Cash crunch: NLC warns FG of mass protest, again, banks cut withdrawals

The Nigeria Labour Congress, on Tuesday, expressed concerns over the lingering cash scarcity in the country.

 Five days to the Christmas Day celebration, the congress said in a statement by its National President, Joe Ajaero, that the situation had serious implications for citizens, insisting that urgent steps must be taken to address it.

Bank customers have been groaning over their inability to access cash to meet daily needs, despite assurances from the Central Bank of Nigeria.

 The banks have continued to ration cash over-the-counter, while many ATMS are not dispensing cash.

However, NLC in the statement warned the Federal Government and the Central Bank of Nigeria that a mass public protest was imminent if nothing was done to address the naira shortage.

Ajaero said, “Fresh in the minds of every Nigerian is the excruciating conditions that we were subjugated to as a result of the last cash crunch earlier this year that was orchestrated by the ill-conceived and ill-implemented currency redesign policy of the immediate past. The sorrow that botched exercise foisted on us is not what Nigerians wish to witness again in one year.

“This time, there is no discernible reason by the Central Bank of Nigeria, neither any explanation from the government on why Nigerians should be subjected to this level of suffering once again in 2023; though we have heard reasons like the increase in fake notes in circulation and the hoarding of the naira. These reasons are clearly unacceptable as we cannot see anything that will make any Nigerian hoard the naira. In any case, it is not the ordinary Nigerian that hoards money in their houses.”

 The NLC leader said if the CBN was saying that those with ill-gotten wealth were stashing cash in their houses to avoid detection, it became a heavy indictment on the government’s anti-corruption agenda.

This, he added, “Is because what the CBN is saying is that since the assumption of office of this government, that the level of graft has increased resulting in the creation of hideouts for the slush funds.

In the statement, the NLC further explained, “The question then is, should the ordinary citizens be made to suffer the apparent incompetence of government in prosecuting the anti-corruption war, or is it that there is actually no anti-corruption war going on?

“Nigerians are spending more time in the banks, trying to source for cash not for monies that are not in their accounts, but for their own money. This is undermining confidence of the public in the banks, and may discourage the citizenry from participating actively in banking. It is shameful that Nigerians would have to spend a lot of money to gain access to their hard-earned income. We are creating another avenue for economic rentiers such as the PoS operators and their collaborators in the banks to fleece Nigerians. Subjecting us again to spend our meagre salaries buying our money automatically devalues our income.”

The NLC noted that the PoS operators were charging round N400 to access N10,000, which was about four per cent reduction in the value of the income of poor Nigerians who hardly made use of electronic platforms to perform their transactions.

For citizens who were already impoverished by the same policies of government, foisting this on them again, amounted to gross insensitivity and double jeopardy, it stated.

The Labour union said, “We are worried that by this action and others, the government may be inciting the people and mobilising them to seek alternative routes for protecting themselves from these perverse policies. We believe that the elastic limit of the patience of Nigerians is being breached and no government inflicts this level of pains on its citizenry and expects them to keep quiet for a long time.

“Forcing Nigerians into revolt by continuously taking actions that deny them basic access to survival will not augur well for our nation. This cash crunch is indeed another test of the already worn patience of Nigerian masses and workers.

“During this Yuletide season which is traditionally a time of joy, celebration, and familial gatherings, but the current cash shortage threatens to cast a shadow over the festivities for many Nigerians. The unavailability of cash has led to increased difficulties in meeting daily needs, exacerbating the economic challenges faced by ordinary citizens.”

The NLC stated that it recognised the importance of a vibrant economy, and believed that it was in the interest of the nation to ensure that the citizens could enjoy the festive season without undue financial strain.

It stated, “We call on the government to take immediate and decisive action to alleviate the cash crunch and mitigate its impact on the people.

“Government should therefore explore measures to inject liquidity into the economy, ensuring that there is sufficient cash flow to meet the demands of businesses and individuals. It is fairly tale to continue brandishing cash hoarding as an excuse. Nigerians want their money and it should be made available to them. Excuses are not what Nigerians want to hear but access to their money.

“We urge government to collaborate with other financial institutions to improve banking services, such as ensuring the availability of cash at ATMs and bank branches to facilitate easy access for the public. We urge the CBN to provide clear and transparent communication to the public regarding the steps being taken to address the cash crunch and reassure citizens about the stability of the financial system.”

Findings by The PUNCH on Tuesday showed that banks were unable to meet the cash needs of their customers.

Some ATMs visited in Abuja, including GTBank, First Bank, Zenith, and United Bank of Africa were not dispensing cash.

At GTbank located along Airport Road, customers were complaining about the low amount given to them.

But bank officials said the amount given was to meet the demand of all customers.

A PoS operator, Faith Emeka, said banks lacked sufficient cash. She said she resorted to making deals with market women and traders to boost money supply.

She said, “I went to bank today and I was told it is still N10,000 they are giving each customer over the counter, the bank used to give N20,000; the ATMs were not even dispensing money and it is just frustrating. I now get cash from market women and that is not without its issues because I have to move up and down to get cash, practically begging.”

Another official with a Tier-A bank, who spoke with our correspondent on condition of anonymity, blamed the perceived scarcity on hoarding by some Nigerians.

She said, “The CBN has been distributing cash to main branches of banks in each city and then the branches share among their various branches in each city.

“Also, we don’t rely only on what the CBN gives, many persons have also mopped up cash from the economy in one way or the other and are expected to deposit in banks to help with circulation of the currency in the economy but are hoarding it.”

Last week, the acting Director of Corporate Communications, CBN, Mrs Hakama Ali, said sufficient cash had been sent to all its branches across the country for onward distribution to Deposit Money Banks.

Ali emphasised that the apex bank had adequate cash to meet the day-to-day transaction needs of Nigerians.

She attributed the current situation to the hoarding of the local currency by some individuals due to challenges experienced during the naira redesign project.

She revealed that the currency in circulation had risen to N3.4tn as of December 11, from N1tn as of the end of February, indicating that there was sufficient cash in circulation.

However, findings by The PUNCH on Tuesday revealed that many banks in Lagos and other South-West states had yet to receive any cash disbursement from the central bank.

Multiple bank officials, who spoke to The PUNCH, said there was no adequate cash to meet customers needs.

They also said they had slashed the cash withdrawal limits of customers on ATMs and over the counter.

Some officials said they were forced to source cash from their branches in Abuja and Kano in order to meet the needs of customers in Lagos.

“We had to source cash from Abuja and Kano branches to meet the needs of our customers in Lagos. The situation is terrible. Many banks in the South-West are being forced to do this. We are not getting cash disbursement from the CBN,’’ an official of mid-size bank told our correspondent on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the matter.

Another official of tier-2 bank told one of correspondents that millions of cash withdrawals leaving the banks were not being returned, wondering why many customers were not longer depositing in the bank.

The chief executive officer of another tier-2 bank, who preferred to speak on condition of anonymity, said the scarcity was artificial, pointing out that some Nigerians were hoarding cash at home.

A former President, Association of National Accountants of Nigeria, Dr Sam Nzekwe, wondered what could be responsible for the scarcity, saying he had initially thought the CBN was deliberately mopping up cash in circulation.

He said, “If (the cash scarcity) is a monetary policy (action) by the CBN, I think it is using a wrong policy to tackle this current inflation; because the current inflation is a cost-push inflation. But now, CBN has denied that it is not the one that is causing the scarcity.

“But right now, I really don’t understand, what is causing that, everybody is confused. You go to bank and you don’t see any money.

“It is too bad that money is not in the system. The CBN should be able to do better to address what has caused the scarcity of the naira. They should do that before the challenge will worsen the challenge already in the country.”

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