Following controversies surrounding the acceptance or rejection of old (paper) Naira notes in preference to polymer ones, the nations apex bank, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) last week suspended indefinitely the expiry date of the affected denominations.
The CBN, among other considerations, said the decision was to allow for smooth transition of the old notes to new ones following several reported cases of disputes involving business transactions.
For the past two weeks in most parts of the country, especially Port Harcourt, the deadline for the circulation of old naira denominations covering N5, N10 and N50 has generated so much controversy.
Hence it is common to find people rejecting the notes as legal tender and medium of exchange now the market to commercial transport, the notes have become a kind of taboo. People easy turn you down or even shout at you at the mere sight of the old notes.
The irony of the situation is such that while the deadline for the circulation is yet to come, the public have already started rejecting it – a common Nigerian problem.
In reaction to the development, the country’s apex bank the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) quickly issued a public statement postponing the deadline indefinitely.
Prior to the CBN’s public statement last week, it was gathered that deadline for the notes circulation supposed to have come to force by 31st of March, this year.
A survey conducted by The Weekend Tide within the city over the matter indicate that despite the CBN’s statement, a lot of people are yet to change irrespective to receiving the notes a means of exchange.
Mr. Effiong Dick, a book seller in Mile One Market recounted his ordeal when returning home early this week.
He said the bus he boarded from Abak to Port Harcourt were the first to give him shock when they rejected about N200 worth pieces of N50 notes.
Mr. Dick said, “I used to collect this notes before and I have a lot of them rejected in my hands”.
The book seller blamed public transport operators for the apathy shown to the old naria notes, “this attitude is what made a lot of people to reject the notes” he said, “you can’t have something you can’t spend.
He however informed The Weekend Tide that in Aba, in Abia State, the picture is different. Adding that in the commercial city, where he goes to buy his wares he did not witness such attitude by residents.
Another trader, Emeka Osita also barred his mind why he turns down the old naira notes, “even pure water sellers reject it”, he remarked, “the other day I tried to buy a sachet of water with the old N10 the boy refused until I brought out N500 note”.
Mr. Osita said since he got that experience he had insisted that any customer who wants to buy from him should produce the new polymer notes.
When The Weekend Tide approached a lady who gave her name as Mama Victor over the matter, she lamented that she had collected lots of the old notes but is now regretting why she did so.
Mama Victor sells soft drinks and sachet water along the Mile One axis of the city, she declared, “I give them as change they refuse. For now, I have decided not to collect again”.
With lots of the old currency still left with her she informed The Weekend Tide that she has pleaded with her neighbour who has a bank account to change it for her”.
Contrary to many people’s view that the problem started with commercial bus drivers, Chibuike ONyemaechi a bus conductor denied the allegation.
He showed The Weekend Tide his newly torn shirt Onyemaechi was man handled by a female passenger.
He recalled that the fight had started when he gave the female passenger old N10 notes only to be held by her, in the struggle to free himself from her grip his shirt got torn.
“My brother was no dey reject the money”, he quipped in special English”, even for petrol stations dem dey collect the money from us. We set we dey collect the money from passengers”.
A senior official of the First Bank, Mile I branch who refused to provide her name informed The Weekend Tide that no bank rejects the old notes.
Her words, “ No banker has rejected the old money from any customer so I wonder why people are behaving the way they do. For now, the CBN has not directed us to reject it”.
She however disclosed that because of pressure and the need to attend to other pressing bank matters, most of the banks have closed counter transactions for changing old money. “We used to change the money whether you have an account with us or not but now we have strictly made it for those who have account with the bank”.
For somebody to change the old notes she said one has to pay the old notes into his or her account and withdraw new ones later.
She added, “Once the CBN gives us date to end it, we would respond but for now they have not given us”.
The replacement of the old five, ten and fifty Naira notes by the Central Bank of Nigeria has kindled controversies between individuals in business transactions.
The controversy is worsened by ignorance among traders and transporters on the deadline for the circulation of the old notes. It often had resulted in scuffles between informed citizens and the ignorant ones who hardly know what happens around them.
Introduction of the polymer notes by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is to stem the easy wear and tear of the notes are often used. They first deadline for the circulation of the old notes expired by the end of February, 2010.
But before the deadline expired many ignorant citizens had stopped accepting these notes as legal tender. Those who insisted on the deadline often had a brawl with the ignorant ones.
Speaking with The Weekend Tide, Onwuka Amos, a youth leader in Rivers State and the president of National Coalition of Niger Delta Unemployed Graduates for Non-Violence, said that because some of traders and transporters are not exposed to the banking system, they feel that if they continue to collect the old notes, they will not be able to spend it.
He said one way the problem could be addressed was via the media especially stations like Wazobia FM which has a wide audience to inform them that the old notes are still in circulation.
President Anwuka remarked that many citizens were informed which had reflected in their attitude to public issues.
The youth leader advised the public especially the petty traders and transporters to continue to collect the old notes until the expiration of the CBN deadline.
According to him, the CBN appreciates the problem associated with the old notes little wonder they decided to change them.
Also speaking, Ngozi Wonnah, a first year student of Banking, Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Port Harcourt, noted that she appreciated the reason for the change but wondered the apex bank did not come up with jingles on radio to sensitise the people on the continued use of the old notes side by side with new ones.
Wonnah said that if the CBN had gone to villages to sensitise the people, it would have been different but regretted that lack of sensitisation was the remote cause of the present problem among traders, transporters and other individuals in the state.
She stated that the CBN was blamable for what had happened. Miss Wonnah said that one reason why many shops were not collecting the old notes was because they won’t be able to spend the money.
She pointed out that if other people were ready to collect them, it would make the circulation easier “but not a situation where one collects them and one cannot spend them”.
Miss Wonnah explained that a lot of people were not acquainted with the process of banking as a result shunned the old notes.
Mr. A. Enyi an immigration officer, who barred his mind on the issue said that bus drivers and their conductors were the ones that worsened the spate of rejection of the old notes.
He said that the rejection of the old notes was not proper since the deadline by the Central Bank had not expired.
According to him those who reject the old notes are not law-abiding citizen.
He stated that although he had spent all the old notes he had but pointed out that if he was given old notes in the course of transaction, he would still accept them.
The immigration officer urged the public to still accept the old notes as legal tender until the expiration of the deadline.
He said no deadline bad been set by CBN and wondered why anybody would start rejecting the old notes.
The officer explained that it was too early for anybody to reject the old notes.
A bus conductor, Emmanuel Aka who also with The Weekend Tide said he had stopped collecting the old notes because people were rejecting them.
He described himself as a very busy man not willing to go to the bank because of queues associated with them.
Mr. Aka expressed regrets that a lot of people thought the commercial vehicles were dumping ground for old notes.
He said people who would not accept old notes if they were given, were the ones who dumped old notes with drivers and conductors.
He described as unreasonable a situation where torn, mutilated and disused naira notes were given to conductors for fuel.
The conductor said it was note easy to convince the filling station operators to accept those notes. Adding that it was the same old reason that made them dump the old naira notes.
He further stated that conductors were resisting them because the nature of their business did not allow for wastage of time at the bank.
He said so long as the public regarded commercial vehicles as dumping ground for old notes that would soon be out of circulation, the scuffle between the conductors and passengers would continue.
He recommended that banks should establish temporary exchanged for polymer notes.
The conductor pointed out the scuffles over the notes would become fiercer as the deadline drew closer.