By Abdulbasit Toriola
I am Abdulbasit – an undergraduate student at the University of Lagos. I first heard about the CBN’s plan to redesign Naira from a hostel mate while returning from the mosque one evening. Soon, the news went all over. The boys of Biobaku Hall, my hostel, quickly picked up on it. It became a good subject for late-night arguments in a few rooms (after Messi-Ronaldo debates). I suppose the arguing parties, like me, were wondering how a change in currency design would help augment Naira’s depleting value against the US’ Dollar and other strong currencies. The Central Bank’s motive, however, was different. According to a CBN handbook I read, the redesigned notes were to help check counterfeiting, straighten the economy, reduce the expenditure on cash management, promote financial inclusion, and enhance the CBN’s visibility of money supply. These – are good benefits, anyone would say.
It was not until January 31st that we started bearing the brunt of a new cash policy. Prior to this, immediately after its launch, we had seen from a viral BBC post what the new notes were like. Some of us said the notes were a bleached version of the old. Others said the CBN only dyed the monies, our monies. Our currency had become more of a joke. Apparently, things were unfolding in the background. CBN had given directives that all old banknotes be deposited on or before January 31, while encouraging Nigerians to explore other payment channels. The CBN, literally, put us on a thin, experimental line.
Soon, banks got filled, stacked up like they were market squares. In order to avoid hiccups, they kept their customers queued outside their premises in very long and rowdy queues that almost never moved. They kept their gates shut, too, till noon or afternoon; especially after some branches reported cases of violent protests. It was hard and perplexing. But as young students, we quickly adapted to the virtual alternatives CBN had left us with.
Still, it was hard. Perplexing. But we knew – judging from what we see or hear – that the pain we feel paled in comparison to that felt by those living beyond the walls of a campus. Sometimes, I lay still on my bed imagining what it would be like for market women, for school children, for drivers, for commuters. I remember, again, our hostel coordinator saying this was Buhari’s final ingenious gift to Nigeria and Nigerians. He says the President’s plan, like in 1984, is to checkmate politicians who have stockpiled Nairas ahead of the 2023 General Elections. I nod.
For us, hostel occupants, the deal breaker was an announcement – coming from the VC – ordering everyone to vacate school hostels for the election break. It was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. In the past few weeks, we witnessed the FG shift the deadline to February 8; various NGOs beseeching them for an even longer extension. We also saw the case brought before the Supreme Court. We saw the Court gives an order; we saw them adjourn the court case.
On February 15, the Supreme Court validated their previous order – that the old Naira notes remain acceptable as legal tender. The following day, we woke up to a nationwide broadcast, by the President, stating that only old N200 notes will remain valid till a due date. It was hard. Some of us left the hostel as early as 6:00am to join queues in front of the Nigerian banks. We had to pay commercial drivers in cash or nothing. Many of us stopped attending lectures, and sat/squat in front of bank ATMs instead. Cash was scarcer than ever. Outside campus, POS outlets had their places shut. Those that opened, literally, sold us the new Naira – they were charging exorbitantly. We looked everywhere for a way. And when we finally found one, we packed our bags, hoping silently that home would be good to us.
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