Casualties of Buhari’s painful naira redesign

As he did as a military head of state in 1984, President Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) implemented a naira redesign policy, leaving in its wake tales of deaths, sorrow, and anguish. DEBORAH TOLU-KOLAWOLE is a writer. 

Nigerians who were alive in 1984 when the Muhammadu Buhari military junta implemented the naira redesign policy are not surprised by the reintroduction of the same policy by the same man as a civilian President. 

Femi Falana, SAN, a human rights lawyer, recalled that the 1984 redesign policy resulted in the loss of lives. "The Buhari military junta changed the color of the naira in 1984. Bank customers and other citizens in this 81-million-person country were given only two weeks to deposit old notes and replace them with new ones. "The policy's poor implementation resulted in the loss of lives in many parts of the country," he said. 

It is still as it was in the beginning. Buhari, along with the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, unveiled new naira notes in denominations of N200, N500, and N1,000 on November 23, 2022. Responding to questions from journalists after the event, Emefiele insisted that the move was not directed at anyone in particular. 

Rather, he stated that the redesigned notes would provide the central bank with complete control over the amount of money in circulation. He also stated that a deadline of January 31, 2023 would be established. 

Following the CBN's directives, Nigerians began to take steps to ensure that the old notes were safely tucked away in bank vaults. 

"The funny aspect of the matter was that when we went to the banks then we were told that they didn't have new notes to go around. Banks would pay you in both old and new notes," Andrew Peter, a point of sale operator in Abuja, told our correspondent. 

Despite the fact that the CBN stated that it printed enough notes and provided them to commercial banks for distribution to customers, cries of agony and massive protests rocked major cities in Nigeria as a result of the scarcity of the new notes. 

The police in Benin City, Edo State, confirmed the deaths of two people during naira scarcity protests. Two people were allegedly burned to death by protesters in Delta State. 

A person was reportedly shot dead in Ogun State. Banks and POS operators were not immune to the wrath of angry citizens, with multiple banks targeted across the country. 

On a single day in Ogun State, it was reported that angry customers set fire to two banks. 

Protesters were also reported to have attacked banks and bank employees in Delta, Rivers, Oyo, Edo, and parts of Lagos. 

Following the escalation of protests across the Federation, some state governors took the Federal Government to the Supreme Court to challenge the legality of the decision to change the naira notes and the deadline set. 

Though the Supreme Court ruled that the old naira notes should remain legal tender, Nigerians awaited the official position of Buhari, a president known for flouting major court orders, and the CBN on the court ruling for weeks, given the uncertainty surrounding the old notes' legal tender status. 

Because of the uncertainty, many Nigerians have been hesitant to accept old naira notes as payment.

On March 12, 2023, a 71-year-old broadcast journalist in Oyo State known as Baba Binti was reported to have died due to a lack of funds. 

According to media reports, the journalist collapsed and died on his way to work due to a lack of new naira notes to board a vehicle. 

A human rights activist, OluwaDarasimi Bunmi, told our correspondent that "Baba Binti's death could have been avoided if the government had obeyed the ruling of the Supreme Court. 

“Most of the deaths that occurred could have been avoided. The ones from the protests, particularly those that occurred after the court ruled that the old naira should be reintroduced into circulation." 

Ademola Adesola, a member of the Lagos State University staff, was reported to have slumped and died while waiting in line at a Wema Bank branch in Ojo, Lagos, on February 22, just days before the presidential and house of assembly elections. 

According to reports, the deceased left the office around 11.30 a.m. to go to the bank to withdraw money from his account, but collapsed a few minutes later while waiting. 

The key takeaways 
"This was a dark period in our history, and we hope it never repeats itself," OluwaDarasimi told our correspondent. It's a shame that lives and businesses had to be destroyed before the president and the CBN listened to the voice of reason." 

On March 12, 2023, Femi Aina, the father of a National Youth Service Corps member, Oreoluwa, who died in the Lagos train crash, stated that the lingering naira scarcity contributed to his daughter's unfortunate death. 

Aina told The NigerianWatch that his daughter did not normally board the staff bus every day, but she did not have enough cash on her that fateful day. 

"I know she took the staff bus, but it wasn't every day. She would not have gotten on that bus if it hadn't been for the cashless policy. She didn't have any money, so she had to follow the bus. She only had N200. "In this country, they just kill people," Oreoluwa's father told our correspondent. 

Speaking on how he got to know of the incident, he said, “I was in Abuja watching the television around 9 am when I saw the incident. An hour after that, I got a call that my daughter was involved in it. That was when I knew what I saw on TV was actually happening to me. Then, I immediately called my younger brother and sister in Lagos. I later received two more calls in another 10 minutes and by then, she was already in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) (Intensive Care Unit). They were attending to her and at the same time calling me from there. I even heard some of the staff members praying for her. So, I rushed to the airport to get any available flight back to Lagos but when my plane was ready to take off by 4 pm, I was told that she had passed away.” 

On February 19, 2023, The PUNCH reported how a 32-year-old woman, Shema’u Labaran, died along with her nine-month pregnancy at the Abdullahi Wase Specialist Hospital, Kano, reportedly due to the inability of her husband to pay medical bills in the new naira notes in time. 

Labaran was allegedly left in pain for more than eight hours without attention from the medical personnel on duty. 

Narrating the unfortunate incident that led to his wife’s death, the 42-year-old husband of the deceased, Bello Baffa, noted that his wife (Shema’u) bled to death while he was struggling to settle medical bills at the pharmacy through transfer. 

Baffa described how he waited for hours for the cashier to confirm the payment of N8,528 for drugs because the hospital no longer accepted old naira notes. 

The bereaved husband was disappointed that the medical personnel insisted on not attending to his late wife until he deposited money and provided evidence. 

Baffa stated that he had previously given the cashier N8,500 in old naira notes, but that the hospital management had placed an embargo on the old currency and refused to provide a point-of-sale service unless payment was made via transfer. 

Former Central Bank of Nigeria Deputy Governor, Kingsley Moghalu, commented on the matter, expressing dissatisfaction with the apex bank's naira redesign policy. 

Moghalu stated that the terrible suffering and economic loss experienced by Nigerians as a result of the CBN's naira redesign policy and the entry of the judiciary into central banking functions demonstrated "clearly how our institutions and Nigeria fail when institutions that are meant to be operationally independent become politicized." 

In a statement issued on Wednesday, he stated that currency functions are an essential part of any central bank's mandate, and that he had no objections to the policy except for two critical issues: 

"First, there's the 90-day deadline, which I warned would be too short to be effective. Second, the timing is extremely close to elections. However, as it later became clear, the policy's objectives were communicated in a haphazard and incoherent manner. 

"In one breath, it was stated that it would reduce the money supply and help to control inflation" (after the Bank had created and lent N23 trillion to the Federal Government, illegally because that was way beyond approved limits under the CBN Act of 2007). It was then promoted as a national security measure to combat kidnapping, Naira hoarding, and other crimes. 

"Then it became about "free and fair elections" to prevent vote-buying," he explained. 

"Expectably, politicians who felt the policy targeted them complained loudly and wanted the deadline extended, while those who believed it aided their own political agendas praised the tight and impractical deadline and refused to have it moved," he said. 

He claimed that Nigerians were caught between the devil and the deep blue sea in their desire to curb the menace of vote-buying and the effective confiscation of their own money as a result of the policy's implementation failure.

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