Three days after a Supreme Court ruling on Friday upholding the validity of old banknotes until December 2023, the cash scarcity Nigerians have experienced since February is still ongoing. Many people welcomed the Supreme Court judgment because they hoped it would make cash immediately available and stop the queues at bank branches. But TechCabal reporters noticed queues at all major banks across Lagos on Monday morning.
A Zenith Bank staff told TechCabal, “The banks cannot act on the Supreme Court ruling because the Central Bank, an independent body, controls us. The Central Bank has not directed us to align with the Supreme Court’s decision so business will continue as usual.” The situation was the same across all the banks we visited, as commercial banks are not issuing old notes per the decision of the Supreme Court.
Across Lagos, business owners also continue to refuse the old banknotes. Pharmacy owners and some petty traders told TechCabal reporters that they would not collect old notes from their customers as banks would not accept them either. Given the cash scarcity, people have resorted to online banking through USSD and bank apps, even the seemingly unlikely people in the informal sector. Some people told TechCabal they paid bike men for their rides via bank transfer.
However, banks are finding it difficult to scale their technologies to accommodate the new wave of users. Complaints about failed transactions are flooding social media, and customers are trooping to banks to resolve transaction problems. They constituted most of the queues TechCabal met at the banks.
Access Bank customers at Surulere told TechCabal that most people who came to withdraw money went back home as the bank was neither dispensing banknotes from their ATMs nor over the counter. Most of those in the queues were there to complain to customer service or request ATM cards so that they could make transactions via POS agents instead of through online bank channels.
Opeyemi, a woman who said she has used only Access Bank for about a decade, told TechCabal she was there to get an ATM card she lost three years ago. Since she lost her card, she has been using USSD and her bank app. Still, due to her frequent troubles with online channels, she wanted to get an ATM card to transact via POS agents instead.
Despite their increased transaction charges, POS agents are unlikely heroes of the situation. And until banks begin to re-issue the old Naira notes in compliance with the Supreme Court judgment, customers running away from bank problems that take longer days to fix will continue to turn to them for banking services.