Some angry citizens, on Friday, condemned the Federal Government, the Central Bank of Nigeria and Deposit Money Banks for subjecting them to hardship over the scarcity of new naira notes and the astronomical hike in the pump price of petrol as a result of acute scarcity.
While some vented their anger by embarking on street protests, others attacked bank branches and facilities.
There were protests in Ibadan, Oyo State capital, on Friday, by frustrated citizens over their inability to withdraw money in their bank accounts as well as the lingering fuel crisis and the attendant rising cost.
Similar protests took place in Lagos, Ondo and Edo states, sparking apprehension that the situation could degenerate in the coming days.
Amidst the confusion, President Muhammadu Buhari expressed doubts about the commitment of banks to the success of the new naira policy and accused some of them of being inefficient and making the policy unnecessarily difficult through “selfishness and greed.”
He also asked to be given seven days to resolve the problems associated with the scarcity of the currency.
Citizens lament hardship
At the UBA branch in Ibafo, Ogun State, a housewife, Mrs Silifat Oseni, used expletives to describe those in government for subjecting her to so much hardship as she was finding it difficult to buy foodstuffs to feed her family.
She said, “What have we done to President Buhari and the CBN governor that they are punishing us like this? They have collected our old notes and are not supplying the new notes, yet the prices of fuel and food items have hit the rooftop.
“I was in the market on Thursday and the meat and pepper sellers refused to accept transfers as a means of payment. They insisted on me paying cash, which I didn’t have. I came to the bank this morning (Friday) to withdraw just N5,000 so that my family can feed, but the queue at the ATM gallery is so long and the security guards did not allow me to go inside the banking hall. I don’t know what to do next.”
A commercial motorist, who attempted to buy fuel at a filling station in the Ketu area of Lagos State, Lamidi Adetunji, expressed frustration at his inability to get the product, adding that the attendants refused to collect old naira notes from him.
Adetunji said, “I waited for over one hour for the tanker to discharge the fuel and when it was my turn to purchase the product, the attendant said the PoS was not working and I tried four times to transfer money to her without success.
“I was asked to go to a PoS operator outside the station and the woman told me that she would take N1,000 on the N10,000 that I wanted to withdraw. I didn’t have a choice. We can’t increase transport fares too much because people don’t have money to pay.”
A civil servant with the Ogun State Government, Saheed Shomorin, who was at the GTBank branch in Oke-Ilewo, Abeokuta, said he spent over three hours on Friday before he succeeded in withdrawing N10,000 from the ATM, adding that the situation was affecting his productivity as he would not be able to report in the office.
An employee of the Boluwaduro Local Government Council, Osun State, Mrs Oluyemisi Ajiteru, said, “We in the rural areas are finding it difficult to get the so-called new money and they are insisting that we must deposit the old ones. People are really suffering here.
“On Wednesday, I had to travel from my base in Otan Ayegbaju to go to Ikirun to withdraw N2,000 from a PoS agent, who added N400 as his charge. I spent N600 to travel to Ikirun and back to my base and I am just a junior worker. How will I cope now?”
A trader in Nyanya, Mallam Abubakar Audu, expressed anger at the hardship being suffered in the country, saying, “I can’t get money to take home to my two wives and children because my customers are insisting on transferring money to me. Though I have an account, where will I get cash to spend?
“The situation is dangerous now and people may just embark on spontaneous protests, which may disrupt the elections that the government is labouring hard to organise. President Buhari, though he is my kinsman, has not done well at all. He appears uncaring about what will happen to the nation after his exit in May.”
In Enugu, one of our correspondents reports that some customers now stay till around 2am for ATMs to be loaded, while others come to the banks around the same time so that they could be among the first to make withdraws when banks start work by 8am on a daily basis.
A bank customer, who gave his name as Emeka Okorie, said he had been going to the ATMs for three days to make withdrawals but had not been successful because of the huge crowd that besieged the galleries.
Okorie said, “Today makes it the fourth time I have been going to the bank. I left my house by 4am so that I could be able to make a withdrawal.
“I was even told that some people slept in the ATM gallery because the only machine dispensing money stopped working by 2am.”
Another customer, Moses Chidiebube, described the naira redesign policy as demonic and evil.
Another bank customer, Kingsley Obi, also lamented the suffering Nigerians were going through to get cash.
He said, “I went to the bank around 1.30am yesterday (Thursday) only to withdraw N20,000 around 11am. So, people have left their businesses to stay in ATM galleries. This is the worst policy of this administration.
“When Buhari came as a military Head of State in 1983, because of his inept administration, Nigerians suffered. Now he is at it again.”
In Onitsha, Nnewi, Obosi, Ekwulobia and some parts of Awka in Anambra State, customers besieged the banks as early as 6am in order to get favourable positions in the queues.
It was lamentation from the customers as they were yet to be attended to as of 1:45pm.
Most of the banks shut their banking halls to customers as early as 9am, while allowing only those who had come to deposit cash into the halls.
In Niger State, most of the banks had yet to implement the CBN directive to commence payment of cash over the counter.
Banks premises in Lokoja, Kogi State, were similarly besieged on Friday by frustrated customers in search of elusive cash, which had been in short supply for the past two weeks.
At the GTBank Fenn junction, a large crowd of customers thronged the ATM gallery, with only one machine dispensing cash to customers.
Treasure Atabor, a customer in the queue said that he arrived at the bank around 5am to beat the crowd but was surprised to meet a long queue.
Similar queues were noticed at the UBA opposite Prince Abubakar Audu University, Ayingba.
At the Zenith Bank, Ankpa, angry residents expressed displeasure with the treatment meted out to them as they were denied access to their money
Most commercial banks within the Sokoto metropolis closed their gates as customers struggled to enter the premises on Friday.
Customers attack banks
A machete-wielding man attacked a branch of the UBA in the Ibafo area of Ogun State on Thursday by scaling the fence of a neighbouring building to get onto the bank’s premises in broad daylight and succeeded in destroying some decorative glasses before he was overpowered by four policemen.
One of our correspondents, who visited the bank on Friday afternoon, witnessed a chaotic situation as the queue of customers waiting to withdraw money from Automated Teller Machines spilled over to the adjoining road, while the gate to the main building was shut against depositors and customers who had issues to resolve with the customer care executives.
A security guard explained that the measure became necessary in view of the incident with the machete-wielding customer the previous day.
The guard explained, “We have been instructed not to allow many people into the banking hall in order to avert disaster. Yesterday, an angry customer, who wielded a cutlass, scaled the fence and jumped onto the bank premises and broke some glass before he was overwhelmed by four policemen and taken to the station.
“We were lucky that the security doors were functional. Only God knows the havoc he would have wreaked if he had got into the banking hall with the weapon he was holding.”
At the Access Bank branch in Ibafo, it was observed that customers were not at the ATM gallery as the machines were not dispensing cash. It was learnt that the branch did not open for normal banking operations for three days because a female customer created a scene there on Tuesday by stripping to her underwear due to frustration of not getting cash as she claimed that her children were starving at home and she could not get money to buy food for them.
There were also attacks on a branch of Fidelity Bank on Victoria Island, Lagos; Access Bank on Broad Street, Lagos Island; UBA branch in Oke-Arin, Lagos Island; and First Bank, Iyana Ipaja, Lagos.
Similarly, the Wema Bank, Agodi Gate branch, Ibadan, was attacked by youths, who broke the windows and the ATM gallery with stones and sticks in a viral video.
A corporate affairs manager of a Tier-1 bank, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter, confirmed the attacks to one of our correspondents, but said it was too early to take count as reports from the branches were still coming in.
“Angry customers and hoodlums are destroying bank branches. I can confirm that our bank has suffered some attack, but the reports are just coming from our branches. Give me some time to get the reports so that I can be categorical about the attacks,” he said.
Another corporate affairs officer of an old generation bank said, “People are already attacking our branches. The banks are bearing the brunt of Nigerians’ anger because they think we are the ones hoarding the new notes. That is not true at all. The banks are also losing a lot of revenue because of the crisis.
“The CBN is endangering the banks and their employees by claiming that it has given us more than enough new notes. The economy is being strangled and the banks can’t complain openly or fight back because of the fear of sanctions.”
A branch manager of a Tier-1 bank in Lagos confided in one of our correspondents that the branch had not received new notes supply since Tuesday, adding that some branches had not even received the new notes at all.
The branch manager stated, “On Thursday, a total of N350,000 in N100 note was brought to my branch and we had to be clever to give customers N2,000 each; half of the money was mutilated. The last supply of new notes was on Tuesday when N5m was supplied and loaded onto the ATMs, but the money had been completely withdrawn by desperate customers before Wednesday morning.
“What we now do is to appeal to customers, but some of them do not listen to us. When some customers became unruly, I had to invite riot policemen, who usually follow our bullion vans, into the banking hall to restore orderliness. I now use my own money to tip the DPO and pay his men to provide extra cover for the branch because I can’t risk any attack on our facilities. I don’t display my identity card again in order to prevent attacks on me.”
Some miscreants at the popular Araromi Spare Parts Market, Gate, Ibadan, on Friday, took advantage of the protest by some citizens to set ablaze a police station and vandalise the Wema Bank branch in the area.
The protest, which started at Iwo Road, suddenly turned violent as the miscreants destroyed both government and private property along the road.
The angry youths, who had earlier assembled at the Iwo Road end of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, blocked all the major roads in the area, thereby causing gridlock before heading towards Idi-Ape and Agodi-Gate areas.
The protesters also descended on passersby and barricaded all the roads leading to the Agodi Government House and Governor’s Office before the arrival of security personnel.
At Agodi-Gate, miscreants in the market took advantage of the protest by burning the police station, destroying the Wema Bank branch, stole phones and looted some roadside shops before the arrival of men of the Operation Burst, who eventually returned sanity in the area.
A journalist, who was at the scene, Ademola Adegbite, was not lucky as he was beaten by the hoodlums for taking pictures, while his mobile phone and other valuables were seized. Only the mobile phone was later returned.
The protesters later moved to the Oyo State Secretariat and blocked a portion of the road linking the complex with Bodija and made bonfires.
They forced themselves into the secretariat and headed straight for the Governor’s Office where an Inspector of Police, who was on duty was injured. He was stoned by the protesters while trying to prevent them from gaining access to the main office.
The protesters were confronted by the state joint security outfit known as Operation Burst, the police and Amotekun officers.
From the state secretariat, they moved to Mokola roundabout, Adamasingba and Dugbe, and pelted passersby with stones.
The state police command warned youths to avoid being used by agents of violence who wanted to capitalise on the situation to criminally enrich themselves as the general elections are fast approaching.
A statement by the state Police Public Relations Officer, Adewale Osifeso, said the command was fully prepared to mobilise fully to prevent criminal elements from turning the state into their playground.
Protesters ground Warri
Similarly, protesters blocked the Warri/Sapele Road and other major roads in Warri metropolis, the commercial city of Delta State, to vent their anger over the lingering fuel and naira scarcity.
The protesters in their large numbers, including traders at the Warri Main Market, carried placards with various anti-government inscriptions.
Some of them threatened that if the situation was not addressed timely, no electorate would vote in the forthcoming elections and vowed to continue with the protest until the federal and state governments attended to the problems.
The protest paralysed commercial activities in the market as majority of the traders locked up their shops to participate in it.
It took the combined efforts of police and military officers and men to dislodge the aggrieved protesters as they marched towards the NPA Road.
Makinde suspends campaign
Meanwhile, Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde, has suspended his campaign activities over the unending fuel and new naira note crises.
A statement by the state Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, Wasiu Olatubosun, said the suspension was in solidarity with the citizens over the anti-people economy policies of the APC-led Federal Government.
Buhari said the challenges associated with selfishness and greed could not be resolved with more extension of the February 10 deadline, while appealing to Nigerians to give him seven days to resolve the cash crunch being experienced nationwide.
“Some banks are inefficient and only concerned about themselves…even if a year is added, the problems associated with selfishness and greed won’t go away,” Buhari told members of the Progressive Governors’ Forum, who were at the Presidential Villa to seek solutions to the cash crunch, which they said was making their constituents impatient.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, disclosed this in a statement titled, ‘President Buhari asks for seven days for a major decision on currency redesign’.
Addressing the governors elected on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, Buhari expressed doubts about the commitment of banks, in particular, to the success of the policy.
The President said he had seen reports on television about cash shortages and hardship to local businesses and ordinary people, and promised that the balance of seven of the 10-day extension would be used to crack down on whatever stood in the way of the successful implementation.
“I will revert to the CBN and the Minting Company. There will be a decision one way or the other in the remaining seven days of the 10-day extension,” the President was quoted as saying.
The governors had earlier told the President that although they supported his decision to renew the naira, the execution had been botched and their constituents were becoming increasingly upset.
They said as leaders of the government and party in their respective states, they were becoming anxious about a slump in the economy and the series of elections that were coming.
They therefore requested the President to prevail on the CBN to allow the concurrent circulation of the new and old notes till the end of this year.
Buhari revealed that when he considered approving the policy, he demanded an undertaking from the CBN that no new notes would be printed in a foreign country and the apex bank assured him that there was enough capacity, manpower and equipment to print the currency locally.
He said he must go back to find out what was actually happening.
The President also told the governors that, being closer to the people, he had heard their cries and would resolve the challenges.
Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai, who spoke to journalists in Hausa, argued that the request to allow the concurrent circulation of the old and new notes became necessary as the CBN had mopped up over N2tn of the old notes, but only printed N300bn of the new ones.
According to him, the new notes in circulation are insufficient.
He lamented that many Nigerians were suffering as traders of perishable goods were daily losing their wares from low patronage.
Asked about Buhari’s response, he said he did not reply with a yes or no.
However, the Chairman of the PGF, Abubakar Bagudu, was meeting the President behind closed doors hoping to get a definite response.
As of the time of filing this report, Bagudu was still meeting Buhari.
Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno State described the CBN as wicked for making it difficult for the poor and the vulnerable to obtain the new notes from ATMs.
He spoke while going round ATM galleries in Maiduguri on Friday.
“The CBN is wicked enough that it is punishing the poor and the most vulnerable of the people by subjecting them to long hours of queuing at ATM machines, which do not have the cash to dispense,” he said.
Zulum, who also held a closed-door meeting with top officials of the Maiduguri branch of the CBN, lamented that only the poor and vulnerable were found in queues trying to withdraw little amounts of cash for their daily needs.
The governor, who was at over 10 ATM galleries, dismissed as useless the extension of the deadline for the naira swap if the CBN would not ensure the availability of the new notes.
“Non-availability of the new notes is the problem. We have just released N5bn for January salaries, but the ATMs are not dispensing because there is no cash,” the governor added.
Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, observed the tension caused by the slow release of cash through ATMs and in banking halls and called for calm.
A statement by the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotoso, said, “Governor Sanwo-Olu today (Friday) joined a delegation that met with President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja to deliberate on measures to remove the hardship caused by the scarcity of the new currency.
“Mr Sanwo-Olu urges residents to remain calm as the government is doing everything possible to normalise the situation. The Central Bank of Nigeria has promised to put measures in place to ensure that residents have access to currency notes released to banks.”
Deadline stays – CBN
The CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, said in Lagos on Friday that the February 10 deadline was still valid and that law enforcement agencies had made arrests of new naira vendors.
Emefiele said, “As the new deadlines approach, please permit me to express our sadness over the unscrupulous and unpatriotic conduct of some of our colleagues in the banking industry, whose greed and malevolence are sabotaging the CBN’s efforts. I assure you all that the enforcement agencies are on the prowl for these unpatriotic colleagues and their collaborators.
“A few of them involved in the sale of the new currency have been arrested by the EFCC, the ICPC and indeed the DSS; and let me assure all Nigerians that these unscrupulous persons shall face the full wrath of the law.
“On our part, let me assure all that the CBN possesses the capacity, manpower and equipment and grit to produce and circulate the new notes, and we are doing all in our powers to ease the inconvenience on all Nigerians , particularly the vulnerable Nigerians.”
He gave an assurance that the CBN and the Deposit Money Banks and other important stakeholders such as the EFCC, ICPC and the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit were working together to ensure that the ultimate goal, which is to deliver to all Nigerians a new currency that meets global standards, was achieved.
Emefiele said the CBN was aware of the difficulty being faced by Nigerians in accessing the new currency at the initial stage of its issue and circulation, but appealed for understanding as everything was being done to correct some of the observed lapses in the implementation of the ambitious programme.
“Please, also permit me to say that this difficulty is transient given our strong belief that the ultimate gain of the policy to our country far outweighs the short run pains of today,” he added.
IG orders arrests
The Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, has ordered the Deputy Inspector-General of Police in charge of the Force Criminal Investigations Department and the Assistant Inspector-General of Police in charge of the Force Intelligence Bureau to place officers and men of the department and bureau across the nation on high alert to arrest and prosecute individuals engaged in the sale or abuse of naira notes.
Baba said this was to implement the provisions of the CBN Act, 2007, and dignify the currency.
The Force spokesman, Olumuyiwa Adejobi, said in a statement on Friday that the IG similarly charged all supervisory AIGs and Commissioners of Police in charge of police commands and formations to carry out full enforcement of the provisions of sections 20 and 21 of the CBN Act, 2007, which criminalise the hawking, selling or otherwise trading in the naira, including spraying, dancing or matching on naira notes, falsifying or counterfeiting of bank notes, refusal to accept the naira as a means of payment, and tampering with the coin or note issued by the CBN.
Meanwhile, the Assistant Inspector-General of Police in charge of Zone 12, Wale Olokode, has warned officers and men of the Gombe State Police Command not to further provoke members of the public, stressing that the atmosphere is already charged.
Olokode stated this on Friday during his familiarisation visit to the command. The zone comprises Bauchi and Gombe state commands.
According to him, the queues for naira notes and fuel have multiplied, adding that policing in such circumstances requires caution.
Olokode said, “What we are witnessing is the problem of queues everywhere. Our society, to a large extent, is not having it too good in recent times. As I was coming, I saw a long queue and thought it was the queue from the filling station, but at the end of the queue I saw a bank. It was then it dawned on me that it was a queue for new currency notes and not for fuel. After a while, I saw another queue for fuel different from the one for new naira notes.
“You should be weary of this; our men should not go there and cause provocation again. Deal with people with courtesy, so that they will see you as friends and trust you so much.”
The Lagos State Police Command warned that anyone that used the lingering scarcity of fuel and new naira notes to cause trouble that would lead to the destruction of property would be made to face the full wrath of the law.
The state Police Public Relations Officer, SP Benjamin Hundeyin, said this in reaction to the burning of a police station in Oyo State by protesters.
Hundenyin said policemen in the state were on guard, adding that criminally minded individuals would be treated in accordance with the law.
Bank officials nabbed
Meanwhile, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission has arrested a bank official for alleged sabotage.
The bank official, who is the Branch Service Head of Stanbic IBTC Bank, Deidei branch, Abuja, was taken into custody for deliberate refusal to upload cash into the bank’s ATMs even when the money was available and customers were in queues at the ATM gallery.
The ICPC spokesperson, Mrs Azuka Ogugua, said in a statement on Friday that when the agency’s monitoring team stormed the bank around 1.30pm and demanded explanation as to why all the ATMs were not dispensing cash, it was informed by the branch’s Head of Operations that the bank just took delivery of the cash.
However, facts available to the ICPC operatives indicated that the branch took delivery of the cash around 11.58am and refused to feed the ATMs with the cash.
The ICPC team compelled the bank to load the ATMs with the money and ensured that they were all dispensing before arresting the bank official.
In a related development, the ICPC compliance team in Osogbo, Osun State, discovered a FCMB branch where some ATMs were loaded with cash with wrappers not removed, thus preventing the cash from being dispensed.
Ogugua stated, “The team therefore directed that the wrappers be removed and the cash loaded properly.
“However, when a follow-up visit was undertaken the following day to ascertain the level of compliance, the team discovered that one of the ATMs was still loaded with the wrappers not removed.
“The operation manager of the bank was arrested and taken in for questioning.
“Similarly, seven Point of Sale operators as well as a security guard were arrested during the ongoing exercise in Osun State for charging exorbitant commissions for cash. Investigations, however, revealed that they got the money from filling stations that collect new notes from fuel buyers, but they then resell the cash to the public at exorbitant rates.
“The arrested persons are helping the commission with information to assist investigations and bust any syndicates involved in the hoarding or sale of the redesigned notes.”
Actress faces prosecution
Meanwhile, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has said it will arraign one Oluwadarasimi Omoseyin, an actress and cosmetologist, arrested on Wednesday by operatives of the ICPC for allegedly tampering with the new naira notes contrary to Section 21 (5) of the CBN, 2007.
Omoseyin was arrested by operatives of the ICPC on Wednesday along Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, following an intelligence report.
The 31-year-old was arrested after the video of her spraying and stepping on the new notes at a party surfaced online.
In the viral video, she was also seen flaunting wads of the new naira notes.
According to a statement by the EFCC on Friday, the suspect was subsequently handed over to it for further investigation.
The EFCC said, “Items recovered from her at the point of arrest include a Range Rover and iPhone mobile devices.
“The suspect will be charged to court once investigations have been concluded.”
Experts blast FG
Human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Femi Falana, has asked Nigerians to reject the request by the Presidentto be given seven days to resolve the new naira scarcity.
Falana, in an interview on Friday, said it was obvious that the CBN did not print sufficient quantities of the new naira notes, and wondered what magic Buhari planned to perform within seven days.
The lawyer demanded that the CBN should scrap the deadline for the phasing out of the old naira notes, while the old notes it mopped up from circulation should be returned to Nigerians.
He said, “Nigerians can’t wait for seven days. People are fighting in the banks; somebody died in Agbor in Delta; soldiers are attacking students; a woman stripped herself naked because the ordinary people cannot get money. And El-Rufai said somebody collected N500m. No bank has been given N500m new notes! No bank, you can quote me! So, he should name the person, who has not only sabotaged the policy of the government, but has also engaged in money laundering.
“The government wants to dodge responsibilities. The government of the day must take responsibility. Who does Buhari want to consult in seven days? They do not have sufficient new notes. For that reason, they cannot maintain the deadline. So, Nigerians must be allowed to spend the old money, which they have collected from them. The CBN must return the old notes to Nigerians!”
According to Falana, the policy will not stop monetisation of elections as the rich will always have access to naira, while the masses suffer.
He said, “It is a bundle of confusion and it simply confirmed that this was not well thought out. They were just all about preventing monetisation of elections; they didn’t consider the impact on the masses.
“Some of the presidential candidates have banks and bank managers will take the money to their houses. So, it doesn’t stop monetisation of elections. They are just punishing the ordinary people. Have you seen any big man in bank queues for money? The rich can always have money in their homes.”
A professor of Economics, University of Uyo, Edet Akpakpan, urged the Federal Government to resolve the situation to avert imminent crisis.
He also enjoined banks to desist from favouring influential people against the poor through the issuance of higher denominations.
Akpakpan stated, “The idea is good but the implementation is poor as they are not ready. The situation has to be arrested or else it will be terrible, especially as we move closer to the general elections. There is a need for the CBN to make resources available.
“And again the banks should be warned not to be biased with the way the funds are issued. Let them not favour some big men over the common man. We need to stop such things. I support this policy, but the implementation has to be re-organised.”