FOR the umpteenth time, it seems that the assumed social contract between the Nigerian government and Nigerians is actually non-existent. The government has no respect for Nigerians or their feelings, which is why a visit to the Automated Teller Machines (ATM) or the counters of any of the country’s Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) will, at this moment, confirm yet another act of gross disrespect for the Nigerian people: the non-availability of the new naira notes about which the country’s apex bank, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), waxed lyrical only last month. The extant N1,000, N500 and N200 notes are supposed to go into extinction by the end of this month, yet the new notes that are supposed to replace them are not in circulation. The new notes have been flaunted by political actors in moments of electoral gimmick and have been freely sold at social functions, but they have not been sighted by the majority of Nigerians who are desperate to exchange the old notes with new ones. This is, to say the very least, a horrendous development that puts into bold relief the unconscionable leadership that has put the people in its vice grip.
In unfolding its currency redesign policy, the CBN harped on its pursuit of tighter controls over the cash in circulation, noting that it would help in tackling electronic fraud (e-fraud). Pointing out that as electronic payments continued to gain traction, fraudulent transactions last year reduced by 35 percent compared to 2021, it averred that the policy would prevent criminals from defrauding innocent people because of the withdrawal limits which would automatically trace and block such compromised accounts before the money is illegally withdrawn. Sadly, at the moment, nearly a month after, most Nigerians have not set sight on the new notes. With the new notes still not coming out of the banks’ ATMs or counters weeks into the time stipulated by the CBN for the new and old notes to legally circulate together before the old notes are then withdrawn, it is apposite to ask whether the CBN is really serious and adequately prepared for the redesign exercise.
Just how could the bank announce new notes and then force Nigerians to make do with the old notes? How could customers visit banks and be paid in old notes when the apex bank says it has redesigned new ones and made them available? Are the new notes meant for the CBN vaults or are they meant to be used by Nigerians? The CBN should sit up. Nigerians did not demand new notes; it was the CBN that asked Nigerians to expect new notes as part of its rejigged monetary policy. The absence of the new notes amidst apprehension regarding the time limit for the legality of the old notes has created undue tension among Nigerians. As a matter of fact, they cannot even tell the new notes and fake ones apart because of the scarcity of the former. And, what is more, there have been skirmishes, some of them very ugly, between buyers and sellers who rejected the old notes under the assumption that they were fake money. In any case, it is widely speculated that imitations of the new notes have already been created by the criminals faking the old notes, creating fresh problems for the economy ahead of the yet-to-be-circulated notes.
How are the old notes to be withdrawn from circulation if not through the massive infusion of the new notes? The CBN and its officials strut with aplomb across the land as if they really know what they are doing even when the reality is that they are only playing games with Nigerians. This is the same way that the CBN was pretending that cashlessness could be imposed by fiat on a largely informal economy without requisite and adequate infrastructure, and had to be forced through the unrelenting cries from Nigerians to rescind the unhelpful and unworkable N20,000 cash limit it imposed on Nigerians.
We hope that the CBN will sit up and ensure that the new notes are available for every bank transaction. It must not throw Nigerians into yet another avoidable round of economic tension as they desperately search for the new notes. It evidently makes no sense to fix a date to end the legal validity of the old notes before the new notes are made sufficiently available to the public.
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