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New Naira policy unfair to 300 local governments without banks – APC chieftain

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The National Vice Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (North-West), Salihu Lukman, has expressed concerns about the new Naira swap policy enforced by the Central Bank of Nigeria, saying there are over 300 out of 774 Local Governments, especially in the North, that have no presence of financial institutions.

This is even as he bemoaned the inability of his party leaders to convince the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to rethink the implementation of the controversial policy.

Lukman, who is also the Zonal Chairman of North-West APC, disclosed this in a statement titled “Cashless Economy and Presidential Cabal”, which was released in Abuja on Thursday.

The Kaduna politician’s concern is coming barely 24 hours after the Supreme Court temporarily halted the move by the Federal Government through the CBN to ban the use of the old naira notes beyond February 10, 2023.

A seven-member panel led by Justice John Okoro had granted an interim injunction against the CBN and Federal Government, allowing the old N200, N500 and N1000 to remain legal tenders beyond the February 10 deadline until the case is fully disposed of.

With the presidential election less than 16 days away, the APC vice chair said what the CBN governor failed to take into consideration was that only about 39 per cent of Nigerians have bank accounts.

According to him, more than 300 out of the 774 Local Governments in the country have no bank branches or cash centres.

The statement read, “With national elections few days away and deliberate cash squeeze enforced by a deliberate policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Nigerians are today faced with the most uncertain of times.

“This assumes that citizens have bank accounts and that bank branches exist in every part of the country. The reality, however, is that only about 39 per cent of Nigerians have bank accounts. More than 300 out of the 774 Local Governments in the country have no bank branches or cash centres. Where they exist, the bank branches and cash centres are mostly located in the headquarters. Specifically, in terms of cash centres, a total number of automated teller machines in the country is less than 20,000.

“These records suggest the need to take extra steps to strengthen the banking system in the country to meet up with the new demands that will be occasioned by the new policy. It will clearly require contingency measures to expand the banking system, such that citizens could exchange the old notes in locations that don’t have bank branches or cash centres such as ATMs. Given that the International Monetary Fund in November 2021 reported that Nigeria’s banks closed 234 branches and 649, ATMs, should have given a strong warning that the principles of ceteris paribus (all conditions remaining the same) would translate to failure for the new policy.

“Unfortunately, all these were overlooked. And for whatever reasons, the CBN and the Federal Government continue to delude themselves that the new policy can succeed with a very weak banking reality. In these circumstances, both the old and the new notes have disappeared across every part of the country. Even people with bank accounts can’t access their money. Somehow, because we are approaching the election period, the gullibility of Nigerians is being exploited.”

Continuing, Lukman noted that speculations were rife that the new policy is going to block vote buying just as he heard strong narratives about internal sabotage within APC on how some powerful forces around the president are opposed to the emergence of APC presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, taking over as the next president.

He said, “There are also strong concerns about how the combination of cash squeeze and fuel scarcity being experienced in every part of the country can lead to unrest and possible postponement of the election. Some have even speculated that all these are aimed at creating a situation that would lead to the enthronement of a so-called government of national unity, whatever that means.

“Nothing best explains what we are experiencing today. How an excellently desirable policy such that would lead to a cashless economy could be designed to fail to beat the imagination of everyone? As a member of APC, I can say with confidence, this wouldn’t have been the objective. It is however worrisome how our party leaders are unable to convince Mr President to have a rethink about the implementation of this policy.”

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