Naira is now on sale, no thanks to the scarcity of both old and new notes in bank halls and their Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) terminals.
In many cities, Point of Sale (PoS) operators, bureau de change agents and emergency currency hawkers sold old and new notes to desperate Nigerians in need of cash yesterday.
Many ATM terminals in Lagos and Abuja, for instance, were empty. The few that dispensed old and new notes had crowds waiting to make withdrawals.
At a terminal along Fatai Atere Way in Matori, Mushin, the struggle to secure positions in queues resulted in fisticuffs.
In Lagos, Bureau De Operators cashed in on the scarcity by selling the new notes.
An operator offered to sell N50,000 worth of new notes for N65,000 to a resident.
At one of the PoS points in Lagos, a resident was charged N1,000 for N10,000 worth of old notes.
In Abuja, a PoS operator collected an extra N600 charge from a resident for the N2,000 because he asked for new notes.
In Bauchi State, gunmen invaded a PoS centre in Zaki Local Government Area, snatching new notes at gunpoint. An unidentified PoS operator and two others sustained injuries.
Bank customers expressed frustrations over the scarcity of the redesigned notes across all payment channels and over-the-counter transactions.
Those who thought the 10-day extension for the use of the old notes by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) will bring relief to customers were disappointed.
At Ilupeju, Lagos Mainland, there were long queues in many banks’ ATM points and banking halls, with customers rushing to deposit old notes to collect new ones.
At Town Planning, Ilupeju branches of GTBank, Access Bank and Keystone Bank, many customers who were unable to make withdrawals from the ATMs quickly rushed into the banking hall for over-the-counter transactions. They were also disappointed.
They were paid with N100 and N50 notes, irrespective of the amount they wanted to withdraw, and were further advised to do transfers.
By 11 am, the only functional ATM point in the branch had stopped dispensing cash.
At the Ajose Adeogun branch of GT Bank and Zenith Bank, only one ATM was working in each of the branches as of 4 pm.
Many customers were seen patiently waiting for their turns in the long queues at both banks’ ATMs.
A customer, Maureen Amosun, said she spent one and a half hours making N10,000 withdrawals from the GTBank ATM.
Banks receive less cash
An industry source said banks send N1 million new notes to each of their branches daily for the ATMs.
The funds are usually loaded in one ATM point, from where they are dispensed to cardholders.
Some bank branches with less customer traffic get N1 million in new note supplies every other day.
“Our branch receives N1 million daily from the headquarters. Once the money is received, it is loaded into one ATM and dispensed to customers. Once the fund is exhausted, customers will have to wait till the next day,” the source said.
Before now, banks loaded their ATMs with cash regularly, based on transaction volume and traffic at their branches.
“What we expected was for the CBN to supply enough new notes to the banks, which will be subsequently sent to the branches.
“But what we are seeing now baffles us. The notes are rationed, and cash transactions are highly restricted,” the source added.
Chaos in banks
A visit to commercial banks in Ayobo, Egbeda/Akowonjo, and Matori in Lagos showed that most of the ATMs were not dispensing cash.
The few that dispensed cash had long queues with customers waiting for hours to make a cash withdrawal.
Esther Okon, a customer of Zenith Bank, said only one ATM point was dispensing cash.
“All you see around here are Point of Sale (Pos) operators.
“Sometimes, they number up to 15 appealing to people to come and withdraw money. They too don’t have the new naira notes to give to customers,” she said.
A middle-aged woman, who simply identified herself as Mrs Ebunoluwa, while narrating her experience in a bank in Ogun State, simply described it as “harrowing”.
“I went to my bank today to deposit the old notes and also with the hope of getting new ones. To my surprise, the teller said there was no new notes except I would take old notes since it has been extended. I was livid and retorted by asking her what it meant and she quickly kept quiet,” she said.
Although she was able to deposit the old notes, she, however, left the banking hall after two hours of waiting without any hope of getting the same in sight.
Across several banks in Akute, Ogun State, the same scenario played out. Several customers queued waiting for new notes.
In one of the banks, a customer, Hakeem Muse, said he wanted to withdraw N20,000, but was paid N5,000.
“When I asked the teller why, he politely told me that it was a strategy to ensure that more customers got new notes because they don’t have enough money. I had to leave the place,” Muse said.
The queues at the ATMs around the area surpassed the ones in banking halls in Akute.
All the ATMs in the area had dried up since last week.
As of yesterday afternoon, the few dispensing ATMs dried up just before 10 am, even as customers milled around the machines hoping that it will dispense.
At the Access Bank ATM gallery in Akute, the crowd was overwhelming as cash-strapped customers waited in vain to withdraw money.
“If this bank (Access) ATM is not dispensing, it means it has dried up and that means there is trouble with the new note availability because this bank’s facility serves us extremely well here,” a customer, Bola Akinwuni, said.
The situation is not different at the First Bank of Nigeria, Matori Branch.
The banking hall was chaotic as customers struggled to get the new notes.
Its ATM gallery as of 1 pm was not dispensing cash.
The PoS operators, despite increasing their service charges, still dispensed the old notes.
Also, most of the banks’ online payment platforms did not function optimally.
Customers on banks like GTCO (GTB) and Access Bank platforms expressed frustration as they were unable to use the online payment platform.
At GT Bank, Matori, Mushin branch, many customers who wanted to withdraw cash were enraged as the bank declined to pay them in old or new notes.
The cashiers explained to the customers that although they were receiving the old notes, they had been instructed by the CBN not to pay them out.
A lady who wanted to withdraw N10,000 said she would not leave the bank until she was paid as she did not have any cash to eat or to pay for her transportation home.
She created a scene for the cashiers to gather an almost mutilated amount of N3,000 to pay her.
She was paid in denominations ranging from N20, N50 and N100, which she received excitedly because, at least, she had the money for transportation.
DSS fingers bank officials, arrests syndicate
The Department of State Services (DSS) said it intercepted some members of organised syndicates involved in the sale of the newly redesigned naira notes.
The spokesman of the agency, Dr Peter Afunanya, said in a statement that some bank officials were aiding the economic malfeasance.
“Consequently, the Service warns the currency racketeers to desist from this ignoble act.
“Appropriate regulatory authorities are, in the same vein, urged to step up monitoring and supervisory activities to expeditiously address the emerging trends.
“It should be noted that the Service has ordered its commands and formations to further ensure that all persons and groups engaged in the illegal sale of the notes are identified. Therefore, anyone with useful information relating to this is encouraged to pass the same to the relevant authorities,” the statement said.
Traders welcome deadline
Traders in Enugu and the Federal Capital Territory, however, praised the CBN for extending the deadline for the exchange of old naira notes.
They said the decision had brought back life to their business activities as they have restarted accepting the old notes.
One of the traders in Enugu, Vivian Dele, said the scarcity of the new naira notes at ATM terminals had stagnated businesses.
“I sell foodstuff at Ogbete Market and I stopped collecting old money on January 28, which has affected my business as I accept only new money and transfers.
“Many of my customers complained of the queues at the bank’s ATMs and at times, transfers will not even go,” she said.
A bank manager, who pleaded anonymity, said the rush at the banks and its ATMs was a “Nigerian factor.”
“Our challenge is Nigerians who love the last-minute rush,” he said, adding that in the last two weeks, only a few customers deposited their old currency with the bank.
Some customers in the FCT said with the deadline extension, the new notes would circulate adequately.