As House Parleys with CBN, Others over Currency Swap

Udora Orizu writes that the House of Representatives ad-hoc committee on naira re-design and swap policy has been meeting with CBN and other relevant stakeholders to find solution to scarcity of the redesigned currency and deadline for phasing out of the old naira notes

Since the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, last October, announced that the apex bank would redesign the N200, N500 and N1,000 banknotes with January 31,2023 as the deadline for the return of the old notes to the banks, he has been on a collision course with many political leaders, particularly members of the National Assembly who wants the deadline postponed and more new naira made available to “ameliorate the citizens sufferings”.

The House of Representatives had last year summoned Emefiele to brief it on several policies of the apex bank, particularly on the newly introduced currency and the withdrawal limit regimes.

The CBN had put cash withdrawal limit at N100,000 per week for individuals and N500,000 for the same period for corporate entity and announced the redesign of N200, N500 and N1000 which were to cease to be legal tender on January 31.

On the day the meeting was supposed to be held, Emefiele informed the House that he was outside the country on official engagement and was re-invited to appear either in person or by proxy.

But he could not come as he said he was still abroad and this time attending to some health challenges and delegated his deputy to brief the House.

Agreeing, the Speaker of the House, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, urged his colleagues to allow Emefiele’s representative to brief the House as his excuse was health  based. After listening to their guest’s explanations and responses to the concerns of the House, Gbajabiamila said the parliament would deliberate on them and take a position.

As the position of the green chamber was yet to be made public, the House had last month called for a six month extension for the exchange of the old notes. It also constituted an ad-hoc committee chaired by the Majority Leader, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa to meet with CBN and Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of commercial banks over the scarcity of the redesigned currency.

The first meeting was rescheduled, reason for which Doguwa said was late delivery of invitation letters to the financial institutions and it was slated for the next day. But again, CBN did not show up, the deputy governor (corporate services), Edward Adamu, in a letter to the House said the CBN Governor was on President Muhammadu Buhari’s delegation to Dakar, Senegal and could not appear before the ad-hoc committee.

Frowning at the development, Gbajabiamila threatened to issue a warrant of arrest on Emefiele and any CEO of a commercial bank that refused to appear before the ad-hoc committee.

The CBN after a meeting with President Buhari announced the extension of the deadline to February 10 to enable the exchange of the old notes. However, this did not pacify the Doguwa committee as they rejected the extension and insisted that the CBN governor must honour its invitation.

When Emefiele eventually appeared before the ad-hoc committee, he and his team first had a brief closed-door meeting with the lawmakers.

Thereafter the CBN Governor, before answering questions thrown at him by the lawmakers, apologised for not honouring their summons due to some uncertainties and assured that he was on the same page with them.

The Doguwa-led committee, on their part, only expressed regrets over the failure of Emefiele to honour its invitation and softly asked him to stick to the laws in the implementation of the policies.

Emefiele further doused the earlier heightened tension among the lawmakers that the old notes would be redeemed even after the February 10 deadline as they were seen beaming with smiles and calling for adjournment.

Apparently satisfied, Doguwa thanked Emefiele and said if he had given the assurances earlier, there would not have been any need for the meeting.

However, as Nigerians faced more hardships over the scarcity of the new naira notes, Gbajabiamila on February 5 said that the House would have no option but to reconvene before the February 25 elections if the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) failed to address the issue.

The Speaker said the House would continue to monitor the CBN’s implementation of the policy closely following the Green Chamber’s meeting with Emefiele, on the issue.

On February 9, the adhoc committee in continuation of its meeting had invited the minister of finance, Zainab Ahmed, the Managing Director, Nigerian Security, Minting and Printing Company, Ahmed Halilu and the Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission INEC, Professor Mahmoud Yakubu and the Director of Currency Operations in the CBN to appear before it, but the invitees took excuses for their absence.

However, the National Security Adviser (NSA), Maj. Gen. Babagana Monguno, who sent a representative appealed to the lawmakers to come up with practicable solutions to the attendant economic crisis arising from the scarcity of the redesigned naira notes.

Represented by Rear Admiral Abubakar A. Mustapha, a director in charge of the secretariat that conducts general security appraisal of committee with special focus on elections and other security situations exigencies in his office, the NSA said  the policy was affecting military operations in some areas, stressing that some soldiers on the battle fronts were having financial difficulties.

Monguno said, “Because of the sensitivity of some of the information that will come bothering on security, there are things you cannot say in the media. But that being said, globally, military operations even in the first world countries, such policies if not well thought out will affect some certain things because some of our soldiers are deployed in places where they cannot actually access digital means of paying whatever daily subsistence. One of the main issues that the NSA has been talking about is that this committee sits down and articulate better ways of addressing these issues and he has directed  committee in his office which I am part of to write out his position to assist the committee to meet its mandate. On more detailed level, I will be able to talk to the the committee when the press leave”.

Earlier in his remarks, the chairman of the committee, Hon. Alhassan Ado Doguwa, said the CBN policy was unpopular and had subjected Nigerians to untold hardships, adding that it was a threat to the general elections.

He said “We are therefore mandated to continue to follow up not only with the CBN as an agency or as a major regulator of our financial system but to follow up with all other relevant agencies that may have fallen in one way or the other important in the discussions before us. It is on that note that the committee sat yesterday and we decided that we need to interface with some very relevant agencies that would have a very significant role to play in the implementation of this very important policy. The policy is undoubtedly very unpopular among the people. It has created a lot of hardships among our people and in the economy. The policy has posed a lot of threat to our security and of course, the upcoming general election coming in the next few days.

“And it is on that ground that we have decided to invite the ministry of finance, being the ministry that controls the fiscal policy of the government. We also found it fit to invite the director of currency operation, who of course, is under the ministry of finance and the printing and minting company. The committee also decided to invite the chief executive of the printing and minting company, the National Security Adviser (NSA) and of course, the Chairman of the National Electoral Commission (INEC).”

Doguwa added that the Committee would be forced to use the legislative instrumentality to cause appearance of any invitee that refused to honour the invitation.

In the coming days, the Committee is expected to continue the meeting with the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu; Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Dr. Zainab Ahmed and Director of Currency Operations at CBN, who were absent at the last meeting.

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