration with frustration attendant to the new cashless policy of the monetary authorities—the Central Bank and the Presidency. The policy has led to a near cash withdrawer impossibility from across the counter in banks and ATM stands. Most Point of Sales shops throw up their hands in resignation in the unsuccessful bid to withdraw money from the ATM stands for their business.
This has triggered frustration and resentment in unforeseen magnitude in several parts of the land. Money as we all know is a medium of exchange even when it is cashless, the new and intriguing technological wonder. At the heart of selling and buying is money. A trader or distributor will not release his product until he has received an alert that his account has been credited. There lies the nexus. In other words, money is money. Where there is no money, you cannot buy fuel, and without fuel, a transporter cannot move his vehicle to convey goods to the market. In companies and offices, fuel in storage tanks is an imperative for operations in the face of electricity supply failures. The connections are almost endless.
I recall that that the Minister of Power said by July of last year, many of the obsolete but critical transmission equipment would have been replaced and by September, power supply would have been normalised and outage would be reduced to the minimum. The assurance, as it turned out, was all hot air; power outage has gone worse. So, at the moment, it is a situation in which cash is scarce; there is no fuel, there is no electricity and when there is recourse to using the electronic gadget to make electronic transfer to pay for your transactions, you are advised there is no network. And if you step a few decades back to take refuge in trade by barter you ask yourself: ‘‘What does a financial consultant give in return for two tubers of yam in the market?’’ It is a situation of you turn right, there is an obstacle; you turn left there is a hindrance; in front, there is a roadblock. Market activities slowed down considerably, leading to threats of hunger, and a hungry man is an angry man. This has been evinced in all manner of ugliness in banking halls and rowdiness on bank premises, to put it mildly.
What has led to all this? The cause is not far to seek. It is no other than the elections and electioneering season. Elections are aimed at affording the people opportunities to choose a set of new leaders to serve them for a specified period. If the set does well it is returned, if it has fallen short it is disbanded and sent packing. Political scientists are wont to remind us that democracy does not necessarily guaranty good government; what it guaranties is periodic change of guards. All over the world, the process leading to the choices is acrimonious, depending on the level of inner maturity of the electors and the elected. The acrimony is pronounced in the developing countries, among which Nigeria is prominently counted. Inner radiance is everything—inner maturity, the state of the inner man. We learn in higher knowledge spreading on earth today the unassailable revelation: “Each one must move within the limit of his own maturity.” As it is with individuals so is it with the collective called nations. Much evil lies in believing that God Almighty is not perfect and that he can be arbitrary in certain actions of His. But, as we are admonished In The Light of Truth beaming its shinning Rays: “Give God the honour of perfection! Then you will find the key to the unsolved riddles of all life.”
As I have had cause to state on this page, leaders are born, not made; they are sent and not electable. The electorate will always elect their own kind. Autocracy is not the answer either. Autocrats get swollen headed and get power drunk and lead their country to destruction. The Creator could not have put His Creation together in His Perfection and there would be no rules and there would be no leaders and teachers to guide them in accordance with His Holy Will. True leaders turn the gaze of the led upwards to what is high, noble and sublime, to propriety and honour; not downwards and to perdition. The situation in a majority of countries of the world today makes the world, seen from On High, as an asylum. The attitude of a great many is that since humongous number of people and nations are sucked in wrong doing, they can let go. Afterall, if Heavens fall, it is not they alone that would go with it! Out of ignorance, mankind does not realise that God does not need man; it is man that needs God. Before Creation, the Almighty Father was; He had been in existence and will be in all eternity. He is Life and being Life, He does not require anyone, any power, anything to keep Him alive, for He is Life Itself. Everything in the whole Creation derives its existence from Him—from Life and Truth. Mankind existing as no more that spiritual residues, alive but not conscious, after the First Creation, Paradise, came into existence, supplicated the Most High to be permitted conscious existence so he could partake of the splendour, happiness and beauty therein. The Creator graciously granted the prayers and made unto us what is called Subsequent Creation. It contains many planes, the earth being the last, prepared for the purpose of our sojourn and development. What has man made of it? He has devastated it as he has dared to push aside the Creator’s ordinance, replacing it with his own! Hence, all manner of afflictions, chaos and confusion dovetailing in party politics.
There is a great deal of controversy on what has led to the state of affairs. An attempt is made to further push into our way of life the use of technology, including financial transactions. The ultimate goal is to make the country a cashless society, a journey which began as far back as 2012. Pushing it and pumping life into it is fast becoming a universal practice today. Only this week, the Bank of England has given signals of assuming greater role in control and regulation that has ensued from the cashlessness of the British society. Its website, when asked: what is the main role of the Bank of England, says: “…We produce banknotes (cash) and oversee many of the other payment systems you see (e.g. with a debit or credit card). We also work to keep the cost of living stable so your money keeps its purchasing power. One way we do this is by changing the main interest rate in the UK” As far back as 2014, as many as 86 per cent of the world’s central banks were rehearsing settling for digital currencies.
The Governor of Central Bank, Godwin Emefiele, says the cashless policy is not targeted at politicians nor is it intended to disenfranchise Nigerians, or to harm businesses. He insists that it is in fact in public interest to promote efficient payment system. He points out that the cost of currency management had hit N47.25 billion in 10 months. As for currency redesign, he is sure it will curb inflation, banditry and strengthen the Naira. Speaking to the issue, Emefiele told the House of Representatives that the cashless policy had recorded significant achievements and Africa had been adjudged Africa’s undisputed real-time and digital payments leader with 3.7 billion real-time transactions in 2021. He said electronic banking had remarkably increased among Nigerians while the cashless policy had triggered policy innovation that had deepened financial system participation and expanded transaction channels and financial access points. He said the redesigning of the currency notes is, apart from sustaining the achievements of the payment system, to foster safe, credible and efficient payment system that would be the pride of all Nigerians and the envy of the world. President Buhari spoke in a similar vein, emphasising that the drive towards a cashless society currency swap are in the interest of the economy. He is persuaded that there is too much money outside the banking system which is hurting the economy.
The issue which has caught attention and thrown up suspicion and led to insinuations is not the cashless policy but the currency swap, exchanging old notes for new ones. Access to the new notes and the peg on the amount that can be withdrawn from one’s account in a day and in a month are what has triggered suspicion and mistrust. Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State blew off the lead when he pointedly accused those he referred to as cabals in the Villa of using the cashless policy and the currency swap as a smokescreen to work against his party. The President himself gave veiled hint seemingly confirming insinuation that the policy may have arisen out of his desire a legacy of free and fair election. This was against the general belief that some money-bag politicians had stored up a huge sum of money for vote buying. Desirous of ensuring a level playing field, it is believed he got persuaded by the Central Bank Governor. The suspicion is reinforced by the suddenness and shortness of the notice for all to switch to the digital financial transactions and currency note swap. The suddenness and the timeline for these is what have caused widespread discontent. Thus the country is torn between a good policy and the chaos executing it has caused. The baby is thrown out with the birth water. It is one thing to have good intentions it another to properly see to their fruition. Good intention poorly carried out can have unintended consequences.
We have the experiences of India in 2016 to learn from. It called its own demonetisation. According to reports, the implementation “badly hurt India’s cash dependent economy. It caused losses for small businesses and manufacturers, bringing on an economic slump and months of financial chaos for ordinary, cash-dependent Indians. Hundreds of thousands of people lined up outside banks and ATMs for days to exchange their cash savings for legal tender as cash ran dry. The government eventually released new currency notes worth 500 and 2,000 rupes.” Indeed, according to a Mumbai research firm, India lost 3.5 million jobs in the year following demonetisation. The President seems eager to sanitise the electoral process and convince the world that whoever succeeds him is seen to have come in untainted. If there is such a way to do away with the filth that goes with our election, why should we not embrace it? Afterall, we cannot be living in sin and expect Grace to abound, as the Scriptures teach us. Chief Obafemi Awolowo said on 28 February, 1986, “For something within me tells me, loud and clear…at the threshold of our New Social Order, we would see for ourselves that, as long as Nigerians remain what they are, nothing clean, principled, ethical and idealistic can work with them. And Nigerians will remain what they are unless the evils which now dominate their hearts, at all levels and in all sectors of our political, business and governmental activities are exorcised…” We ought to, therefore, support any measure that will bring a modicum of wholesomeness to our elections. The eventual winner would consequently be confident that he truly won; there is no baggage clinging to him and acrimony would be eliminated or reduced to the barest minimum.
The Central Bank governor and the President are certainly at a crossroads. The implementation of the policy for the realisation of its objectives was not properly thought through. The nature and level of inner maturity of our people was not taken into account. Buhari himself has told the world that as he was fighting corruption, corruption was fighting back. That there is desperation in the quest for power and influence everywhere, is as old as the advent of democracy in Greece. Emefiele himself lent credence to an ulterior motive by his misadventure into wanting to contest the presidency of the nation. You do not have to be bound by the Code of such a lofty office to know what is proper and decent. His action left a sour taste in the mouth. He does not also keep a reasonable distance between his office and the President. He is too visible. How many times does one see or hear of the Governor of the Bank of England running to 10 Downing Street or the President of the Reserved Bank in the United States in a photo session with Mr. Joe Biden in the White House? Central Bank is a reserved bank; the occupier of the high office should be reserved, sparingly heard, but not even seen.
I can see the policy being relaxed after the elections. Between now and then, the Central Bank should endeavour to push out considerable amount of new currency notes for the generality of our people. With eagle-eyed supervision this can be done.