Naira crunch: What citizens are saying about withdrawal limits, others

The prolonged Naira scarcity issue appears to be coming to an end with cash availability. However, the citizens are still lamenting the withdrawal limits set by banks; PAUL OKAH reports.

At long, long last, Nigerians can now heave a sigh of relief as the Naira scarcity palaver, which started in February this year days before the general elections, with the re-designing of the currency notes by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), may be coming to an end with the dispensing of the old and new notes.

Although the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) initially threatened to strike on March 29 by picketing CBN offices, the CBN countered the threat by flooding banks with “enough cash” to ease the pains encountered for weeks now.

Despite this, the citizens and others are still complaining that they are not allowed to withdraw as much money as they would have wanted via bank tellers, with many saying they only succeeded in withdrawing a maximum of N20, 000 over the counter.

Desperate Nigerians have also reportedly embraced banking at home by withdrawing cash from banks and stockpiling them at home, thereby exposing themselves to the danger of being robbed.

Normalcy creeping back

Investigations by Blueprint Weekend revealed that the Naira situation has improved following the latest directive from the CBN for banks to work even on weekends to circulate cash in order to avert the planned industrial action by the NLC.

Our reporter visited several bank branches in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and discovered that many banks pay customers over the counter even as automated teller machines (ATMs) also dispense cash (mainly old notes).

However, the crowds in banks are likely to take a while to ease off because of the desperation by many to withdraw cash and deposit at home following their experiences in the past weeks. The majority of those who throng banks in the FCT said they were there to resolve unsuccessful transactions that characterised the industry at the peak of the cash crisis.

Further investigations also indicated that PoS operators were fully back in business as they were able to withdraw enough cash to meet the needs of the customers. Their transaction charges have also moderated as customers were no longer desperate to receive cash from them.

For instance, a PoS operator at Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC) headquarters, who identified himself as Kabiru, told this reporter that he charges N200 for N5, 000 cash, which was the maximum amount he was dispensing to interested customers.

As normalcy is gradually returning, transporters and technicians in the capital city have begun to reject cash transfers as means of payment, especially where the amount involved is considered meagre.

A banker’s view

Speaking with this reporter Wednesday on whether or not banks now pay new notes to customers over the counter, a teller at Federal Secretariat, Abuja, who identified herself simply as Cynthia, said banks have started getting cash from the CBN, though they still limit the amount dispensed to customers.

“As you can see, we now have cash, unlike the last two weeks when we had nothing to pay customers. You don’t have to even ask or bother whether it’s old or new cash. When there was no cash to pay at all, did anyone bother whether it was old or new after the Supreme Court judgement? We should manage what we see and not complain much.

“Although we have cash, it’s not enough to pay people what they want. So, we have to ration for now. Kindly bear with us for now! The maximum we give is N20, 000. However, we hope to increase the withdrawal limit in the coming days when we get more cash. The good thing is that cash is now available, unlike before. At least, people can now carry out different transactions that require cash, unlike a few weeks ago when there was no cash,” she said.

Citizens inviting danger

Also, a civil servant in Wuse, Mr. Musa Ahmed, said many people have started stockpiling cash at home for fear of the unknown, revealing that the attitude may be exposing them to danger of robbery.

He said: “Nigeria is unpredictable, just like its citizens. One minute, everything is okay. Next minute, there will be confusion. If not fuel scarcity, there will be confusion over use of Naira notes. It appears the scarcity of the Naira notes has turned a banker, whether officially or otherwise. It is a great relief to see that banks are now dispensing cash to customers. However, there are complaints about the withdrawal limits.

“For instance, I visited my bank yesterday in Utako, but could only get N20, 000, instead of the N100, 000 cash I needed. The withdrawal limit is a major challenge because people need cash. As a result, many withdrew from different banks and kept the cash at home, thereby exposing themselves to risk of being robbed. Trust Nigerians to improvise in any situation. The cash in homes will attract robbers because many people are hungry.”

CBN’s policy poor

On her part, a secondary school teacher, Mrs. Jacinta Abike, said the CBN has not recorded gains with its Naira re-design policy except to plunge the people into poverty.

She said: “This country is in a mess. The CBN needs a change in leadership because the man at the helm of affairs isn’t getting things right. If not for the threat by the NLC to picket CBN offices nationwide, God knows that the naira scarcity issue would have persisted as we have a record of people not willing to bend as long as things are not affecting them. We have a long way to go in this country.

“If you go round Abuja, you will see that the ATMs are dispensing mainly the old N1, 000 and N500 notes. What then is the reason for the CBN subjecting Nigerians to weeks of hardship if the new naira isn’t available? Some individual customers are even allowed to withdraw a maximum of N500, 000 cash allowed by the CBN over the counter, so the whole essence of the cashless policy is lost if you ask me.”

NLC, TUC give ultimatum

At a news conference in Abuja on Tuesday, the NLC and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) extended the ultimatum issued to CBN to make cash available in commercial banks by two weeks. The two organisations had earlier threatened in a one-week ultimatum to picket all branches of the CBN beginning from March 29 if the government and the CBN did not end the nationwide cash crunch.

The NLC president, Mr. Joe Ajaero, said the decision to extend the ultimatum was reached after consultations with affiliate members of both unions and their National Executive Councils, revealing that reports from state branches of NLC and TUC indicated that there had been partial compliance by the CBN with a Supreme Court judgement to make cash available in banks.

The NLC president said committees had also been set up at the national and state levels of the two organisations to monitor the level of compliance by the banks, observing also that some banks did not comply with the CBN directive to operate at the weekend.

He said: “We agreed that we have to monitor this compliance for the next two weeks to establish whether it is sustainable. CBN rushed to move money to commercial banks, but some of the banks are getting empty again. Queues are returning to some of them. It will be very naive of the NLC to hurriedly call off the action. We would want to loosen up for another two weeks, however.

“The NLC and TUC have decided to allow March 29 to pass without any picketing, but to watch for the next two weeks. After two weeks from today, the NEC of the two organisations will meet to decide whether or not the CBN has fully complied and whether or not its compliance is sustainable to drive the economy. We equally wish to advise the CBN to play its regulatory role because it can sanction banks that are not compliant as Nigerians have suffered so much.

In his contribution, the TUC president, Mr. Festus Osifo, corroborated Ajaero’s submission that the two organisations had agreed to sustain the push in the next two weeks to ease the hardships of Nigerians.

“With reports that came from the states, there had been some level of compliance, but some banks refused to comply or refused to open and they did not open at the weekend. We call on the CBN to encourage them to sustain the availability of cash as the confidence in the system has been eroded. The CBN needs to do much more. It needs to supply much more money into the economy,” he said.

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