Cash in hand…
On 26th October 2022, it was announced that the Central Bank of Nigeria planned to launch redesigned naira notes by 15th December 2022. The naira notes to be redesigned included the ₦200, ₦500, and ₦1,000 notes. The Cable reported that the “CBN governor explained that the decision was reached due to persisting concerns with the management of the current series of banknotes, and currency in circulation — particularly those outside the banking system in Nigeria.” At the time, like many other people, I did not think much of it. Naira notes had been changed in the past and life went on.
Less than a month later, on 23rd December 2022, it was reported that the new naira notes had been unveiled. Our dearest President revealed the designs at an unveiling ceremony held in the capital city. The reveal was met with a lot of reactions on the streets of Twitter, as some people debated the redesign or lack thereof, while others made designs of their own which many considered superior to the design of the CBN. At the unveiling ceremony, the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, promised that the naira notes would be in circulation by 15th December 2022. However, like some say, promises are made to be broken.
The deadline for the validity of the old naira notes was changed from 31st January 2023 to 10th February 2023. However, despite the extended time, the new naira notes if anything, became even more scarce, as the old naira notes that helped keep people afloat were gradually withdrawn from circulation. Mr. David Adetula (BDS 2K19) lamented that it was unfortunate that the policy left many Nigerians hanging. He added that the CBN needed to review the strategy being used to implement the policy as the new banknotes were not yet widely circulated such that Nigerians will not be left cash-strapped. Regardless, weeks have rolled into months and Nigerians have indeed been cash-strapped.
The naira scarcity has had Nigerians queuing for several hours at the ATMs, hoping and praying that said ATMs do not run out of cash before it is their turn to withdraw. We now live in a time when getting to the bank at 8 am will earn you the 297th position on the ever-growing queue. We live in a time when the naira is now being bought and sold, as desperation gives rise to exploitation from POS agents and allied ventures. We live in a time when you may trek from the UCH main gate to the East gate because you cannot afford to pay a keke driver, despite having thousands in your bank account. Cash in hand is now worth more than cash in the bank.
Promise Ugochukwu (MBBS 2K18) recounted her fruitless trip to ATM stands that were not dispensing cash, and like me, she had noticed that if the ₦1000 note was scarce, then the ₦200 and ₦500 notes were even scarcer. Student business owners like Bianca of Splendid Soups were forced to buy goods at more expensive prices as petty traders in the market will not take transfers. And the list goes on…
Admittedly, the naira scarcity has also forced many business owners to embrace cashless transactions, and businesses within Alexander Brown Hall are not left out. Prestige now takes transfers again, and you can buy drinks from Al-Falaah without having a single naira note in your wallet. No doubt, these developments have come at a sacrifice of transfer charges of ₦20 to ₦50 per transaction in most places, but of course, we will take what we can get.
Recent events have had Nigerians wondering where to stand as the Supreme Court ordered that the validity of the old naira notes be extended until 31st December 2023. It is even more interesting that the court sagas are coming after most Nigerians have deposited all the old naira notes they had in the bank. So we are not sure if there will be any benefits to the extension of the deadline for a while (at least until the old naira notes are themselves back in circulation), even if our dear Emefiele concedes, as we live in a country where the Supreme Court’s orders can very well be defied.
In the face of all the ruckus, from long queues at ATMs and fuel stations to implausible electoral processes and associated riots, cash and coins have I none, but such as have I give I thee: may our country regain her sanity. I pray and hope that in the very near future, we will once again go to withdraw from the FCMB ATMs at 11 pm, enjoying seamless transactions without attendant queues.