Buhari Order Central Bank Of Nigeria To Release Old N200 Notes To Ease Pains of Naira Scarcity

President Muhammadu Buhari has directed the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to allow only the old N200 remain legal tender until April 10, 2023, in order to improve currency circulation in the country and ease pain experienced by Nigerians due to the decision to retire some denominations of the old banknotes after a currency redesign project. President Buhari, who addressed the nation this morning, is concerned about the plight of Nigerians.

When the matter came up for hearing yesterday at the Supreme Court, in Abuja, nine states of the federation announced their desire to be joined as interested parties in the suit. Justice John Okoro, who led other justices of the Supreme Court, adjourned the case till February 22 for hearing. But he did not vacate the order of interim injunction he granted on February 8 in the case originally brought by Zamfara, Kaduna, and Kogi states against CBN’s February 10 deadline for the swapping out of the old naira notes.

However, in Benin City, the Edo State capital, public anger and frustration boiled over in bloody demonstrations yesterday as people continued to face difficulty accessing the new naira notes, while banks rejected the old currency, despite the Supreme Court order. Non-availability of new naira notes and the rejection of old ones was the main reason why most of the banking apps were not active.

An attack at the Benin branch of CBN was foiled by a combined team of officers from the Nigeria Police and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps. Three people were killed in the incident, resulting in angry protests and attack on virtually all banks in Benin.

As the protest spread to Kwara, Delta, and Oyo states, the three state governors – AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, Ifeanyi Okowa, and Seyi Makinde, respectively called on their people and all Nigerians to remain calm and exercise restraint in the face of widespread hardship occasioned by scarcity of the redesigned naira notes.

In addition, Buhari, again, met with the CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, yesterday, at the State House, Abuja. That was the fourth time the president would be meeting with the apex bank governor in the last one week since the recent crisis over implementation of the currency swap introduced by the CBN in October last year.

Emefiele was at the State House on Monday, and he also appeared before the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and the National Council of State last Wednesday and Friday, respectively. Although details of Wednesday’s meeting between the president and the CBN governor, which took place shortly after the weekly FEC meeting, was not made public, sources told our source that the meeting might have reviewed the sitting of the Supreme Court.

The meeting was also said to have considered options open to government over the matter, with a resolve to await the outcome of the litigation by the states before government could make any further move. A top Presidency official told our source on condition of anonymity that Emefiele was actually scheduled to meet the president after the FEC meeting on Wednesday. However, the source said the CBN governor left the State House before the end of the FEC meeting for another official assignment.

Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara states had dragged the federal government to the Supreme Court last week to stop the government and CBN from fully implementing the demonetization policy introduced last October. The three states requested a temporary order of the apex court halting the scheduled ending of the old 200, 500 and 1,000 denominations on February 10, 2023, pending the hearing and determination of the suit.

In granting the request, the apex court had fixed hearing for February 15 and asked that the order be served on the respondent (Attorney General of the Federation).

However, when the matter was called for hearing yesterday, nine states announced their intentions to be joined as interested parties in the suit – seven as co-plaintiffs and two as co-defendants. Since there was no opposition to their joining, Justice John Okoro, who led a seven-man panel of the Supreme Court, granted the requests and joined the states as parties.

Senior officials of the federal government reached some governors, including Malam Nasir El-Rufai, on phone to initiate discussions on a possible out of court settlement. The terms they proposed were to allow only the old N200 note to remain legal tender and be circulated by the CBN till April 10, 2023.

“They claimed that the CBN had already destroyed the old N500 and N1000 notes that had been deposited, but that those persons who still held the old notes could redeem them up to 10 April 2023. These were not considered as serious proposals, for obvious reasons.

“Circulating the old N200 notes alone would not be sufficient to relieve widespread human suffering in Kaduna State, and indeed in Nigeria today. They knew that and that is why they falsely claimed that the CBN had already destroyed the old N500 and N1000 notes. This is contrary to the fact available to the governors to the effect that the old notes were in the custody of commercial bank branches throughout Nigeria until the evening of Monday, February 13, and not a single N500 or N1000 had been destroyed.

“It is also a non-starter to insist on a new cut-off date without first assuring that sufficient new notes would have been printed and circulated. Information available to the governors also indicate that the Mint will need at least 12 months to print the minimum amount of N1 trillion needed to ensure a functioning trade and exchange environment in Nigeria.

There were protests in Benin City over scarcity of the new currency notes, rejection of the old N200, N500 and N1000 notes, and inoperative of banks’ online banking apps. The Benin branch of CBN and some commercial banks in Benin were attacked, with their ATM machines and buildings destroyed. Some of the banks affected were Sterling Bank, UBA, GT Bank, Access Bank, Zenith Bank, and Stanbic IBTC.

Trouble started when an unmarked Toyota Hilux which the protesters believed was from a government office was driving into the CBN, but the angry customers started stoning the vehicle before security agents brought the situation under control. The protest snowballed into crisis when other protesters from Mission road and Sakpoba road joined the protest and started attacking the CBN by throwing stone and other dangerous objects. He said the police responded by firing tear gas and bullets into the air and in the process three people were killed.

This prompted angry protesters to later move into the town attacking and vandalizing banks offices across the state and shattered their ATMs. Following the development, banks across the state hurriedly closed down to prevent hoodlums from taking the advantage of the protest to loot. A bank customer, Precious Oruche, said she visited the CBN to swap the old with new notes but the situation was frustrating as she was not allowed into the premise.

In a related development, Okowa called on the people of the state and all Nigerians to remain calm and exercise restraint in the light of widespread hardship occasioned by scarcity of the redesigned naira notes.

Okowa, who is vice presidential candidate of the PDP, spoke following reported outbreak of violent protests in some local government areas of the state. Citizens, angered over the non-availability of new naira notes in the banks’ ATMs in their locality. They vandalized two old generation banks (Union and First Bank) property including the bank’s ATM gallery, which was destroyed and burnt. A new generation bank (Access Bank) was also vandalized and destroyed.

Speaking in Asaba through the information commissioner, Mr. Charles Aniagwu, the governor said although the state government was well aware of the unpleasant experience of the citizens due to the scarcity of the new currency, the people should refrain from resorting to extreme actions that are counterproductive that would be regretted. Okowa also appealed to the CBN, commercial banks and other monetary authorities to take further steps to increase the money supply in the system accessible to members of the public.

Austine Ikeru
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