Currency racketeering in Akwa Ibom State continued within the week even with the Supreme Court order restraining the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, from implementing the February 10 deadline on the phasing out of N200, N500 and N1000 old notes.
DAILY POST correspondent, who went round the State, observed that traders, petrol station managers, supermarket owners, operators of Point of Sales, POS, and bank officials have continued to exploit the masses as the scarcity of cash remained unabated.
An Akwa Ibom resident, who refused to disclose his name, narrated how he leaves his house as early as 4am to the ATM point of any bank without having any money in his account.
He claimed he would queue up and when it’s about his turn to collect money, he would look for someone in a hurry that would not want to stand the long queue, and sell his slot to such a person at the rate of N1000 and go back to queue up, adding that he makes between five to ten thousand naira daily from the business.
It was gathered that traders in major markets in the State, such as Itam, Akpan Andem, Nyong Essien/Etuk and others, would instead of depositing cash into the bank would sell it to POS operators at 10 percent, and they (POS operators) who would in turn charge their prospective customers 15 to 20 percent as the case may be.
An indigene of Ibiono Ibom Local Government Area, who identified himself as Kingsley, lamented how a POS attendant insisted on collecting a commission of N22, 000 from the sum of N200, 000 he withdrew to buy a few items in the market for his father’s burial on Friday.
He explained that he had tried to avoid paying that huge commission to the POS attendants by standing in the long queues in the banks, but that at the end of the day, he was able to get only N5000.
The visibly distraught man said, “God will punish whoever or those that subjected me to this difficulty. That N22, 000 I used in paying for commission, I would have used it to buy up to four cartons of drinks. Only God will judge all these people.”
Another indigene, Inyene narrated how the cash crunch affected her wedding plans, revealing that both her family and that of her fiance had agreed to postpone the traditional marriage to a later date to see if everything would normalise.
The negative impact of the cash scarcity had also trickled down to petty traders and fruit sellers as most of them do not have bank accounts and those who have are not willing to accept transfers owing to the difficulty in getting cash.
Also, the cash scarcity is taking a toll on the general work productivity as an ICT Expert and Entrepreneur, Maxwell Akpan disclosed that the uncertainty, fears and concerns from the development is significantly impacting on his staff’s mental health and their general wellbeing which have affected their productivity.
In an interview with an economic expert and professor of economics, University of Uyo, Prof Emmanuel Onwiduokit, he said the economic effect of the Naira redesign would not be resolved by extension of deadline, rather bankers should live up to their responsibility of releasing the cash given to them by the CBN.
He added that currency racketeering would automatically stop if the Automated Teller Machines commence dispensing cash as required and people can walk in and get cash without any hindrance.
He, however, blamed the CBN for bringing out a good policy without commensurate monitoring, saying that Godwin Emefiele, the CBN Governor should have set up a committee made up of men and women of integrity who would monitor the compliance of the banks since December 15, 2022, when the new naira note was launched.
Stressing that a leader should not give an instruction and go to sleep, the economist said, “had it been that banks were issuing out new notes from last year December, such that old and new notes run concurrently, the January 31 deadline would have been achieved seamlessly.”
The Professor who expressed hope that the suffering of the poor masses will soon come to an end said: “I heard they are selling one million for seven hundred thousand for the new currency and people who did not work for the money will just pay to get it.
“The insincerity and dubiousness of the staff of the commercial banks is what is putting us in this condition. The Central bank said ‘pay N20,000 in a day and 500,000 in a week, so why should some banks be giving N5,000 and N10,000?
“The POS operators are buying money and they will make their profit too. Banks are at fault. How can you use Naira to buy Naira; how can they ask you to deposit old currency and you go to the bank, they will give you old currency again? It should have been that every old currency that enters the bank should not come out. It should have been trapped from that December 15 if they were giving the new currency from that 15, this pressure wouldn’t have been coming this way.”
He added that, “Any time you are changing new currency, there is alway a hiccup but that hiccup should be well managed. For instance, in recruitment, persons that have integrity, competence should be considered in the bank, not all about paper qualification.
“They should look for people like Peter Obi to work in the banks, they should not recruit only based on paper qualification; when you employ rogue bankers, that is what you will get, there should be prosecution to serve as a deterrent.”
Speaking on the Supreme Court extension of the CBN deadline, Onwiduokit said, “the action of the Supreme Court is sending the wrong signal to the international community and to the financial system. It means the CBN cannot operate its autonomy, it is very bad for the country’s economy.
“The governors that went to the Supreme Court were doing that primarily for themselves and using the pretext that it was for ordinary citizens. There is no ordinary citizen that has old naira notes that he cannot finish spending within the 100 days notice that was given by the CBN.
“The issue would have been how to expedite dispensing the new notes, not extension. We were expecting that by the time February 10 elapses, everything would have been normalised, but what they have done now is purely politics.
“Those that stole our money want to use it to buy our votes during the election, that is why they were running helter skelter, all of a sudden they have realised that the poor masses are suffering. All along, the masses have been suffering over fuel scarcity and the high price but the governors did not go to the Supreme Court, they are just using the people as an excuse. Why must it be APC governors?” He queried.
He said the Supreme Court order had proven that the CBN autonomy is not complete, asking: “how can the CBN take a decision and the Supreme Court will reverse it? The Supreme Court should come and run the Central Bank economic team.”
Meanwhile, the validity period of the old naira notes would be determined when the Supreme Court resumes hearing on the matter on February 15.