By Afolabi Aribigbola
The Federal Government of Nigeria in the third quarter of 2022 introduced a new naira policy in the country. The policy which the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) initiated submitted that it was designed to improve the value of the national currency, eliminate corruption and stop vote buying during elections among other reasons.
On the contrary, as a result of the scarcity of the national currencies and excruciating suffering and pains Nigerians have been subjected to in the last few weeks, many discerning individuals have described the policy as punitive destroying businesses.
The widespread negative impacts and consequences of the policy motivated some state governors to approach the Supreme court.
Of course, many have also agreed that the policy is desirable to the extent of curbing corruption and vote buying but has equally visited untold hardship on Nigerians and hence the need to take a second look at the intended and unintended outcome or consequences of the new naira policy. I had a bitter taste of the new naira policy on Sunday March 5, 2023. On my way from the church, I stopped at the market to pick an item for my family’s use that morning. I transferred the amount to the trader, I was debited but the trader did not receive alert and therefore could not release the commodity. I wasted a lot of time for credit alerts to be received but, instead I got a reversal of the money I transferred after about thirty minutes. As I was battling to transfer money in the market, a woman was looking for cash. She wanted to collect N10,000 from the PoS agent, she was debited N10,000 while only N8,000 was given to her. The crisis was worsened by unavailability of cash at ATMs and banking halls. All of the Banks had no cash and where available, customers have to be on queue as early as 5am. The above scenarios were pointers to a serious crisis and sufferings associated with the new naira swap policy that seems not to be attracting the appropriate attention by the federal government.
Since the introduction of the policy and the attendant sufferings to which Nigerians especially the downtrodden have been subjected to, a number of questions have been running in my mind. The first is the policy introduced to punish Nigerians for their poor handling of the naira in the past? If no, why did the government acknowledge the problems but failed to resolve it frontally as well as address the untold hardships that the unintended outcomes or consequences of the policy if they really care for the people?
The other burning issue is that the government elected for the purpose of securing the welfare and prosperity of the people burdened them with a new naira policy that made access to cash almost impossible despite the fact that Nigeria economy is dominated by informal businesses where physical cash transactions by overwhelming majority of Nigerians have no bank account predominates. The majority resides in rural and semi-rural areas where banking facilities and services are largely nonexistent. Unfortunately, the POS operators that have filled the hiatus in all parts of the country providing job opportunities have been forced to close business because of lack of cash. Is the country progressing or regressing by this development?
Indeed, there are several reasons to suggest and conclude that the naira swap policy as designed was meant to inflict injury and punishment on the people of the country which have been alleged to be profligate in spending on mundane ephemeral things like parties where naira notes are mutilated while spraying and marching on them and that some have been reckless and careless in handling the national currency. Also, the President acknowledged the suffering arising from the implementation of the policy but did little to mitigate or ameliorate the suffering except to appeal to citizens to endure the hardship a little more. Unfortunately the punishment continues in greater dimension because to withdraw money people were made to pay more. POS operators are now demanding for a commission of N4,000 from those who want to collect N10,000.
Despite the hue and cry associated with the implementation of the new naira policy, the CBN and Federal government refused to assist the people who they exist in the first instance to serve and ensure their welfare. Instead, they arrogantly failed to listen to the cry of the masses until some more concerned and humane state governors took the Federal government to court to halt the debilitating hurting effects of the needless naira crisis. More painful and a pointer to the insinuation that the punishment as deliberately and not an unintended consequence of the policy, the government failed to obey the interlocutory injunction granted by the Supreme Court of Nigeria to continue with the use of the old N200, N500 and N1000 notes. These are clear indications that the government is unmindful or unconcerned about the plight of the common Nigerians.
Granted that many individuals and groups have applauded the new naira policy as a good development capable of improving the economy of the country as well as eliminate corruption and the cankerworm of vote buying that has given the country a bad name and image among the comity of nations.
However, the articulators and implementors of the policy failed woefully to fully anticipate the intended and unintended outcome of the naira policy. Yes the results of recent presidential election, suggest that it has to a large extent reduced vote buying during national election and it can help to reduce corruption but this is not commensurate with the humongous pains and sufferings that ordinary Nigerians have been subjected to in the last few weeks.
In the last few weeks many of the banks have not issued naira notes to customers because of paucity of the currency. Many POS operators have lost their flourishing business because of lack of cash to work with. Also, several people are increasingly finding it difficult to transact business because it got to the extent that those who require medical attention cannot transport themselves to clinics and hospitals because no cash for transfer and medical bill. In the last few days, some petroleum filling stations have refused to sell fuel to individuals that cannot afford to pay cash.
The above indicate that ordinary Nigerians are really suffering as a fallout of the recent naira policy introduced by the CBN. The development and current crisis associated with the naira swap in the country makes the need to reexamine the operational efficiency and outcomes as well as its overall impacts. The policy that seeks to encourage and promote electronic banking rather than moving around with huge physical cash seems good and should be supported. It should however, be undertaken in a way in which it will not appear punitive as it is now. Now that the Supreme Court has ordered the use of the old naira notes, the government should quickly use this window of opportunity to reverse the sufferings accompanying the policy. Since there is nowhere people that desired to use cash are denied, adequate cash should be made available to Nigerians while pursuing a cashless economy that is encouraged globally.
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