People on the lower-class divide who basically deal with cash day-to-day have taken to sleeping outside banks from dawn to dusk. The list comprises hawkers, market sellers, construction labourers and largely the working class.
What is accounting for this plight is that each person needs to be among the first in line to get notes from the either the bank or the automated machine once it is loaded up in the morning else they would go without money for their basic daily affairs. Shifting from gray to cashless economy has aggravated the cost of living of cash-trapped Nigerian lower and middle class.
In October 2022, government directed new Naira notes to be issued to replace the old ones. By this directive, the Central Bank of Nigeria assured the general public that the new notes would begin circulating from December 15, while the old news would cease to be legal tender by the end of January. Thus, all old cash were to be handed over to the banks.
The central bank’s reason for redesigning new and higher denominations of 200, 500 and 1000 Naira was that it would help tackle the high inflation in the country, replace dirty cash in circulation, control counterfeiting and most importantly, promote a cashless society.
Some analysts add that the reformation was to limit the amount of cash people had access to, in order to encourage them resort to make digital payments, so that the central bank could monitor and track where money flowed to. By this, inflation and corruption could be curtailed.
A few weeks after circulation of the new notes, there is gnawing lack of the currency which has unleashed severe cash shortage. All over the country, there is a growing sense of desperation among the general public. It is now a common sight outside the banking areas very long queues of depressed, disappointed and exasperated masses.
Speaking to the media, 36-year Abraham Osundiran who works for a construction company reported: “I have not eaten today. I have to miss work for a second day because I don’t have the cash to pay the taxi fare”. “I don’t have any cash. I’ve had to skip breakfast so I could come here, and I don’t know what I will eat for the rest of the day,” Osundiran added.
Iya Ruka, 52-year plantain seller at Ojodu Berger market, Lagos, also added, “All my customers are saying they don’t have cash, they will pay using a bank transfer, but I go to the bank and there’s no cash for me to collect. So what do I do?”
“They made us put all our money into our accounts, and now we can’t access it. It’s unbearable… I have not been able to access my salary since I got paid last week,” Osarenoma Kolawole who works in telesales pathetically indicated.
From her salon, Lilian Ineh, lamented, “It’s painful, I can’t go to the market, because they want cash. Buses want cash – now I have to trek everywhere.”
Lekki, 25-year kiosk owner noted, “some customers can get angry and nearly violent – I just avoid looking up at them. They forget I’m suffering as well, like now, I have to trek for an hour home, and I have only been eating gari”, (or cassava flakes).
Sadly, these people and many others in same situation are not only battling with the fact that the banks are dry of notes, but also extortion from POS vendors. These POS vendors are people who stand at street corners with card machines at their disposal which enable them to make money transfers for other individuals. They have been reported of charging commissions for the transfers at outrageous costs to the already embattled ordinary citizens.
Some economists and financial analysts have explained that government’s implementation of its long time goal of creating a cashless society is not feasible since the banking systems were not made ready for it. Thus, government lacks a robust infrastructural capacity to support a seamless digital system; for which reason ordinary people have been struggling to make their transactions online. While some companies and few individuals have gone through with digital orders and transfers, a great deal of the masses continue to rely on cash.
Further, some politicians have been accused of mopping up the redesigned notes and hoarding them for their own political purposes ahead of the 25th February general elections. Meanwhile, the Buhari-led administration is said to have plunged the country into economic crisis, spiraling insecurity, unemployment, and corruption.
By Gwendolyn E. Dickens