RingTrue By Yemi Adebowale
The most infuriating aspect of President Muhammadu Buhari’s February 17 address to Nigerians on the Naira redesign/swap was where he said he had directed the CBN to deploy all legitimate resources and legal means to ensure that Nigerians enjoy easy cash withdrawal through availability of appropriate amount of currency and ability to make deposits.
So, has there been any improvement in access to cash in the last 10 days? No! The CBN obviously has no capacity to increase the quantity of new notes in circulation in the short run. Besides, it is deliberate. Part of its cashless policy is to drastically limit printing of Naira. The intention is basically to seize the Naira and enforce cashless transactions. That was why just N300 billion was printed and N2.7 trillion confiscated as at January 31. This is why Nigerians can’t take their old Naira notes to the banks and have everything changed into new ones. In most cases, people deposit the old notes without getting a single new note. So, that section of Buhari’s speech was pure deceit to consolidate the confiscation of traumatised Nigerians’ money.
Buhari’s other talks that the Naira redesign is aimed at strengthening Nigeria’s economy, enhancing security, blocking vote-buying and blocking leakages associated with illicit financial flows are all nonsense. How can Buhari be talking about enhancing Nigeria’s economy with Naira redesign when it has already created massive economic disruptions with the hopeless Naira redesign? Businesses are closing while many others are gasping for breath. The short transition period has become very costly to small businesses and poor/vulnerable households. A government that has not shown interest in dismantling its various ludicrous exchange rate windows and moving towards a unified and market-clearing foreign exchange policy (a more sensible manner of enhancing the Naira) is telling us that Naira redesign will do the magic. This is stupid.
Instead of implementing decisive fiscal and monetary tightening policies to secure macroeconomic stability, combined with structural reforms to improve governance and enhance our depressed economy, the Buhari government is celebrating an imprudent Naira redesign.
Buhari also wants to stop vote-buying with Naira redesign. So, what is the business of ordinary Nigerians with that? Nigerians must pay with their blood so as to stop vote-buying? Nigerians must be traumatised because Buhari wants to tame politicians? Must people be denied access to their hard-earned money because Buhari wants to stop vote-buying? Is Buhari saying votes can’t be bought with cashless transfers, food, Dollars and pounds? This vote-buying stoppage goal of our President is preposterous.
Buhari and the CBN pretend to be unaware that cash swap in a stressed economy like ours should take at least two years. They pretend to be unaware that payment digitisation is a basic challenge that will take time and require a systematic approach, especially to address inclusion issues. Our President and the CBN governor have decided to ignore the fact that there will be hitches in online payment platforms of banks because of the sudden surge in transactions.
They pretend to be unaware that banks, and GSM service providers will need to expand their facilities if more people are to be pushed into digital transactions; that it will take the banks months, if not years, to put in place enhanced digital payment platforms. The GSM firms will also need several months to improve bandwidths and expand networks.
Nigerians are bleeding because of this garbage called Naira redesign. The mental well-being of many are challenged by new Naira scarcity. So many people are depressed. Daily, I see adults crying due to inability to access their hard-earned Naira and failed digital transactions. I see families in hunger and severe pain due to inability to access cash. Homes and offices are disturbed. What about the endless disputes over digital transactions? Daily, they pour.
What about the crisis created by the CBN with the manner it initially wanted Nigerians to deposit their old N500 and N1000 notes at the end of its February 10 deadline? I could not believe it when the CBN rolled out post- February 10 deposit guidelines, part of which was that we should take our old notes to the CBN offices in our respective states. Haba! The CBN has just one office in each state and obviously won’t be able to cope. This is simple common sense. Unfortunately, common sense is not “common” in the CBN. As it turned out, they could not cope with the crowd when the process started on February 17.
Why did the CBN initially bar money deposit banks from collecting the old notes post-February 10, even when the President said they could also do this through agents? This shows extreme ineptitude and insensitivity. It is shocking that those running the show at the CBN only knew the instruction was rubbish when Nigerians stormed their offices on February 19 in their thousands. The guideline was eventually amended (when it could not cope) to allow money deposit banks collect old notes of not more than N500,000 per person.
The hardship caused by the Naira redesign policy, and President Buhari’s broadcast, which contrary to expectations, approved the return of only old N200 notes while the old N500 and N1000 notes were invalidated, triggered a fresh round of protests across Nigeria early this week. So many banks were vandalised. I am not in support of violence. My plea today is that all forms of protest against cash swap must be peaceful.
No doubt, Buhari’s February 17 Naira redesign broadcast to Nigerians was a coldblooded speech with all the trappings of an unfeeling government.
Senior lawyer, Mike Ozekhone captures it aptly: “Buhari’s broadcast rather than reassuring and balming the frayed nerves of traumatised citizenry and a beleaguered nation, was the exact opposite; a complete anti-climax. It was a clarion call for total disenchantment, disillusionment, despair and desolation. The speech was not only highly unpresidential; but was vividly insensate and insensitive to the suffering of Nigerian citizens, who, due to no fault of theirs, can neither now use the old currency, nor access the new one.
“Banks claim not to have the new currency in their vaults. What manner of government would consciously and deliberately throw its country into a spin, and its citizens under the bus, in a policy that could have been handled with better planning and more decency, efficiency and human face? This is the first time in my life I watch Nigerians buy money with money – buying Naira with Naira – at exorbitant exchange rates.”
The Naira crisis worsened when the President in that nationwide broadcast ignored the apex court by extending the validity of old N200 notes while insisting that old N500 and N1,000 remained illegal. Governments exist for the people. Ours can’t be an exception. The redesign is absolutely needless. The implementation is a further mess. The ensuing swap policy is anti-people.
The way forward is very simple: State governors should withdraw all their cases against Buhari and the CBN. On their part, Buhari and the CBN should allow all the old notes to circulate with the new notes till the end of this year. The old N500 and N1000 notes must be returned into the system. The trauma in our land will disappear within hours if this is implemented. Buhari and the CBN must listen to the voice of the people.
Aisha Buhari and Citizen Zainab Kassim
For those not following the story, here is a quick recap. Citizen Zainab Kassim was Special Assistant to First Lady, Aisha Buhari. Somewhere along the line, there were some misunderstandings and the First Lady fired her last year. But Aisha Buhari did not stop at that. She went further to demean her, using the Department of State Security officers. Zainab was abducted and taken to the Presidential Villa where she was severely assaulted. To put it aptly, Zainab was flogged and humiliated. This is what hapless citizens suffer in the hands of “big men.” The highly discredited DSS is always a willing tool in the hands of these big men.
The good news is that citizen Zainab has picked up courage, with the aid of some lawyers, commenced a legal action against Aisha Buhari. Zainab is asking for N100 million in damages over alleged illegal detention and assault. In the case for the enforcement of her fundamental rights, Zainab declared: “Some Department of State Service officers acting on the orders of the First Lady abducted me and took me to the Presidential Villa where I was severely assaulted, dehumanised and abused.”
Other respondents in the case include the Inspector-General of Police and the Department of State Services. Kassim alleged that the assault was carried out with the support of officers of the DSS and Police.
Her lawyers are asking the court for the following: “A declaration that the abduction, arrest and detention of the applicant between 18th of November, 2022 and 22nd of November, 2022, and the threat to further arrest and detain the applicant by agents of the 2nd and 3rd respondents on the orders and directives of the 1st respondent, without an order of court is unconstitutional, unlawful, illegal, null, void and constitutes a violation of her rights to personal liberty and freedom of movement.
“A declaration that the torture, brutalisation and dehumanisation of the applicant by the 1st respondent and agents of the 2nd and 3rd respondents, on 18th of November, 2022 is unconstitutional, unlawful, illegal and constitutes a violation of her right to dignity of the human person.
“A declaration that the threats by the agents of the 2nd and 3rd respondents to the applicant, of further abduction, arrest, detention and assassination of the applicant if she brings any claims for fundamental rights enforcement against the respondents is unconstitutional, unlawful, illegal, constitutes torture and a violation of her rights to life, fair hearing and dignity of human person.
“An order restraining the respondents either by themselves or their agents or subordinates from further abducting, arresting, detaining, torturing or threatening to abduct, arrest, detain or assassinate the applicant or otherwise violating the fundamental rights of the Applicant.
“An order directing the 2nd respondent to release the applicant’s Note 20 Ultra mobile phone to her immediately. Damages, jointly and severally against the respondents, in the sum of N100,000,000.00.”
This assault on citizen Zainab must not go unpunished. Human rights lawyers and civil society groups must rise in defence of Citizen Zainab. As Zainab begins this legal battle, I would like to see human rights activists join her in court at every sitting. I would like to see human rights lawyers joining her legal team. I would like to see protests at the court premises every time the case is called. This is a just battle. We must all be involved. This is the only way to tackle a culture of impunity in beloved Nigeria. Enough of this nonsense.