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Nigeria boils over naira, fuel scarcity

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Nigeria boils over naira, fuel scarcity

BY EMEKA EJERE

Anger and frustration have become common language among Nigerians following the twin problems of lingering fuel scarcity and poor implementation of the naira re-design and swap policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), which has left many citizens cash strapped and unable to attend to their basic needs.

The CBN governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, had in October 2022 announced the plan to redesign the N200, N500, and N1,000 notes, and asked Nigerians to deposit their old notes before January 31, 2023 when they would cease to be legal tender.

Although the deadline was extended to February 10, many Nigerians have found it difficult to obtain the new naira notes. Before the cash shortage, Nigerians have been battling to adjust to purchasing fuel at N350 – N400 per litre or spending the whole day at the Nigeria National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) petrol stations to buy at government’s regulated price of N185 per litre.

The resultant frustration has triggered a near situation of unrest across the country, with people lamenting that they have money in the banks but were going about hungry because they are unable to access it.

There were protests in some parts of Lagos State against the policy last Thursday, even as some commercial banks had a hectic time trying to calm their customers who became unruly following their inability to withdraw their own money.

There have been videos of some gory scenes of bank customers, who have gone berserk as they could not come to terms with the fact that they are being put through excruciating pains and hardships to access money that on their own account was given to the bank in trust for safe keeping.

In one of the videos, the gentleman undressed completely walking about stark naked in the banking hall as if he was totally lost and oblivious of the show of shame he was putting up. The other was a lady that dressed down to her braziers and underwear in an attempt to convey to the bank staff the desperate position she had unfortunately found herself in.

There were also bank customers with obviously frayed nerves, who engaged themselves in dangerous fisticuffs as an argument ensued amongst them. All these scenes took place because the bank customers thought they could forcefully convey their desperate situation to make the bank staff change their minds and be sympathetic to give them some concession in the matter and to accede to their requests.

But the bank staff can only act as per instructions and disregard such instructions at the risk of the security of their employment.
This was as Point of Sale (POS) operators have cashed in on the situation to fleece their customers, who now pay between N500 and N1000 to withdraw N5,000. Reports also had it that traders and petrol stations were selling cash to residents, who were in desperate need of cash at the rate of N1,000 per N10,000. Even some POS operators now go from shop to shop in search of cash to buy for resale, findings have revealed.

Disturbingly, there are no signs that the situation may improve anytime soon. Queues persisted at the ATM points of commercial banks branches in Lagos on Friday even though they attend to only customers who have an account with them.

“I spent two and half hours at the ATM point of one of the commercial banks, but could only withdraw N10,000. That was because I have an account with the bank. People, who came with other banks’ ATM cards could only withdraw N1,000. What will I do with N1,000 in a weekend?

“The government must do something urgent before the situation gets out of hand. A hungry man is an angry man,” said a resident who asked for anonymity.

On his part, Ademola Olatunji, said: “When money was in circulation, we were struggling to purchase fuel, but at least, we had the money. But now, there is no money! Even when you manage to have access to fuel, you can’t purchase as fuel attendants insist on cash only.

“They say the POS is not functional due to the poor bank network. At this point, I don’t know who to blame between President Muhammadu Buhari and the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, who is supposed to know better, but unfortunately finds himself dancing to the tunes of Buhari, who we all can’t wait to leave and give us some breathing space.”

Some people also shared their frustrating experiences in the hands of POS operators.
A resident of Magboro in Ogun State Mr. Richard John said, “I am tired. The VAT has moved to N1,000 on every N5,000. And that’s old notes o. Without sounding immodest, I studied International Logistics, Large Systems and Trade Fair Management, post graduate in Germany.

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“This scheme was a failure from the get go. When we enable simpletons to take.over our highest rungs of decision making, the concomitant result is that we live poor lives and die cheap deaths. Condolences.’’

A resident of Fagba, Mr. Ayo Moses said, “The country is in a serious mess. I also paid N4,000 today on top of the N20,000 I collected from a POS. The merchant was the only one with cash in my area when I visited him in the morning.

“I got angry when he told me that his fee on ever N5,000 is N500 and foolishly stormed out of his shop for the nearest banks at Fagba. I visited five different banks at Fagba and couldn’t believe the crowd I met on ground. I had to settle for Access Bank branch at Fagba, which seemed to have the least crowd and was given tally number 742 at the gate (not even inside the bank o!).

“Realising my foolishness, I quickly rushed back to the POS merchant in my community to “jejely” pay his N500 fee on every 5k withdrawn (that is after spending N500 to and from Fagba). On getting to the POS shop, I met another shocker: his fee is no longer N500 but now N1000 on every N5,000 withdrawn. I ended up paying N4,000 on the N20,000 I collected (as well as waiting on the queue for 45 minutes).

“Yes, you heard me right: a queue at a POS counter. We don enter am. I think our problem is beyond currency redesigning. It is deeper. We are short of cash. Nigeria seems to have become Greece. Events are just unfolding.’’

A resident of Ojodu, Ms. Rume Silas said; ‘’Is it not better you do business with those who can accept transfer or have POS so you don’t have to pay such huge charges to withdraw your own money? It is the Aboki that I bought yam from three days ago that helped me out with N2,600.

“What I bought from him was N2,400 but I transfered N5,000 into his account and he gave me cash of N2,600. And the 2,600 finished yesterday. So now I can only go to shops to buy food like spaghetti, indomie, bread, egg so I can use POS to pay or transfer to pay.’’

Another resident of Magboro who preferred anonymity said, ‘’it is not good to leave among people with poor mentality. Even the neighbourhood shops are capitalising on the situation by collecting fees on every transfer on goods purchased from them.

“To conserve scarce cash, we paid N100 fee (transfer) on a  N1,000 loaf of bread this evening. Other options are not too enticing. Most big shops like Adide, Shoprite, Justrite and Old English that are reasonable are too far away.

“By the time you add the transport cost (except you are buying plenty things that will offset the transportation cost) and the stress of journeying over five kilometres, you will find out that you are trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea.”

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