Happy currency scarcity anniversary, _e go better_ By Ikeddy ISIGUZO

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NIGERIANS do not miss opportunities to celebrate remarkable events in our history. Someone brought to my attention the first anniversary of Nigeria’s currency scarcity that was reportedly caused by government’s unexplained decision to redesign the Naira.

An argument arose. The anniversary was not due until next year. I also thought so. The promoters of the anniversary accused me of becoming distant from ordinary Nigerians. They alleged that if I had been among the suffering masses that I would have known that the bank note scarcity noticed during the election had begun by December 2022.

Could I have forgotten the devastations to businesses, individuals, or the semi-romantic pictures of female bank staff scaling the back fences of their otherwise majestic to escape the raging rants of implacable customers amassed at their gates? Everyone suffered, they claimed.

The growing numbers of bottles of beverages downed as the conversations continued were in contrast with the painful pictures of economic hardship rendered at the gathering. There were hardly any efforts in making the clear point that suffering in Nigeria had heightened in the past few months. It was too obvious to be debated.

Like the case with the current cash scarcity, we are all speculating. Lectures on cost of printing the notes do not explain why they are scarce. “Ordinary printing of money they can’t. Why is everything difficult in Nigeria?,” one fellow intoned, a departure from his long silence.

His interjection elicited several theories all of which surprisingly summarised the grudges of most of them bore, “They just want us to suffer. What is going on does not make sense”.

The search for sense in these policies that elevate uncertainty, cast extra burden on the ordinary people who work hard, very hard, and can’t still enjoy simple things like withdrawing their money without charges that would crush them, is senseless too. It leads to nowhere. Earlier this year people lost as high as 40 per cent of their money to get cash. If you withdrew N10,000, the service provider took N4,000 and you will still be glad that you got “something”.

We seem to be back to those heady days of fuel scarcity when if NNPC offered an explanation one felt it would have been better if NNPC said nothing. The only difference now is that it is bank notes that are scarcity.

A typical NNPC response was, “We have enough fuel in our depots to supply Nigeria for six months. The challenges are panic buying and people hoarding the product. We want to assure Nigerians again not to panic”.

Then we made these deductions – hoarders must know something we do not know, the products were not enough, and the more confounding conclusion was that NNPC wanted us to fetch the fuel from its depots. We simply ignored the blasé assurances and acted on our own.

The currency note “crisis”, as some major commentators on major national issues prefer to call it, continues. Central Bank of Nigeria has deemed it appropriate to assure Nigerians that there was “no cause for alarm”. CBN was aware that many Nigerians confuse the economic tornado that sweeps their purses dry for bank notes scarcity.

We had been told repeatedly that the economy had been bad for decades. Renewed Hope means that we cannot expect miracles from an economy in manacles. Rather, we should trust the tested to try their luck in the hope that things do not get to the point that our hope would have been renewed in vain.

“Our findings reveal that the seeming cash scarcity in some locations is due largely to high volume withdrawals from the CBN branches by Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) and panic withdrawals by customers from the ATMs. While we note the concerns of Nigerians on the availability of cash for financial transactions, we wish to assure the public that there is sufficient stock of currency notes for economic activities in the country. The branches of the CBN across the country are also working to ensure the seamless circulation of cash in their respective states of operation,” Isa AbdulMumin PhD, Director, Corporate Communications, stated on 2 November 2023.

There was an admission of a situation, an indication that there were enough bank notes for “economic activities”. Did you wonder what else people do with money? They “eat” it, perhaps, a reason for panic withdrawal. As more people “eat” more money, in keeping with a covenant they made when they swore, “it is our turn to chop”, they need to withdraw more cash to keep eating.

Something was being done about the situation which persisted until AbdulMumin PhD left office. Or was there?

There is no solution in sight to the cash crisis. One leader of the beer-guzzling session had flatly stated, “The country is broke. There is no money”. They shouted him down, not minding his ranking, pointing to birthdays we have seen on television, budgets for more cars and residences for those who already have these things.

Other reasons may be responsible for the panic withdrawals. The CBN stands on its promises of abundant bank notes.

According to CBN’s acting Director of Corporate Communications, Mrs Hakama Ali, “The CBN has adequate cash to meet the day-to-day transaction needs of Nigerians. We appeal to Nigerians to be patient while the CBN does the needful to ensure the availability of cash, particularly during the Yuletide and beyond.” Her statement was on 14 December 2023.

Each of the statements blames the public for the scarcity of bank notes. People were engaging in panic withdrawal. CBN’s findings did not get to why there was panic withdrawal. If there was no problem why appeal impatient Nigerians, “while the CBN does the needful to ensure the availability of cash?” We put our money in banks, we cannot get cash, and we are accused of impatience by a public officer who serves us? “we don suffer,” as it is render at the drinking session.

Scarcity of bank notes is not impressed by words. The more popular speculation is that politicians are withdrawing cash for the 2024 governorship elections in Edo State (September), and Ondo State (November). Both are testy contests that would require cash, a lot of cash.

You must be one of those who do not give politicians adequate credit for long-term planning, if you think it is too early to put tidy sums aside for Edo and Ondo. Remember there would be primaries earlier. They too require cash to wade through.

There are times a country is completely confused and acts accordingly. In such mishmash, everyone thinks the other makes the race for survival ever more challenging. Nobody listens. We are talking at the same time, merely recounting our unending woes to tired years.

Our dimmed eyes see little. Our best days appear to be in the past. How can a country parade its past as its best days? It is easier then to understand the unimportance of today, and tomorrow. Surviving to the next hour is considered an achievement for good reasons too. Each individual is doing so much to eat today that a lot of our tomorrow has been eaten. I guess we have to eat to care, to think, and to rescue a sinking country that is inseparable from a conflicting past lost in the scramble to see to it that my “truth” not yours, not Nigeria’s, survives.

Well past their reasoning range in matters that normally should not be within their span, my friends, rounded off the session with one of the most desolate versions of renewed hope, “e go better”.

 

Finally…

ONLY last week, I learnt the difference between “he passed on”, and “he passed away”. If a man leaves enough for his family when he dies, it is announced as, “he passed on”. If his efforts are considered inadequate, “he passed away”.

Isiguzo is a major commentator on minor issues


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