New Currency Notes: What A Country! – Dr. Muiz Banire SAN

 I have always contended that Nigeria as a country is a unique one in all ramifications. Is it the natural endowments of the country you want to consider? The strategic location of the country? The climate change challenges of being afflicted by all the three major consequences of desertification, flooding and erosion? 

The uniqueness of Nigeria is most underlined by the above, but most importantly, the country is unique because of the behavioral patterns of her people, either as leaders or followers. The way and manner in which we conduct ourselves as leaders and followers have no equivalent elsewhere.
 We are simply just who we are. In the past, I used to be worried about these (mis)conducts but in recent times I simply laugh them off. 

Recall the unattended friction between the Minister of Finance and the Central Bank Governor, the ongoing conflict between the same Central Bank Governor and the Department of State Security, without any intervention from the leadership, to mention just two of the aberrations on the part of the leadership, while on the part of the followership, till date, fuel queues still linger with Nigerians sleeping days at the filling station and still buying at astronomical prices. 

Notwithstanding the suffering, there is still no reaction from the government nor the populace. The way and manner passengers are treated by domestic airlines, amazingly, still generates no reaction. These examples, amid endless numbers, are simply to denote the uniqueness of our people.In most other jurisdictions, these are unacceptable behaviors, which we, as Nigerians, continue to indulge in one form or another. 

Anyway, that is not really my concern in this column but just a means of setting the tone for our conversation. My major concern is on threat to the frustration of the new monetary policy by the governors, legislators and the political class in general, largely for their selfish ends. It will be recalled that the apex bank had recently redesigned some denominations of the currency notes of the country, particularly the high denominations, in an exercise deprecated as currency painting by critics. Among several reasons advanced by the Apex bank is the urgent need to reduce the quantum of the currency in circulation, to curb inflation and also address the challenge of cash hoarding by some individuals for fear of money laundering contravention. 

While the Apex bank did not specifically mention politicians, it is clear that the habit is mainly that of politicians. This is basically due to the fact that they trade in cash largely. Deadline has been given by the apex bank and it  is the 31st day of January, 2023, for the deposit of all old notes in the banks for the new notes, coupled with the limitation of  the amount of cash that could be accessed either directly over the counter or through the automated teller machines (ATM). As soon as the policy was announced, the first set of commentators were the politicians, expectedly. 

This is not strange because cash is their tool of trade, as said above. Agitation started across the nation over the policy, most of which were sponsored by politicians. The National Assembly was not left unconcerned as it promptly summoned the leadership of the apex bank over the policy, adopting their usual tactic of harassment to get the policy reversed. Unfortunately, it will appear that the policy is fully endorsed and backed by the President, hence the ability of the leadership of the apex bank to withstand the pressure so far.

Although, I have disdain for the majority of the Apex bank’s policies over time, this policy is one of the only two so far that I have endorsed as I consider all other policies as mere experiments. Why I embraced this policy, among others, is simply because of the need to enthrone sanity in our electoral process. It is in this connection that I must state that we all owe a debt of gratitude to the leadership of the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) for its consistent and progressive application of technology to our electoral processes, and to all other stakeholders that midwifed the enactment of the extant Electoral Act of 2022. With the combination of the two, it seems that the country’s electoral process has improved tremendously with the damning manipulation of elections becoming a great challenge to the political class. To a large extent now, the abuse of the registration and accreditation processes have been tamed through the use of the Biomodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), while the forgery of results or outcome of elections has been checkmated with the electronic transmission of results. These, among other innovations by the commission and the Electoral Act, are now debacles to the political class whose specialization is the manipulation of the electoral process. Now it will seem that the two major challenges left are vote-buying and political thuggery.I had thought and suggested that the way to address votes buying was to introduce the restriction of the use of cameras and other photographic materials in the election cubicles so as to erase any evidence of choice that can earn the voter any pecuniary gain. This idea, already embraced by the commission, will help to a certain extent. 

The political thuggery aspect remains a challenge due to the inadequacy and incapacity of our law enforcement agents. While savoring the ban of the use of cameras, the apex bank announced the new monetary policy, which I consider as a laudable step, if well implemented. However, immediately the policy was announced, I knew that there would be a major pressure to reverse it.

Apart from the pressures alluded to above, suddenly the Department of State Security emerged with her claim that the apex bank governor was involved in terrorism financing and economic sabotage and hence must be arrested, interrogated and detained for two months at the first instance. If the story by Kazaure was something to go by, he was actually interrogated but escaped detention on medical grounds before “eloping” abroad. The inference drawn by Nigerians is simply that he was to be kept away for the period of the two months to enable the policy reversal till after all elections are concluded when he would then be released and, in the conventional attitudes of Nigerians, no fuss will be generated thereafter.

Somehow, the Apex bank governor has managed to survive so far, suspectedly because of presidential backing. Seeing that all the above strategies and other blackmail measures could not work, the governors had to boldly come out condemning the policy and adducing all manner of spurious reasons why the policy must be reversed. Not gaining so much traction, they sought refuge in the peculiarities of states. Through their representatives and goons at the National Assembly again, and those being politicians contesting elections again, they continue piling further pressure through their resolutions. Up till yesterday, the legislators in my view are still grandstanding. 

It is only hoped that all these pressures will not make the apex bank to cave in, at least, till after the elections. As at the time of submitting this script, the 25th day of January, 2023, the apex bank is still resolute. The whole essence of the pressures of the political class is to be able to spend the old notes they have stockpiled for the elections and/or in the alternative, secure more of the new notes by lifting the cash withdrawal restrictions.

There is nothing more than this because as soon as the election is over you will not hear anything from the characters again, betraying their genuine intention, which is selfish. The clamouring for reversal is not for the people’s interest but the selfish interests of politicians solely. Consequently, I believe that, if Nigerians are still on the same page with the quest of the President for free and fair elections, we must join forces in ensuring that the policy is not reversed. 

This said, I must, however, not fail in revealing the sabotage of the policy by the relevant officials already. The politicians certainly are still having their way through the compromise of the deposit bank officials and undermining the policy. Most of the initial cash allocated to the banks eventually found its way to the politicians under compromise. Most has ended up in the various state houses, which explained why it was practically impossible to access cash withdrawal of the new notes over the counter in most banks.

At first, the banks were claiming that the apex bank did not make the new notes available to them in sufficiency to meet the demands of the people. Later, the excuse has changed to the machines’ non-functionality. Unveiling this sharp and nefarious practice of the bank officials, in my view, requires no special skills. What are the supervisory officials of the apex bank doing? Have they checked the books of the banks to ascertain who they paid the cash allocated to? Most customers’ accounts have been fiddled with in this respect.

Furthermore, after the migration of cash payments to the ATMs, my experience is that it is still proving difficult. In fact, I have not succeeded in making such withdrawal through either of the means. In most of the machine outlets that I have visited, the trick is always to state that the machines are out of service and malfunctioning. This is a pattern again to frustrate the new directive. It takes no rocket science for the authorities to discover this, except again there is compromise.

Again, what are the anti-corruption agents doing? Are they pretending not to know this? The shocking one is the unbridled access of the cash hawkers to the new notes. They are all over social functions, parties, especially, hawking this currency and selling to whoever desires. 

Again, are there no officials of both the Apex bank and the anti-corruption agencies that witness or see this? Or are they simply turning a blind eye to it? Where is the source of these hawkers when innocent citizens with genuine demands for the cash are not getting it? Why are they not being probed? This can but only be a case of compromise galore. 

The last two examples are glaring testimonies to the sabotage of the policies without anybody appearing to be concerned. This again explains our uniqueness as a people. 

My case in this intervention is that Nigerians need to back the Apex bank on this issue, if we desire good governance that can only be brought about by credible leaders that are capable of emerging through credible elections. The apex bank must not back down on this. We need to be more vigilant.