*Victor Ofure Osehobo*
The date was November 3, 2022 and he was a political economist; Mr Godwin Obaseki, Edo state governor. The technocrat. Investment banker. Stockbroker. Politician was speaking about the new cashless policy of the Nigerian government.
He said the decision of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, to redesign the N200, N500 and N1,000 notes is political. He was inaugurating the fractured Edo State Peoples Democratic Party Women Campaign Council in Benin City, when he spoke.
It was an impromptu speech and the man was not lost for words. For many who heard him, he made sense when he said: “How can we sit down? They say we should not bring our naira and give it to them again. That they want to change it. Is that our priority? How does change of currency reduce the price of food in the market? They say they want to change Nigerian currency, how much is the dollar today? They should have left our currency for us”.
True, Obaseki, the Economist was angry. He did not see any economic sense in the CBN move in November 2022. He was authoritative. He did not see why currency change should be a priority at this time for Nigeria in history?
According to the governor,
“Now they say that they want to change it. We can’t buy dollars. I am an economist. I can tell you that this policy by the Federal Government and the Central Bank of Nigeria has no basis. There is no basis for it. This is purely political.
“When you decide to change a currency in such a reckless manner, 30 days before an election, all you can deduce is that it is purely political. There is nothing urgent in changing our currency today.” It was ridiculous for him as the dollar has left the Naira in tatters. His conclusion: “They should leave our currency for us”.
However, in November 2022, the general elections was four months away. The Economist miscalculated, as he noted that the urgency, socalled ( his position) in redesigning the naira should be focused on feeding the nation and managing its foreign exchange rate.
“The urgency for us is how to get food for our citizens so that we can remove the starvation of the land. The urgency is how to maintain discipline in our monetary policy so that we can manage our foreign exchange rate because we are so import dependent.”
Fast forward to February 2023, the election is almost here. And in a 360 degrees U-turn, Godwin Obaseki, the same Economist comes up to say the policy is the best. And at a time Nigeria is caught in an orgy of pain and suffering, anguish and sorrow, in accessing the naira. The Governor says the CBN monetary policy is the right decision for the nation’s economy.
“I had to invite the Central Bank and senior management of all the banks in Edo state to come and meet with me in the government house because government is very much concerned about the plight and suffering of our people who are worried over the inability to get cash from the banking system in Edo state.
“Having discussed extensively with the CBN and the bankers that the policy of moving the Nigeria economy to one of a cashless system should be encouraged. It is the best thing for our banking system so the Edo state government has no problem with the policy of the federal government to move our economy to a cashless one”.
So what changed? Nothing. An election is around the corner. The governor wants his sinking party to be relevant and he looks for straws to grab. “However, we want to ensure we do this as painlessly as possible; we have to improve on the communication with our people to reduce their fear. When people go to banks to collect cash because they want to spend it on something, we want to help to inform them that they don’t need to collect cash to spend cash.
“We actually have other means to spend cash without going to the bank to collect cash. From Phones, payment can be made to whomever. For those who don’t have sophisticated phones, with USSID codes you can pay for things as small as N500 without spending cash. So when you go to POS terminals, don’t ask for cash, let them do for you what you want to use the cash for via transfer”.
Yes oh! Cashless economy is good. But have the Economists in our country like the governor pondered how the tuke tuke driver will collect fares from his passengers? How pupils will pay for biscuits during short break at school? What of the woman at the buka who sells Santana and egusi, the Suya seller and guguru and ekpa hawkers?
Only an Economist like Mr Obaseki will be economical with the reality of a cashless economy that has no plans for the aforementioned. But then again for an Economist who is not the Economist as such, this man’s plight is understandable. #