After insisting a week ago that the January 31 deadline was irreversible, Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele, announced the extension of the currency exchange deadline yesterday. Nigerians now have until Friday, February 10, to submit all old notes to their respective banks. In the press release sharing the deadline extension, the CBN said it has only collected ₦1.9 trillion ($4.1 billion) in old notes. The bank aims to collect at least ₦900 billion ($1.9 billion) to achieve optimal balance. The CBN governor appealed to Nigerians to deposit their legally acquired old notes at the banks.
Bank traffic declines after the deadline extension
Nigerians seem to have taken the extension of the deadline as a signal to slow down on their old notes submission. While banks worked extra hours and through the weekend to help the currency exchange process, all signs point to the fact that people are willing to wait out the new deadline. According to reports from bank staff, the traffic at banks today is drastically less compared to yesterday—a Sunday—when the bank was full of people trying to deposit their money or swap for the new currency.
An employee at a First Bank branch on the mainland of Lagos told TechCabal, “Today is so dull. Yesterday was crazy for a Sunday, and had the deadline not been extended, today would have been worse.” A Stanbic IBTC employee told TechCabal, “Once the extension was announced, people left the banking hall to resume their business operations using the old notes.”
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Cash crisis hits
The about-turn is not surprising, as there is a growing scarcity of cash—both new and old notes. At many ATM queues across Lagos, there are long queues, even during moments when the machines don’t have cash. There are reports on Twitter that some POS agents are charging exorbitant fees for the withdrawal of new notes. Some are reportedly charging as much as 10% of the amount withdrawn.
All five POS agents on the mainland of Lagos interviewed by TechCabal sat idly in their stalls, turning away customers who came to make withdrawals as they themselves had no cash.
“I know how many customers I have lost this morning because I cannot access the money in my bank. The banks are refusing to give us cash, new or old, and the ATMs that have the new notes are overcrowded. If I see anyone that can give me either of the notes, I will definitely buy them and recover the cost of them by increasing the amount I charge my customers who want to withdraw. I know they won’t mind paying, ” said one POS agent.
They have not been able to withdraw money over the counter as banks have stopped issuing money that way. ATMs, the only way to get cash, are overcrowded and unable to meet the demand.
Speaking about the crowded ATMs, the First Bank employee told TechCabal, “Our ATM is crowded despite the fact that it is not dispensing cash.” People are so desperate that they are giving their ATM cards and pins to security guards at banks so they can help them withdraw as soon as the ATM starts dispensing. It is both risky and unfair.”
Both bank employees confirm that the new notes are scarce. “The ATMs are the only designated channel for withdrawals, but banks are really not getting a lot of new notes allocated to them from the CBN,” said the Stanbic IBTC bank employee. Emphasising the same point, the First Bank employee asserted that “Since this whole thing started, they have not given us more than 20 million.”
The bank employee from Stanbic IBTC bank and another banker from United Bank of Africa (UBA), think the deadline extension was unnecessary. “Nigerians have been compliant and coming in to deposit their old notes, even market women. I think the CBN governor is just responding to the pressure from the top 1% and political agencies because the common man has been compliant,” the female UBA bank employee told TechCabal.