By Leke Baiyewu, Deborah Tolu-Kolawole, Funmi Fabunmi, Esther Blankson, Peter Dada, Sami Olatunji, Edidiong Ikpoto, Funmi Fabunmi, Henry Falaiye, Josephine Ogundeji, Damilola Aina, Lilian Ukagwu, Abiodun Nejo, Animasahun Salman, Tunde Oyekola, Emma Obianeri, Daud Olatunji, Raphael Ede, Matthew Ochei
Ahead of the January 31 deadline set by the Central Bank of Nigeria for the phasing out of the old N1,000, N500 and N200 notes, some mega-churches, schools and retailers have set time limits for the collection of the old currencies.
This came as the lingering shortage of old naira notes forced several commercial banks to shut their Automated Teller Machines in Lagos, Abuja and other states across the country.
Deposit Money Banks have been battling a shortage of old bills amid a directive by the CBN that lenders should load only their ATMs with the news notes, forbidding over-the-counter payment of customers with the new currencies.
However, amid long queues in banks across the country, findings by The PUNCH on Thursday indicated that a number of mega-churches, schools and retailers had stipulated earlier time limits for the collection of the old notes.
This, it was learnt, was aimed at saving the organizations from the burden and challenges associated with the exchange of the old naira notes for new ones.
A leading Pentecostal church, Deeper Christian Life Ministry, in a memo directed its church leaders to stop the collection of the old naira notes on January 29, 2023, about two days before the January 31 deadline set by the CBN.
The memo, a copy of which was obtained by The PUNCH was signed by the Deeper Christian Life Ministry Church Secretary, Pastor S.M. Afuwape.
The internal memo, titled, ‘lodgement of old naira notes’ read, “Calvary’s greetings to you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is to inform you that the Central Bank of Nigeria deadline of 31st January 2023 on the validity of the old N200, N500 and N1000 notes in circulation is drawing near.
“The church will like to inform you to sensitize your members and the brethren to lodge all Tithes and Offerings collected in the Group on or before 29th January, 2023. Also, no old notes in the specified denominations above should be paid as offerings as from 29th January 2023. To this end, any old notes (in the prescribed denominations) brought to the headquarters which was not lodged in the bank will be paid for by the Group. Thanks for understanding and co-operation.”
Also, it further gathered that some provinces of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, had directed members to deposit old notes in their banks by January 26, about five days ahead of the CBN deadline.
This, it was said, would help to avoid a situation where members would have no choice but to use old notes as offerings and tithes in the church.
On a WhatsApp platform of pastors in one of the RCCG provinces in Ota, Ogun State, members were advised to deposit old notes in banks or Point of Sale agents before the January 31 deadline.
The notice read in part, “Deposit all your old notes at your bank or the POS near you before 31st January 2023. Don’t bring them to church. Deadline for old notes acceptance Thursday, January 26, 2023.”
The PUNCH, however, could not verify if the memo officially came from the RCCG.
Also, banks in Sango Ota were jam-packed as customers struggled to deposit old notes just as banks including, FBN, Fidelity and UBA and ATMs were still dispensing old notes a few days before the deadline.
Reacting to the development, a spokesman for the RCCG, Pastor Olaitan Olubiyi, said, “There is no official postponement regarding the use of new naira note. People should do what the government wants them to do. They should enable to take their old notes to the bank. We believe God will help the central bank because the new notes are not circulating outside but anything is possible before the January 31 deadline.
“We have not issued any statement but as much as possible, we believe everyone has been counseling their members on the old notes; not just about bringing it to church on Sundays, it is about ensuring our people do not suffer unnecessarily.”
Also, a Lagos-based Pentecostal church, New Covenant Mission, advised members to deposit old notes ahead of the CBN deadline.
In a WhatsApp platform, one of the pastors of the church directed members to ensure old notes are deposited by January 26, ahead of the deadline.
Similarly, findings show that the management of some primary and secondary schools have stopped the collection of old notes.
As a result, they have sent notices to parents advising them to deposit only the new notes in any cash transaction with their school.
The management of the Christ The Redeemer Nursery and Primary School, a school belonging to the RCCG, in a notice to parents, said, “Please be informed that in line with the CBN directives, the school selling points will stop collecting old naira notes of N200, N500 and N1,000 from tomorrow, January 26, 2023. Only new naira notes will be acceptable please.”
Also, a school, Gemstars Schools, in a notice to parents, said, “In compliance with CBN directives on the new naira note, the school wishes to inform our parents and guardians that we shall end the collection of the old naira note by 3:00 pm Thursday 26th January 2023. All payments are to be made with the new currency, bank transfer or teller. This is to enable the school to mop up and exchange the old currencies that are still in our custody.”
Furthermore, an Ogun State-based school, Royal Champions School, appealed to parents to deposit only new notes with the educational institution, while informing them that the collection of old notes stopped on Thursday.
The notice read in part, “Please be informed in compliance with the CBN directive, the school will on Thursday, January 26th stop the collection of the old N200, N500 and N1,000 notes. Cash payments to the school beyond this date should be done only with the new notes. Thank you for your understanding and cooperation.”
Several other memos from schools came in a similar format with some educational organizations giving parents till Friday to make payment using the old notes.
Similarly, retailers known for cash transactions have informed customers about their decision to discontinue the collection of old notes.
Leading e-commerce platform, Jumia, announced that from Monday, January 30, 2023, it would no longer accept the old naira notes as a form of payment for goods purchased on the platform.
In a message to its customers on Thursday, the company said, “From Monday 30th January 2023, Jumia Delivery Associates will not be able to accept the old notes of N200, N500, N1,000 sequel to the directive by the Central Bank of Nigeria.
“Should you wish to pay by cash, our delivery associates will only accept the new series of notes.”
NLC backs N’Assembly
The National President of the Nigerian Labour Congress, Ayuba Wabba, on Thursday said the organised labour had written to the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari, (retd) and the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, demanding a review of the policy and an extension of the deadline.
The labour leader also said the new naira policy was inflicting pain on Nigerians and this would force the masses to react very soon.
Speaking in an interview with selected journalists in Abuja, Wabba who is set to step aside as the national leader of the body, also decried the non-availability of the new naira notes.
The union leader noted that although the rich were targeted by the policy, the poor people were suffering more from it.
He said, “We have tried to respond officially by writing to the CBN governor. We also wrote to the President to say that this new policy of changing our naira needs to be revisited. And it is obvious that even in the city centres, they are still dispensing old notes. I remember I went to about 10 banks and none was actually dispensing the new notes.
“So, the new notes are not available, they are not in circulation and the old notes are being rejected. They are pushing people to the wall and very soon people will react. Importantly, even in city centres, where we have banks, the banks are not dispensing.
He added, “People see the policy as a policy meant to punish the masses. We align ourselves fully with the position of Senate. So, basically, we call for this policy to be reviewed, and to give an extension, so that all the old notes can then be mopped up by the bank.
Wabba further stressed the challenges Nigerians in the rural areas were facing to withdraw the new notes.
Lawyer versus CBN
A professor of Law, Joshua Alobo, on Thursday, approached the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, praying it to stop the CBN from proceeding with the January 31 deadline stipulated for the phasing out of the naira notes.
The CBN, Emefiele and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN were cited as 1st to 3rd defendants in the suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/114/2023.
The plaintiff urged the court to issue a mandatory order, “extending the duration where the old notes cease to become legal tender to a period of three weeks when the redesign notes will be sufficiently dispensed by the commercial banks.”
In the affidavit deposed to by one Musa Damudi, the plaintiff told the court that the CBN governor had on October 26, 2022, announced that the apex bank would introduce new series of redesigned N200, N500 and N1,000 banknotes into the financial system.
He stated that the majority of Nigerians, especially the less-privileged, do not have access to the new naira notes that were unveiled on November 23, 2022.
The plaintiff also accused the commercial banks of failing to make the new naira notes available to their customers, arguing that the January 31 deadline “is discriminatory against the rural dwellers, poor and less privileged persons in the society, as politically exposed persons are paid with the redesigned notes.”
Reps berates Emefiele
The House of Representatives, on Thursday, shelved its plan to go on break for the presidential and National Assembly elections over the failure by Emefiele to appear at the House.
Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, at the plenary on Tuesday, declared that he would on Tuesday issue a warrant of arrest on Emefiele after the CBN chief’s failure to answer the summons on Thursday, the second time.
The House had set up an ad hoc committee to investigate the scarcity of the new naira notes.
However, the CBN was not represented at the hearing. Ado-Doguwa, who occasionally asked if the apex bank had representatives among the audience, said the committee would report back to the Speaker on the absence.
Towards the end of the session going on in the chamber, Gbajabiamila partly said, “So, on Tuesday, this House will follow its procedure – the normal procedure – and invoke the provisions of Section 89 to compel the governor of the CBN and the directors.”
Banks shut ATMs
Meanwhile, banks shut down many of their Automated Teller Machines across the country due to the shortage of new notes, according to findings by The PUNCH.
It was observed that many ATMs in Lagos, Abuja and other states were not functioning on Thursday as the demand for new notes rose ahead of January 31 deadline
A number of bank customers who spoke with The PUNCH appealed to the CBN for an extension of the deadline.
When our correspondent visited Polaris Bank along Mobolaji Bank Anthony, there was a small crowd of disgruntled customers who lamented their inability to withdraw from the bank’s ATMs or any of the nearby banks.
At Zenith Bank located along Obafemi Awolowo Way in Ikeja, the ATMs did not dispense any cash.
The story was no different at Keystone Bank located at Obafemi Awolowo way, as the ATMs once again were empty, with frustrated customers wearing long faces due to the frustration of not being able to withdraw from the ATMs.
Along Ogunnusi road in the Ojodu area, our correspondent visited five banks — Eco Bank, Access Bank, First Bank, Zenith Bank and Union Bank.
None of the banks’ ATMs dispensed cash, just as customers moved from one bank to another, complaining about the acute scarcity of naira notes at commercial banks across town.
A Polaris Bank customer, who gave his name as Gbeminiyi, while speaking with our correspondent at Mobolaji Bank Anthony, said he had been to at least five different banks in Ikeja but had been unable to withdraw from any of their ATMs.
“I’ve been to more than five banks this afternoon. None of them is paying. Each one of them always has a different story as to why they are not paying. Today I was at a fast food restaurant in Yaba. After eating, I tried paying with the old naira notes. They rejected it.”
Our correspondent also visited other parts of the Ikeja axis of Lagos State where it was observed that ATMs were not even dispensing any cash at all except the FCMB branch located in the Oba Akran area which was dispensing new notes.
The PUNCH spoke with a few customers who all were of the view that the CBN should extend the deadline for the legal tender on the old notes.
At Access Bank, Ademola Adetokunbo Street, Wuse 2, our correspondent observed that the old notes were disbursed to customers.
Also, customers could not make transactions via ATMs as new notes were not available.
At First City Monument Bank, customers waited patiently to make transactions at its ATM stand with the hope of getting new N1,000 notes which were not available for withdrawal.
Our correspondent also visited ATMs of Guaranty Trust Bank in Jabi and Stanbic IBTC at Shoprite Mall Wuse zone area of Abuja.
It was observed that GTB dispensed the new note in N200, N500 and N1,000 denominations and a customer could only withdraw a maximum of N40,000.
Our correspondent who proceeded to the Stanbic IBTC bank could see disgruntled customers lamenting the frustration and stress to withdraw money from the machines, although the ATM machine dispensed the new notes only in N200 denomination and a maximum of N20,000.
Our correspondents also visited banks in Ekiti, Delta, Sokoto, among others.
Bank customers in Ado Ekiti, the Ekiti State capital, were seen in long queues in front of ATMs dispensing new currency notes on Thursday.
This is as many ATMs in the state capital were not working, thus compelling customers to troop to areas where they could get new notes.
A customer, Bimbo Okunade, who lamented the difficulty she had been having transacting in her bank branches in view of her time and long queues at the banks, said, “The CBN should as a matter of necessity extend the January 31 deadline. The date is not feasible.
Also speaking, the Chairman, Ise Ekiti Development Union, Elder Tunji Falana, who said that his town and as well his Ise/Orun Local Government had no bank since armed robbers attacked the one there years back, said, “Our people have been going through hell since this naira redesign began.
Some bank customers in Sokoto State have appealed to the CBN to extend the time frame for the deadline of the old naira notes.
Bank Customers in Ilorin, Kwara State capital also groaned as they lined up to withdraw new notes at the ATM points which the banks limit at N20,000 per person as a customer of the bank.
Commercial banks across major cities of Anambra State such as Awka, Onitsha, Nnewi, on Thursday, witnessed a high volume of customers trying to beat the January 31 deadline for withdrawal of the old naira notes from circulation.
Our correspondent who visited the locations observed that customers overfilled the various banking halls trying to deposit the old naira notes.
Most ATMs in the areas visited were still dispensing the old notes.
As the deadline for the old naira notes approaches, there were influx of customers at the banks in Abeokuta, Ogun state capital on Thursday, struggling for the new naira notes.
Many banks recorded large turn outs of customers who either wanted to deposit the old naira notes or set to collect new naira notes.
Our correspondent who visited some banks such as Sterling, Zenith, Polaris, FCMB, Stanbic and Access Banks located in Oke-Ilewo, Abeokuta observed that the banks had begun payment with new naira notes.
In Enugu State metropolis, it was observed that ATM dispenses cash of the new notes.
Although, in some banks only or two ATM is paying customers with N20,000 daily limit.
Residents in Asaba, the Delta State capital also lamented the unavailability of new Naira notes in Asaba.
Bank customers lamented that they were not able to withdraw money from the bank after they have deposited all they have in view deadline.
Source: The Punch