By Nnanke Harry Willie
It has been a most eventful 3 weeks to the build of the 2023 general elections starting soon with the Presidential and National Assembly. In a matter of hours all that President Muhammadu Buhari has done with and about the Redesigned Naira notes to finish his tenure on a high note will be put to the test with the presidential and national assembly elections. For Buhari, the excellent conduct of the 2023 elections and the results therefrom will be his surprise bumper parting gift to Nigerians.
Actually many Nigerians have voiced their support for President Buhari’s free and fair election crusade, devoid of bribery, vote-buying and intimidation which credible intelligence had allegedly revealed to him was about to be done with hundreds of billions of stashed cash (of old notes) by privileged political actors. Nigerians believe that his success on his pet mission would be an ice-breaker of sorts that will endear him to the generality of Nigerians who will forgive him his ‘sundry sins’ if he could walk his talk and deliver on his promise.
President Buhari is however facing his stiffest opposition from those that some have described as the Furious ‘G’, you can guess what the ‘G’ stands for. Majority of members of the Furious ‘G’ are members of the President’s own political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The first to scream blue murder was the party’s presidential candidate Asiwaju Bola Tinubu who alleged that the Naira Redesign policy was targeted at him by a cabal in the presidency to stop him from winning the presidential elections. According to him, the sufferings being experienced by the masses at this time which was exacerbated by fuel scarcity will make the masses vote against the ruling party in the presidential elections.
Other members of the Furious ‘G’ soon joined the fray by dragging the President to the Supreme Court to extend the deadline for the phasing out of the old 200, 500 and 1,000 naira notes. The federal government was to however press ahead to keep to its deadline of February 10 with an allowance for the old 200 Naira notes to remain legal tender until April 10. Then the bedlam began!
There were pockets of violent protests across some cities where banks were attacked. The protests are believed to have been caused by incitement from certain quarters. A member of the Furious ‘G’ reminded President Buhari that his business was to make the APC win the elections, while it was the business of INEC to guarantee free and fair elections!
The group reminded him that he was bound to obey the Supreme Court order that said the deadline should not be effective until it had passed judgment in the case instituted by aggrieved governors over the matter. Indeed, one of the members in Benin wondered why the president didn’t carry out the new Naira policy when he was still contesting in 2019, complaining bitterly that after they had worked hard and installed him he was now making things ‘difficult’ for others.
The anger of the Furious ‘G’ boiled over after the president delivered a national broadcast on February 16 confirming the expiration of the old 500 and 1,000 Naira notes with effect from February 10 as earlier indicated. Members of the Furious ‘G’ would take none of it. They went back to their various states and called on citizens to ignore the president’s pronouncements.
They asked the people to keep on using the old 500 and 1,000 notes and that after the elections CBN will change all their accumulated expired notes and give them full value in the new notes in cash!
Unfortunately, it hasn’t gone too well for the Furious ‘G’. For instance, have you seen the trending video on social media as the Governor of Ogun State, Dapo Abioun, was being abused by an angry crowd while on a campaign trail? Indeed, they were not only abusing him, but they were also calling him “Ole!” “Ole” means “Thief” in Yoruba.
Meanwhile, Governor Abiodun kept on apologising to them in Yoruba as well saying “E ma binu”. He also tried to explain himself that the cause of the problem they had with him was the Central Bank of Nigeria for refusing to obey the Supreme Court order. In other words, he said to blame it on the CBN, Blame it on Emefiele, the CBN Governor.
If you were wondering what the ‘quarrel’ was about, you only need rewind to a few days prior when aides of the Governor frantically distributed Dapo Abiodun-branded envelopes containing sums of old Naira Notes to some Ogun citizens asking them to support the governor.
When the surprised beneficiaries queried the envelope distributor why the cash was in the old 1000Naira notes, he told them not to worry that the Supreme Court had given a ruling that they could spend the money as banks were duty-bound to collect the old notes. After all, the Governor had earlier sworn to deal with any bank that refused to collect the old N500 and N1000 notes.
Apparently, most of the beneficiaries had unsuccessfully tried to spend the money and failed, thus they suspected that their governor had intentionally fooled them, and they, therefore, paid him back in his own coin with an outpouring of bile-filled scorn!
Also, in what some critics viewed as a treasonable act, Governor Nasir el-Rufai decided to issue his own state broadcast reversing the monetary policy directives announced by President Muhammadu Buhari. Gov. el-Rufai specifically directed the citizens of Kaduna to ignore the president’s directives and go on and continue to spend and receive the expired Naira notes and that after the elections, Kaduna state government will collect their old Naira notes from them and help them exchange it for full cash value from the CBN.
The Kaduna state governor who had earlier attributed the Naira redesign policy to President Buhari reversed himself during his ‘counter’ address and blamed the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele for ‘deceiving’ President Buhari. He insisted that the Supreme Court order is superior to the Executive Order of the president. For good measure, he also threatened to shut down any supermarket, bank or business that refused to accept the expired Naira notes.
In an interesting twist, however, when Arise News went into Kaduna city to monitor compliance with their governor’s counter order against the president, all the respondents said he was on his own. In fact, one of them gave comic relief to the development when he said what el-Rufai did was tantamount to a Local Government Chairman going to his local government to counter his governor on an issue that the governor had exclusive authority over.
At the heart of all this is the challenge posed by ‘state capture’ by elected officials and appointees all over Nigeria. It has become such a putrid culture now that many who indulge in it do not even realize that it is a criminal act. In fact, they feel very entitled to use the resources of the state for the vulgar pleasures and political ambitions of their families, friends, parties and self.
To be clear, the culture has been on for a long time but because corruption is organic, it has grown from a sparse grassland to a thick tropical forest. One can only hope that Buhari’s mission will be effective in serving as the first set of fatal blows that will start clearing this dense forest of corruption in Nigeria to a land where the thief by whatever name and whatever hue will be denied the enjoyment of his/her loot.
They say “Old habits die hard” but the benefits the Naira policy compel a need for Nigerians to imbibe new habits. The CBN’s new monetary policies go beyond providing a level playing ground for elections.
Nigeria’s cashless policy which predates the Buhari administration is a step in the right direction for economic growth, accountability, transparency with the potential of bringing the country up to speed with the rest of the advanced economies.
Already, Nigeria is breaking barriers across the globe with our tech unicorns being globally recognized and celebrated. According to Stanley Hall, “Man is largely a creature of habit, and many of his activities are more or less automatic reflexes from the stimuli of his environment.” The stimuli by the Buhari administration (through CBN’s monetary policies) to deepen financial inclusion through the fintech ecosystem should be supported by all Nigerians of goodwill.
As the president himself has admitted, the problems of implementation have been unfortunate and well noted and efforts have been intensified to make the new Naira notes more available and scale up the tech architecture for smoother more seamless financial transactions.
It is however not lost on the discerning that corruption may be a factor for the audacious mopping up of the issued new Naira notes from banks almost immediately after the banks received them. The CBN and security agencies should therefore do everything to identify and prosecute those involved in the despicable act
As we move into the 2023 general elections proper and life thereafter, I join all compatriots in saying “May Nigeria win!”