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Banks push out dirty, mutilated notes as new naira scarcity persists

Bank workers and customers have lamented the quality of the old naira notes reintroduced into circulation by the Central Bank of Nigeria amidst the gradual disappearance of the new notes.

Saturday PUNCH gathered that bank tellers, who pay cash to customers, and workers in bulk rooms, who collect large cash deposits from depositors, were apprehensive that the dirty and mutilated notes could spread diseases.

A teller at a new generation bank in the Ibafo area of Ogun State, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told one of our correspondents that handling dirty notes was a source of concern to her and her colleagues, especially those in the bulk room.

She stated, “The fear of contracting diseases is real. Following the re-circulation of the old notes, the N1,000, N500 and N200 that we are being supplied to pay to customers are mostly dirty and mouldy. Some of the bundles smell bad and we have returned to wearing nose masks to safeguard our health.

“Last week, two of our colleagues in the bulk room started coughing and the situation degenerated to the extent that the branch manager asked them to stay away from work so that they could be treated. The affected workers complained of being exposed to mouldy and smelling notes, which they had to sort out.

“What we now do is covering our mouths and noses with face masks. We also keep hand sanitizers in strategic locations. The condition of the old notes makes many people sick and even customers are complaining, but they can’t reject the dirty notes because of the naira scarcity of the past three months.”

A trader in the Abule-Egba area of Lagos, Alhaji Sarafadeen Akanbi, who withdrew N500,000 from over the counter on Thursday, complained bitterly when the cash was handed over to him.

He said, “I urgently need the cash and that’s why I came here. I exploited my relationship with the bank employees, starting from the branch manager, as a highly valuable customer to withdraw N500,000. Though the bank limited other customers to N20,000, I was given the privilege of withdrawing that much.

“However, I was shocked when I was paid in dirty, smelling and mutilated notes. I complained to the manager and he said I could fill the deposit slip and my account would be credited with the amount if I felt dissatisfied as that was what was available. When I decided to sort out the money, I didn’t get up to N150,000 worth of manageable notes and I had to return the rest as the people I want to pay will not accept them from me.”

Many bank customers were still unable to make withdrawals in many branches in parts of Lagos and Ogun states on Friday as some of the lenders claimed that the cash supplied them had been exhausted.

At the Ibafo branches of UBA, Access Bank and First Bank, long queues of customers were seen at Automated Teller Machine galleries, while those who wanted to get into the banking halls besieged the gates.

Those who succeeded in making withdrawals lamented that the old notes were dirty and could spread diseases.

A security guard at the UBA branch informed the restless crowd that only those who wanted to make deposits and sort out failed transactions would be allowed in as the cash for over-the-counter withdrawals had been exhausted.

When one of our correspondents managed to gain access into the banking hall, a senior official of the bank said only N2m was made available for over-the-counter payment and that the amount was exhausted before noon.

The official said, “I am tired of the situation as we face serious pressure from customers, who are desperate to make withdrawals. When we opened in the morning, we were paying each customer N10,000 over the counter and through the ATMs, but when we realised that the money would soon get exhausted, we limited what each customer could get to N5,000.

“However, many customers are not having that as they claim that the CBN has allowed them to withdraw up to N500,000 weekly. While this is true, we can only pay out what we get.”

Asked if new notes were being mixed with the old notes, the banker said, “Where are the new notes? I haven’t seen the new notes in almost a month. They are not being supplied and the few ones paid out before the Supreme Court ordered the CBN to re-circulate the old notes are not coming back into the banking system.”

The branch manager of a Tier-1 bank on Victoria Island, Lagos, told Saturday PUNCH, “Customers can withdraw any amount up to the N500,000 limit set by the CBN for individuals and N5m for corporate bodies from our branch and many other branches on the island. A lot of customers from the Mainland have been coming here to make withdrawals.

“We have not received new notes for over two weeks. I don’t think the new notes are being printed currently. The availability of the old notes is dependent on how much each bank was able to return to the CBN before the deadline, as each bank is being given a percentage of the deposits.

“The payment of mutilated notes to some customers is meant to discourage those of them who insist on making withdrawals of huge amounts as that is against the spirit of the cashless transaction. Such notes can only be paid over the counter as they can’t be loaded in ATMs because they jam the machines and cause all sort of problems.”

Several calls to the CBN spokesman, Isa Abdulmumin, on Friday were unanswered as his phone rang out. Messages sent to him on WhatsApp also received no response.

However, Saturday PUNCH gathered that the apex bank had exhausted the new notes printed and had not been able to take delivery of more new notes and was only peppering over the cracks with the re-circulation of the old notes.

Saturday PUNCH had reported in February that the CBN might contract the printing of the redesigned N1,000, N500 and N200 notes to foreign contractors as acute scarcity resulted in violent protests occasioned by vandalism of bank facilities.

Sources had said the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Plc, which is responsible for the printing of the naira, appeared to lack the capacity to meet the demand for the new notes.

To douse the tension created by the scarcity of the notes, the National Council of State had advised the apex bank to print more naira notes or re-circulate the old notes, which it mopped up from circulation, in order to ease the pressure on hapless Nigerians, who had been suffering from the scarcity of the new notes.

‘Embrace digital channels’

Meanwhile, the CBN has urged Nigerians to embrace alternative payment channels such as eNaira, USSD codes and other Internet banking facilities in line with its cashless policy.

The apex bank said the idea became necessary as the country was gradually marching towards the alternative payments policy regime, which is the trend all over the world.

Abdulmumin made the call during the CBN’s Special Day at the ongoing 34th Enugu International Trade Fair in Enugu on Friday, according to a report by the News Agency of Nigeria.

He added that the country could not afford to be left behind in the global financial ecosystem but rather embrace digital payment channels.

Abdulmumin, who was represented by the Assistant Director, Communication Department, CBN, Mr Imoh Esu, said the apex bank had continued to seek creative ways to ensure that Nigeria took full advantage of opportunities and benefits of digital payment channels.

This, he said, led to the launch of the eNaira in October 2021 aimed at broadening the payment possibilities of Nigerians and fostering digital financial inclusion, with potential for fast-tracking inter-governmental and social transfers.

He stated, “Similarly, the CBN in collaboration with the Nigerian Inter-Bank Settlement System, recently launched the National Domestic Card Scheme – the first in Africa.

“This is expected to not only lower operating costs for banks, but reduce the huge foreign exchange costs associated with operating foreign card schemes.”

 On the recent redesign of some denominations of the naira, Abdulmumin reiterated that the policy, which was approved by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), was in the overall interest of the country and the economy, in addition to aligning with the international best practices.

According to him, overall, the policy has started strengthening macroeconomic fundamentals, moderating inflation and up-scaling the financial inclusion rate.

“It has also led to relative stability in the exchange rate and supported the efforts of the security agencies in combating banditry and ransom-taking in the country,” he added.

Earlier in his welcome address, the President, Enugu Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, Mr Jasper Nduagwuike, lauded the various intervention schemes of the CBN in supporting and encouraging the growth of businesses in various sectors of the economy.

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