Naira scarcity sparks protests

The naira crisis sparked violent protests in parts of the country yesterday as most bank branches hurriedly shut down operations.

Abeokuta, the state capital, was thrown into chaos as angry youths blocked some roads, set bonfires and destroyed billboards as anger over naira scarcity boiled over.

In Ondo State, residents marched on the Benin/Ore expressway, causing a gridlock that left many travellers stranded.

The biting cash crunch was worsened by the rejection of online and Point of Sale (PoS) payments by businesses, especially petrol stations and transport companies.

In Iyana Ipaja, Lagos, some transport companies insisted only on cash payments. Many had no PoS machines or refused to use them or accept transfers.

In Edo State, protesters, comprising members of Edo State Civil Society Organisations (EDOCSO), shut the Benin branch of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

Motorists were stranded on the busy Akpakpava Road in Benin, where the CBN branch is located.

Groaning commuters and motorists opted for alternative routes.

The police staged a show of force in the early hours to deter those who may be planning attacks in Lagos.

But many banks did not want to take chances. They were shut.

Most Zenith Bank branches were under lock and key, with the institution trending on social media as customers lamented the failure of its payment channels.

President Muhammadu Buhari met with Chairman of Nigeria Governors Forum and Sokoto State Governor Aminu Tambuwal; Chairman of Progressives Governors Forum and Kebbi State Governor Atiku Bagudu, and CBN governor Godwin Emefiele in Abuja.

A meeting with the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) could not hold.

It was learnt that its cancellation was related to the interim injunction by High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) stopping the Federal Government from extending the February 10 deadline for the phaseout of the old naira notes.

The court had ruled on an application by four political parties – Action Alliance (AA), Action Peoples Party (APP), Allied Peoples Movement (APM) and National Rescue Movement (NRM).

Travellers were caught up in the aftermath of the economic upheaval when angry Nigerians blocked the busy Benin-Ore highway in protest.

The protesters were also frustrated by the scarcity of petrol which has lasted for about six months and appears to be worsening.

They blocked both the dual carriageway, including the flyover interchange.

This was despite pleas by Ondo Police Commissioner, Oyeyemi Oyediran, who on Monday warned that hoodlums could hijack protests to perpetrate more serious crimes.

One of the protesters, Adebayo Adeyemi, said residents have been going through hardship in the past few weeks due to the scarcity of petrol and naira notes.

He said the government must find ways to improve the supply of the new currency nationwide as the February 10 deadline draws closer.

In Ogun, residents trooped into the streets of Aladesanmi, Asero-Moore, Abiola Way, Fajol, Sapon, Ibara, and Somorin in the Obantoko area of Abeokuta.

Commercial activities came to a halt as the protesters made bonfires, chanting anti-government and anti-CBN songs


Police spokesman, Abimbola Oyeyemi, a Superintendent of Police (SP), said men of the force were on top of the situation.

The police stormed the locations to disperse the protesters, who would later regroup and make more bonfires with disused tyres.

The situation disrupted traffic as motorists and pedestrians fled in different directions.

A viral clip showed a man soaked in blood who appeared to have been shot.

He walked gingerly as he attempted to jump over a drained but lost his footing as friends dragged him out.

Some security operatives were caught up in the demonstration in front of the GTbank branch at Asero.

Other banks and schools in the metropolis hurriedly closed.

The Edo protesters, who bore placards and banners bearing anti-CBN inscriptions and chanting anti-government songs, said they would continue with the peaceful march until the needful was done.

One of the leaders of EDOCSO, Comrade Omobude Agho, called on the CBN to quickly make the new naira notes available.

He urged the CBN to start releasing to the banks the N100, N50 and N20 denominations if the higher denominations are not available.

Agho was of the view that the blame lay with CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, who came up with an ill-thought-out policy that has caused more hardship to citizens a few weeks before the general elections.

Some banks closed their branch operations as network failure added to the turmoil.

Zenith Bank, which has had hitches with its mobile and internet banking services, left a notice to customers.

“Please, be informed that the branch is not open to customers due to server issues.

“You can make your transactions in any of our branches. We are sorry for the inconvenience,” the bank stated.

An agitated customer of the bank said her funded domiciliary account was displaying a zero balance.

The bank’s customers have in the past week faced severe challenges in carrying out transactions due to poor network connectivity.

The failure of digital banking platforms and the scarcity of naira banknotes compounded customers’ woes.

The bank’s internet mobile apps not only stopped working but its connectivity with other banks’ networks were also failing.

Many of the bank’s customers said they were unable to make transfers and even check balances in their accounts.

Aside from Zenith, many customers who use banks’ Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) technology for payment said interbank and intrabank transfers witnessed situations where funds sent do not get to recipients.

A customer said a transfer only got to the recipient three days after she initiated it.

Silas Obinna, a Lagos-based entrepreneur, said digital payments were not meeting the expectations of bank customers.

He said the CBN should insist on minimum investment in digital infrastructure for banks, and monitor to ensure their deployment and seamless operations if the cash-less policy must work.

Aside from the poor network connectivity, many of the banks were also accused of hoarding the redesigned naira notes, making it difficult for the funds to circulate seamlessly.

A CBN official who asked not to be named said: “Oga, this matter is quite serious”.

<<The Nation>>