By Tumininu Ojelabi Hassan
Deposit money banks, and Nigerians have been counting their losses since the beginning of the implementation of the naira redesign policy, which brought acute cash scarcity and hardship on the country, as normalcy began to return by weekend. Both the banks and Nigerians had gone through the eye of a needle in the course of implementing the policy.
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) disbursed banknotes to commercial banks across the country last week to ensure the circulation of cash after an elongated cash crunch that made life difficult for Nigerians. The apex bank directed all commercial banks to load their Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) and also conduct operations through the last weekend in order to ease the pressure of the cash crisis.
This latest directive came in the wake of threat by the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, to mobilise workers to picket all CBN offices around the country, as reaction to the lingering naira scarcity. However, following assurances by the Alex bank that the situation would nornalise last week, the proposed protect was suspended for two weeks.
Our correspondent visited branches of commercial banks at Allen avenue Ikeja, Magodo, Ketu to observe the situation of the cash shortage in these areas. Visit to these branches revealed that banks’ branches complied with the directive of the CBN, as customers were attended to in the banking halls and at the ATMs.
Also, The queues at commercial banks and ATM points had reduced compared to the long queues at banks in the previous weeks.
Udochi Sunday, an engineer, who spoke with our correspondent expressed his joy after withdrawing cash at the ATM at Guaranty Trust bank, Ikeja branch.
“I’m happy the situation is getting better. I have been withdrawing from POS operators since the cash crisis began. The N20,000 I withdrew now would have cost me N4000 extra charge at a POS station. Having access to cash without having to pay a ridiculous charge is such a relief for me,” he said cheerfully.
Another bank customer, Quadri Olawale shared his experience in the banking hall at Access bank, Ketu branch.
“This is my first time of withdrawing cash in the banking hall since February. I withdrew N10,000 after waiting for one hour due to the long queue. The past few weeks have been unbearable owing to unavailability of cash. I’m glad we now have access to cash,” he stated.
A Guaranty trust bank employee who spoke with our correspondent on condition of anonymity disclosed that the bank has been disbursing cash to customers.
“We have been disbursing cash since the CBN instructed us to, although what we have can’t meet the demands of customers due to the fact that we have more withdrawals than deposits now. Our bank was open for operations all through the weekend so customers can have access to cash. The cash unit is working tirelessly to ensure that cash is being disbursed to customers, we aren’t relenting. I believe normalcy will be restored very soon,” he affirmed.
At First bank, Polaris bank, Guaranty trust bank, Zenith bank and Access bank, Magodo branches, customers were seen withdrawing cash at the ATMs. There were queues and the process was slow but the banks were not crowded like the preceding weeks.
In the banking halls, a lot of customers were at the customer care unit mostly to lodge complaints about failed transactions and some to get their debit cards.
Our correspondent spoke with a First bank customer, who identified herself as Madam Joy, a business running a provision store at Shangisha, Magodo, revealed her reason for coming to the bank.
“I came to the bank to resolve failed transactions issue I have been experiencing. Some of my customers transferred money to me since Friday, the money hasn’t reflected in my account till now and their accounts have been debited. I’m number 38, I’m patiently waiting for my number to be called, I don’t have a choice than to wait because I’m not leaving the bank today without getting this issue resolved,” she said.
She spoke about the cash scarcity and how it has affected her business.
“The cash scarcity really affected my business, especially in February, it was tough. I can say that the situation is a bit better than before. At least, more customers are bringing cash now unlike before that they had to pay for a N200 product via transfer.
“However, we are pleading with CBN to release more naira notes so our businesses can run like before. Cashless policy is quite difficult to accomplish with the level of network failure and failed transactions we are experiencing,” she added.
At Access bank, Stanbic IBTC bank, Zenith bank, Ecobank, Union bank, Wema bank, GTbank and First bank, Allen avenue Ikeja branch, the queue of customers waiting to withdraw cash was long and quite slow. Some of the customers, who interacted with our correspondent grumbled over the dirty old naira notes they got from the banks, stating that they were accepting the dirty notes because they had no choice.
In the banking halls, customers, who wanted to withdraw cash were more than those depositing cash. Only a few people were depositing cash. Also, it was observed that most of the customers were at the customer service unit of the banks. This is as a result of the massive volume of failed transactions experienced in the past few weeks. Customers waited to be called according to their numbers.
Our correspondent approached a customer at Zenith bank, Allen avenue branch, Bassey Ubong, a businessman, who gave his opinion about the shortage of cash.
“First of all, I would say the cash scarcity is gradually subsiding. However, I think this policy could have been implemented in a better way. The unnecessary suffering we encountered last month was totally avoidable. The cash is not in circulation as expected, a lot of people still don’t have access to cash. I withdrew only N10,000 after waiting for almost two hours. I wanted to withdraw N30,000 but the bank insisted that each customer could withdraw N10,000 only,” he opined.
Furthermore, a POS agent, Adegbola Tosin shared her experience while attempting to get cash from the bank.
“The cash scarcity is still affecting POS agents because we are buying cash. The highest amount I have gotten so far from my bank is N20,000, which isn’t sufficient to run my business. I have stopped charging N300 to withdraw N1000. I charge N200 for N1000 now, N1000 for N5000. Like I said earlier, I buy cash to run my business. Customers have been complaining but I have been explaining to them that it’s not my fault,” she said.
Based on BH findings, commercial banks are disbursing the old naira notes to customers claiming that the new naira notes are not available. However, from all indications and interactions with bank customers, if the disbursement of cash continues, as well as the monitoring of the level of compliance by the banks as pledged by CBN, the cash crisis would fade and in a few weeks normalcy will be restored in the country.