Banking halls empty as naira scarcity worsens

Banking halls in Lagos, Osun, Ekiti, and other parts of the country saw little activity as frustrated customers sought alternative means of cash withdrawal due to a scarcity of naira notes in the banks. 

While most banking halls were empty due to a lack of funds in bank vaults, large crowds had formed outside some of the few banks that were rumored to be preparing to load their Automated Teller Machines. 

A few customers argued with bank officials who insisted that the branch had run out of cash at the First Bank Plc branch on Ogunnusi road in Lagos. 

The story was similar at Ecobank, Zenith Bank, GTCO, and Access Bank, all of which were located along Ogunnusi road. 

However, there was a sizable crowd of commuters jostling through the queue at Union Bank Plc, which is also located on the same axis, hoping that the bank would load its ATM. 

After that, one of our correspondents went further down the road inbound to Ojodu Grammar School, stopping at UBA and Access Bank. 

The ATM at the United Bank for Africa did not dispense cash, and no payments were made over the counter. 

According to a bank official who spoke with our correspondent, the bank was restricted to paying denominations less than N200 due to a CBN directive. 

When our correspondent attempted to withdraw money to collect lower denominations, he was told there was none available, not even a thousand naira. 

There were no over-the-counter payments at Access Bank in the same area, and the ATMs were not working. 

Emmanuel Collins, a commuter who spoke with our correspondent at Access Bank adjacent to Ojodu Grammar School, said he had just returned from his bank's banking hall (UBA). 

He had begged to be paid any amount at their disposal. 

"I went to my bank," he explained. They haven't had any money since yesterday. They stated that they do not have N1000 or N500 notes. I asked them to pay me, despite the fact that it was N50 notes, but they didn't have any." 

Meanwhile, The NigerianWatch reported that many customers of microfinance banks in Osun State threatened to storm the streets on Wednesday in protest of a lack of cash for withdrawal. 

Many bank officials were not present in some of the microfinance banks visited in Osogbo, as many customers waited in vain to withdraw funds from their accounts. 

Some of the customers claimed to be wage earners, receiving their monthly salaries through accounts held by microfinance banks. 

Customers threatened to stage a protest during visits to Olubasiri Microfinance, Ibuaje Microfinance, and Osogbo Microfinance banks, all of which are located within the Osogbo metropolis, according to our correspondent. 

However, an official of a microfinance bank in Osogbo who spoke on condition of anonymity said the Central Bank of Nigeria's refusal to include microfinance banks in its plan to replace old naira notes with new ones was to blame for the banks' failure to operate. 

When contacted for comment, Mr Tunde Lawal, Chairman of the National Association of Microfinance Banks, Osun State Chapter, confirmed the collapse of many banks' operations, which he blamed on a lack of cash to pay customers. 

He did, however, refer our correspondent to the group's national leadership for further comment. 

On Wednesday, a middle-aged woman begged bank officials in Ado Ekiti, the Ekiti State capital, to save her life. 

The bank customer approached the cashiers at First Bank's Opopogboro branch to withdraw N9,000 cash from the counter but was told that the maximum she could withdraw was N2,000. 

All of her entreaties to the female cashier to assist her in obtaining the N9,000 cash were futile because the bank official insisted that was the instruction that bank customers had been following. 

Many bank customers who queued at ATM points in the state capital's various banks, which were dispensing a maximum of N20,000, groaned, saying they had left their businesses and other important matters to spend their valuable time queuing. 

The ICPC monitors physical activity. 
The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission sent agents to two banks in Bauchi State on Tuesday to monitor the cash disbursement operation, which the agency said would spread across the country. 

The operation, which is still ongoing, is being carried out by a joint taskforce comprised of operatives from the ICPC and its sister anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, as well as CBN staff. 

"Yesterday, Tuesday, operatives of the commission from the Bauchi State office joined the taskforce alongside the staff of the CBN and operatives of the EFCC, to monitor the disbursement of new currency notes by some commercial banks within Bauchi metropolis," a top ICPC official told our correspondent. 

The arrest was made as a result of intelligence that led ICPC agents to seek out and apprehend the suspect. 

Mrs. Azuka Ogugua, the anti-graft agency's spokesperson, revealed this in a statement obtained by our correspondent on Wednesday night. 

"Oluwadarasimi Emma, a social media'serial entrepreneur,' who deals in skincare, fuel sales, visa acquisition, and other businesses, seized the opportunity of the scarcity of the new naira notes to openly market the new notes," Ogugua said. 

"It is suspected that she is working with key figures in the financial services sector to divert newly issued notes away from banking halls and payment channels and into a 'black market.'" 

Ondo chamber responds 

The Ondo State Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines, and Agriculture said on Tuesday that the CBN's new naira policy was designed to put micro, small, and medium-sized businesses and the common man out of business. 

Adeboro Onibalusi, the ONDOCCIMA's spokesperson, said in a statement that the new policy was crumbling micro, small, and medium enterprises, and that access to old and new notes had become difficult for business operations in the state. 

Atiku makes a statement. 

Atiku Abubakar, the Peoples Democratic Party's presidential candidate, has urged the Central Bank of Nigeria not to extend the deadline for exchanging old Naira notes any further. 

Atiku also urged the CBN not to ignore its adversaries and to resist the current pressures. 

On Wednesday, Atiku's media office issued a statement saying that there should be no further extensions of the old to new naira note swap after February 10, which would defeat the purpose and objective of initiating the currency redesign. 

The former vice president would prefer that the apex bank evaluate the measures taken to ensure the smooth flow of the new naira notes in order to alleviate the hardships that the Nigerian people are experiencing, particularly rural residents who require cash in their daily transactions. 

"However, the CBN should be wary of the elite whose motive for crying out for further postponement of the deadline for the tenure of old naira notes is sinister and far from altruistic," he added. I wholeheartedly support the development of a cashless economy and the reduction of the amount of cash in our economy." 

LCCI begins 

Meanwhile, the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry has stated that the Central Bank of Nigeria's inability to properly plan and implement the phase-out of old naira notes has put a significant strain on many businesses. 

The chamber noted in a statement signed by its Director-General, Chinyere Almona, that the new naira redesign had elicited a wide range of reactions and feedback, implying that related issues such as the phase-out of old currency notes, withdrawal limits, and the scarcity of new notes may have begun to impact businesses and social livelihoods beyond intentions. 

"With the launch of the redesigned Naira notes last December, expectations were high for a smooth transition to the use of the new notes for business transactions across the country," according to the statement. 

"We regret to note that expectations have been dashed, business deals impeded, and loss of time and value experienced by many. In addition to strengthening its policy implementation capacity, the central bank must educate the public about the grey areas surrounding the scarcity of new naira notes. This is the bare minimum in the face of the currency crisis in which we find ourselves." 

Businesses, according to the statement, have been left to bear the consequences of the CBN's currency management policy lapses. 

"While we support the drive toward a cashless economy," the statement continued, "redesigning the naira and phasing out old currency notes could have been better planned and implemented with no hardship for businesses and individuals."

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