As Nigeria experiences a week of difficulty and frustration due to the naira swap policy, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is closely monitoring the cash operations of banks to prevent any abuse. There have been reports of bank officials selling the new notes to politicians and other VIPs, causing a scramble for cash among millions of Nigerians. Branch managers are under the spotlight, with some managing directors threatening to dismiss any branch manager found to be involved in any underhanded dealings with the currency. Despite the close monitoring, instances of rent-seeking and fraudulent behavior have increased, with tellers taking advantage of the situation and exploiting retail customers.
The Guardian reports that some bank officials have begun trading in available cash, with depositors paying up to N50 for every N1,000 received at the bank. Desperate customers are informed of this unofficial arrangement and their consent is obtained before they are allowed into the banking hall. The charges are deducted from the ordered amount, and the balance is then given to the customer.
In Lagos, most banks are guarded by armed police officers and other security agents, and customers are only allowed access after a thorough screening. With all major banks being swarmed by customers, the standard response from customer service personnel or cash tellers is that “there is no network.” The CBN has asked for patience from Nigerians as it works to address the challenges, and has directed banks to commence payment of the new notes over the counter, subject to a maximum daily withdrawal of N20,000. The CBN’s Director of Corporate Communications, Osita Nwanisobi, has promised that the CBN is working diligently to resolve the issues that have led to long lines across the country.
There is an increased presence of police and military operatives at the headquarters of the CBN and the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) in the Central Business District in Abuja. The police have declined to comment on the situation, but it may be connected to the tension across the country due to fuel and naira scarcity, which is causing severe hardship for citizens who cannot obtain money to buy food, other necessities, and transportation.
Yesterday, there was a massive protest in Marina, Lagos Island, over the lack of availability of the new notes and the suffering of the masses. The protest, organized by a coalition of civil society groups, saw hundreds of protesters marching on banks on the island, where many of the banks’ headquarters are located, to demand access to the new notes. The spokesperson of the group stated that the new naira notes belong to all of them, and they are aware that the CBN has made them available to the banks, and they are demanding that the banks stop causing suffering for Nigerians.
In response to the current difficulties faced by citizens, the Federal Government has expressed concern but views the pain as temporary. The Minister of Finance, Budget, and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, stated yesterday during a weekly ministerial briefing at the State House in Abuja that President Muhammadu Buhari is unhappy with the situation but views it as a wound that needs to be dressed. She stated that the harsh realities citizens are facing due to the swap are temporary and a necessary price to pay for the nation’s economy to grow. The Finance Minister is confident that the new policy is timely and required to curb corruption, and there have been positive aspects to the policy, such as the large amounts of illicit cash that have been recovered.