New Naira Notes: Is Godwin Emefiele A Willing Pawn In A Political Chess Game? (Part 1)
Posted on February 6, 2023
On 26th October, 2022, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, announced that the apex bank would be redesigning the N200, N500 and N1000 notes, adding that the notes would be released to the public from 15th December, 2022. He further announced that between December 15th, 2022 and January 31st, 2023, all holders of these affected old Naira notes were expected to exchange them for the new notes because after 31st January, 2023 these old notes would cease to be legal tenders in Nigeria.
The CBN Governor said the Naira redesign policy was targeted at controlling currency in circulation as well as to curb counterfeit currency and ransom payment to kidnappers and terrorists. According to Emefiele, as at September, 2022, N2.73tn out of the N3.23tn currency in circulation was outside the vaults of commercial banks across the country.
The first signs of controversy appeared two days later when the Minister of Finance Zainab Ahmad, while defending the 2023 budget before the Senate Committee on Finance stated that the Ministry was not consulted by the CBN over the currency redesign and warned the CBN of the consequences of going ahead with the policy at that time.
In her words,
“Distinguished Senators, we were not consulted at the Ministry of Finance by CBN on the planned naira redesigning and cannot comment on it as regards merits or otherwise. However, as a Nigerian privileged to be at the top of Nigeria’s fiscal management, the policy as rolled out at this time portends serious consequences on the value of the naira against other foreign currencies. I will, however, appeal to this committee to invite the CBN governor for required explanations as regards merits of the planned policy and rightness or otherwise of its implementation now.”
December 15th, 2022 came and the CBN Governor, who had gotten the approval of the President as required by the CBN Act, unveiled the new Naira notes signalling the official commencement of the exchange of the old notes with the new notes. However, the new Naira notes were not readily available to the public. Banks that were supposed to be mopping up the old notes and issuing new ones alleged they don’t have enough supply of the new notes from the CBN. Few days to the January 31st deadline by CBN, banks were still dispensing the old notes to customers both through the ATMs and over the counter.
The CBN Governor regardless of glaring inadequate supply of the new Naira notes was adamant that the January 31st deadline was sacrosanct and refused every entreaties to extend the deadline including neglecting the invitation of the National Assembly to come and explain the policy. Opposition political parties including the PDP issued press statement advising the CBN Governor not to give in to pressure to extend the deadline.
Eventually, following Presidential intervention, Emefiele extended the deadline by 10 days to February 10th, 2023. However, this has not solved the obvious unavailability of new notes across the country. Banks are still complaining of inadequate supply of new Naira notes from the CBN, the CBN on the other hand have come out to state that it releases a minimum of N30 million worth of new Naira notes to every commercial bank branch daily.
Sensing sabotage and racketeering, the anti-corruption agencies (EFCC and ICPC) as well as the DSS in collaboration with the Compliance Unit of the CBN have been forced to begin monitoring of the banks and have unearthed many cases of hoarding by many banks, as well as deliberate loading of wrapped notes into ATMs. As the new February 10 deadline by the CBN approaches, there is no end in sight to the chaos created by the CBN’s new Naira notes policy. Banks have been taken over by long queues of frustrated customers, PoS Agents are now the new Lords in town, cash has become the new paper gold.
Having laid out how we got to this point, in part 2 of this piece I will delve into the politics, scheming and intrigues revolving around this controversial CBN policy as well as the man in the eye of the storm – Godwin Emefiele.