This is a hard time for Nigerians. We are not only grappling with worsening fuel scarcity but also the scarcity of the redesigned banknotes. Between the two economic crises, I can’t say which is intolerable.
With less than ten days to the deadline given by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for the use of the old series of N200, N500, and N1000 notes, it is distressing that the new notes seem to be relatively scarce. Worst, some commercial banks are still issuing the old denominations over the counter and through Automated Teller Machines (ATM) despite the CBN’s threat to sanction banks over failure to issue the redesigned naira notes; and although most commercial banks have started issuing the new notes, the outflow remains largely insufficient.
From the foregoing, one might likely conclude that the CBN is rationing the distribution of the new naira notes. But this would be absurd as the CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele has insisted that there will be no extension after the 31 January deadline in the face of continuous debate on the appropriateness of the rigid timeline and pleas to either extend the deadline or allow for a flexible process that would allow the old naira notes to phase out over time. Given his insistence, Emefiele should intensify efforts to see to the mass production, distribution and circulation of the notes. Surely, rationing the distribution would only constrain circulation.
There are controversies as to whether the window given by the apex bank is feasible. Though most Nigerians have expressed optimism that the new notes would be fully in circulation on or before next Tuesday, I dare say that such hope is bleak given the outcry in all parts of the country which speaks of frustration with the short timeframe. 31 January is a very ambitious and unrealistic time frame. Many Nigerians are yet to set their eyes on and transact with the redesigned legal tenders. I, myself, have withdrawn from ATMs and point of sale (POS) merchants since the unveiling of the new notes, but I have not had the privilege of being paid with them. The last time I used a POS for a transaction, I inquired from the merchant why I was still being given old notes a few days before the deadline and he replied, “na wetin bank give me, I go give you.”
A week to 15 December, the official start date for the circulation of the new naira notes, Emefiele had said the notes have been distributed to banks and were ready for disbursement to the public. It is, therefore, bothersome that commercial banks are yet to receive a reasonable share of the currency to facilitate its circulation. Consequently, the demand for the new notes has exceeded supply – a week to the day the old notes would cease to be legal tender! I do not want to think that people, especially politicians, are already stockpiling the new notes though speculations that many people in possession of the new notes are reluctant to spend them, deciding instead to hoard them might be plausible.
Whether the CBN is prepared for the transition from the old notes to the new ones within the stipulated period remains unclear. Though the CBN governor has stated and restated the apex bank’s readiness for the transition, the situation proves otherwise. Let me mention that about a month after the president, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) unveiled Nigeria’s new banknotes in the N200, N500 and N1000 denominations, the Bank of England (BoE) also unveiled its banknotes featuring Britain’s new monarch, King Charles.
However, unlike the CBN which was hasty in unveiling and circulating the new notes with short notice for old notes to be returned to the vaults, the BoE said its new designs will be in circulation by mid-2024, noting that the new five, 10, 20 and 50-pound polymer banknotes will continue to circulate with the notes with Queen Elizabeth’s image for some years and that the new notes would only be printed to replace worn notes or to meet increased demand, to minimise the environmental and financial impact of the change. Talk about preparation for a change!
That is by the way. It is ironic that as many Nigerians are lamenting the scarcity of the new notes, some who have had the privilege of seeing and touching them are rejecting them because it is a scam and fake, especially as the colours reportedly fade when it comes in contact with water. I followed a challenge on Twitter some weeks ago where Nigerians shared the results of their experiment to ascertain the quality of the redesigned naira notes. The challenge was sparked by an alarm raised by someone who claimed that her sister forgot the new N500 banknote in her pocket and washed the cloth only for the ink to wash off. While some who experimented countered the claim, others confirmed it.
For some people like myself, who are still hoping to come in physical contact with the notes ahead of the earmarked deadline, such experiments are amusing. What is even more amusing is that the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting (NSPM) Plc., in a bid to allay the fears of Nigerians over the quality of the redesigned naira notes, said the new notes are insoluble in water as a security feature to differentiate them from forged or counterfeited notes.
Have we entered ‘one chance’? Most likely and most likely not. We still have seven days to 31 January, let’s keep our fingers crossed that the CBN will either extend the deadline or print and disburse a sufficient amount of the new notes to banks that will be enough to go around.
Ezinwanne may be reached via email@example.com.