Transition to cashless economy and matters arising

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Since the transition from a liquid economy to a cashless one, Nigerians have had varying degrees of experiences, good or bad. IDACHABA SUNNY writes on such experiences with additional agency reports.

Transition to a cashless economy in the opinion of financial experts is a good development in modern times. As a matter of fact, many developed countries had since migrated from cashless economy to a highly digitised crypto system. In Nigeria and many African countries, an economy largely driven by cash still holds sway.

The administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan snowballed the cashless policy, but lacked the neccesary political, technical and financial wherewithal to implement it before the administration was voted out in 2015. President Muhammadu Buhari in whose tenure digitisation took a centre stage took a bold step to begin the implementation of the programme through the recent policy of the apex bank.

When Mr Godwin Emefiele, the CBN governor announced the return to a cashless economy in October, it was greeted with skepticism for many reasons, but bothering on lack of strong network backbone to drive the policy. No one envisaged that along the line, bank customers would have sour stories to tell judging from recent developments.

Unpleasant tales

For Mr Maduabuchi Eziukwu, a civil servant, February 7 was another day to source for cash to meet his financial needs.
So, he headed for a nearby ATM centre for some cash withdrawal where unknown to him, a predator ATM scammer was lurking in the background.

“I had an unfortunate experience trying to get cash at a Zenith Bank Branch at Amarata in Yenagoa.

“That day was a sad day for me as I was defrauded. All my savings in the bank was cleared by one dubious character.

“I had slotted my card into the ATM but the machine rejected it and pushed it out. The guy who had just used the machine before me told me that my card was not properly inserted,’’ he said.
Eziukwu thought he had met a Good Samaritan, but the strange guy had other plans for him.
“He removed my card and pretended to help me to properly insert it. The card dropped from his hand and he picked it up and reinserted it. He told me to put my password again.
“When the machine still did not dispense the cash to me, he returned my card’ to me and left. “Immediately I realised that the card he gave to me is not mine but a dummy card while he made away with mine. It flashed in my mind that having observed me input my password, he had obviously memorised it. “Having realised that I had the wrong ATM card, I made desperate efforts to block my account but it was already late. The stranger had used my card to clear every kobo in my account’’, he said. Eziukwu, 53, a Yenagoa-based civil servant lost N383, 000 to the character in less than one hour. To worsen the situation, Eziukwu said his desperate effort to notify his bank about the stolen card through the bank’s customer care lines was unsuccessful as the programmed the number you are calling is temporarily out of service` kept hurling back at him.
According to him, he also tried in vain to use his mobile banking application to transfer funds from the ill-fated account as the APP did not work neither did an email report and request to the bank to block the account help.
Finally, what appeared like a respite came when he successfully used the USSD emergency code to stop debit transactions. However, it was akin to medicine after death as the fraudster had emptied the account.
Eziukwu is not alone in this predicament as many Nigerians have fallen victim to different tricks employed by dubious elements.

Although this is now becoming a familiar story among Nigerian bank customers, the ongoing transition to a cashless economy reinforces the challenge posed by these characters, particularly in the area of ICT literacy and infrastructure.
Prince Mike Tayase and Mrs Pauline Onyibe, both Bayelsa-based journalists said they have bitter experience of declined transactions at Point of Sale (PoS) terminals at supermarkets.
Tayase said as plausible as the reasons advanced by the CBN to justify the policy sounds, the apex bank has woefully failed in its monetary policy duties.
“The CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, has decades of commercial bank experience from Zenith Bank and has served close to 10 years as CBN governor. He is expected to consider all variables in the planned transition to a cashless economy.
“It seems the apex bank did not ascertain the integrity of the ICT infrastructure in the payment system because of the level of failed transition being experienced by bank customers.
“The cash withdrawal limit is also a source of concern and has exposed many Nigerians to be at the mercy of some bank officials and greedy PoS operators.
“There are also reported cases of fake transfers and fake alerts,’’ Tayase said.
According to Onyibe, the apex bank should carry enough sensitisation on the benefits of the policy and take concrete steps to ensure that those who sabotage it are punished.
The CBN says it is not unaware of the challenges posed by the new policy as assures that it is working hard to ensure that the hiccups were addressed to the benefit of Nigerians and the economy.
In a recent statement by CBN director, Corporate Communications Department, Mr Osita Nwanisobi, the apex bank’s governor, Mr Godwin Emefiele, urged Nigerians to be patient as the apex banks fixed the hitches.
Emefiele also said the CBN remained committed to ensuring the effective distribution of the newly introduced naira banknotes nationwide.

A traumatizing experience

Apart from the narratives above, in the last one month when naira redesign and cashless regime started, Nigerians have gone and are still going unprecedented trauma accessing their money in the banks either due to banks inability to meet the yearnings of customers or simply poor network services from the service providers.
In interactions with many fun seekers and residents in the nation’s capital, its been unpleasant tales.
According to an Abuja resident, Gabriel Obodo, I didn’t know I will live up till now.
“I am a vulcaniser along Kubwa expressway and that is the job I have been doing since 2013. I don’t have any bank account because often we do daily contributions after customers pay us. When this cashless policy started, customers always want to make transfer but I don’t have any account. Because of this, I have not been receiving customers again. There are days I will not make 500 naira even in three days. They said the policy is good, but it’s not good for some of us that do menial jobs with little pay. Please help us tell the government to help us because we are suffering.”
To confirm Gabriel’s complain, Tony Ayame, another resident said he left his car on a lonely road last week because he had no cash to pay a roadside vulcaniser after his car tyre deflated. To compound his problem, he said the spare tyre too was flat unfortunately he didn’t know until that day.
“This happened just before the NEXT Cash N Carry on my way home in the evening. The vulcaniser man, obviously frustrated by the cashless gridlock refused a transfer because he has no bank account. Every pleas went on deaf ears and I had no cash. To secure the car, I pushed it to the broad entrance of the hotel adjacent the place just for safety and left. Luckily, I got a lift from there to Gwarimpa and trekked to my house. I was lucky the car was safe the following day. My brother, this cashless thing is good though but the initial hiccups were not envisaged. Even the Central Bank did not envisage what is happening. “
The policy is almost a month old since it started. It seems the economy is gradually adjusting to its inconveniences, but the apex bank especially commetcial banks need to assist the government to lessen the pains on citizens.