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Naira Redesign: Amid Twists and Turns, Emefiele Maintains Course
The high-level intrigues to derail the new currency policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria have failed on account of President Muhammadu Buhari’s strong backing of the sound economic plan being religiously implemented by the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, writes Louis Achi
The Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele, lacks the rock-star image of Alan Greenspan, former Chair, US Federal Reserve Board. This may have significantly aided the misreading of the strength and focus of the unassuming CBN’s command-room boss.
With a stuttering dollar-denominated, consumption-driven and almost solely petroleum-funded economy plus a misunderstood role of central banks the world-over, recourse to attacking the candid CBN governor appears a logical fair game. These dimensions were more recently mirrored in high-intensity attacks against the CBN governor over the naira redesign and currency swap policy.
Even the extension of the initial January 31 2023 deadline by the CBN, whereby the N200, N500 and N1,000 notes would cease to be legal tender, to February 10, 2023, did not assuage several powerful, and entrenched interests now in panic mode.
The extreme lobbying, roughneck tactics and outright threats to the Emefiele-led CBN to abandon course were unprecedented and raised the spectre of open conflict. But these shadowy and known forces misread Emefiele who has the full backing of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Persistent moves from the national parliament to hobble the policy, subtly robed in public interests apparels, hardly shifted the focus of the CBN boss. Although it must be noted that it is within the purview of the legislature to rein in deleterious executive policy in the public interest. But in this instance, the shrill intervention of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, a protégé of the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu, is perceived to suggest untoward motives.
As it were, after successive ‘celebrated’ invitations to Emefiele to come and explain the currency redesign policy, the CBN governor who had been on annual leave stopped over at the House of Representatives last week with his team and succinctly illuminated the policy move.
During the meeting with the House of Representatives Ad-hoc Committee on the Review of the CBN’s Cashless Policy and Extension of the Timeframe of the Currency Swap programme, held in Abuja, the CBN boss assured Nigerians that nobody would lose his or her legitimately earned money due to the naira redesign project, insisting that the exercise was in the overall interest of Nigerians and the economy.
Emefiele who was accompanied to the meeting by all the four deputy governors of the CBN, also told the parliament that the value of old naira notes of N200, N500 and N1000 would still be redeemed even after they have ceased to be legal tender after the February 10 deadline, at the CBN. He explained that the redemption was in tandem with the law, precisely Section 20 (3) of CBN Act. The essence was to mop up the old notes in circulation, he stated.
While listing steps taken by CBN to ensure the effective distribution of the new banknotes, he disclosed that about N1.9 trillion of the old banknotes had so far been collected since the commencement of the exercise. According to him, the currency redesign policy has so far recorded about a 75 per cent success rate given the fact that many of those in the rural and underserved locations across the 36 states of the country have had the opportunity of swapping their old banknotes for the new series of the banknotes.
Noting that one of the reasons for the naira redesign was to bring in the N2.7 trillion outside the banking system which is currently being held in people’s homes, he accused commercial banks of breaching the apex bank’s guidelines, with the way the new naira was being sprayed in parties.
The apex bank was working closely with relevant agencies of the federal government to ensure full compliance with the CBN guidelines issued to the banks for the seamless distribution of the new banknotes, he further apprised the lawmakers.
While anticipating more benefits of the policy in the future, he appealed to Nigerians for their support, stressing that the naira redesign was good of Nigerians. “I addressed the bankers on Sunday and I expressed to them my disappointment and in fact, the disappointment of the president, the disappointment of leaders in the country with the way this has gone on because many of us have unfortunately seen the new naira instead of being used for the purpose it was meant, the new naira is being used in parties, in celebrations,” he explained.
To rein in the alleged underhand play by banks, he said the CBN has enlisted the support of security agencies to track the policy compliance. According to him, “When I met President Buhari, I told him that we have met with the EFCC, the ICPC and NFIU and that we are now going to bring EFCC, ICPC, NFIU to join us in monitoring the flow of this currency to our people. We are doing this so that the Nigerian economy can be better than it is today and I am saying that we are beginning to see some of the benefits.”
More specifically, he said: “Inflation last month is not rising, not stagnating but somehow moderating. We are expecting that it will continue to moderate. The exchange rate to be stable and we are hoping that with this exercise, the naira can even get stronger.”
Last week, suspected members of the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) reportedly distributed huge amounts of old notes to scores of commuters in the Lake Chad Basin ahead of the deadline of the CBN cashless policy. The incident occurred after Mairari village, along the Maiduguri/Monguno highway on Saturday in Guzamala Local Government Area of Borno State. This is perceived to have been triggered by the new currency policy.
It could be recalled that on October 26, 2022, Emefiele, announced that new Naira notes would be introduced to replace the current N200, N500, and N1000 notes and that the redesign would take effect from Thursday, December 15, 2022. At the unveiling of the new naira notes at the State House on November 23, 2022, the CBN boss told newsmen that existing notes would cease to be legal tender by January 31, 2023.
Since this policy enunciation and rollout, all hell broke loose as politicians who nursed unconventional agenda to corner power in the looming elections were seriously threatened. Even some state institutions were curiously roped in to achieve the illegal objective of caging Emefiele.
But in all the Mafia-type plots to remove Emefiele on specious, trumped-up allegations, one fact stood out starkly and ultimately saved the day: President Buhari who appointed the top banker was stoutly behind him. President Buhari has repeatedly assured Nigerian that he wants to leave an economy reasonably stabilised even against the enervating vagaries of the global village.
Emefiele’s brief is no doubt a juggler’s nightmare. Managing a slew of regulatory responsibilities requires no less a navigator with adroit multi-tasking skills and a cool head. This is Emefiele’s forte.