from EMEKA OKONKWO in Abuja, Nigeria
ABUJA, (CAJ News) – THE tipping point in Nigeria’s cash shortages is a notorious terrorist leader brandishing the scarce, new naira notes on social media and him boasting of acquiring more weapons to fight government forces.
Yet, Africa’s biggest economy launched the newly-designed currency late last year to curb terrorism.
This last major policy of the outgoing administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has sunk the country not only into a security time bomb, but an economic catastrophe, political upheaval and social unrest.
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) launched new notes in November 2022. The redesigned N200 ($0,46), N500 ($1,15) and N1 000 naira ($2,30) notes came into effect the following month.
It is 50 years since the introduction of the naira to replace the Nigerian pound.
Among other objectives, the apex bank explained the redesign of the local currency, the first in 19 years, was to address inflation, currency counterfeiting, insecurity and other issues bedeviling Africa’s largest economy.
It was also hoped this would promote a cashless economy by limiting the amount of the new banknotes that can be withdrawn, eliminate hoarding as well as curb crimes like kidnapping and terrorism and illicit financial transactions, which are rife in the volatile West African nation.
The move has degenerated into a multidimensional disaster. Buhari’s legacy is at stake as he prepares to leave office, with the February 25 poll on the horizon. He is in a race against time to
Regulators last month announced a January 31 deadline for old notes to either be used or deposited at banks but it was extended to February 10.
The move has created a shortage of cash, leaving millions unable to buy basics. Some companies have been forced to close amid low business in an economic recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Money has landed in the wrong hands, actually.
Recently, a video went viral of feared terrorist leader, Kachalla Baleri, and some of his deputies brandishing new naira notes amid the cash scarcity afflicting other Nigerians
In the video, he flaunts the notes and claims to have N10 million.
Baleri, who is leading the terror against communities in the North West region, even brags he has bought new weapons with some of the new notes.
The bandit leader also mocks efforts by the government to curb terrorism through the redesigning of the naira.
“We are waiting for what they will say next on the new naira notes,” Baleri is quoted in the video, translated from Hausa.
Such videos are the hallmark of the now-deceased Abubakar Shekau, leader of the Boko Haram, an Islamist group that has been terrorising northern Nigeria since 2009.
Some videos depict some well-to-do Nigerians dancing on the new naira at parties or spraying the money.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is investigating actress and cosmetologist, Oluwadarasimi Omoseyin, after a video emerged of her spraying and stepping on the newly redesigned naira notes at a party.
She is also seen flaunting wads of the new notes.
Operatives of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Fraud Related Offences Commission (ICPC) arrested Omoseyin.
The cash shortages have been attributed to the CBN mopping up more than N2 trillion of the old notes but printing only N300 billion at the time of publishing.
Nigeria’s streets have been turned into battle grounds featuring state security and citizens angry at the cash crunch. Protests have coincided with demonstrations over intermittent shortages of fuel in Africa’s largest producer of oil.
On Tuesday, the largely peaceful city of Abeokuta in the southwestern state of Ogun descended into clashes as angry citizens demonstrated after some spent hours on queues at ATM but failing to access money.
Police fired rubber bullets to disperse angry youths that blocked some roads, set bonfire and destroyed political billboards. Some protestors attempted to set a bank on fire.
Protesters, laying the blame on financial institutions for the shortages, vandalised some bank property.
Police reportedly shot one suspected hooligan during an attempt by some militants to rob a bank.
No incidents were reported in a concurrent protest in the city of Akure, in the state of Ondo, also in the southwest. Banks closed early.
Last week, a person was killed in Ibadan, Nigeria’s third-largest city by population (after Lagos and Kano) when an angry crowd locked horns with police in a demonstration over the cash crunch.
At the end of January, mischief makers stoned Buhari’s convoy and helicopter in Kano, apparently over the crisis.
Authorities have reported some bank officials are conniving with organised syndicates to sell the redesigned notes.
Peter Afunanya, spokesperson of the Department of State Services (DSS), said the agency had arrested some suspects.
“It was also established that some commercial bank officials are aiding the economic malfeasance,” Afunaya said.
This week, EFCC arrested a manager at a leading bank in the capital Abuja on allegations of hoarding new notes.
It is allegedly he refused to load the automated teller machines of the bank despite having N29 million of the new notes in the branch’s vaults.
Meanwhile, the chaos has added to the tense political atmosphere in the run-up to the elections in Africa’s most populous country, with an estimated 219 million people.
Buhari and CBN are adamant Friday’s deadline to hand over old naira notes will not be extended.
This week, Buhari rejected a proposal by some governors of his All Progressives Congress (APC) who advocated for the concurrent use of the new and old notes until the end of this year.
It is feared the current situation could be detrimental to the ruling party’s fortunes at the elections.
“Only a mad man will vote APC,” government critic, Christopher Ekpo, lashed.
Some 14 political parties have threatened to withdraw from the general elections if there was a further extension of the February 10 swap deadline.
“Only politicians who have perfected plans to buy votes with the old notes are clamouring for further extension of the deadline for old naira note swap,” stated Willy Ezugwu, Secretary General of the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP).
CNPP, the umbrella body of all registered political parties, thereby welcomed High Court judge Eneojo Eneche’s verdict against an application by some opposition parties seeking an extension of the deadline.
“Nigerian youths must be assured that once the right leadership is voted at all levels, the current pains and hardship will eventually become a tale of the past,” Ezugwu assured.
– CAJ News