•CBN shuns National Assembly, insists on January 31 cash-swap deadline
•EFCC, ICPC won’t arrest huge depositors, Emefiele assures bank customers
•Central bank officials, PoS agents set up rural cash exchange points
In an attempt to deposit old notes before the January 31 deadline stipulated for the phasing out of the old N1,000, N500 and N200 notes, bank customers have started rushing to banks across the country to exchange their old notes for new ones, according to findings by The PUNCH.
This came as the Central Bank of Nigeria insisted on Tuesday that there was no going back on the stipulated deadline despite appeals by the National Assembly, key stakeholders and bank customers.
The CBN had repeatedly advised Nigerians to deposit their old notes, regardless of the amount, in banks before the fixed deadline.
Finding by The PUNCH on Tuesday showed there were queues of bank customers in Kano, Ondo, Osun, Borno, and Anambra, among others, seeking to exchange the old notes for the new naira bills ahead of the deadline.
Customers on Tuesday besieged various commercial banks in the ancient city of Kano to either get the new naira notes or deposit the old notes in order to beat the January 31 CBN deadline.
The customers, who were seen in long queues in most of the banks, lamented the failure of most of the banks to provide the new naira notes.
It was observed that while some ATM machines were operating, many were not functioning as they were deserted.
At Zoo road, Murtala Mohammed Way and Maiduguri road where there is a concentration of banks, very few of the ATM machines were dispensing the new naira notes.
It was gathered that in some banks, old notes were still being issued to customers withdrawing over the counter, as only some lucky customers were getting the new notes.
Some of the customers, who spoke to The PUNCH at First Bank on Zoo road branch, expressed great concern over the non-availability of the new notes and the refusal of the banks to give satisfactory explanations of the situation.
One of the customers, who simply gave his name as Lawan, said he left his house as early as 7 am in order to withdraw only N20,000 but ended up getting only N10,000 due to poor network.
“The only ATM machine dispensing new notes suddenly became faulty while I was trying to withdraw N20,000. So, I ended up withdrawing N10,000 after spending about three hours in the queue.
“None of the banks can explain the reasons behind all these happenings because to deposit the old notes or withdraw the new notes is a problem,” Lawan said.
Another customer, Adamu Abdullahi, who went to the bank to deposit his old naira notes said he spent more than four hours in the queue before he could deposit the money.
“I came here around 8:30 am but could not deposit the money until after 4 pm due to the long queue of customers,” he said.
As of the time of filing this story, many traders had stopped collecting the old naira notes due to the challenges bedevilling the entire process.
Also, there were long queues in several bank branches and ATM galleries in Sokoto on Tuesday as residents scrambled for the new naira notes.
Many banks in the state were forced to shut their gates as banking halls became full of customers seeking new notes.
The PUNCH reports that there were long queues of customers at branches of United Bank for Africa, First Bank of Nigeria Limited, Zenith Bank Plc, Polaris Bank, and Access Bank Plc, among others.
A bank customer, Alhaji Aminu Maishanu, who narrated his experience to our correspondent, said he had spent over three hours in the queue to withdraw cash.
He, however, appealed to the management of banks in the state to ensure all their ATM machines were dispensing the new notes.
He said, “The reason why we spent much time here is that only one machine out of five is working. I don’t understand why they couldn’t load other machines to make things easy for customers.
“You people are campaigning that old naira notes will not be useful beyond this month and the new naira notes are not fully in circulation, how do you explain that?”
There were long queues of customers depositing old notes in many commercial bank branches visited in Osogbo, Osun State on Tuesday.
At banks located at Station Road, Gbongan/Osogbo and Alekuwodo areas of Osogbo, many bank customers spent a long period in queues to deposit their old notes.
Also, some of the customers rejected being paid over the counter with old notes, insisting on being paid with new notes. However, some of the ATMs in banks visited dispensed new notes.
A customer, Haruna Ibrahim, who spoke to The PUNCH at the First Bank branch in Igbona, Osogbo, said he spent close to two hours before he could deposit his old notes.
According to him, many people, especially petty traders were becoming increasingly conscious of the date when the old notes would cease to be recognised as legal tender and were trying to beat the deadline.
Commercial banks in Ondo State were filled with customers seeking to deposit old bills and withdraw new notes on Tuesday.
It was observed that most of the customers were market traders and farmers. Some of them travelled from their towns and villages, where there are no commercial banks, to Akure and other big towns. Some were said to be PoS operators.
One of the customers who travelled from Oba Akoko in the Akoko South-West Local Government, Mr Sunday Adeoye, lamented the lack of an adequate number of commercial banks in the Akoko area.
Adeoye said, “There are no banks in our area, some customers would travel from Ipesi Akoko, Igashi Akoko and Ikakumo to Ikare for new notes. This is too stressful and expensive, now that transport fare is too high due to fuel price hike and scarcity in Akokoland.”
Another customer, Alhaji Ismaila Musa, a farmer from the Eleyowo community in the Akure North Local Government, stated that the new notes were not yet circulating as expected.
He said, “We are calling on banks to follow the CBN directives and make the new notes available to all of us. We have to come to Akure to deposit the old notes and we have not seen the new notes in our area.”
Banks in the Maiduguri metropolis have been witnessing a more-than-usual build-up of fairly rowdy crowds as most customers rush to deposit their old naira notes while others struggle to withdraw the new notes.
At the Monday Market branch of Zenith Bank, the queues were so long that customers were only allowed into the banking hall in groups of 10 to 15.
“I tried to deposit N2m of the old notes yesterday, but I could not because of the crowd, coupled with the fact that counting a huge amount of cash seems so tedious for the bank staff, that they can only serve a relatively smaller number of depositors daily,” Mr Ahmed Hassan, who operates a corporate account with the bank, told The PUNCH.
“I have just been able to deposit the cash today (Tuesday) after spending three hours in the banking hall, not even in the queue outside,” he said.
The PUNCH observed that many depositors, who trooped to the banks to deposit the old notes on Monday, could not do so. Many of them complained that they might not be able to do it on Tuesday.
At the Jaiz Bank at Shehu Laminu Way, apart from the crowd of seemingly helpless depositors in the banking hall, the queue at the ATM featured occasional brawls by customers engaged in a struggle to withdraw the new notes.
“I wanted to withdraw N30,000 over-the-counter because the queue by the ATM was too long for me. We were later driven out by the bank workers. The officials told us that we should either accept old notes over-the-counter or endure the ATM queue and crowd to withdraw new notes,” a customer who would not mention his name told The PUNCH.
In five banks monitored by The PUNCH, the ATMs dispense new notes, with most of them being the N1,000 note.
However, several customers complained of the shortage of the N500 and the N200 notes.
Customers on Tuesday besieged banks across major cities of Onitsha, Nnewi and Awka to change their old naira notes.
Our correspondent who monitored the situation, observed that most ATM machines in Onitsha, Awka and Nnewi, were still dispensing the old notes as bank customers complain heavily.
At the motor parks and market places in Onitsha on Tuesday, a town crier went around announcing to the people that “with effect from Thursday(this week), old notes would no longer be accepted for transaction at the motor parks and marketplaces.
Some few days ago, traders at the Main Market, Onitsha, had complained to the officials of the Central Bank of Nigeria who visited the market for a sensitisation, how bank officials were selling and hoarding the new naira notes in Onitsha.
NASS seeks extension
Meanwhile, the Senate on Tuesday appealed to the CBN to extend the deadline for the exchange of old naira notes from the January 31 deadline to July 31, 2023.
The apex bank had in October last year said the old naira notes would seize to be legal tender from January 31.
The Senate in December passed a resolution urging the CBN to extend the deadline to June 30.
However, the insistence of the CBN on no reversal on the set deadline instigated Senator Sadiq Umar, (APC, Kwara North) to move a motion on the floor of the red chamber on Tuesday, where he demanded an extension to July 31.
Most senators who contributed to the debate overwhelmingly embraced the extension, citing the scarcity of new notes both in the banks and at the various ATMs across the country as the reason.
The President, Senate, Ahmad Lawan, put the prayers in motion to vote and the lawmakers voted in support of the extension of the deadline from January 31 to July 31.
The House of Representatives also called on the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), over the brewing crisis occasioned by the January 31 deadline issued by the CBN, for Nigerians to exchange their old naira notes with the new ones.
Apart from asking the CBN to extend the window for swapping the old notes with the newly redesigned one by six months, the House invited Deposit Money Banks, also known as commercial banks, to a meeting on Wednesday (today) over the scarcity of new naira notes.
The managing directors/chief executive officers of the banks, under the auspices of the Bankers’ Committee, are to meet with an ad hoc committee of the House to be chaired by the Majority Leader, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa.
The House particularly resolved that the banks should be invited to explain the alleged supply shortage from the Central Bank of Nigeria, after which the lawmakers would invite the leadership of the apex bank for questioning.
The House “call on President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene in the insistence of the CBN on the tight deadline for the implementation of the cashless policy and currency swap.”
The lawmakers also urged the CBN to extend the implementation of the cashless policy “to at least six months as well as review the daily withdrawal limit and the charges therefrom.”
The resolution follows the unanimous adoption of a motion of urgent public importance moved by a member of the House from Katsina State, Sara Soli, at the opening of the plenary on Tuesday.
Soli noted that the CBN was insisting on the January 31 validity deadline for the new N1,000, N500 and N200 notes despite that Nigerians have limited access to them.
Meanwhile, the CBN has said that there is no going back on the deadline.
The CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, said this on Tuesday after the first Monetary Policy Committee meeting of 2023.
Emefiele said, “Unfortunately, I don’t have good news for those who feel that we should shift the deadline. My apologies. The reason is that just like the President has said on more than two occasions and even to people privately, for us, 90 days or 100 days, we feel is enough for anybody who has money or old currency to deposit it in the banks.
“We took every measure to ensure that all the banks were open or remain open to receive the old currencies. We believe 100 days are more than adequate. We called on the banks to extend banking hours and keep doors open on Saturdays. The banks did not have any reason to even keep their banking halls open on Saturday neither did they see the kind of rush. It was the normal people who came and deposited in the banks.
“We do not see any need to talk about a shift because people could not deposit their old money into their banks. About the circulation of the new currency, we said the currency was available.”
He said the apex bank stopped banks from paying new notes over the counter because they were not paying the vulnerable people that needed the new notes.
He said banks “paid new notes to their friends. We told the banks to fill their ATMs with new notes and not put in old notes again. We increased the volume of disbursement of new notes to the banks and at some points, we told banks to reduce the volume of old notes in their banks at a certain percentage because on the first you should have zero old notes in their vaults.”
He lamented that in 2015, N1.42tn was in circulation but the figures jumped to N3.23tn in 2022.
According to him, N1.7tn out of the N3.23tn is outside bank vaults.
Emefiele said so far, the apex bank has received N1.3tn to N1.5tn from banks since the date of the announcement.
He said, “By last week, we have seen about N1.3tn to N1.5tn in. We are hoping that as we get into this week, we will move closer to N2tn. If we get N2tn in and those who decide to keep it in the vault keep it in their homes, I am not going to force them to bring it out.”
Appeal to EFCC, ICPC
The CBN governor said he had appealed to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission to allow people to deposit their cash.
He said this, discouraging anyone from hoarding cash, which would cease to be legal tender after the deadline.
He said, “People are hoarding it. People are keeping vaults in their homes. We cannot allow them to be banks in their homes. They don’t have the licence to build bank vaults in their homes. They should release that money to the CBN because what they are doing is that they are undermining monetary policy. They are keeping that money to speculate against our currency and it is making our work difficult in CBN.”
The CBN governor added, “By 31 of January, it will be useless in their hands, so I can only just beg them to please bring it. We will take it on or before the 31. Nobody is going to harass you. If you are afraid of being harassed, trust me, we have begged the EFCC. We have begged the ICPC that they should please allow us to do our work so that people can bring more money in. So, we are begging them to bring it in. Nothing will happen to you on my honour.”
He also noted that ransom from kidnapping had reduced due to the new naira policy.
On stamp duty
The CBN governor also broke his silence on the allegation that the apex bank withheld N89trn realised from stamp duty revenues.
The governor on Tuesday expressed surprise that such conversations would come up considering the size of the banking system.
He said that the said amount was far bigger than the total asset of the entire banking industry in the country.
The apex bank boss revealed that N370.89bn had been collected between 2016 and to date.
Emefiele said, “N89tn is so large. The total asset of the banking industry if you understand accounting is about N71tn or N71.5tn. The total deposit of the banking system is N44.49tn. So, how then is it possible that stamp duty is N89tn while the deposit of banks is N44.49tn?
“So, when it became a story everywhere, we went into our records, told Banking Supervision, Banking Payment System to go into the system and rake out the total amount that had been collected on stamp duty from 2016 to date.
“We told our people in Banking Supervision to contact the banks. Let the banks give us from their records; how much they have collected from 2016 to date and tell the banks to sign on their headed paper that this is the amount they have collected on Stamp Duty from 2016 to date.
“The report that we have in CBN is that Stamp Duty collected to date is N370,886,315,505.28. These are public accounts. We owe Nigeria public accountability. Out of that, the Federal Inland Revenue or the Ministry of Finance has disbursed to Federation Accounts Allocation Committee N226,451,720,158.88.
“And the balance with the account of the CBN is N144,234,535,346.40. We did calculations and the highest collection from the oldest bank in Nigeria, First Bank, collected N71.6bn in seven years. I truly don’t know where N89tn is?”
The reaction is in response to a member of the House of Representatives, Mr Muhammed Kazaure, who claimed that Emefiele siphoned the sum of N89tn which had allegedly accrued to the federation.
However, Emefiele said, “The truth is that the CBN will not be joined in any argument with anybody because it will overheat the system. But it is important for me to say that Stamp Duty is the revenue that needs to be collected from people who are conducting electronic transfers. It is about public accounts and accountability.
“I do not want to make any statement that will overheat the system. I don’t understand how the central bank started forcing banks in 2016 to collect stamp duty because we feel it is a source of revenue generation opportunity. How can that same central bank begin to withhold N89tn? It beats our imagination that those kinds of arguments can come.
“We at the central bank have said we will continue to look for it. What have we done? We have engaged the big four audit firms, KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, and Deloitte to go to the banks and do a forensic audit of all stamp duty.
“Maybe by the time they simulate the number of transactions, they will see it and if there is any uncollected stamp duty, we will force the banks they pay to the last one penny.”