Casualties of Buhari’s painful naira redesign
As he did in 1984 when he was a military head of state, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), introduced a naira redesign policy, which left in its wake tales of deaths, sorrow and anguish, DEBORAH TOLU-KOLAWOLE writes
Nigerians who were alive during the introduction of the naira redesign policy by the Muhammadu Buhari military junta of 1984 are not exactly surprised at the re-introduction of the same policy by the same man as a civilian President.
A human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN, recalled that the redesign policy of 1984 led to the loss of lives. “In 1984, the Buhari military junta changed the colour of the naira. In a country of 81 million people, bank customers and other citizens were given only two weeks to deposit old notes and replace them with new ones. The poor implementation of the policy caused loss of lives in many parts of the country,” he said.
As it was in the beginning, it remains. On November 23, 2022, Buhari alongside the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, unveiled new naira notes in denominations of N200, N500 and N1,000. Fielding questions from journalists after the event, Emefiele, insisted that the move was not targeted at anyone.
Rather, he said the redesigned notes would give the apex bank ample control over the amount of money in circulation. He also noted that a deadline of January 31, 2023, would be put in place.
Following the CBN’s directives, Nigerians began to make moves to ensure that the old notes were safely behind the coffers of the banks.
“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 both in old notes and new notes”, a point of sale operator in Abuja, Andrew Peter, told our correspondent.
Though the CBN noted that it printed enough notes and supplied them to commercial banks to disburse to customers, cries of agony amidst massive protests rocked major cities in Nigeria following the scarcity of the new notes.
In Benin City, Edo State, the police confirmed the loss of two lives over naira scarcity protests. In Delta State, it was alleged that two persons were burnt to death by protesters.
In Ogun State, a person was reportedly shot dead. Banks and POS operators were not exempted from the agony of angry citizens as multiple banks were attacked across the country.
In Ogun State, it was reported that no fewer than two banks were set ablaze by angry customers on a single day.
In Delta, Rivers, Oyo, Edo and some parts of Lagos, protesters were also reported to have attacked bank and bank workers.
Following the heightened protests in states across the Federation, some state governors dragged the Federal Government to the Supreme Court over the validity of the decision to change the naira notes and the deadline provided.
Though the Supreme Court ruled that the old naira notes should remain legal tender, for weeks, Nigerians awaited the official position of Buhari, a president who has been known to flout Major court orders and the CBN on the court ruling, given the uncertainty surrounding the validity of the old notes as a legal tender.
Due to the uncertainty, many Nigerians have been reluctant to accept the old naira notes as means of payment.
On March 12, 2023, a 71-year-old broadcast journalist in Oyo State popularly known as Baba Binti was reported to have lost his life due to the scarcity of cash.
According to media reports, the journalist was said to have slumped and died while trekking to work due to the 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 and most especially the ones that happened after the court ruled that the old naira should be returned back to circulation.”
On February 22, a few days before the presidential and house of assembly elections, a member of staff of the Lagos State University, Ademola Adesola, was reported to have slumped and died while waiting in a queue at a Wema Bank branch in Ojo, Lagos.
It was reported that the deceased left the office around 11.30 am for the bank to withdraw money from his account but slumped some minutes later while waiting.
Speaking with our correspondent, OluwaDarasimi said, “This was a dark period in our history and we hope it never repeats itself. It is highly unfortunate that lives and businesses had to crumble 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 was one of those who died in the Lagos train crash said the lingering naira scarcity contributed to the unfortunate situation that led to his daughter’s unfortunate death.
In an interview with The PUNCH, Aina said his daughter did not usually board the staff bus every day, but did not have enough cash on her on that fateful day.
“I know she boarded the staff bus, but not every day. If not for this cashless policy, she would not have board that bus. But she did not have cash, so she had to follow the bus. She had just N200. They just kill people anyhow in this country,” 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). 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 revealed how he spent hours waiting for the cashier to confirm the payment of N8,528 for drugs because the hospital had stopped receiving the old naira notes.
The bereaved husband regretted that the medical personnel insisted they would not attend to his late wife until he deposited money and provided evidence before his wife would be attended to.
Baffa said he had earlier provided N8,500 old naira notes to the cashier but he was told the hospital management had placed an embargo on the old currency and refused to provide a point-of-sale service except payment through transfer.
Commenting on the matter, a former Central Bank of Nigeria Deputy Governor, Kingsley Moghalu, expressed dissatisfaction over the series of crises created by the naira redesign policy of the apex bank.
Moghalu noted that the terrible suffering and economic loss Nigerians experienced as a result of the faulty implementation of the CBN’s naira redesign policy and the entry of the judiciary into central banking functions showed “clearly how our institutions and Nigeria fail when institutions that are meant to be operationally independent become politicised.”
In a statement on Wednesday, he said currency functions were a core part of any central bank’s mandate, and to that extent, he had no problem with the policy except for two vital issues:
“First, the 90-deadline, which I warned was too short to be effectively executed. Second, the timing is so close to the elections. But, as later became clear, there was a haphazard and incoherent communication of the purposes of the policy.
“In one breath, it was said to be to reduce the money supply and help tame 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). Next, it was promoted as a national security measure to halt kidnapping, Naira hoarding and sundry crimes.
“Then, next, it became about “free and fair elections “ to stop vote-buying,” he stated.
He said, “Expectedly, politicians who felt the policy targeted them complained loudly and wanted the deadline extended, while those who believed it helped their own political agendas hailed the tight and impractical deadline and did not want it moved.”
He said Nigerians were trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea of a desire to curb the menace of vote-buying and the effective confiscation of their own money by the implementation failure of the policy.