New Naira Watch: Where are our representatives? By Martins Oloja

At this time when even the First Bank cannot truly be the first to make new Naira notes available to its numerous customers, when Access Bank customers too cannot access redesigned currencies, when the Unity Bank, Union Bank and United Bank for Africa are not united in their quest to satisfy customer need for new notes, when Key Stone Bank would like to put only stones in their customers’ pockets, when Sterling Bank can’t find sterling quality to enable their customers access new currency notes, when Stanbic IBTC can’t stand big to make their customers smile out of their ATM galleries, when even Fidelity Bank can’t live up to its fidelity to customers on this new note crisis, when Providus Bank can’t provide customer satisfaction, when Heritage Bank can’t guarantee that inheritance of their customers are still intact in their vaults, when Guarantee Trust Bank can’t be trusted any more, when there is no echo of assurance of availability of new notes in Ecobank, when even Paul Harris Fellows who bank with Polaris Bank too are crying, when even rich citizens who have been faithful to First City Monument Bank can’t find solace in their city bank, when Wema Bank customers are overwhelmed, when even the Zenith Bank customers watch as even managers scale the zenith of the bank walls to escape customer wrath, it is indeed a time to ask where are the representatives and leaders we elected to present us in the 36 state parliaments, national assembly or the public sector to save us from even the lender of the last resort?

It is not expedient yet to deconstruct whether democracy can really survive at this time of elections so that the import of this article on representative democracy isn’t misconstrued at this election time. I write and speak regularly on the significance and majesty of democracy and the law.

I just want to complain here today about most of our elected leaders whose actions demonise this thing called representative democracy at this time. What is the question here today? As the scarcity of new naira notes and fuel (PMS) has created a classless society, with the rich also crying with the poor, where are our leaders beyond self-serving drama of rushing to court to get a temporary relief, I ask: where are the leaders we the people elected to represent us in 36 state assemblies and cabinets? Where are the 360 members of the House of Representatives and 109 Senators of the Federal Republic? The other day, the Senator representing me in Abuja issued a statement asking for the arrest of the CBN governor over the new naira crisis and his media aide forwarded it to me as he had done to many media houses and online platforms. I didn’t waste time in deleting the self-serving statement, which had no news value. Did we elect these representatives who are overpaying themselves to issue press statements to condemn institutions we elected them to reform? We elected them to work in concert with other agencies of government and governance institutions to solve our problems.

We the people have been grappling with hardship since this Naira crisis compounded by fuel crisis surfaced. As the Central Bank of Nigeria’s Naira redesign policy bites harder, the scarcity of new notes continues to disrupt business activities in markets, restaurants, banks, and major sales outlets across the country. In the midst of the operational challenges being faced by small businesses especially in rural areas, a newspaper survey showed that Point of Sale (PoS) transaction charges have jumped 400 per cent in most cities across the country.
Consequently, the impact of the CBN policy and its attendant chaos have frustrated efforts by many Nigerians operating in the nation’s cash-dependent informal economy to do business, make payments, and enjoy certain services.

Some angry citizens have destroyed some ATM galleries while some bank workers have fled through the fences – from angry mob of customers.

What is more, some PoS agents who spoke with reporters within the week said that their inability to access cash had stalled their operations, while operators who struggled to get cash blamed the hurdles they encountered at the banks for the increase in transaction charges. Across some of the mobile cash points visited in Lagos, Abuja, and other major cities, reporters observed that charges on transactions have intolerably skyrocketed. In other places, PoS outlets were shut as operators complained of scarcity of both the old and new notes, a development that has engendered a state of entropy – disorder, never witnessed even during the civil war.

What is worse, most people are also stranded because even the bank Apps for transfers malfunction and so cannot make or receive transferred money.

On November 26, 2022, the CBN announced the introduction of redesigned 200, 500 and 1,000 naira notes into the financial system. The other day, amid the chaos caused by the scarcity of the new notes, the CBN extended the deadline for the phasing out of the old notes from 31 January deadline to 10 February. Despite the extension, many Nigerians working in the informal sector of the economy have suffered and the Supreme Court has had to halt the extension policy temporarily.

And so, the pressure this chaos exerts on Nigeria’s fragile socio-political and economic conditions is enormous and gradually heading to a tipping point. Social media have been awash with harrowing tales from videos of people’s reactions in various parts of Nigeria, and they all point to the rage from hardship people are going through. Curiously, all these are happening at a time of heightened political activities near the 2023 general elections, with various intrigues and strategies of political parties and their candidates to sway the cashless voters to their sides.

Do our representatives who are ever complacent know that this scenario is a recipe for upheaval if not checked? The political ramifications of the Naira redesign are evident, but the implications, intended and unintended consequences, are still unfolding. Amidst this painful entropy, where are the state assemblies that are meeting and banging and shaking tables in parliaments because of the suffering of their people? Apart from photo opportunities from the noisy invitation of the Central Bank Governor to a House of Representatives Committee, which even threatened to arrest the CBN Governor, how many times have the Senate and the House of representatives met to organise a state-of-the-nation weeklong debates and investigations on what went wrong with the people’s monies that cannot be accessed in the banks when we are not at war?

On April 9, 2016, I began the treatise on ‘representative democracy’ on this page through an article titled, ‘Hello! Do you know your Representatives?’ This is an excerpt from the relevant article: ‘

‘…History shows us that tumultuous times bring change, but we have been told that our change variant is a gradual process. Even as we wait for the dividends, we can interrogate some of the institutions that are designed by law to help the change process. Certainly, one institution that actually symbolizes functional democracy is the legislature. It is the most significant arm of government, though the executive arm is more prominent. That is the institution that epitomizes the concept of representation in a democracy.
Let’s examine this context from a remarkable line by a significant politician in the United States, Thomas Phillip a.k.a Tip O’Neill, who was the second-longest serving Speaker of the U.S House of Representatives (1977-1987). The man became famous for coining a phrase, “All politics is local”.
The former U.S Speaker’s phrase encapsulates the principle that a politician’s success is directly tied to his ability to understand and influence the issues of his constituents. Politicians must appeal to the simple, mundane and everyday concerns of those who elect them into office. Those personal issues rather than the big and intangible ideas, are often what voters care most about, according to this principle that has elicited many doctoral theses…
The point here is the relevance of the phrase to our discussion this week: We would like to examine the mission of a typical representative, a legislator beyond legislation and dubious oversight functions.

As Professor Ben Nwabueze once noted, the Legislature is the distinctive mark of a country’s sovereignty, the index of its status as a state and the source of much of the power exercised by the executive in the administration of government….’

As I noted then, when referring to democratic governance, whether parliamentary or presidential, the organ of government that captures the mind most as epitomising the concept is the legislature. For that is the place where the public sees democracy in action, in the form of debates, and consideration of motions, resolutions and bills. The closest politician to the voter is the representative of his constituency in the legislature. Thus, the most significant phenomenon in a democratic set up is to see the legislature, the Assemblies of the people’s representatives in action.

Let me repeat this too: even as we face turbulent politics that sometimes makes the environment very toxic, the smoke is now getting clearer from the electoral battlefield. Now, it is easy to blame Abuja and the President for all the woes associated with governance. I think Abuja should not be the only appraisal focal point in a representative democracy such as ours. Our obsession with the centre and the man at the centre has been excessive, especially in the media. We tie our destiny to the acts of the executive heads in Abuja and 36 states state capitals. I believe we (in the media) should begin to look at some other low hanging fruits in this democratic experiment. Let’s see how our powerful representatives too have been representing us in a democracy. As I did before, let me ask some simple questions: Do you know your representatives? Do you know your representatives in your state assembly? Do you know the one who represents you in the House of Representatives in Abuja? Do you know your Senator? Do you know the persons representing you in the federal and state cabinets? Have you felt the impacts of their representation in your constituencies? Have you seen them empathising with the people anywhere since the currency crisis began? Have you listened to any debates in any state assemblies on the current Naira crisis that is threatening the conduct of the next elections? When will we the people too begin to demand responsibilities from our local leaders and our representatives? When shall we begin to see them cry when we cry around bank premises and halls because of next elections? Why do we demand responsibilities from only the President? What do our governors contribute to national planning and development and lack of them? What should we get our local government leaders to do when we face existential crisis like this? Can’t we begin to create Movements to occupy Federal and State Houses of Assembly to demand responsibilities and public services in Nigeria? When shall we demand representation from our representatives?

Article first published by The Guardian