New naira scarcity: Confusion as states, police clamp down on traders rejecting old notes

State governments and the police commands have begun clamping down on traders and supermarkets accused of rejecting the old naira notes.

Findings on Sunday indicated that the authorities in Kano, Sokoto, Katsina, Bayelsa, Zamfara and Kwara states had issued directives to security agencies to deal with anyone who turned down the old N1000, N500 and N200 notes.

The development was sequel to the confusion caused by the failure of the Central Bank of Nigeria to issue directives to commercial banks on the extension or otherwise of the February 10 deadline for the currency swap following last Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruling restraining the FG from enforcing the time limit earlier fixed by the apex bank.

This is as the Catholic Bishops declared the CBN policy as disastrous, stressing that it has turned Nigerians to beggars

On Sunday, the Kano State Governor, Dr Abdullahi Ganduje directed the acting Chairman of Kano State Consumer Protection Council, Dr Baffa Dan’agundi to shut down Wellcare supermarket for rejecting the old naira notes in violation of the directive of the state government that the currency remains legal tender.

The chairman of the council made the disclosure shortly after shutting down the supermarket, stating that legal action will also be taken against Wellcare Alliance Limited, the owners of WellCare supermarket.

He warned other businesses in Kano that the state government had not banned the use of old naira notes.

He threatened that any shop owner caught rejecting the old notes would be dealt with decisively, according to the dictates of the law.

Meanwhile, the management of Wellcare Alliance Limited has written an apology letter to Ganduje, seeking his immediate intervention to re-open the supermarket.

The letter was titled, ‘A plea for an immediate intervention to re-open Wellcare Alliance Limited and an apology letter.’

It read in part, “Sir, Wellcare has always had an outstanding reputation in the market within the state and beyond, equally has abided by every rule and regulation which directly affects the company or a regulator without hesitation.

“Due to the Federal Government policy on the new naira notes, we gave wrong instructions to our staff that from the 10th day of February 2023 that only the new approved naira notes are to be in circulation.

“On an expansive investigation with our bankers, they declined to receive old naira notes on our behalf, unknown to all parties that the state has a policy that the old notes are to be in circulation. On this basis, we sincerely apologize for our actions and deeply regret any inconvenience this may have caused the state.

“We humbly plead that our business should be re-opened for deserving members of the public as we undertake to receive old notes as valid tender till when the state issues an otherwise directive. Please, do accept our regards and sincere apologies.”

Katsina warns traders

In the same vein, the Katsina state government has warned banks and traders in the state not to reject the old naira notes until the Supreme Court gives a final verdict on the issue.

The state government gave the warning in a statement on Sunday issued by the Commissioner for Information, Culture and Home Affairs, Abdulkarim Sirika.

The government said it had come to its notice that banks and traders in the state were rejecting the old notes from residents, a development it said had led to severe hardships for the people.

The statement read: ‘’It has come to the notice of the state government under the able leadership of the Governor of Katsina State, Rtd Hon. Aminu Bello Masari that banks and marketers are no longer accepting the old naira notes.

“In view of this, His Excellency, the governor has directed that marketers and banks should continue accepting the old naira notes from now to the 15th February 2023 pending the final verdict of the Supreme Court on the matter.”

Meanwhile, Katsina residents have continued to bear the hardship imposed by the non-availability of the new naira notes.

Many ATM points in the state were not dispensing the new notes over the weekend while the few PoS operators still operating charged higher commissions ranging from N150 to N300 per every N1,000 withdrawal.

In Sokoto, the state police command has vowed to deal with anyone rejecting the old notes.

The command’s Public Relations Officer, Sanusi Abubakar, who stated that the force has not received any complaint, however, called on residents to report anyone rejecting the old naira notes to the law enforcement agents in the state.

Abubakar said, ‘’I’m sure you know we can only react if there is a complaint against anyone rejecting the notes but so far, we have not gotten any report of such in the state. I can assure you that we are on top of the situation and we will do the needful if such a report is made.’’

Also speaking on the issue, the Kwara State Police Public Relations Officer, Ajayi Okasanmi, asserted that the police had been given a directive to arrest any individual who sells or buys naira notes in the state.

Responding to an inquiry, Okasanmi said, “There is a government directive to arrest anyone who messes up the naira notes, buy or sell the notes, but we have not been able to catch anyone in Kwara state. I want to advise people to abide by the government directive on both old and new naira notes so that they would not run foul of the law.’’

To mitigate the difficulties facing the residents, the state government disclosed that it has arranged palliatives to cushion the effects of the fuel scarcity and the currency scarcity in the state.

The Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Mallam Rafiu Ajakaye, explained in a statement on Sunday that the palliatives would include cash transfer to widows, pensioners, transporters, marketers, smallholder farmers, and other vulnerable people.

He added that the programme would be carried out by the Kwara State Social Investment Programme for proper coordination and accountability.

He added that the governor had directed KWASSIP to work out the details and deploy the modest support as soon as possible.

The CPS also said that the government would soon deploy free buses along specific students’ routes in the state.

“The governor has also directed the deployment of free buses along specific routes used by students and staff of tertiary institutions in the capital city where the effects of the fuel scarcity have been most pronounced. Further details of this palliative will be released by relevant government departments/committees”, the statement said.

To curb the rising tension over the scarcity of new naira notes, the Bayelsa State Police Command said it had beefed up security around banks and ATM points.

The command warned miscreants against unlawful assembly and violence due to the new naira notes’ crisis.

This was contained in a statement issued by the spokesman for the command, Asinim Butswat.

Bayelsa police

He said, “The Commissioner of Police, Bayelsa State Command, Ben Okolo, has charged Divisional Police Officers, Tactical Commanders, and other operatives to closely monitor banks and ATM points to forestall any breach of the peace.

“The command understands the plight of the masses and we are hopeful that the new measures introduced by the CBN will improve the circulation of the currency in the coming days.

“Miscreants, under any guise, are hereby warned to desist from carrying out any unlawful assembly to unleash violence in the state as the command will not allow any person(s) or group of persons to truncate the relative peace being enjoyed in the state.

“The command is appealing to members of the public to remain calm and go about their lawful and legitimate businesses as the command is poised to guarantee public safety and security.”

When asked if those rejecting old naira notes would be arrested, Butswat said the command did not receive such a directive.

“They (residents) should still accept it, because it’s still a legal tender,” he advised.

In a related development, the Zamfara state Anti-thuggery and Criminal Offences Committee has vowed to arrest anyone who refused to accept the old naira notes.

The committee chairman, Alhaji Bello Bakyasuwa, who monitored the filling stations and other business centres in Gusau, the capital city, said the old currency remained legal tender in the state as directed by Governor Bello Matawalle.

He vowed to arrest anyone who did not comply with the governor’s directive.

“My committee will instantly arrest any person who refuses to accept the old naira notes. My governor has given a directive for the arrest of those who do not accept the old naira notes as legal tender,’’ he declared.

At the NNPC Mega station along Gusau-Sokoto bypass, the chairman directed motorists to pay with either the old or new naira notes.

A motorist who gave his name as Alhaji Nasiru complained that he could not buy fuel at the station because the attendants rejected the old notes.

He,however, expressed delight with the Anti-thuggery committee which directed the fuel attendant to serve him.

At Abarunat filling station in Gusau, a fuel attendant identified as Mohammed Mustafa took to his heels on sighting the committee members because he was not allegedly collecting the old naira notes.

But he was arrested and brought to the station where he was directed to accept the old notes from the residents.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria on Sunday came hard on the CBN over its currency policy which it described as a disaster.

The organisation observed that Nigerians have continued to live in a gloomy atmosphere of fear on account of the insecurity in the country.

The Catholic Bishops called on candidates to be decent, respectable, peaceful and honest with Nigerians, rather than engage in mud-slinging, acrimony, arson, buying and selling of votes, threats, intimidation and violence.

The President of CBCN and Archbishop of Owerri, Most Rev. Lucius Ugorji, stated these in his address delivered during the opening session of its 2023 First Plenary Assembly, which was held at the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria Resource Centre, Durumi in Abuja, on Sunday.

The conference was themed, ‘Citizens’ participation in good governance.’

Ugorji called on politicians to focus on marketing their manifestos, insisting that the quest for votes should never be perceived as battlefield encounters or do-or -die affairs.

The cleric said, “Our collapsing national economy worsens the ugly situation. While the value of the naira continues to decline, the cost of basic commodities, including food items, continues to soar, with serious effects on the lives and livelihoods of our people.

“On account of long-persisting fuel scarcity, Nigerians spend endless hours in long queues under harsh weather conditions trying to buy fuel at exorbitant prices.

“The disastrous implementation of the Central Bank of Nigeria’s cash swap policy, which resulted in a cash crunch, has added to the ordeal, anger and frustration of the masses.

“On account of the hard-biting economic conditions, many of our brothers and sisters are pauperized and go to bed without food. Many of them are resorting to crime and begging to survive. This situation is further compounded by the growing debt burden that is mortgaging our future and the future of generations coming after us. The future of the country looks bleak.”

The bishop further noted that insecurity had continued to haunt Nigeria as Boko Haram militia, Fulani herdsmen, bandits and gunmen continued to unleash terror in different parts of the country.

The CBCN President said hundreds of lives had been lost in very brutal circumstances, while many more had equally been maimed.

He noted, “Communities have been sacked and their inhabitants displaced on account of the activities of unidentified persons and some government security agents. Kidnapping for ransom is on the increase.

“Nowhere seems safe: highways, homes and even the sacred precincts of worshipping centres. Some of our church personnel have been victims of abduction and arson. Our people have continued to live in a gloomy atmosphere of fear and groan with anguished hearts. The government seems overwhelmed by the situation, despite its claim that it is on top of the matter. However, all hope is not lost.’’

He said the untold and undeserved suffering to which Nigerians have been subjected over the years was a good preparation for them to vote wisely in the coming election.