Abuja — Nigerians confronted by hardships over the scarcity of the newly redesigned naira notes in conjunction with the country's cashless policy introduced by the apex bank have had a last-minute reprieve from a policy that had disrupted their lives and exacerbated hunger.
On Friday, March 3, 2023, the country's Supreme Court temporarily suspended the March 10, 2023, deadline for use of the redesigned naira and said the imposition of such a tight deadline was an affront to the 1999 constitution.
Trying to get money from the ATMs of accredited commercial banks had created so many difficulties that people had put their lives on hold. Artisans, teachers, and other professionals could not go to work, many school children were loitering at home, itinerant traders were stranded, and families were now hungry and, on occasion, resorted to violent protests because they had not been able to access their money.
Experts had warned that the situation could trigger a cash-induced recession because the country's economy is chiefly cash-based.
In October last year, the Central Bank of Nigeria Governor, Godwin Emefiele, announced that three major denominations would be redesigned on the Federal government's orders.
Emefiele announced that Nigeria's last redesign was in 2014 when the N100 note was redesigned to mark the country's centenary.
"In line with sections 19, subsection a and b of the CBN Act 2007, the management of the CBN sought and obtained the approval of President Muhammad Buhari to redesign, produce and circulate new series of banknotes at N200, N500 and N1000 levels," he said.
In November last year, Buhari launched the new naira notes and said they would be in circulation from December 15, and the deadline for swapping old notes for new ones in the Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) was slated for this year on January 31. But the mass objection and the banks' inability to swap the money forced it to be extended to February 10, 2023. On February 17, the old notes ceased to be recognized as legal tender.
To add to the woes on December 6, the apex bank, in an attempt to push a cashless economy, introduced a cash withdrawal limit and directed the lower banks to limit over-the-counter amounts to be withdrawn by individuals and corporate entities to N100,000 and N500,000 (about USD 207 and USD 1085. 5) per week. This order was expected to take effect on January 9, 2023, and ATMs and point of sale (PoS) terminals would dispense a maximum of (N20,000) (USD 43.4) at a time.
The cashless policy's first phase was introduced in April 2012 in Lagos to encourage electronic transactions and enhance the efficiency of Nigeria's payment system. It was successful there, and the policy was then extended to five other states in July 2013. For the expansion of financial access points and financial inclusion and proliferation of electronic transactions, the CBN gave full implementation in September 2019 before the nationwide implementation was recently announced to commence on January 9 this year.
Like many other developing African countries, Nigeria's economy was greatly affected by the Russian/Ukraine war. In 2016 the country hit a recession, which caused her economy to contract by 1.6 percent due to a fall in the price of oil in the international market.
Also, in the third quarter of 2020, its economy plunged into recession over the negative impact of COVID-19 on travel and the supply chain of goods worldwide.
Moreover, the growth of her inflation rate climbed to 21.82 percent in January 2023.
The CBN justifies the cashless policy in the banking system, saying it could defuse kidnapping for ransom, armed robbery, graft terrorism financing, extortion, advance fee fraud, and other crimes, while the compulsory withdrawal limit will cause deflation to the country's economy.
Inflation occurs when there is too much money in circulation. The central bank's findings showed that as of October last year, currency in circulation was N3.23 trillion naira, but there was only 500 billion naira in various banks' custody, and 2.7 trillion naira was permanently undeposited. Observers have projected that with the decision to take the money out of circulation, inflation would decrease.
Not Enough Money in Circulation
News analysts questioned whether the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting (NSPM) could print the money. It was created in 1963 with authority to produce currencies and security documents for ministries, agencies of government, and companies.
In addition, a World Bank survey revealed that there were 16.15 ATMs per 100,000 adults in Nigeria in 2021 - which means that for a population of over 200 million people in Nigeria, there are only 32,000 ATMs across the federation. Each ATM would need to dispense a minimum of 1 million naira daily.
But the problem was exacerbated because the commercial banks were short of cash and unable to get the newly printed naira from the central bank because the NSPM could only print 4 billion banknotes per year.
The central bank's deputy governor, Aisha Ahmad, said in December that 500 million new notes had been ordered, which a financial analyst describes as insufficient.
"The intention for the naira redesign and adoption of cashless transactions is to reduce vote buying and terrorism in the country, but the CBN needs to release more cash into circulation," a Lagos-based analyst from KPMG Babatunde Babajide told IPS in an interview.
The Vote Buying
As enticing voters with cash was a phenomenon in previous Nigerian elections, the CBN insisted on retaining the notes in the banks and kicking against any further extension of the swapping of the old currency to check vote buying during the February election.
However, many members of the All Progressive Congress (APC), the ruling party, said the cash crunch is a plot against their candidate Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Last week Tinubu was declared the winner of the election - despite allegations that the poll was flawed, and is now contested by both the main opposition leaders Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar and Labour Party's Peter Obi.
A political scientist from the University of Nigeria, Adilieje Chukwuma, also affirmed that the naira redesign was principally for economic gain but may also have had political undertones.
"Looking at the timing, it could have a political undertone. But I prefer to view the situation mainly as an economic recovery," he told IPS.
While some believe the programme to replace the naira was designed to impact the poor, Babajide, the financial analyst, views it as beneficial to the majority.
"Nigerians just need to adopt electronic transactions. The CBN action is intentional, mainly to reduce the supply of cash and curb inflation," Babajide says.
The analyst, however, added that hopefully, after the country's general election, things would start to return to normal.
IPS UN Bureau Report