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Circus of naira scarcity

By Afolabi Aribigbola

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On Saturday December 2, 2023, I visited several Banks Automatic Teller Machines (ATM) to withdraw cash, unfortunately to my utmost disbelief and against my anticipation of easy withdrawal of my money willingly kept with my bank, I could access my money because only a very few Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) working, while among the few that were working only one was dispensing cash to customers that were in dare need of naira to carry out one transactions or the other. 

This nagging experience happened in the commercial area of Alagbaka where most banks in the city were concentrated. Worse still most ATMs have been programmed to release N10,000 to individuals not minding the amount of cash required nor the amount of money the person’s  account. Also, it was a sad commentary that most of the ATMs are without cash in an economy dominated by physical cash and where majority don’t even have bank account. Of course, and as usual in Nigeria the Point-of Sales(POS) operators have since cash on this unacceptable development to raise their charges on the amount collected from about N100 to between N300 and N500 on N10,000. Indeed, one begin to raise issues about the consequences of the worsening naira scarcity on the people and the country’s economy. Was it designed as a circus affair to entertain and engage Nigerians to herald the Christmas and New year celebrations like in 2022.

Is Nigeria a cursed society that must inflict huge suffering on her people during the world’s most celebrated season that encompass the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ and arrival of a new year? Indeed, such horror and pain were the plight of Nigerians around this time last year and it was on until after the conclusion of the 2023 general elections that produced most vociferous damaging contest in the history of election in the country. Is such ugly practice introduced again to punish Nigerians like the previous year or why has genuine efforts not instituted to prevent a repeat of sufferings associated with naira scarcity during the forthcoming yelutide ?

As usual with government departments and agencies in giving excuses for their failure and inadequacies, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Yemi Cardoso, opined that Critical flaw in the implementation of the naira redesign policy is responsible for the prevailing cash scarcity. That “glaring defects” in various CBN policies was responsible for the scarcity and a comprehensive review initiative have been introduced in which more cash had been released for economic activities. Despite the assurance of the CBN, the naira scarcity is yet to abate. In fact, it is getting worse as the situation is yet to improve thereby inflicting more suffering and pains on the poor masses of the country that have to queue for ours to access paltry N5,000 that most often may not reach them. The above precarious situation becomes sad while reflecting on how long Nigerians will continue to suffer policy failures and inability of those responsible for the welfare of Nigerians to do what is right to ensure avoidable pains failure and sufferings of Nigerians. When there was scarcity of cash in late 2022 to early 2023, Nigerians were informed that it was meant  to prevent vote buying during the 2023 general elections. The CBN is insisting that current scarcity is a consequence of poor implementation of the naira redesign policy instigating hoarding of the national currency by disgruntled element that does want good things in the country. The reason adduced for the current scarcity is very unfortunate and clearly unacceptable. It is one that reveals hollowness in administering key sensitive sector of the country’s economy. Hoarding of commodities are possible when there are anticipated or perceived shortages of the commodity. Of course, if there are sufficient cash in the country, there would be no need for hoarding the national currency.

The current shortage of cash in the country which is a repeat of similar debilitating and harrowing experience has the potency beside crippling the economy of the country to  impact very negatively on the living conditions and welfare of the citizens of the country that already jaundiced and crisis ridden. Of course, it will further aggravate the poor economic crisis of the country beyond manageable dimension. It will put unnecessary pressure, create panic and apprehension among the people and therefore increase and enhance the hoarding of the insufficient volume in circulation and by extension escalate the prevalent shortages of cash in the country. The development will also increase the hardship the people are experiencing in the already harsh times into which they have been thrown by the poor management of her once flourishing progressive economy where cash was being dole out without restrictions. Suffice it to say that the economy of the country was once very sound and the leaders were able to offer series of assistance and support to other countries need. The reverse is the case now, Nigeria is now a beggar nation living on borrowing in which it has have to commit over 73 percent of her foreign exchange earnings to servicing debts.

Some have argued that the previous and current naira scarcity in the country are products of the efforts of the CBN to improve the economy of the country that is cascading by reducing the volume of cash in circulation. That such exercise is usually introduced to force down the prices of good and services and ultimately to reduce high inflation. And that it is an attempt to translate the economy into a cashless one as the practice in developed economies in metropolitan Europe and North America. However, in those climes brute force or raw approach imbued with physical suffering are rarely adopted and where unintended problems are found they are quickly corrected. In late   2022 to early 2023, similar policy was introduced with serious repercussion and sufferings by the poor masses of the country with many losing their life because they could not access cash to take care of themselves. Again, if we are programming the economy to become cashless, it requires long term planning including education of the masses and deployment of working and reliable electronic banking that will make e-payments seamless. The reality is that in Nigeria at the moment beside the fact that internet is not available in several places and in the areas where they are available, their functional efficiency is nothing to write home about.

Consequent, it does appear that the circle of cash scarcity created towards the yuletide was deliberate to enrich some individuals at the expense of the majority that are suffering the consequences of scarcity of cash. Some people are benefiting from the harsh policy not minding the pains on the people. The banks are without cash but the PoS operators and those hawking naira along the road and parties have them in excess and in mint that ordinary people cannot access. Quite an irony of events. It revealed that some people are busy manipulating the economy of the country for their benefits while creating crisis visiting serious pain and suffering on the people. Thus, if it is true that the present scarcity was due to poor implementation of naira redesign policy as claimed by the CBN, they ought to have remedy it in the last twelve months. It is not enough for the regulator bank to offer reasons for the current crisis, they should immediately redress the appalling situation that is not only imposing untold hardship on Nigerians but one that is giving the country a bad name among progressive nations of the world. This is because it shows that the country is not capable of managing its economy. The citizens of the country need to embrace and begin to use e-payments for most of their transactions as is the practice universally. The banks should improve on their electronic channels of making purchases and payments to facilitate and enhance e banking in the country.

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