With the absolute confusion we are in now, is Nigeria ready to be a cashless society? My last post ‘WHAT A DAY THAT WAS!’ detailed events that made 3rd February, 2023, a very bad day for me. And things have not gotten better. On 6th February I went to my bank again. I was told that no new notes could be drawn. And the crowd at the ATM gallery outside was intimidating. I did not bother.

So I went to Zenith bank to transfer money for a redecoration job. Their premises were fenced off with high iron rod barrier. So, many customers were jostling to get in. I beckoned to one of the security guards within and told him I wanted to make a transfer. He said, ‘Zenith to Zenith transfer only, internet problems’. So I went to the Zenith bank across the bridge. It also had iron rod fencing. The security said, ‘sorry, no internet, transfer is not possible’.

I then decided to shop at nearby Shoprite. The salesgirl tallied the items in my trolley, took my ATM card but the POS issued a ‘declined’ receipt. She used another POS with the same result! Both were Sterling bank receipts.

I said, ‘It means I can’t buy anything.’

Sir, make a phone transfer.’

I tried but ‘’try later’’ was the repeated result. More internet problems! I turned to leave but instinctively looked at my phone. I had five alerts! Three were debits and two were credit reversals. Each indicated twenty three thousand naira.

In answer to my query the girl said, ‘don’t worry, sir. The bank will reverse it.’

“How do you know?’

They usually do, sir.’

‘I want to see the manager.’

His office was in the room nearby.

I went in and said, ‘sir, you people have my twenty three thousand naira. I was debited thrice. Only two were reversed.’

After some argument I accepted his ‘please have patience, sir. They will normally reverse the charge within twenty four hours. If it is not reversed please come back’. So I went home. I decided to give them forty eight hours.

So, forty eight hours later, on the 8th, since I still had no money, I first went to the 4th Avenue Access bank branch. There was a crowd around the ATMs. I stood wondering how to approach the gallery.

Then a young lady said, ‘there’s a senior citizens’ queue’. So I went to join the queue. Of the four ATM points only one was dispensing money. The blue-clad security guard by it had given numbered paper slips to the other people. Five of them would use the ATM in alternate order with two senior citizens. It was a struggle. I leaned on my walking stick as my feet hurt. After about forty minutes I reached the ATM. My Access bank card allowed me ten thousand naira. Holders of other bank cards got five thousand.

So off I went to Zenith on 2nd Avenue to transfer money to the painter. But it was under lock and key. So was the one across the bridge.     

As the debit had not been reversed I went to Shoprite. I tendered my ‘declined’ receipts to the manger, this time a woman. She scanned them and returned them. She told me this was a bank to bank affair. Reversal would take five days. So I left. If need be I would return next week.

Is Nigeria ready to be a cashless society? I don’t think so. Zenith bank and Access bank, two of the largest and best are hobbled by internet problems. Why would other banks be exempt? It means the internet service providers are not coping with such sudden pressure. Without an efficient internet service how could we go cashless? Furthermore, statistics say only about half our population have bank accounts. The others put their money under their pillows, in their boxes or wherever. Furthermore, one of the major religions frowns at earning interest on money. So why put money in banks? And many citizens do not have smart phones for transactions.

But the powers that be have decided that we must go cashless and have set a deadline. They are replacing the three largest denominations of our money with redesigned new notes. The old notes must be returned to the banks by a certain date. But where are the new notes? On 13th February, after wasting time at Access bank all I could get was three thousand naira!

People are angry. Some are starving. Why should it be difficult for people to withdraw their own money from banks? Some people are resorting to violence. ATMs are being vandalized. People are taking out their anger on bank staff. A sorry video is on the social media. A female bank manager has been dragged out of her car and rough handled by some youth. Her brief case and other possessions are being seized from the car. The car tyres are being removed. The youth carrying one tyre is shouting, ‘since you won’t give me my money I will sell this tyre and get some money for food!’ Unfortunately this car thing is happening in Igbo land. Yes, no half measures in Igbo land.

Even if you give us ten years to change currency there will be problems. The level of illiteracy is high. But this exchange should at least have started one year ago. But it appears our rulers suddenly had a brain wave. They had been told some politicians had amassed billions of naira to buy votes during the elections commencing on 25th February. Our leader said he wants the best candidate to be the next president. He did not want the votes bought. He wants the stashed old notes back in the banks. He would release the new money in trickles. That way nobody would have large quantities of the new notes to buy votes. But Governors of his own party are going to court to stop his idea!

What our leaders refuse to acknowledge is that the society is steeped in corruption. Yes, our politicians have stashed the old money to buy votes. They are going to court to stop the money change. But they have a fall-back position. They own the banks! And the bank managers hold back a large chunk of the new notes from the Central Bank for them. And the people groan under hardship – no money for the expensive fuel, none for food or anything. They can’t withdraw their own money!

 So the whole country is in turmoil. This country is very good at making simple things difficult. To change money is now an impossible task for us. Everything that can possibly go wrong has gone wrong.

So the answer to my own question is that we should forget this knee-jerk decision to change money. Or it should be extended for at least a year. Our president should forget his dream of a lasting positive legacy of enthroning an honest president. The presidency is already bought. And Nigeria keeps stumbling on.

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