Banking halls across various commercial banks in Lagos, Osun, Ekiti, and other parts of the country witnessed minimal activity as frustrated customers resorted to alternative means of cash withdrawal following the scarcity of naira notes in the banks.
Checks by our correspondents revealed that while most banking halls were empty due to paucity of funds in bank vaults, large crowds had formed outside some of the few banks that were rumoured to be preparing to load their Automated Teller Machines.
At First Bank Plc branch along Ogunnusi road in Lagos, there were a few customers arguing with bank officials who had insisted that the branch had run out of cash.
The story was similar at Ecobank, Zenith Bank, GTCO and Access Bank, all located in close proximity to each other along Ogunnusi road.
However, at Union Bank Plc, also located within the same axis, there was a sizable crowd of commuters jostling through the queue hoping that the bank would load its ATM.
One of our correspondents then went further down the road inbound to Ojodu Grammar School, visiting UBA and Access Bank.
At the United Bank for Africa, the ATM did not dispense cash nor were any payments made over the counter.
A bank official, who spoke with our correspondent said the bank had been restricted to paying denominations lower than N200 notes due to a CBN directive.
When our correspondent attempted to make a withdrawal to collect the lower denominations, he was told that there was no money available, not even a thousand naira.
At Access Bank in the same area, there was no form of over-the-counter payments, while the ATMs were not dispensing.
A commuter, Emmanuel Collins, who spoke with our correspondent at Access Bank adjacent Ojodu Grammar School, said he had just come from the banking hall of his bank (UBA).
He had pleaded to be paid any denomination at their disposal.
He said, “I’ve been to my bank. Since yesterday, they don’t have any cash. They said they don’t have N1000 and N500 notes. I asked them to pay me, even though it’s N50 notes, but they didn’t have.”
Meanwhile, The PUNCH also observed that many customers of microfinance banks operating in Osun State on Wednesday threatened to storm the streets in protest against the lack of cash for withdrawal.
In some of the microfinance banks visited in Osogbo, many officials of the banks, were not on seat, as many customers waited endlessly to withdraw from their accounts.
Some of the customers claimed to be salary earners, who often get their monthly salaries through their accounts domiciled in microfinance banks.
The customers while speaking to our correspondent during visits to Olubasiri Microfinance, Ibuaje Microfinance and Osogbo Microfinance banks, all located within the Osogbo metropolis, threatened to embark on a protest if the situation persisted.
But an official of a microfinance bank in Osogbo, who spoke under condition said the refusal of the Central Bank of Nigeria to include microfinance banks in its plan for the replacement of old naira notes with new ones was responsible for the collapse of operations of the banks.
When contacted for a reaction, the Chairman of the National Association of Microfinance Banks, Osun State chapter, Mr Tunde Lawal, confirmed the collapse in operations of many of the banks which he blamed on a lack of cash to pay customers.
He however referred our correspondent to the national leadership of the group for further comment.
Also, a middle-aged woman begged bank officials in Ado Ekiti, the Ekiti State capital, on Wednesday to save her from dying.
The bank customer had approached the cashiers at the Opopogboro branch of First Bank to withdraw N9,000 cash on the counter but was turned back that the maximum she could withdraw was N2,000.
All her entreaties with the female cashier to assist her to get the N9,000 cash proved abortive as the bank official insisted that was the instruction that bank customers had been complying with.
This was as many bank customers, who queued up at the ATM points in the different banks in the state capital, which were dispensing a maximum of N20,000 groaned, saying they left their businesses and other important matters to spend their valuable time queueing.
Operatives of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission arrived two banks in Bauchi State on Tuesday to monitor the cash disbursement exercise, as the agency noted that the operation would spread across the country.
Our correspondent gathered that the operation, which is still ongoing, was being carried out by a joint taskforce comprising operatives of the ICPC and its sister anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, and staff members of the CBN.
Speaking to our correspondent on Wednesday, a top ICPC official said, “Yesterday, Tuesday, operatives of the commission from the Bauchi State office joined the taskforce alongside the staff of the CBN and operatives of the EFCC, to monitor the disbursement of new currency notes by some commercial banks within Bauchi metropolis.
Meanwhile, ICPC on Tuesday, arrested an Abuja-based woman, Oluwadarasimi Emma, with the Twitter handle @SimisolaGold and Twitter name Simisola of Lala, for offering new naira notes for sale on social media.
The arrest was as a result of intelligence received which led the ICPC operatives to seek out and promptly arrest the suspect.
The spokesperson for the anti-graft agency, Mrs. Azuka Ogugua revealed in a statement obtained by our correspondent on Wednesday night.
Ogugua said, “Oluwadarasimi Emma, a social media ‘serial entrepreneur,’ who deals in skincare, sales of fuel, facilitation of foreign travels through visa acquisitions, and other businesses, seized the opportunity of the scarcity of the new naira notes to openly market the new notes.
“It is believed that she is in collusion with key elements in the financial services sector diverting the newly released notes away from banking halls and payment channels into a ‘black market’.”
Ondo chamber reacts
The Ondo State Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture on Tuesday said the implementation of the new naira policy introduced by the CBN was designed to run micro small and medium enterprises and the common man out of business.
Lamenting the hardship caused by the new policy, the spokesperson for the ONDOCCIMA, Adeboro Onibalusi, in a statement, said the policy was crumbling micro small and medium enterprises, adding that accessibility to old and new notes had become difficult for business operations in the state.
The presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar has urged the Central Bank of Nigeria not to extend the deadline for swapping of the old Naira notes further.
Atiku also urged the CBN not to ignore the enemies and not succumb to the present pressure it is experiencing.
Atiku disclosed this in a release by his media office on Wednesday saying that there should be no further extension of the old to new swap of the naira notes after February 10 which would destroy the purpose and objective of initiating the redesigning of the currency.
The former vice president would preferably want the apex bank to evaluate the measures taken for ensuring the flawless flow of the new naira notes to assuage the hardship the Nigerian people are facing, especially rural inhabitants, which need cash in their everyday dealings.
He also said, “However, the CBN should be wary of the elite whose motive for crying out about more postponement of the deadline for the tenure of the old naira notes is sinister and far from being altruistic. I am totally in support of building a cashless economy and reducing the amount of cash in our economy.”
Meanwhile, the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry has said that the CBN’s inability to properly plan and implement the phasing out of old naira notes has caused serious strain on many businesses.
In a statement signed by its Director-General, Chinyere Almona, the chamber noted that the new naira redesign had triggered varied reactions and feedback that suggested that related issues like the phasing of old currency notes, withdrawal limit, and the scarcity of new notes might have started to impact businesses and social livelihood beyond intentions.
The statement read in part, “With the launch of the redesigned Naira notes last December, expectations were high for the smooth transition to the use of the new notes for business transactions across the country.
“We regret to note that expectations have been dashed, business deals impeded, and loss of time and value experienced by many. The central bank needs to enlighten the public on grey areas about the scarcity of the new naira notes in addition to strengthening its policy implementation capacity. This is the minimum expectation in the face of a currency crisis in which we find ourselves.”
According to the statement, businesses have been left to suffer the consequences of the CBN currency management policy lapses.
“While we support the drive toward a cashless economy, redesigning the naira and phasing out old currency notes could have been better planned and implemented with no hardship for businesses and individuals,” the statement read further.”