The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) redesigned the naira notes in December 2022, two months after announcing it would do that, ostensibly to curb inflation, amongst other not-so-clear reasons. And it further informed Nigerians that the old naira notes would no longer be legal tender by the end of January 2023.
Many people have pointed out that CBN merely recolored the affected denominations (i.e., N1,000, N500, & N200). The so-called redesign has also had no effect on the runaway inflation that has made the suffering of poor working people worse.
At each step since the new notes were issued, the CBN has wobbled and fumbled. Just before it commenced circulation of the new notes, it came up with a weekly withdrawal limit policy of N100,000 and N500,000 for individuals and corporate bodies, respectively. Within two weeks, as we entered the Christmas season, it raised these limits to N500,00 and N5 million.
Considering the largely cash-based nature of the country’s economy, it should have been clear to the apex bank that the earlier limits would not be workable. But what might be a major reason for that amended policy might be that it leaped before it looked and is trying to cover the fact that the new naira notes available are grossly insufficient.
As the 31 January 2023 deadline for changing the old notes for the new, most people cannot lay their hands on the new notes. Only a few well-connected rich people appear to have them. They are hardly available for the common people.
Banks still load their ATMs with the old notes. For workers and other poor people, the new N500 and N200 is hardly in circulation. We only get to see the N1,000.
And this is being rationed for us. If you withdraw N10,000 at the counter in a bank, you will get at most N4,000 only in new notes, while the remaining six bills will be old N1,000 notes.
Working people in the informal economy are the most affected, as people continue to buy in local markets and pay for their services with the old notes. People in rural areas are also at risk of losing the little money they have.
Many people have also spent hours at the bank, getting there as early as 8:00am to try to get the new notes. And often they have waited in vain. But they would have wasted time they could have used for finding their daily bread.
The Nigeria Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions Employees (NUBIFIE) has demanded an extension of the deadline, echoing the feeling of working-class people across the country.
Anthony Abakpa, the NUBIFIE president said that “the underprivileged and those who live in rural areas where there are no banks” will definitely suffer a lot, including the loss of the little amounts they have in the old notes if CBN does not postpone the deadline.
This CBN policy is another reflection of the incompetence of the APC government and Mr Godwin Emefiele, the CBN governor, who had earlier shown his interest to run for president of the federation last year.
NLC and TUC should stand up for working people to demand the postponement of the deadline and the resignation of Mr Emefiele.