Nigeria is currently threatened by hunger due to cash shortages, which, according to the World Bank, has made life even more difficult for the ordinary citizens. And many believe that the government is not doing enough to tame these monsters, reports ISIOMA MADIKE
At the Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) points across the country, Nigerians are being forced to make choices they never would have imagined; many are left stranded as the ATMs run dry. Their life savings are trapped in the banks and the cashiers or tellers are nowhere to be found because there are no cash transactions….. Continue Reading
The cash in the vaults also seems to have vanished because the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) allegedly did not supply any. The Supreme Court had raised the hope of Nigerians when it ruled against the CBN’s withdrawal of old naira notes as legal tender. After weeks of this pronouncement, the apex bank finally conformed by directing the commercial banks to immediately start payment across the counter as well as loading their ATMs in order to ease the hardship occasioned by the earlier withdrawal order.
But, those who had hoped for better monetary transactions were disappointed that weeks after that, the situation is even getting worse. Customers, who need cash for their daily transactions and other urwasgent needs, are in a dilemma as there is no cash in any of the commercial banks. With this, the Point of Sales (PoS) operators are taking advantage of the situation to make mind-boggling profits with their cutthroat service charges. However, many are getting frustrated by the day, even as getting money from the PoS operators is becoming a tug of war.
In spite of the exorbitant charges by the ‘new banks’, people these days cut short their sleep to queue at the PoS operators, who, most times open by 6am on weekdays. Even at that, many still go home empty handed as they cannot get cash. It is the same pathetic situation at the ATM points in most parts of the country as old and new naira notes remain unavailable. Bank customers, who need small cash for transport fares, and other urgent needs, particularly hospital bills, are also in a can of dilemma as they remain at the mercy of the PoS operators, who often adjust their service charges at will.
When this reporter visited some of the banks in parts of Lagos, their ATMs were empty and the banks were not paying over the counter. Customers who crowded the empty ATMs were disappointed. One of such customers, who refused his name on print, said: “I have gone to all the banks’ ATMs in my area, yet, I couldn’t get cash. It was in another area where a friend directed me that I was able to get N2,000 from Access Bank, and that was because I wasn’t their customer. Those that bank with them got up to N5,000. Unfortunately, you can’t withdraw more than once. When I returned there on Thursday, they were no longer dispensing cash.” Another customer, Mrs. Toyin Ojei also told this reporter that she decided to withdraw from a PoS operator who was standing around the bank and she was charged N1,500 to withdraw N5,000.
“It is frustrating; I had to do that because I needed the cash to buy some foodstuff at the market as nothing urwas home for my family to eat at the time. Someone blamed me for doing that but how do I tell those petty traders to give me their account numbers? They too need cash like everyone,” she said.
Indeed, the cashless conundrum created by the CBN has brought more problems for the masses and opportunity for a few persons, who have cash to make excess money as their charges keep hitting the roof tops.
Many have become emergency PoS operators as most traditional operators have also run out of cash. A provision shop owner, who identified herself simply as Mama Buchi at Omojuwa Estate, Kosofe- Ketu, confirmed to Saturday Telegraph that it now pays better to operate PoS as there is a constant adjustment on charges for cash withdrawals on a daily basis. “I can’t give each customer more than N3,000 plus my N500 charges. It is not my fault, I had to increase the charges as people come and I ration what I have.
Those who don’t like my charges are free to go elsewhere, but I’m always confident they would come back as banks are not giving out cash; even other PoS operators in my estate don’t equally have cash. “However, those who prefer new notes are charged higher.
I reserve the new notes, especially for those categories of customers; they are my premium customers,” she said. Commuters are not spared as ATMs fail to dispense cash, leaving many now to trek long distances.
“I had no cash to board a bus back home on Tuesday; I had to look for a bus driver who was ready to take cash transfer in order to get home, that was even difficult as many of them do not trust transfers.
“These days, I’m being careful with what I have at hand, as I would not always want to trek or get stranded since there is nowhere to get money,” Jimoh, one of the commuters encountered, said. Another customer, a journalist, had to queue at an ATM in Ogba for over two hours because he did not have cash to continue his journey back from work.
Eventually, he had to wait for his boss so that he could go with him, to avoid being stranded. With this situation, many people have been struggling to survive. This, sadly, has further pauperised many Nigerians, with food becoming an uncommon commodity. Mrs. Oluwatosin Adewale, who lives in Ikosi-Ketu area of Lagos State, is the sole breadwinner fending for a family of eight: six children, her retrenched husband and herself.
So, life has been tough for her and the family in these trying times. In the morning, the children take akamu (pap) without sugar. Nothing in the afternoon! Their next meal is eba at night. The soup is virtually bare, save for iced fish, crayfish and vegetables in it. “It is tasteless.
My children are dying of hunger,” Oluwatosin lamented. At Ogba, also in Lagos State, Mrs. Chigozie Okolo, and her family living at 8, Lagos Street, now eat twice daily: garri in the morning, garri at night. She looks thin, anaemic and exhausted.
It has been a long time since they cooked rice or beans. The case of Chukwu Ogbodo, a car washer at Ishaga, a Lagos suburb, is no different. He now feeds once daily on groundnut and bread. After that, “I won’t eat again unless God intervenes.” For Sunday Oyiso, also of Ishaga, manna has not fallen from heaven yet. However, these stories are not isolated. The hair of the nine-yearold is dry and brown; his stomach is like a balloon. With tired steps, he weaves his way through noisy and garrulous customers.
He lifts a grimy calabash and dips it into the brownish contents of a pot balanced on the earthen tripod of the traditional fireplace. As he gulps down the substance, there is a twinkle of relief in his sunken eyes. Sunday’s family – five children, his father, a retired railway worker, his mother, a caterer of sorts, subsists virtually on the food his mother sells and burukutu, a traditional alcoholic drink brewed from fermented guinea corn and patronised mostly by workers and peasant families. It is the breakfast, lunch and dinner, supplemented by tuwo, made from guinea corn also or maize flour, and an occasional Pete (local corn porridge).
At Mowe in Ogun State, a lot of families are also desperate. Last week, a mother actually forfeited her child for food in that neighbourhood. Indeed, across the nation, hunger is growing, and putting food on the table is a nagging problem for most houses. In the Government Reservation Area (GRA), Ikeja-Lagos, children of lower class parents are going about scavenging the left-overs from privileged residents.
Other places frequented by these human scavengers include hospitals, schools and restaurants. For many in the city, roasted maize and sugarcane have taken the place of regular cooked meals. Those that are luckier take garri (soaked), coco-yam or cooked cassava. Black amala and Ponmo (cattle skin), once frowned upon by most people in the South are becoming popular. So is eba, previously a food hardly patronised by northerners. Undoubtedly, for most families, the daily meal has come down to garri, (soaked) and gulped like that without sugar or salt or prepared as eba.
Nwafor Maduako, a wheel-barrow pusher at the popular Mile 12 Market in Ketu, told Saturday Telegraph he now eats once daily. His meal is akpu (pounded cassava). Akpu is a heavy food and Maduako said when he takes it in the afternoon, it is usually enough to “hold” his stomach for the rest of the day. Like Maduako, Felix Ehiweme, a driver, agonises that “by the time you don buy fuel, pay garage fees, pay school fees and levies, na small moni go remain to take do other things. If you go market, meat dear; no be say food no dey, but e dey dear.” But, they are not the only ones bemoaning their fate under the crushing weight of poverty in the country. In these harsh times, they are lucky to even eat at all. A growing number of people beg for arms.
In the last couple of weeks, a number of women have appeared on major streets to plead for arms. One of such people, a mother of triplets claims her husband absconded, leaving the family in penury. Before her pathetic story, she had not eaten in two days. In Lagos, nursing mothers accost passers-by, for as little as N100 to buy ogi (corn pap).
More shocking are stories of mothers abandoning kids in market places in lieu of paying for items bought. A roadside garri seller at Ojodu-Berger, Mama Sumbo, recalled that sometime in February, a young woman with a child came to buy N200 worth of garri. She left the kid with mama Sumbo, promising to pay after purchasing other items. One hour, two hours, three, four, five-she was nowhere to be seen. Mama Sumbo raised the alarm, “because the pikin dey cry and since ‘im mama say she dey come, I begin fear make people no come say I steal the pikin.” As people gathered, it was not long before the mother was identified, and the child given back to her.
Mama Sumbo said she lost interest in the money owed her. “Everybodi know say tins dey hard nowadays; no cash anywhere. So, e fit be say the woman never eat, and instead to go thief, she do wetin she do that time.” With the worsening situation, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) had to order workers to sit at home if in seven days the Federal Government failed to address the current cash crunch.
Joe Ajaero, president of the labour Union, made the declaration at the end of an emergency meeting of the Central Working Committee of the NLC on March 12. He had noted that Nigerians had suffered enough from the cashless policy of the CBN.
He had said: “The NLC is giving the Federal Government and agencies under it, including the CBN and other banking institutions seven working days to address the cash crunch. If they fail to do so at the expiration of the seven working days, the Congress is directing all workers in the country to stay at home. “This is because it has become very difficult to access even one naira, especially by traders who do not have bank accounts.
We have also discovered that even when banks give out old currencies, they cannot be spent. Even when you take them back to the same banks, they do not accept them. We have been frustrated to a level that we can no longer keep quiet.’’ However, following expiration of the seven days ultimatum to address the cash crisis in the country, the NLC has directed its branches nationwide to begin mobilisation of members to embark on a nationwide strike next week, beginning from Wednesday.
Ajaero had noted that mobilisation would start on Friday while the total shutdown of economic activities across the nation would commence next Wednesday. Ajaero explained that the strike had become necessary given the failure of the government to address the harsh conditions and sufferings Nigerians and workers have been subjected to as a result of its policies. “Last week at the end of our CWC meeting, we gave a one week ultimatum for the Federal Government to address immediately, the issue of cash crunch that was caused by its policy.
As of this morning (Thursday) when the CWC met again to review the situation, we discovered that not much improvement has been made.
“The situation is still almost the same. People are still buying our currency with our currencies.
People can still not assess the currency and the government seems to be very adamant on this. No moves have been made to reduce the suffering of Nigerians. Consequently, the CWC-in-session resolved to go into the process of actualising the one week notice. “From Friday, there will be mobilisation of all state councils through a NEC meeting. All unions have already been directed to mobilise all their organs and their branches.
By Wednesday next week, all CBN offices nationwide will be picketed. “All central banks from the CBN headquarters will be shut till further notice. Workers are directed to stay at home and join in the picketing exercise. We call on Nigerians to understand the circumstances we’re operating in. People will be telling you about the political situation. The political situation is self-inflicted and the economic situation is worse than the political situation because people cannot eat.
“Workers can no longer go to the office and nothing is happening. So we have been pushed to the wall having given one week and we thought they could address the situation which is not addressed. We have decided to take our destiny in our hands. So comrades, the mobilisation commences immediately and when we talk of action from Wednesday, it’s total, until further notice,” Ajaero had said. However, there are reports that the CBN has concluded plans to release mopped-up naira notes as a kind of response to the NLC threat.
But, the acting Director of Corporate Communications at CBN, Dr. Isa Abdulmumin, had said he could not immediately comment on whether the CBN would be releasing the old notes to commercial banks….. Continue Reading