By Kadiri Abdulrahman
Many FCT residents have continued to face difficulty in accessing the newly redesigned Naira notes, attributing the challenge to bank officials, who they say allegedly hoard and selling the legal tender.
The stakeholders urged the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to impose heavy sections on Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) found complicit in fuelling the Naira scarcity, as well as other abusers of the currency.
According to the stakeholders, in spite of the CBN’s threat to sanction banks found to be hoarding or involved in shady deals with the naira, not one bank has been sanctioned.
The stakeholders said if just one bank was sanctioned, it would serve as deterrent to others.
Some CBN super agents and Point of Sale (PoS) operators had accused some DMBs of hoarding the redesigned Naira notes and imposing illegal withdrawal charges.
The apex bank had in a statement by Osita Nwanisobi, the Director, Corporate Communications Department, however said that it would come down heavy on DMBs found complicit, and also prosecute other abusers of the Naira.
Nwanisobi assured Nigerians that the queues at Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) and other cash withdrawal points would soon disappear, adding that the CBN was working round the clock to ensure normalcy.
According to him, the apex bank is working in collaboration with the Nigeria Police Force and other law enforcement agencies to address the situation.
“The CBN has observed with grave concern, the activities of persons who sell the newly redesigned banknotes and those who
flagrantly abuse the legal tender.
“We have equally noticed the queues at ATMs across the country and an upward trend in the cases of people stocking and aggregating the newly introduced banknotes they serially obtain from ATMs.
“Also worrisome are the reported cases of unregistered persons and non-bank officials swapping banknotes for members of the public, purportedly on behalf of the CBN,” he said.
According to Nwanisobi, contrary to the practice of these unpatriotic
persons, it is unlawful to sell the Naira, hurl spray, or stamp on the currency under any circumstance whatsoever.
Accordingly, CBN is collaborating with the Nigeria Police, Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) to address the unpatriotic practice.
“We, therefore, warn Nigerians, particularly those at social functions such as birthdays, weddings and funerals, to desist from disrespecting the Naira or risk being arrested by law enforcement agencies,” he said.
The director assured Nigerians that the CBN was committed to ensuring effective distribution of the newly introduced Naira banknotes.
“We urge them to exercise patience as the CBN is working assiduously to address the challenge of queues at ATMs.
“In line with this resolve, the govenor, Mr Godwin Emefiele, has directed DMBs to commence the payment of the redesigned Naira notes over the counter, subject to a maximum daily payout limit of N20,000.
“We also admonish members of the public to embrace and adopt other payment channels for their transactions.
“The Naira is our legal tender and symbol of national pride, let us respect it and handle it with care,” he said.
In spite of assurances by the apex bank that the situation would soon be under control, Nigerians continue to experience hardship occasioned by the scarcity of the Naira.
The situation is captured in various audio and video clips which have gone viral on social media.
One of such instances is the fracas that ensued at an ATM point in the University of Benin, between some personnel of the Nigeria Army and some students.
The Naira situation, coupled with the scarcity of petroleum products, also resulted to violent protests in Ibadan, necessitating a statewide address by the state governor, Seyi Makinde.
Some frustrated bank customers have also been captured losing their tempers and threatening violence within the banking halls due to their inability to access the Naira.
Meanwhile, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) said that it had arrested some bank officials for sabotaging circulation of the new Naira notes.
According to information on its official website, the ICPC said that one of the bank officials was the Branch Service Head of Stanbic IBTC Bank, Deidei Branch, Abuja.
It said that she was arrested for deliberate refusal to upload cash into the branch ATMs, even when the cash was available, and people were already queuing up.
In a related development, the ICPC said its Compliance Team also busted a First City Monument Bank (FCMB) branch in Osogbo, Osun State, where some ATMs were loaded with cash with their wrappers intact.
“That prevented the cash from being dispensed. The Team therefore directed that the wrappers be removed and the cash loaded properly.
“However, when a follow-up visit was undertaken to ascertain the level of compliance, the Team discovered that one of the ATMs was still loaded with the wrappers.
“The operation manager of the Bank was arrested and taken in for questioning,” the commission said.
It added that some PoS operators as well as a security guard were also arrested during the ongoing exercise in Osun State for charging exorbitant commissions for cash.
“Investigations, however, revealed that they got the money from Filling Stations that collect new notes from fuel buyers, and then resold the cash to the public at exorbitant rates.
“The arrested persons are helping the commission with information to assist investigations and bust any syndicates involved in the hoarding or sales of the redesigned Naira notes,” it said.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the ICPC had on Wednesday arrested one Omoseyin Oluwadarasimi, who seized the opportunity of the scarcity to openly market the new notes.
According to the commission, it is believed that she is in collusion with key elements in the financial services sector diverting the newly released notes away from banking halls and payment channels.
“She is currently in ICPC detention and is helping the Commission with its findings on the criminal trading of the naira and the attendant scarcity and negative economic outcomes being caused by the action.
“The action is in furtherance of the collaboration between CBN, ICPC and EFCC in implementing the new cashless policy and naira redesign,” it said. (NAN)