Nigerians are today faced with the most uncertain of times. With national elections few days away and deliberate cash squeeze enforced by a deliberate policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
First announced on October 26, 2022, new N200, N500 and N1,000 were introduced and the old ones were to seize as legal tender by January 31, 2023. Later extended to February 10, with the new policy, Nigerians were directed to deposit old notes in exchange for the new notes.
Part of the objective of the policy was also to reduce the amount of money outside the banking system as highlighted by Mr. Godwin Emefiele while announcing the policy that ‘N2.7 trillion out of the N3.3 trillion currency in circulation was outside the vault of commercial banks across the country and supposedly held by members of the public.’
To mop up the N2.7 trillion, the CBN imposed some conditions, which required citizens to deposit money in their bank accounts. This assumes that citizens have bank accounts and that bank branches exist in every part of the country.
The reality however is that only about 39% of Nigerians have bank accounts. More than 300 out of the 774 Local Governments in the country have no bank branches or cash centres. Where they exist, the bank branches and cash centres are mostly located in the headquarters. Specifically, in terms of cash centres, total number of Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) in the country is less than 20,000.
These records suggest the needs to take more extra steps to strengthen the banking system in the country to meet up of the new demands that will be occasioned by the new policy. It will clearly require contingency measures to expand the banking system, such that citizens could exchange the old notes in locations that don’t have bank branches or cash centres such as ATMs.
Given that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in November 2021 reported that Nigeria’s banks closed 234 branches and 649, ATMs, should have given a strong warning that the principles of ceteris paribus (all conditions remaining the same) would translate to failure for the new policy.
Unfortunately, all these were overlooked. And for whatever reasons, the CBN and the Federal Government continue to delude themselves that the new policy can succeed with a very weak banking reality. In the circumstances, both the old and the new notes have disappeared across every part of the country. Even people with bank accounts can’t access their money. Somehow, because we are approaching election period, the gullibility of Nigerians is being exploited. There are stories around how the new policy is going to block vote buying.
There are also other strong narratives about internal sabotage within APC based on how some powerful forces around President Muhammadu Buhari are opposed to the emergence of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, APC Presidential candidate as the next President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
There are also strong concerns about how combination of cash squeeze and fuel scarcity being experienced in every part of the country can lead to unrest and possible postponement of the election. Some have even speculated that all these are aimed at creating a situation that would lead to the enthronement of a so-called government of national unity, whatever that means. All these in some ways remind one of Dr. Reuben Abati’s article of November 14, 2016, The Spiritual Side of Aso Villa. In that article, Dr. Abati lamented how ‘People tend to be alarmed when the Nigerian Presidency takes certain decisions. They don’t think the decision makes sense. Sometimes, they wonder if something has not gone wrong with the thinking process at that highest level of the country.’
Nothing best explains what we are experiencing today. How an excellently desirable policy such that would lead to a cashless economy could be designed to fail beat the imagination of everyone. As a member of APC, I can say with every confidence, this wouldn’t have been the objective. It is however worrisome how our party leaders are unable to convince Mr. President to have a rethink about the implementation of this policy. This has created all manner of frustrations both with the APC, across the country and across all segments of society. The only person that possibly is not frustrated with the policy is Alh. Atiku Abubakar, Presidential candidate of the PDP who is supporting the policy, which is why many people argue that the ‘cabal’ around the President want Alh. Atiku Abubakar to win the election.
Partly on account of the frustration by APC, governments of Kogi, Kaduna and Zamfara states have taken the matter directly to Supreme Court and have today, Wednesday, February 8, 2023 obtained judgement that has canceled the CBN’s February 10 deadline to end the validity of the old Naira notes. With this judgement, it means that even after February 10, the old notes would still serve as legal tender. The big question is, will this end the current Naira (old or new) scarcity? It may not.
If, however, the speculated objective of any so-called cabal is to frustrate the February 25, 2023 elections by either creating conditions that could mobilise electorates to vote against the APC and its candidates, especially Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, God willing it shall not succeed.
In all of these, it needs to be clearly stated that throughout the tenure of President Muhammadu Buhari, nothing tests his credential as a converted democrat more than the need to demonstrate more listening ears and compassion at the plight of Nigerians. As a converted democrat, which I believe he is, President Muhammadu Buhari needs to demonstrate that by respecting the Supreme Court judgement and direct the CBN to end the current madness that imposes Naira scarcity in the country and untold hardship for millions of Nigerians.
For both APC, as a party, and Nigeria, as a nation, one of the lessons that the current reality imposes is the need to develop our political parties and make them capable of regulating the conduct of elected functionaries. This is not only the case with APC, but also the case with all our parties. Why should we have a challenge with grave consequences on the electoral fortunes of political parties, yet none of the parties contesting the 2023 elections have convened any emergency meeting of their National Executive Committee (NEC)? Yet, we want elections to produce accountable leaders. Once party organs have seized to be decision making platforms, the domineering control of government institutions by so-called cabals will remain strong.
Moving Nigerian democracy forward require all of us as Nigerians to be much more honest beyond some partisan permutations about winning elections. As members of APC, we are working hard to win the 2023 elections, but we also will work even more harder to ensure that our next government to be led by Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu will come with more listening ears to Nigerians and fellow party leaders. God willing Asiwaju Tinubu’s APC government must be a remarkable improvement on President Buhari’s government whereby party leaders will through all our organs as provided in our constitution effectively and efficiently take all necessary decisions, which would be respected by Asiwaju Tinubu as President of the Federal Republic, God willing, and all elected representatives.
Salihu Moh. Lukman is of the All Progressives Congress, North-West Zonal Office,
Support Investigative Journalism and Mentorship
Courageous Journalism of Truth,Transparency and Development is in the DNA of Prime Business Africa; By donating as little as N1000 or $1 today, you are helping to keep credible journalism and life-changing information free for all.