Currency redesign: We can’t forget the pains, Nigerians recount experiences - THE GUARDIAN
By Godwin Ofulue (Lagos); Charles Ogugbuaja (Owerri), Rotimi Agboluaje and Moyosore Morenike (Ibadan), Danjuma Michael (Katsina), Eniola Daniel and Michael Akinadewo (Lagos), Bala Yahaya (Minna); Ann Godwin (Port Harcourt) and Tina Agosi Todo (Calabar)
I went to work in the booth of a vehicle, says Buhari’s kinsman
As hope begins to rise that the financial crisis that ravaged the country for nearly three months may begin to end, following Federal Government and Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)’s latest disposition to obey the Supreme Court’s interventionist judgment, Nigerians from different regions have said they will not forget in a hurry the excruciating experiences they were made to go through, especially as the scars and pains may linger for a long time to come.
One of such Nigerians is President Muhammadu Buhari’s kinsman from Katsina State, Auwalu Suleiman. Still dazed and visibly traumatised, Sulieman recalled, with bitterness, how he had to travel in the booth of a vehicle as a result of the crisis.
“One day, I was left with no other option but to squeeze myself into the booth of a vehicle, as the front and back seats were occupied, being the only vehicle available after a long wait. It was not an experience I ever imagined I would go through and I pray never go through again,” he recalled with pains.
Suleiman travels from Katsina, the state capital to his place of employment in Dutsinma. He used to find the about 50km ride pleasurable every weekday, until recent times, when the naira crisis set in.
The crisis started when the CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, on the orders of President Muhammadu Buhari introduced the redesigned N200, N500, and N1, 000 denominations into the country on October 26, 2022. Nigerians were given January 31, 2023 deadline to return all old notes of the redesigned currencies to banks.
The circulation of the new notes commenced on December 15, 2022; though they were not sufficiently released, making Nigerians to go through excruciating pains as they tried to access the new notes from banks. The inability to get the new notes came after Nigerians, especially the masses had responded to the directive by CBN that they should return all old notes to banks. This left Nigerians stranded, because they neither had the old notes nor the new ones.
Frustration set in and it was excruciating, leading to demonstrations in parts of the country, forcing the CBN to extend the deadline for the phasing out of the old notes from January 31 to February 10.
But even with the period of grace, many Nigerians still found it hard to access the new notes. Suleiman said he was pained that the situation affected his productivity and input at work.
As a teacher, he usually gets to school long before lectures commence to prepare for the day, but he lamented that he was unable to meet up any more and the his students suffered as a result.
TUKUR Ahmed, 42, is another Katsina indigene, who has bitter experience to share. He lives in Jibia Council, about 46 kilometres from the state capital, where he teaches.
The new cash policy, he lamented, adversely affected his resumption and closing times at school and, by extension, his student suffered as well.
He blamed his woes on his inability to access funds from Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) and Point of Sales (POS) operators.
According to him, even waking up very early in the morning in search of vehicles became efforts in futility.
“I live in Jibia town and teach at one of the public secondary schools in the state capital. The distance from my home to the school is more than 40 kilometres.
“Because of the cash crunch, I have to wake up very early, especially on Mondays and Tuesdays, when I have morning classes, to ensure I get to school on time; but oftentimes, I’m not lucky, and the students suffer. In Ibadan, Oyo State, a young graduate, Eniola Salami, told The Guardian how she couldn’t make it to an interview in Lagos due to scarcity of cash.
“I was supposed to go for an interview on a Monday but I could not go due to cash scarcity. If I should collect N5,000 from the point of sales operators, they will deduct from the money and the rest won’t take me to and fro, so I had to forfeit the interview. Even if I had asked for a rescheduling of the interview, I still would not get the cash.”
In deed, both old and new notes were scarce, according to another Ibadan resident, Tofunmi Ajibade. He said. “I searched for money from dawn, it is difficult to eat twice a day, I went to bed hungry most times because I could not get cash as a result of the biting economic hardship. It is not easy.”
The Guardian was also told that electronic transfers many resorted to also flopped, as traders complained that transfers made by their customers failed to reflect in their accounts days and weeks after.
A bank official told The Guardian that banks were actually ready to release customers’ money to them but network issues hampered them. A trader, Kafilat Samad, lamented how her business had been shut down because she could not buy anything from the market and did not have a bank account to do transactions or receive payment from her customers.
She said: “As a yam trader, how much is the money I make daily, I cannot afford to be buying money at outrageous amount, it is frustrating and I’m crying over this unending naira scarcity.
“I have two children in universities, how am I to provide for their needs and pay their school fees.”
IN Owerri, a traditional health worker, Alex Manu, declared: “This is a terrible situation we have found ourselves. I cannot wish my enemy go through such sufferings the CBN has put us through”.He decried the experience he went through the previous day, trying to withdraw money from his bank in the capital city. He nearly fainted as he searched in futility.
According to Manu, after he regained consciousness, he approached a PoS operator, who gave him N14, 000 in exchange for N20, 000. He said: “I came back from village in Mbaise, Imo State, without any cash on me. I walked down to look for money. I fainted, but was resuscitated by the people around me. I could not get any money. I managed to stand up after the initial assistance by the public. I looked for a PoS for hours before I got one operator, who gave me N14,000 and I transferred N20,000 from my account to his account.”
Another Owerri-based depositor, Rosemary Onuoha, told The Guardian, how her frequent visit to her bank to withdraw money failed and she took ill.
According to Onuoha, who manages a business centre, her customers had resorted to transferring money after using her services, leaving her without cash.
“I went to withdraw some money from my bank in Owerri, but for three days, I walked from my home in Irette to the main town, I could not get any money, and I took ill. I started having problem of breath as a result,” she narrated.
CITIZENS from Niger State say the pains they have gone through are by no means less severe than what other Nigerians suffered.
Investigation by The Guardian in Minna, revealed that businesses have been badly affected by the naira swap policy. According to Ahmed Shehu, who resides in the Gurara area of Minna, it will take a while to regain lost grounds. He declared that the naira policy was a bad one, not favourable to ordinary Nigerians struggling to make ends met.
Another citizen, Bala Musa, who lives in Bosso, Minna stated that he woke up one day with empty pockets and needed only N500 for transport fare to move around.
He said: “As a family man, I woke up with empty pocket, I trekked from Bosso town to First Bank branch in the Tunga area of Minna, which is about two and half kilometres, I trekked in the sun, it was a terrible experience, I did not believe that in 21st century, Nigerians will have leaders that would not care about their well-being, their pains, and, above all, I almost slumped while trekking before I reach my destination in Tunga.”
In like manner, Mohammed Yusheu, a trader, who lives in the Tunga Goro area of Minna, lamented that the naira swap policy has affected the economy and the social life of the people, saying: “As a trader, I have completely run out of cash for a while now, no cash to sales, my customers couldn’t buy from me any more. Sometimes, I go to market but couldn’t sell and my business has begun to fold up. I trekked from Tunga Goro down to Kure Ultra Mordern Market, Minna, about five kilometres, one day, I returned home and fell sick, I was rushed to hospital and given a drip, it was the grace of God that saved my life.”
IN Rivers, Samuel Nnadi, who lives in Oyigbo Council of Rivers State said one day, he left Oyigbo by 6 a.m. and trekked to Ikwerre Road branch of his bank, where his bank branch is located.
According to him, he had to rest four times on his way, as the journey was about three hours.
Sadly, he said, when he arrived, he was given tally number 145 and when he finally entered and rectified his BVN problems, he was paid only N5, 000 old notes.
He said traders and transporters rejected the money and he had to trek back home hungry. He decried the situation and urged the government to ameliorate the suffering of the masses.
Similarly, Mrs. Susan Nte said she trekked a long distance from the Rumukoro area to a bank branch, along Aba Road and regretted that before she accessed the bank, it took her four hours.
“They gave me the old money and when I went to market to buy something, the traders rejected it. It was a terrible day for me.”
IN neighbouring Cross River State, a civil servant, Ms. Affiong Aida, recounted how she developed knee pains after trekking six kilometres, daily to work. She could not withdraw money because banks were not dispensing cash and PoS agents were charging 40 per cent for their services.
“I trekked to work every day, because when I think of the 40 per cent they will charge me for withdrawing only N10, 000, I rather trek to work. My saving grace is that my daughter could trek to her school.
“I have developed knee pain due to trekking to work because I need to report to work. But later, I stopped going everyday, I only trekked to work once in a week.
“The other day, I went to the bank with only N100, when I heard they have started dispensing old notes, I met people sitting on the floor, waiting endlessly to be paid. In the evening, I had to trek home because the bank said they didn’t have enough money. ”