This money palaver: An exercise in futility? – Dr. Muiz Banire SAN

Mental health crisis in Nigeria - Dr. Muiz Banire SAN

Dr. Muiz Banire SAN

In my penultimate piece and other recent interventions on the above subject, I discussed the dynamics of the redesigned naira notes and various monetary restrictions. I took the position that both the restrictions on cash withdrawal and the deadline for old notes swap were well intended and should be supported, if for nothing else, for the sake of good governance. In the conversation, I noted the pressures being mounted by the political class, particularly the governors and the legislators, to reverse the policy measures under different guises. Therein I asserted that all the excuses being put forth by the political class are selfish and represent not the genuine interest of the people. The simple reason the politicians are demanding the reversal of the policies is to enable them spend their illicit stacked cash; or access in large quantity the new notes. The political class certainly knew that by the time the deadline of the then January 31, 2023, passed, they would forfeit the bulk of illicit funds in their possession as they would be unable to justify the retention and attempt at exchange. The essence of the cash storage is to compromise the electoral process, particularly through vote-buying.

At the time of the said conversation in the column, the governor of the Central Bank, backed by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, had insisted on no going back on the deadline. Suddenly, when the Central Bank could not resist the political pressure, the apex bank caved in by extending the period with another 10 days at the first instance. In addition to the grace extension, the apex bank reversed its earlier policy of not permitting beyond the cash withdrawal limit of N20,000 across the counter, coupled with the use of cash agents in order to expand the distribution network. These two directives, among others reeled out by the apex bank, would appear to have defeated the essence of the entire initiative. As I predicted in my piece under review, in not too long a distance, the politicians will employ all manner of tactics to put pressure on the monetary authorities, particularly through the sponsorship of all manner of protests, to liberalize the policy. This is what has happened and forced the monetary authorities to be running helter-skelter and dishing out all manner of haphazard policies to address the so-called on-going cash squeeze.

We have witnessed all manner of drama and protests on the issue, most of which are fake. Just as expressed in a cartoon trending in the social media, it is only those with large volumes of naira, mainly illicit, that could be complaining of the deadline. How much does someone like myself have, particularly in cash, that I will be finding it difficult to deposit within the permissible window? How much is truly in possession of the so-called masses that they will find it difficult to exchange within the three-month window, with the outlets deployed by the apex bank? The truth is that the bulk of the old currency notes is only in the custody of politicians and their ilk in other fields of criminality. Why must a genuine person keep at home the kind of figures we are being treated and entertained with, if not derived from criminality, or done to avoid the prying eyes of the law enforcement agents?

Politicians and other conspirators are the agitated ones, recognizing the threat of forfeiting the huge sums in the old notes and thereby struggling to put them in the financial system. Let me register the point that the redesigning of the naira notes does not cover all the denominations. It only affects the N1,000, N500 and N200 notes. Lest we forget, there are still in existence other denominations such as N100, N50 and N20 notes, mainly used by the vulnerable, that is, artisans and petty traders. What happens to those denominations? Are they not being dispensed? As noted in the said intervention, these categories are equally being mopped up by politicians, to create scarcity and also pressure the monetary authorities. In the absence of cash, Nigerian politicians would appear doomed in the elections. They are certainly not used to winning elections on the strength of issues but their purses. Hence, in my very strong view, the real masses are not threatened by the policies, since the bulk of the denomination they transact in are unaffected by the new policies. What has happened is that politicians are busy mopping up those denominations also. In this regard, I blame not the apex bank. It is in the light of the above reality that I believe that innocent Nigerians ought not to be affected by the redesigned notes. Some of the seemingly vulnerable people you see on queues are procured by the politicians and other money launderers to assist in the swap of the illicit funds and the obtainment of the new notes.

They are now largely commission agents of the ‘cash barons.’ When you see such long queues, do not be deceived, as not only were some of them procured to access the new notes by politicians, some, of their own volition, are equally now trading in it. Again, cash is not meant to be stored but spent, but the present hoarding is defeating this role of cash in society. In view of the above, there was and there is still no basis for extension. It has been suggested that the apex bank governor had no choice than to buckle as the politicians already blackmailed him. Remember the accusation of economic sabotage and terrorism financing levelled against him? To safeguard himself, therefore, he needs to review the deadline by allowing the extension. Now that we have the extension, the politicians can continue their deposits through various fronts, mainly contractors. What about the new notes’ distribution? As at the last check, sufficient sum, incapable of generating inflation, was already in circulation but still it is unavailable to an average Nigerian. As I asserted in the last conversation on the subject, the politicians have continued to mop the released sums into their vaults through the connivance of unscrupulous bank officials.

The revelation by Governor Nasir El-Rufai of a governor accessing N500 million and the assertion by Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso that politicians are already carting away the amount required by them lend credence to my position in the penultimate column. The duo conceded the fact that the policy is not even affecting the politicians as they have developed a template for circumventing the process. The former governor even claimed that some of the presidential candidates have banks through which they are converting the disbursed sums to their personal use only. The disappointment I have in the personalities above is that they refused to disclose the identities of these people. Even where they are above the law, we should know them for the purpose of shaming, at least. I am more disappointed in my brother, El-Rufai who seems in contemporary times to betray his courage by not coming out clean and boldly.
A few weeks ago, he had said to us that a cabal in the Presidency was frustrating and jeopardizing the chance of the APC candidate, yet he failed to name them but rather directing us to Lai Mohammed. Are the actors in all the situations above faceless? As opined in my last conversation, a lot of scams are ongoing in the treasury and cash management departments of banks. Cash is made available to the highest bidders. This earlier assertion is now validated by the discoveries by officials of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission and other enforcement agencies. An immediate audit by the enforcement agents of the sums disbursed to the various deposit money banks will unearth the fraud already perpetrated on the system and the final interment of the converted sums. I can tell you for free that the new notes, which are in the denominations required by politicians, will continue to be scarce until after the elections. I only hope that the other law enforcement agents as well as the banking supervisory officials of the apex bank and the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation will follow suit to unmask the economic saboteurs. Who is checking the books of the banks to ascertain the genuine customers that have access to the new notes? A lot of account doctoring is prevalent and ongoing in the commercial banks without any alarm being raised. How many of the bank officials have been accosted?
Could it be that everyone has been compromised? How much cash is being released to the government houses? Who is monitoring the government contractors that are now conduits for the nefarious acts? Where are the officials of the anti-corruption agencies? Are they slumbering or silenced also? What a country, as I noted in the last but one column.
Worse compromise of the system has now been endorsed by the Supreme Court of Nigeria that has granted an order extending the time for the cash swap. One wonders on what basis the Supreme Court made this intervention. Now that there is a seemingly perpetual window to bring in the old notes by the economic saboteurs and money launderers, albeit legally, what then is the essence of the policy in the first instance? Has the policy not been defeated? Are vote-buying and the integrity of our elections not being progressively undermined by politicians who are busy mopping up the available currency notes without anyone uncovering the racket? Undoubtedly, the electoral process is already being jeopardized through financial compromise and nothing good should be expected from it. This is bidding goodbye to good governance, as the quality of the emerging ‘leaders’ will be questionable again. Is it impossible for the apex bank to publicize the sums released to the respective money deposit banks for people’s consumption?

The continuous failure to check the nefarious activities going on signals the defeat of the sacred objectives of the policy. If the federal government lacks the capacity to check this, why embark on the project ab initio? It is now certainly a shame for the policymakers and the relevant agencies responsible for the execution. It is only hoped that at the end of the new deadline, whatever deadline, if any, is fixed in deference to the Supreme Court order, the submission of the old notes to the apex bank will be monitored by the security and anti-corruption agents in order to curb the activities of money launderers and saboteurs.
I must confess that some of us are totally disappointed with the developments and only pity the country. I agree with the Minister of Finance that Nigerians need to bear some pains in order to make gains.

There are no two ways about it but the authorities need to ensure propriety in the process. No such seriousness is being demonstrated. With where we are at present, the whole exercise is turning out to be a ruse. Just as I was concluding this piece, two suits were filed, the first by the Governments of Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara praying the apex court to allow eternal exchange and usage of the old notes while the second was filed by a group of political parties who had secured injunction in favour of the monetary authority to adhere to the new deadline.
In between also, the progressive Governors, desperate for cash, also visited the President for extension, securing a 7-day return date from the President.

All these further corroborate my assertion that most of these ‘leaders’ are nothing but jesters. Just learnt of the endorsement by the Apex Court of the extension, this further validates my position that there is no extent that politicians won’t go on this. Notwithstanding the ruling however, I am sure that pragmatic Nigerians will not take the gamble of holding the old currency. There are several other ongoing developments and calculations that space will not allow me discuss further but hopefully shall deal with in the nearest future. Nigeria, we hail thee!


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