Outrage Over Naira Swap: Major Cities Affected

Outrage Over Naira Swap: Major Cities Affected

·       Hoodlums destroy banks, loot properties

·       Two die in Lagos, Ogun

·       Governments call for calm

By Teddy Nwanunobi, Abuja and Owen Akenzua, Asaba

There is palpable outrage across the country, following the Naira redesign policy of the Federal Government and the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, bringing about the worst cash crunch ever. 

This is just as President Buhari on Thursday reintroduced the N200 old note denomination into the system yet, at the time of filing this report, the protest is gradually moving across the federation and has claimed two lives in Lagos and Ogun States,  as hoodlums destroy banks and loot properties.

While the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, has remained calm, the same cannot be said of some major cities, including Port Harcourt in Rivers State, Lagos and Ogun states.

The protest took a dangerous turn in Port Harcourt yesterday as hoodlums destroyed three commercial banks.

The affected institutions are First Bank in Churchill and Keystone Bank along Aggrey Road both in the old Township area of Port Harcourt yesterday afternoon.

The First City Monument Bank at Rumuokoro in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State was destroyed by customers on Thursday.

It was learnt that customers had besieged both First Bank and Keystone Bank in protest, but the protest was hijacked by hoodlums from the waterfronts who stormed the banks.

First Bank at Churchill was the most affected, as the Automated Teller Machines were destroyed and stones were thrown into the premises, destroying several facilities.

Not satisfied with the damage, the hoodlums pulled down the gate of the bank, and forced their way into the banking hall as bank staff ran for their lives.

The hoodlums then looted computer monitors, desktops, water dispensers and other items inside the bank, but their hope of finding cash was unsuccessful.

At the Keystone Bank along Aggrey Road, two ATMs were destroyed.

Following the rampage and destruction, markets, shops, boutiques and business premises hurriedly closed for the day, while residents ran into their houses feeding their eyes from the windows.

In the South West zone, two persons, including a commercial bus driver were yesterday killed at Mowe-Ibafo, and many others injured after violent protests erupted in parts of Lagos and Ogun States.

The protests, which started at Ojota/Mile 12 area of Lagos State as a result of lingering cash crunch escalated to Ikorodu, Iyana-Ipaja, Epe, Ketu, Agege, Idimu and Egbeda areas with hoodlums blocking the roads, creating bonfires and vandalising properties.

The Mile 12 violence was said to have erupted after traders rejected old naira notes from customers in disregard of the ruling by the Supreme Court and in respect of President Buhari who on last Thursday during a nationwide broadcast ordered the return of the old N200 and outrightly banned the N500 and N1000  notes.

Frustrated by the rejection of the old naira notes, protesters blocked the entire expressway and in no time, the situation became riotous as hoodlums started attacking road users, vandalising vehicles and other properties.

“We have money but we cannot spend it. The government and politicians have everything at their disposal while we the poor people are going through hell”, the protesters lamented.

Many people were said to have sustained injuries in the ensuing chaos as they scampered to safety.

At Epe, hoodlums who took advantage of the civil unrest created by unavailability of cash, attacked commercial banks forcing operations to be suspended.

In Ogun State, protesters blocked the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway around Ibafo axis, bringing vehicular movements to a halt.

Chanting anti-Buhari songs, the protesters armed with clubs pelted stones at security operatives lamenting the hardship they had gone through these past weeks.

The attack on the operatives led to a shootout which left two persons killed.

Market women at Sango-Ota also joined the protest, urging the government to take steps to end the untold hardship on citizens.

It took the deployment of reinforcement team comprising anti-riot policemen and soldiers who fired teargas and warning shots to restore calm in all affected areas. 

Reacting to the uprisings, Assistant Inspector General, AIG, in charge of Zone II, Abiodun Alabi, said security has been reinforced across both states, adding that all financial institutions were being surveyed to prevent attacks.

He said it was the fundamental right of the people to protest and express their displeasure over situations that are unfavourable but warned that no form of violence, breakdown of law and order would be tolerated.

Alabi assured that the Zonal Intervention Squad, ZIS, of the command would continue to comb border communities of Lagos and Ogun states to prevent criminals from striking.

Tight military patrol was observed in some major roads in Warri South and Uvwie LGA of Delta State over the tension created by the nationwide scarcity of the Naira.

More than a dozen military trucks and armoured cars, loaded with battle ready soldiers, were seen at the Warri-Sapele Road by Cemetery Road Warri.

The soldiers prevented curious residents from recording their actions.

Some unfortunate residents that were caught recording their patrol had bitter stories to tell. 

Meanwhile, Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, has called for an end to the protests rocking some parts of the state over the lingering naira scarcity.

In a statement by the Commissioner for Information, Gbenga Omotoso, the governor asked residents of the State to shun any form of incitement over the Naira scarcity. 

“Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu believes there is no need for violence as the Supreme Court is looking into this controversial matter and will make its position known on February 22.

“Lagos state has since joined the legal dispute – all in the interest of our people – in the belief that the highest court in the land has the capacity to adjudicate on the matter. 

“The fuel situation is easing following some steps taken by the government. The government praises Lagosians for showing understanding, despite the pains that the Federal Government’s measures have brought. Residents should continue to be law-abiding by shunning any form of incitement by mischief makers,” the Commissioner said.

Since the programme expected to elapse on February 10, so much has happened that it has become a long reign of controversies. The CBN had in conjunction with the yearnings of many stakeholders and intervention of the Federal Government further extended the deadline after it had initially extended it from January 31 by 10 days.    

However, the confusion over the deadline for naira notes swap took a turn for the worse affer the Supreme Court adjourned to February 22, 2023 the suit filed by some governors including those of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, to challenge the naira redesign programme.

The CBN had originally fixed January 31 as the deadline for the old N200, N500 and N1,000 notes to be returned to banks and cease to be legal tender. But the deadline was extended to February 10, as outrage heightened from Nigerians over the scarcity of banknotes.

But before the February 10 deadline could elapse, Kogi, Kaduna and Zamfara states approached the Supreme Court to stop the CBN from going ahead with the deadline.

Recall that  the Supreme Court had last week temporarily suspended the implementation of the February 10 deadline and also fixed February 15, 2023 to determine the suit, with individuals and businesses unsure whether to accept or refuse the old notes.

Following that adjournment, many Nigerians were still confused about what to do with their old notes.

Across the country, some traders in major markets and commercial bus drivers have stopped accepting the old naira denominated in N500 and N1000 notes following the inconsistencies trailing the programme believed to have been designed by the apex bank in line with its mandate.

President Muhammadu Buhari concerned about perceived concern of Nigerians had in a nationwide broadcast told Nigerians that the N200 old note would continue to run alongside the new notes until April 10 when it equally ceases to be legal tender alongside the old N1000 and N500 notes.

The Supreme Court position differed from that of the CBN as  Osita Nwanisobi, director, corporate communications department at the CBN, declined to comment on the matter. “I am not a lawyer; so write what the Judge said,” he said.

Muda Yusuf, chief executive officer of the Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise, said the CBN should obey the Supreme Court order.

“No institution should have absolute autonomy without appropriate checks and balances otherwise we may be inviting anarchy,” said Taiwo Oyedele, head of tax and corporate advisory services at PwC Nigeria.

According to him, the powers of the CBN and the functions of the monetary authorities more broadly derive from legislation; so it is not out of place if their policies are subject to the jurisdiction of the courts, not the least the Supreme Court.

“Even if the intervention by the Supreme Court is considered as an overreach, the rule of law requires that due process should be followed to overturn the ruling,” he said.

However, beyond these diverse positions on the cash swap policy which seems to be taking a political dimension, some state governments had turned their backs on the presidency despite their party affiliations.

Among them are Governors of Kaduna, Jigawa, Lagos, Ogun states, including others who have been less vocal on the issue.

Governor Nasir Ell-Rufai had a state-broadcast in which he urged the state’s citizens to continue to use of the old notes against any directive of the Federal Government.

With the protest across some states, it is believed the states are in variance with the position of the government on the policy even as Mr. Festus Keyamo a member of the ruling party’s Presidential Campaign Council and a Minister of the Federal Republic went on air to announce that the government’s position on the naira was inimical to the party’s interest and that the party’s candidate was coasting to victory notwithstanding the back and forth over the currency’s status.     

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