By Emmanuel Onwubiko
“Under efficient public administration citizens do their duties willingly and mention their rights fearlessly.” – Amit Kalantri, Wealth of Words
“No public administration will be acceptable unless the public servants are polite and pleasant to the people”. – Amit Kalantri, Wealth of Words
President Muhammadu Buhari has just scored another infamous own goal and has earned a treacherous medal as the Head of State under whose watch Nigerians were killed or died whilst struggling to pull out their savings in the Nigerian deposit banks following the ill advised, ill timed decision by the Governor of the Nigerian Central Bank Mr.Godwin Emefiele to redesign the Naira notes and phase out three of the most important and popular Naira notes of N1,000 Bill, N500 Bill and N200 Bill.
Before proceeding, let me say quickly that the import of this piece is not to rule out the powers and functions of the Central Bank of Nigeria as the custodian of the nation’s monetary policies. Far from it. The truth is that the mandates of the Central Bank of Nigeria are to ensure monetary and price stability; issue legal tender currency in Nigeria; maintain external reserves to safeguard the international value of the legal tender currency; to promote a sound financial system in Nigeria and to act as banker of and to provide economic and financial advice to the Federal government.
However, what is generally in contention is the timing of the redesigning of the Naira Notes initiative with few weeks to election which effectively made the policy appear political.
To make matters worst, there is so much division within the ruling All Progressives Congress so much so that there is so much commotion and opposition against the policy of redesigning the Naira notes on the eve of the 2023 poll. It is said that a house divided amongst itself can’t stand.
The perception of the majority of the All Progressives Congress governors who are working to get their Presidential Candidate Bola Ahmed Tinubu to win the poll by all means has inevitably revealed the hidden reason for the hurriedly packaged redesigning of the Naira Notes initiative. It became worst when it is now clear that the CBN is not in a position to reintroduce the new notes in such a fashion that there won’t be need for rogue bankers to begin to hoard and hawk them to the highest bidders.
There is also the angle of political witch-hunt just as there is a massive amount of cynicism on why the CBN is going about such a monumental monetary redesigning project at the time that the Governor of the CBN has been hiding from the Department of State Services that even went to the Federal High Court to obtain an injunction to have him arrested for financing terrorism- whatever that means!
In mid January the leading Civil Rights Advocacy Group:- HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) had asked President Muhammadu Buhari to tell Nigerians where the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) was at that moment physically and for many weeks after the Chief banking regulator Godwin Emefiele travelled to the United States of America with the President to attend the USA/AFRICAN Summit.
In a media statement by the National Coordinator Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, the Rights group alleged that the physical absence from public view of the CBN Governor has caused catastrophic and organised confusion with the implementation of the re-designing of the Naira Notes by deposit banks that have continued to sell the new notes in the blavk markets and failing to pay depositors.
According to HURIWA:” since the rumour mills got saturated of a plot to arrest the governor of CBN by the DSS and several media reports emanated about legal discord purportedly between the CBN Governor and the DSS, the governor of Central Bank of Nigeria Mr. Godwin Emefiele ‘disappeared’ from public views.
HURIWA lamented that the instructions that have emanated from the Central Bank to deposit banks to saturate their ATM machines with the re-designed Naira notes to Nigerians can get hold of these new notes that became legal tender in December 15th 2022 have been largely violated and treated with ignominy by the banks most probably because of the perceived physically absence of the Governor of CBN Mr. Godwin Emefiele.
HURIWA said that the chaos going on in the banking sector because of the absence of the CBN governor from Nigeria or so it seems could precipitate monumental public protests if the Central Banks fails to either adjust the deadline for the expiration of the former Naira notes with about three months or continues to refuse to saturate the Country’s financial sector with the re-designed notes.
The Rights group said Nigeria is about the only Country globally whereby the whereabouts of the Central Bank governor is not publicly accounted for just as the Rights group wondered why the President has kept silent about the clear absence of the CBN governor and the confusion, chaos and anarchy that this choreographed physical absence of the CBN governor has created.
HURIWA said it is shocking that at a time the governor of CBN should lead from the front physically in carrying out advocacy campaigns on the re-designing of the Naira Notes, the CBN Governor has rather ‘disappeared’ like a village masquerade that appears only during New yam festivals.
HURIWA said the absence is definitely worrisome given the groundswell of social and economic implications of his physical absence and the non-compliance to any sort of instructions coming from the CBN just as the group asked that an acting governor of CBN be appointed to avoid the void if the current holder has gone on absent without leave.
HURIWA recalled that last year’s October the Central Bank of Nigeria through the governor said it has redesigned all major naira notes and will by December 2022 start circulating them. The affected denominations are N100, N200, N500, and N1000.
HURIWA recalled too that the CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, announced this at a press briefing even as he had in October last year said the notes were redesigned following a request from the federal government.
HURIWA quoted the media as quoting the CBN governor to have said as follows last year’s October: “The last time the bank redesigned the naira was in 2014 when it changed the design of the 100 naira note to commemorate Nigeria’s centenary.
“Although global best practice is for central banks to redesign, produce and circulate new local legal tender every 5–8 years, the Naira has not been redesigned in the last 20 years.
“On the basis of these trends, problems, and facts, and in line with Sections 19, Subsections a and b of the CBN Act 2007, the Management of the CBN sought and obtained the approval of President Muhammadu Buhari to redesign, produce, and circulate new series of banknotes at N100, N200, N500, and N1,000 levels.” According to the governor, the CBN has finalised arrangements for the new currency to begin circulation from December 15, 2022. He said the new and existing currencies will remain legal tender and circulate together until January 31, 2023 when the existing currencies shall cease to be legal tender.
Relatedly, Civil rights advocacy group, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, (HURIWA) on Tuesday last week, knocked the Central Bank of Nigeria over its hurried and improperly planned cash swap programme just a week to the January 31, 2023 deadline for demonetisation of the old notes.
HURIWA’s National Coordinator, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, in a statement said the January 31 deadline for the invalidation of old N200, N500 and N1,000 notes is not workable and feasible under any condition, pointing out that even in the developed parts of the world like the United Kingdom which changed the image on four polymer banknotes (£5, £10, £20 and £50) upon the demise of Queen Elizabeth II last year and replaced her with that of the new monarch, King Charles III.
The group also sought a one-year extension deadline by the CBN for all Nigerians, especially those in remote and unbanked areas to exchange their old notes for the new ones, citing the example of the United Kingdom which unveiled its new notes on December 20, 2022 but gave the deadline of 2024 for banks to still swap old pound sterling for the new ones.
On December 20, 2022, the Bank of England unveiled the design of King Charles III four polymer banknotes (£5, £10, £20 and £50) with no other changes to the existing designs. The King’s image now appears on the front of the banknotes, as well as in cameo in the see-through security window.
The BoE said all new notes are expected to enter circulation by mid-2024 while all polymer banknotes carrying a portrait of HM Queen Elizabeth II remain legal tender, and the public can continue to use these as normal. It said the notes featuring HM Queen Elizabeth II and King Charles III will therefore co-circulate till 2024.
On the contrary, on October 26, 2022, the CBN announced plans to redesign the N200, N500 and N1,000 notes. President Muhammadu Buhari subsequently launched the three redesigned banknotes on November 23, 2022 and the CBN had said its January 31 2023 deadline for all old naira notes to be swapped remains.
With rising concerns from many Nigerians, especially those in the hinterlands and unbanked areas, over the slow spread of the three new naira notes as the deadline approaches, the CBN launched its cash swap programme just a week to the deadline of January 31, 2023.
HURIWA’s Onwubiko said, “The hurriedly put up cash swap by the Central Bank of Nigeria at the eleventh hour shows that the apex bank has seen that its deadline is not feasible. Why is CBN so insensitive, irresponsible and arrogant? 90% of Nigerians haven’t even seen the redesignedN200, N500, N1,000 notes yet the CBN is using military fiat to invalidate the old notes that are still being dispensed by banks with only a week to the so-called deadline? The CBN is apparently confused.
“The CBN should learn from the Bank of England which gave over a year for people living in Britain to exchange their old notes for the new ones. Though the BoE said the old notes cannot be used physically to buy things, it noted that they will be accepted at banks for the swap of the new ones till 2024.
“This is what a developed economy like the UK has done even when the ratio of the banked is far more than the unbanked, if any at all. What stops the CBN for following the same policy? The CBN should stop being intransigent and adhere to the calls by the Senate and the Nigeria Governors’ Forum for an extension of the deadline for the exchange of the old naira notes for new ones.
“HURIWA unequivocally demands a one-year extension to enable the poorest households and millions of unbanked and unreached Nigerians to be able to change their old naira notes to new ones. Anything from this is an illegality and callousness of the highest order!”
Just like the organisation that I lead, methinks the CBN governor is heavily distracted and the Federal government highly divided so much so that the Finance minister and the CBN governor are not on the same page on this redesigning policy and the critical security agency like the DSS under the control of President Muhammadu Buhari has been busy seeking the arrest of Godwin Emefiele and it took the intervention of the Chief of Defence staff to get armed soldiers to protect the CBN Governor and shield him from arrest by DSS.
The confusion within the political party in power is highly unprecedented and this situation is very ugly to allow for the successful redesigning of the Naira Notes by this federal government.
In what is clearly choreographed political machinations by President Muhammadu Buhari to financially crumble the candidate of the All Progressives Congress Bola Ahmed Tinubu who has notoriety for the deployment of huge arsenal of cash to influence his electoral fortune, President Muhammadu Buhari ended up virtually crumbling the economic activities of Nigerian businesses in both the formal and informal sectors to the extent that the newly redesigned Naira notes are being rationed like relief materials being distributed to internally displaced persons caused by either a natural or man-made war situation or disaster. Effectively, the Nigerian situation with regards to the non availability of the new naira notes coupled with other scarcity of essential items such as fuel to power businesses and cars, Nigeria is definitely in a war situation foisted on the citizen by a CBN governor that is now playing god.
The CBN Governor Godwin Emefiele has been around as the head of that apex bank for over 7 years but he never thought it appropriate to change or redesign the National currency but suddenly on the eve of a very strategic election scheduled for February 25th 2023, the Delta State born banker suddenly woke up from slumber and began his ill fated redesigning of the naira notes and intentionally failed to put measures in place to ensure that the transition from the old to the new notes is seamless but what is in place now is a well organised criminal activities of the CBN in cahoots with the deposit banks that are deliberately hoarding the new notes and auctioning the same notes to politicians who then go on to buy votes in the coming general elections.
The CBN had argued that the naira notes were due for change to be able to mop up huge amount of money in circulation that are not within the volts of the CBN and then to check the inordinate ambition of some rogue politicians to buy votes.
Either of these reasons are plausible and as we can now see, the very reason adduced for this change of Naira notes has been long defeated and in its place, many of the Citizens who are frustrated by their inability to access their cash from their banks, decided to protest but the President Muhammadu Buhari who is a notorious dictator that has the notoriety of using military might to crush peaceful protests, decided to unleash venomous anti- Democratic measures to kill off the protesters.
Yet, many Nigerians have also died whilst either waiting on the long queues to be able to retrieve some of their deposits to buy essential items.
There are three of such debilitating cases of citizens getting killed by soldiers and police or dying because they are unable to access their little cash whereas politicians are actually buying up the few notes that are printed and distributed by the incompetent and grossly inefficient CBN and the Security and Minting Company headed by the brother of the Wife of the President. Nassir Elrufai alleged a governor has just bought N500 million of the redesigned notes. Elrufai is the Governor of Kaduna State and a staunch promoter of the Presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
We will look at these cases and then as aforementioned we have narrated how other nations carry out changes to their national currency without subjecting their citizens to untimely and cruel deaths as President Muhammadu Buhari’s junta has just done to the chagrin of millions of Nigerians who are obviously being provoked to pour out on the streets of Nigeria and disrupt the coming election so President Muhammadu Buhari can have his reason to appoint an interim administrator that he will teleguide in form of a third term in office. It is obvious that the President Muhammadu Buhari is not in any hurry to organise free, fair, peaceful and transparent election to enable the voters to elect the next President to assume office on May 29th 2023. And so we will see these cases of unwarranted fatalities occasioned by the chaotic implementation of the redesigning of the Naira Notes.
The first of these cases is the story that after waiting for many hours, an unnamed bank customer had died after queuing at a generation bank in Agbor, Delta State. Incidentally, Agbor is the hometown of the incompetent CBN governor Godwin Emefiele.
The sad incident occurred on Thursday, 2nd February, in the Ika South Local Government Area, Delta State.
Confirming the incident, the Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, in Delta state, DSP Bright Edafe, said the deceased came to the bank to collect his ATM card.
The police said the deceased came to collect his Automated Teller Machine card.
He said, ”He was not trying to withdraw cash; he came to collect his ATM card,”
Nigerians have expressed the painful experience they endure in commercial banks to withdraw cash following the redesign of N200, N500, and N1000 banknotes by the Central Bank of Nigeria and the attendant scarcity.
Many banks and ATMs have yet to dispense either old or new notes.
The second story says that barely 24 hours after protest rocked Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, over the scarcity of fuel and new naira notes, another group of youths, on Saturday staged a protest at Dogo community in Apata, Ido Local Government Area of the state, leading to the death of three persons.
It was gathered that the youths were assembling when security operatives arrived at the scene and asked them to disperse.
The directive by the security personnel led to an argument between them and the youths.
A credible source told Sunday the media that, “I cannot actually say what really happened. The youths assembled themselves and suddenly police and soldiers arrived in the area. Nobody knew what happened until one of them angrily shot into the air. People started scampering for safety.
“This action infuriated those youths, and they engaged security officers. The officers shot three people. One died immediately, the second guy died before getting to the hospital while the third person died at the hospital.”
Reacting to the unrest through a statement, the state Police Command said only one person was killed.
A statement authorised by the state Police Public Relations Officer, Adewale Osifeso, said, “Today (Saturday) at about 1015hrs, while embarking on series of confidence building patrols around different black spots and flash points, the joint convoy patrol comprising of the police and other agencies ran into a band of hoodlums around Apata junction market, Apata Area, under Ido Local Government Area.
Similarly, at the University of Benin, soldiers engaged in fisticuffs with students as the soldiers took over the ATM machine that a bank installed for the use of the students. Following the protest by the students, soldiers were said to have manhandled many female students and caused heavy stampede around the student hostels that the soldiers invaded in the dead of the night. The next story is such that touches the heart as it was reported that a Kaduna man lost pregnant wife to scarcity of new naira.
The said pregnant woman in Kasuwan Magani, Kajuru LGA who was due for delivery died because all efforts by her husband to withdraw money from the bank failed.
Narrating the ordeal, James Auta, said he went with his wife to the hospital on Monday where the doctor asked him to deposit money before he could examine her.
According to him: “I ran to my bank to withdraw money, but was told no money. I went back looking for POS operators, but I could not find any because, since the issue of new currency began, most POS operators locked up their business centre.”
As he could not have access to his money, the couple decided to go back home, trusting God for safe delivery, he said.
Unfortunately, their situation took a turn for the worse. The man said thus: “My wife began labour around 11 pm. Since I could not withdraw any money, I called the attention of a nurse within our locality. But as my wife delivered, blood was coming out non-stop. All efforts by the nurse to stop the bleeding failed,” he recalled.
The question to ask is why the government has deliberately introduced a policy that it never intended to implement holistically with a view to achieving a political objective for those who indeed do not want a particular candidate to use money influences to buy votes? Why will President Muhammadu Buhari inflict do much pain on Nigerians in his quest to actualize a political goal? Wonders indeed shall not end in Africa.
*EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA and was NATIONAL COMMISSIONER OF THE NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA.