EFCC to raid Lagos, Kaduna, P’Harcourt currency hawkers

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•CBN bars multiple debit card withdrawals, threatens stiffer sanctions

•Emefiele meets Reps, orders banks to accept old notes after deadline

•Central bank stops old notes payout, commotion persists at ATM points

Indications have emerged that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is set to raid new naira note racketeers in key commercial cities including Lagos, Port Harcourt, and Kaduna.

The commission indicated this on Tuesday when it disclosed that it had arrested members of a syndicate of currency racketeers trading in the redesigned naira notes at Zone 4, Wuse and Dei-Dei axis of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.

The Abuja suspects were nabbed during an operation to halt the illicit currency trading carried out by the anti-graft agency between Saturday and Monday.

The EFCC spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren, confirmed the development in a statement on Tuesday.

Findings from EFCC officials showed its operatives had penned down some commercial nerve centres in Lagos, Port Harcourt, and Kaduna, where currency hawkers are having a field day.

The EFCC planned raids came on the heels of similar raids of currency hawkers and racketeers by personnel of the Department of State Services.

The EFCC planned raids came a day after the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefile, said the apex bank would collaborate with law enforcement agencies such as the EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, to track heavy withdrawals.

The PUNCH reports that the CBN had extended the deadline for the validity of the old N200, N500 and N1,000 notes from January 31 to February 10.

The Department of State Services revealed on Monday that its operatives arrested some currency traders who had turned the sale of newly redesigned notes into brisk business.

The secret police also alleged that the perpetrators were working in cahoots with officials of commercial banks.

Meanwhile, the EFCC further noted that its findings revealed that some of the money traders were working with officials of Money Deposit Banks, vowing to extend its operation to all major commercial centres across the country until all the syndicates involved in the illegal trade are demobilized.

The anti-graft agency also urged financial market operators to ensure compliance with the guidelines set by the CBN.

It added, “The suspects have made useful statements, including a disclosure that they were acting in cohort with some unscrupulous officials of Money Deposit Banks.

“The commission will extend the operation to all the major commercial centres of the country until all the syndicates involved in the illegal trade are demobilised. Financial system operators are also warned to desist from the sharp practices or risk arrest and prosecution.

“Zonal commanders of the EFCC also met with officials of various banks in their commands in an effort to ascertain the volume of the new notes issued to the commercial banks and how the banks were dispensing the monies to their customers.”

“The commanders urged the financial market operators to ensure compliance with the guidelines set by the Central Bank of Nigeria while disclosing that they have dispatched operatives across their commands to monitor the level of compliance by banks and other operators in the financial market.”

Heavy withdrawals

The apex bank has asked commercial banks to stop multiple debit card withdrawals as it stepped up efforts to implement a seamless currency change regime.

The CBN governor, Emefiele, in a meeting with commercial banks on Monday also reportedly directed banks not to pay old notes via ATMs or over the counter.

He equally instructed the EFCC and ICPC officials to inspect bank branches over the next two weeks to ensure full compliance with the guidelines.

The reported directive read in part, “At the CBN Bankers Committee meeting today (Monday), the governor instructed Banks as follows: No Bank is authorised to pay out old notes via ATMs or in bank branches over-the-counter

“No payment of new notes over the counter. Banks are only allowed to release new notes via ATMs. Corporates that require cash should only be given the old N100 notes and below. Corporates must not be given new notes.

“EFCC/ICPC officials will accompany CBN examiners to inspect bank branches over the next two weeks to assess full Compliance with CBN guidelines above.

“Officials of branches that fail to comply or that release cash to corporates and politicians will face termination of their contracts and the respective banks will be sanctioned

 “No branch should allow an individual with multiple debit cards to do multiple transactions on ATMs.

“All new notes have tracking numbers to trace them back to state, bank and bank branches. So, notes confiscated at parties and other locations can be traced back to the bank and applicable branch.”

Bank customers in Lagos expressed worries over their inability to get either old naira notes over the counter or at the ATMs.

The two banks visited by The PUNCH in Marina had queues of customers in the banking hall.

According to the customers, the ban on over-the-counter transactions of old notes was meant to compound the problems of Nigerians.

While speaking with our correspondent at the banking hall of the United Bank for Africa located by Leventis, Marina, Adewale Adebayo said the banks were out to punish the masses.

He said, “When you are talking about banning counter transactions of the old notes when the majority of the machines were not working, the decision does not make any sense.

“They say it is going to stop the old notes in circulation, but this is not true. These old notes are still everywhere. The PoS people are still giving the old notes. Banning it without the provision on how to get the new ones is too complicated for those of us who need cash for daily survival.’’

Suleiman Rasaki, a cooperative operator, told The PUNCH at the banking hall of the Sterling bank in Marina, Lagos, that the rationale behind banning transactions of the old notes when the ATMs were not dispensing sufficient cash was ill-conceived.

But Emmanuel Anoro believed the decision was the right one considering the depreciation in the value of the naira.

He added that “The changing of new naira notes is okay. It will help to change the contaminated notes and discourage people who are keeping money inside their houses.”

As of the time of filing the report around 2 pm, only a few machines were working in all the ATMs visited in Marina.

CBN directive

Our correspondent also reported that the banks visited fully complied with the CBN directive as other denominations such as N200 and N100 as well as a few new notes were sighted at the hall.

Speaking with The PUNCH, a Pos operator, who identified herself as Mercy disclosed that her account officer told her that she could only withdraw N10,000 over-the-counter in N100 and N50 denominations.

“I use this money for my business; how can I be handing out N50 naira to customers. We can’t get money at the ATMs. I have had to buy old notes from people who have them. This is so frustrating, I wish the deadline was not extended.

‘’The extension has thrown us into this turmoil. Going forward, I am raising my charges: N200 for N5,000 old notes and N500 for N5,000 new notes.

Another customer, Fatima, stated, “I have been queuing at the ATMs but when it gets to my turn, the ATM won’t dispense cash. I have taken all my cash to restock my shop and now I am in trouble.”

Other customers who attempted to withdraw from the PoS complained about the poor network and bank officials being unavailable to solve their problems.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a trader in Mowe, Ogun state, said, “Right now, my money is stuck; about N5000. I tried to transfer to buy a pack of drinks and the transaction failed. The PoS operator did not get the money and now my money is hanging. My husband tried to go to the bank to complain but the sight of the mammoth crowd dissuaded him.”

Findings by The PUNCH indicated that the recent directive of the CBN to commercial banks to dispense only N100, N50, and N20 instead of higher denominations might have prompted some banks to stop dispensing cash as many Deposit Money Banks failed to issue money to stranded customers.

Our correspondent observed that none of the banks along the Ikotun-Idimu axis was dispensing any currency.

A staff member of Access Bank at Ikotun, who spoke to our correspondent on the condition of anonymity, said that they stopped dispensing cash through the ATM last week.

“The ATMs stopped paying since last week and for over-the-counter payment, we are no longer paying because there is not enough (cash) to pay,” he noted.

An angry customer, Stanley, who was unable to get cash at a Union Bank branch on the same axis, said, “My brother, they are not paying at all, I have been here for the past two hours, and no payment. I have an account with First Bank, I had gone there earlier and they still didn’t pay me. I don’t know what this country is turning into. You have money in this country, you can’t use it.”

Addressing the impatient customers, a bank official stated, “The N100 (note) they asked us to issue over-the-counter is not enough. We just don’t know what to do. We are only hopeful that things will get better.”

Meanwhile, a staff member of the Zenith bank told our correspondent that their ATMs had been dispensing money all day but later ran out of cash.

In the Magboro, Ibafo axis of Ogun State, The PUNCH noticed that a lot of bank customers were not pleased with the lower notes being dispensed over-the –counter.

A displeased customer who gave his name as Joseph Madu said, “I wanted to withdraw N50,000 but imagine them giving me N20 notes. How many bundles will I carry and all my hands will be full?’’

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Another bank customer, Moji Ajibola said, “How do they expect us to carry this money around? I have had to reduce the sum I want to withdraw because there’s no way I can carry that load of money before all these bad boys think I am carrying big money.’’

But a bank worker explained that the bank loaded the lower notes into the ATMs in line with the CBN directive.

Our correspondent who visited the banking halls and ATM stands of Zenith Bank, First Bank and UBA in the Jabi area of the Federal Capital Territory observed a surge of customers hoping to withdraw cash.

A fight broke out between some customers at the First Bank ATM gallery prompting the private guards on duty to shut down the machines.

A Zenith Bank branch barred customers from accessing its premises on the grounds that it was carrying out a system upgrade.

A massive crowd was observed at the UBA ATMs which were dispensing the new notes.

Our correspondent who visited Zenith Bank, Wema Bank, Access Bank and Eco Bank observed that old mutilated lower denominations were given to customers who wanted cash OTC, in violation of the CBN directive.

At Wema Bank, an official bank who did not want his name in print said the Monday directive by the CBN caused the scarcity of cash, adding that it may be reviewed soon.

Commercial bank

The CBN on Tuesday said it uncovered N4m new naira notes mismanaged by a commercial bank in Ogun State.

 The apex bank also accused the commercial banks of sabotaging its efforts in making the new naira notes available.

 The Deputy Director, banking supervision department, CBN Lagos, Kayode Makinde disclosed this to newsmen while leading a team on a monitoring exercise in the state.

 Makinde said this was the third week of the monitoring exercise in the state in an effort to ensure compliance with the directives of the CBN regarding issuance of new notes.

 He said that the CBN should not be blamed for scarcity of new naira notes but the commercial banks.

 He disclosed that the team uncovered how a commercial bank mismanaged the new naira notes given to it, adding that the bank involved and its officials will be sanctioned appropriately.

 The senior CBN official said, “From our experience, CBN should not be blamed but commercial banks for scarcity. We caught some of them, with new notes in their vaults. We compelled them to upload to their machines.

‘’We told them that instead of trying to ration, upload the ones you have and contact your central cash management unit which has direct access to CBN. We came across instances of sabotage on the part of operators; we will take the case up and will be dealt with appropriately.’’

Speaking further, he noted, “We have given directives that they shouldn’t pay out new notes via the counter but other notes. Some of them did that and ran out of cash.

‘’Some of the branches deployed resourceful cash management skills and they never ran out of cash while others experienced cash run out and are still waiting for their source. We came across one of them that couldn’t account for almost N4m new notes and appropriate sanctions will be placed on them.”

Makinde revealed that two teams were dispatched to cover two senatorial districts on each day of the monitoring exercise.

He added that the use of super agents to swap old notes for new notes has been very effective in the state.

 Major banks in Kano appear to have complied with the CBN’s directive that they should stop issuing old notes to customers.

However, the GTB ATMs on France road were deserted on Tuesday following the non-availability of cash.

The situation is however different at Fidelity Bank, as customers struggled to access cash at the terminals.

Other banks, including UBA and Zenith Bank kept customers waiting indefinitely.

A customer at Access Bank, Abdullahi Yaro, complained that he has been waiting at the bank for over six hours without any response from the bank officials.

Efforts to get reactions from the bank workers failed as none of them was willing to talk.

In a related development, a Coalition of Civil Society Groups has threatened to picket any commercial bank that fails to make the new naira notes available to Nigerians.

The group made the threats at a press conference held in Lagos on Tuesday.

The coalition President, Bassey Etuk, accused banks of sabotaging the efforts of the apex bank by diverting the new notes to preferred customers, rather than the masses.

 He further stated that his group would monitor bank activities over the deadline extension period, to ensure compliance with CBN guidelines.

 Etuk noted, “The initial deadline of 31st of January 2023 for deposits of the old currency and exchange for new notes, have been severally attacked and sabotaged by several class of people having illegitimate lump sums at home.’’

Emefiele appears Reps

The CBN governor has finally appeared before the House of Representatives over the crisis caused by the redesign of some naira notes and the naira swap policy.

 Addressing the House’ Ad Hoc Committee on the Central Bank of Nigeria’s Cashless Policy and Extend the Timeframe of the Currency Swap on Tuesday, Emefiele expressed hopes that the naira would get stronger with the implementation of the policy.

 He stated, “Subject to the content of the CBN Act, section 20(3), which says even after the old currency has lost its legal tender status; that we are mandated to collect those monies, I stand with the House of Representatives on this.

‘’What does that mean? It could have lost its legal tender status, in which case we have moved on, but you have your money that you have not been able to send to the bank.

 “We certainly will give you the opportunity to bring them back into the CBN; you will redeem it, either you pay into your bank account or you want to do (an) exchange, you will not lose your money.’’

 The CBN governor disclosed that he sought the consent of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) and also informed the EFCC, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission and the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit “to join us in monitoring the flow of this currency to our people.”

 Highlighting the benefits of the policy, he added, “We are beginning to see some of the benefits. Inflation last month somewhat trended; it was not stagnated, it was not rising, it was somewhat moderating, and we are thinking and expecting that it will moderate. The exchange rate was relatively stable and what we are even hoping with this exercise is that naira can even get stronger.

 “We have seen that, with this, we are able to support the activities of our security agencies. I am happy and I am sure we all know that the incidents of banditry and ransom-taking have somewhat reduced at this time. This is just making the job of our security agencies more effective.

 “So, what we are saying is that what we have done here is for the good of Nigerians. We know in the process that some will be hurt but I will say temporarily – albeit temporarily.’’

 When the committee members asked him to respond to the failures of the policy and its adverse impact on the people and businesses, Emefiele parried the questions, noting that he would provide reports to the committee.

The CBN governor apologised to the committee for failing to answer the two summonses earlier issued to him.

   It was observed that at least two members, Oluwole Oke and Ifeanyi Momah, made efforts to speak but were not allowed by the chairman.

The PUNCH learnt that there were at least three closed-door meetings before and after Emefiele appeared before the committee.

 A member of the committee, who disclosed background details of the meetings to our correspondent, said Emefiele was given a soft landing after apologising to the leadership of the House during the closed-door meetings.

He said, “When Emefiele came in, he was asked to meet with the leadership at the office of the Speaker. The leadership first met at the office before Emefiele, who was in the waiting room, joined them in the inner chamber of the office. He apologised to each of them – the Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Majority Leader…everybody.’’

Earlier in his welcome address, Ado-Doguwa noted that the hearing was to address the “concerns of the Nigerian people through the House of Representatives.”

He also noted that it was not “an investigative committee” but “a fact-finding committee” meant to interface with the CBN, get the facts and report back to the House.

  • Leke Baiyewu, Abiodun Sanusi, Damilola Aina, Deborah Dan-Awoh, Anozie Egole, Lilian Ukagwu, Nathaniel Shaibu, Ted Odogwu, Daud Olatunji and Uthman Salami
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