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Mele Kolo Kyari OFR. Group Chief executive officer of the Nigerian National Petroleum company limited (NNPC)

•There will not be fuel price hike during Yuletide period, says govt

•NMDPRA assures motorists current stock can last for 34 days

•Govt can’t continue subsidy amid diversion – NNPC source

For the first time in weeks since the scarcity of Premium Motor Spirit, popularly called petrol, began, the Federal Government opened up and declared on Wednesday that there was no plan to increase the pump price of petrol, at least during the Yuletide season.

However, the government’s comments came amid a worsening and persistent fuel scarcity, which spread further on Wednesday across the country. Also, the cost of the commodity rose to as high as N285/litre in some filling stations in Abuja.

Oil marketers stated that the black market cost of petrol in Lagos had risen to about N450/litre, while it sold for more than that price in some other states.

But the government disclosed on Wednesday that there was fuel supply stock that could last the country for 34 days.

This came as a senior official of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited confided in The PUNCH that subsidy on the PMS was becoming unbearable for the oil firm, amid product diversion.

As concerns around fuel price and supply heightened, the government declared that it had no plan to increase the price of petrol, describing comments on PMS price and its availability as speculations.

However, the government, through its Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Regulatory Authority, did not state any approved pump price for petrol, neither did it condemn the hike in PMS price by marketers nationwide.

The PUNCH had exclusively reported on Wednesday that the pump price of petrol could hit N400/litre at most filling stations before the end of this year, going by the continued scarcity of the product, according to oil marketers.

This will represent over 100 per cent increase in the pump price over the period.

The National Public Relations Officer, Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria, Chief Ukadike Chinedu, had told our correspondent that most IPMAN members, who owned bulk of the filling stations across the country, were now subjected to purchasing PMS at about N220/litre, which was why many outlets currently dispensed at about N250/litre and above.

He said the cost of the commodity had been rising due its unavailability and other concerns in the sector, stressing that consumers should be ready to pay between N350/litre to N400/litre before the end of this year.

Reacting to the concerns around PMS price and its availability, in an advisory issued in Abuja on Wednesday, the NMDPRA said, “This advisory addresses speculations on the price and availability of Premium Motor Spirit.

“The authority wishes to inform the general public that the Federal Government has no intention of increasing the price of PMS during this period. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited has imported PMS with current stock levels sufficient for 34 days.

“Consequently, marketers and the general public are advised to avoid panic buying, diversion of products, and hoarding. In keeping with the authority’s responsibilities as outlined in the Petroleum Industry Act, the authority assures the public that it would continue to monitor the supply and distribution of all petroleum products nationwide especially during this holiday season.”

Meanwhile, some senior officials at the NNPC had earlier confirmed to our correspondent that subsidy was becoming too burdensome on the national oil company, as this was another reason for the scarcity of PMS.

NNPC is the sole importer of petrol into Nigeria. It has been shouldering this task for several years now, after other marketers of the commodity stopped importing the product due to their inability to access foreign exchange as required.

“Your report on Monday fully captured what is happening in the downstream oil sector, with respect to the supply and availability of PMS,” a senior official at the company, who pleaded not to be named due to lack of authorisation, stated.

The source added, “How can we continue to import 60 million litres of petrol daily and keep subsidising it, while millions of litres are either diverted or cannot be accounted for? The burden is too much, as you rightly captured in that story.”

On Monday, The PUNCH exclusively reported that the lowest price the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited could sell petrol to marketers, assuming there was no subsidy, was N400/litre.

Oil marketers, who made the disclosure, also gave other reasons for the continued scarcity of petrol, which had led to the lingering queues at filling stations nationwide.

They said PMS imports charges were becoming unbearable for the sole importer of the commodity – NNPC, disclosing that the oil firm had been subtly pushing these charges to depot owners.

It was learnt that depot owners, on their part, were also passing the charges to filling stations, which in turn push it to final consumers of the product, a development that has led to the increase in the pump price of the commodity.

It was also gathered that the Federal Government had quietly allowed depot owners to raise the ex-depot price of petrol to about N185/litre, whereas the approved rate used to be N147/litre.

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As the naira scarcity persists, some banks are shutting their branches over rising customer attacks, according to findings by The PUNCH.

This came a day after the Lagos State Police Command issued a warning that some groups were planning to unleash violence in the state due to the naira scarcity.

The PUNCH observed that some of the banks had started to allow non-essential employees to work from home.

Findings show Zenith Bank has shut down some branches in Lagos State over the fear of attacks by angry Nigerians due to the ongoing naira scarcity.

Our correspondents observed that some Zenith Bank branches in Ikeja, Ikorodu and Agege were shut on Tuesday while some closed earlier.

Since the naira redesign policy started, banks have been at the receiving end of the frustration of Nigerians.

Videos of individuals climbing counters, stripping, and expressing their anger in banking halls have circulated on social media.

Nigerians have been going through hardships in getting their hands on the new naira notes as the February 10 deadline approaches.

This has led to attacks on some banks in the state, as states like Edo and Oyo have witnessed protests that degenerated into riots.

Recently, banks have been subjected to violent attacks. In Ibadan, a Wema Bank branch was vandalised when riots broke out over the weekend. This has led to increased security and caution around many banks.

With the heightened tension accompanying the protracted naira scarcity in the country, some commercial banks on Tuesday directed some of their branches to shut down operations until further notice.

Findings by our correspondent revealed that some bank branches in certain parts of Lagos with no cash to pay customers were asked to shut down operations.

The directive, it was gathered, was to forestall possible violent reactions by frustrated customers who had already begun to take laws into their hands in some parts of the country.

A senior official at Sterling Bank, who declined to be named, confirmed to our correspondent that some of the bank’s branches in the Lekki area of Lagos had been closed on Tuesday.

The source said, “They opened but were asked to shut down. All branches without cash were asked to shut down. Non-essential staff have been ordered to resume remote work mode.”

The source further stated that the closure of some of the banks had become necessary due to the untenable attitude of frustrated customers who believe that commercial banks are to blame for the hardship associated with the current naira scarcity.

“Imagine a situation where some customers come to the bank with cane. They say they want to flog the bank staff. Because of certain reports in the media that EFCC have arrested some bank managers for hoarding cash, customers now think banks are the cause of the naira scarcity. This is not true,” the source further stated.

However, an emailed response from Sterling Bank read in part, “Kindly be informed that there is no memo ordering Sterling staff to work from home. All of our branches and offices are open and functioning optimally. While non-essential staff have been given the option to tap into the existing hybrid work policy (for staff members not required on-premises) due to concerns about an imminent strike by petroleum operators, essential staff are present and working on-premises during working hours to ensure the bank’s operations run smoothly.

“There have also been challenges experienced by staff in commuting to and from work due to petrol scarcity and the resultant difficulties in getting fuel. This is coupled with the growing general level of unrest in some parts of the country.

“We are pleased to inform you that all Sterling locations across the nation have the compliments of her essential staff on premises during working hours and are fully operational at this time. The bank is closely monitoring the situation and will take any necessary measures in the interest of the safety of staff, customers and the general public.”

In a similar development, our correspondent gathered that First Bank Nigeria had directed some of its branches not to open until further direction is communicated.

A source, who confirmed the development to our correspondent, said some of the bank’s branches deemed vulnerable to violent demonstrations by customers had been directed to shut down operations, while other branches that did not have the cash to pay customers were also asked to shut down.

A memo titled ‘Temporary Closure of our LASPOTECH branch, Lagos State,’ sent to the bank’s LASPOTECH branch in Lagos read, “Dear Colleagues, Following security advisory, please be informed that LASPOTECH branch in Lagos State is temporarily closed for business today Tuesday, 7 February 2023.”

Banks in Ojodu Berger and Isheri road shut down operations on Tuesday following a cash crunch that continues in the country’s financial sector.

According to the findings by The PUNCH, the Zenith Bank, opposite Ojodu Mall, had the premises closed for operation as bank customers were prevented from entering by the securities of the lending bank.

Similarly at the Guaranty Trust Bank, located at Bashiru Street, Ojodu Berger, our correspondent reported that the bank was shut down and the ATMs did not work.

However, at the Access Bank just opposite Oremeta street, Ojodu Berger, customers were allowed entrance but one of the stranded customers who spoke with The PUNCH said there was no over-the-counter-payment at the banking hall. Also, the branch of the bank at Isheri road had no cash and ATMs did not dispense as of the time of filing this report.

When our correspondent visited Union Bank on the same street, customers were allowed entrance but only a maximum of N3000 was allowed to be withdrawn through the over-the-counter-payment system.

The First Bank opposite the Union Bank was out of operation when The PUNCH visited but customers were seen using the ATMs for transactions.

The United Bank for Africa at Isheri road opposite Olaipupo Oduwole was opened but was not paying the customers. All the ATMs of the lending bank were out of operation.

Stanbic IBTC Bank, Isheri road, Ojodu Berger, was out of operation when The PUNCH visited at 3:30 pm. Meanwhile, the security operatives told our correspondent that the bank was opened for operation earlier.

The PUNCH also observed that days after the CBN directed commercial banks to start paying a maximum of N20,000 new notes to customers over-the-counter, some commercial banks seemed not to have enough cash for this maximum amount.

When The PUNCH visited some banks along, Ikotun, Akowonjo and Egbeda axis of Lagos on Tuesday, it was observed that some of the banks that were still paying the new currency only paid a maximum of N2000.

It was also observed that a Fidelity Bank located on Egbeda road, was paying only N2000 over-the-counter as of the time of filling this report.

Our correspondent also observed that the Automated Teller Machine belonging to the bank was not dispensing any cash.

When our correspondent queried the bank on why they were paying only N2000 OTC, one of the bank staff who doesn’t want her name on prints said, “There is no money to pay, we paid N5000 yesterday (Monday) because we had money. Now the money has finished that is why we are paying this N2000 OTC. If we have more money, we will pay more.” she said.

Meanwhile, it was observed that Standard Chartered bank on Akowonjo road was paying only N2000 OTC.

At Polaris Bank on that same axis, one of the staff said, “We have stopped paying, there is no money anywhere, we paid earlier today but because we don’t have money again we can’t pay. Even OTC payments we have stopped paying.”

However, most banks along the Ikotun axis were not paying at the time of filling this report.

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Crude Oil

Nigeria lost a total of N500bn in revenue in January as a result of low crude oil production in January, according to findings by The PUNCH.

Shipping data obtained from Refinitiv Eikon, a company that tracks export flows, showed that the country’s production has yet to fully recover, as it exported 1.2mb/d as against the 1.6mb/d quota assigned to it by the Organisation for the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

An export of 1.2mb/d brings January’s total export to 37.2 million barrels, as against 49.6 million expected if it had exported 1.6mb/d.

Nigeria’s crude grade, Bonny Light, sold for $89 per barrel in January- +1 above Brent International, which was sold for $88 per barrel.

This means that the country may have raked in N1.5tn from the production of 37. 2 million barrels exported in January as against expected N2tn revenue if it had met OPEC’s production.

The development means the country lost about N500bn over its failure to meet OPEC’s 1.6mb/d quota.

Nigeria was not the only country that fell short of OPEC’s production quota.

The Refinitiv Eikon data showed that Iraqi exports also declined due to fewer exports from its southern fields.

While Saudi Arabia was also thought by some sources in the survey to have trimmed exports, output in the United Arab Emirates increased by about 10,000 bpd.

Among Libya, Iran and Venezuela, the three producers exempt from OPEC cuts, Venezuela’s output was slightly higher and there was a small decline in Iran, which registered a surge in exports in December, according to the survey.

OPEC pumped 28.87 million barrels per day the survey found, down 50,000 bpd from December. In September, OPEC output hit its highest since 2020.

OPEC had in November called for a 2 million bpd cut to the OPEC+ output target, of which about 1.27 million bpd was meant to come from the 10 participating OPEC countries.

The 10 OPEC members that were required to cut production pumped 920,000 bpd below the group’s January target, the survey found. The shortfall in December was 780,000 bpd.

With the drop in output last month, compliance with the agreement rose to 172 per cent of pledged cuts, against 161 per cent in December.

Both Nigeria and Angola were said to lack the capacity to pump at the agreed levels.

The Group Chief Executive Officer of the state-owned oil firm, NNPCL, Mele Kyari, had blamed low production on crude oil theft as a result of pipeline vandalism.

According to him, Nigeria was losing as much as 900, 000 barrels per day to theft.

A report by The PUNCH chronicled how the country’s export had crashed by 83 per cent, within the space of 10 years- from 2012 through 2021.

Nigeria’s oil export suffered setbacks that saw its production crash to around 900, 000 barrels per day last September, according to OPEC data.

In December, Chief Upstream Investment Officer, NNPCL Upstream Investment Management Services, Bala Wunti, said the country’s dwindling oil production was back up to about 1.6mb/d.

“Crude theft affects all architecture that funds the country. When the oil theft reached its peak, everything including gas production was affected,” he said.

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As the lingering scarcity of both old and new naira notes continues to cripple economic activities nationwide and inflict enormous pains on Nigerians, an aide to the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), has revealed that his principal was misled by the Central Bank of Nigeria.

The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Ajuri Ngelale, in an interview monitored on TVC News, described as false the report by the CBN that it had supplied all bank branches in the country with sufficient amounts of the new notes.

Prior to the extension of the deadline for the exchange of old naira notes from January 31 to February 10, the President had defended the CBN governor, Mr Godwin Emefiele, for adopting unorthodox economic models that put people at the heart of the apex bank’s policies. “Because the governor follows a model outside of the economic orthodoxy, he is labelled political, but the orthodoxy has proved wrong time and again,” Buhari said.

Owing to the naira redesign and the renewed cashless policy of the CBN, the non-availability of both the old and newly designed naira notes at all channels, including banking halls, Automated Teller Machine points and Point of Sale terminal operators across the country, has subjected majority of Nigerians to serious hardship, with many finding it difficult to access cash to buy basic things or transport themselves from one place to the other.

In what many have described as unprecedented in the history of the country, Nigerians now pay exorbitant charges to get the naira notes from PoS operators. As of Saturday afternoon, in some parts of Lagos, N5,000 old notes attracted N1,000 commission while N6,000 new notes attracted as much as N2,000 commission.

In the interview however, Ngelale said, “They (Nigerians) feel that the Federal Government of Nigeria is unintentionally or intentionally impoverishing them overnight. That is the perception they have, whether it is right or wrong.

“What we are working to do is to ensure that Mr President is given effective and true information and that the report that was given by the CBN that they have supplied all bank branches in the country with sufficient amounts of the new naira notes is absolutely false and it is evidential at this point.

“Mr President, being the pro-people defender and defender of the masses that he has always been and an upholder of social justice, did the right thing when intelligence reached him that he was getting false intelligence from the CBN, which was to extend the deadline from January 31 to February 10.

“Now, clearly, with the adjustments in the deadline, it was also announced that other agencies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission are also actively involved in the oversight of the distribution of the new naira notes to banking branches across the country as well as rural areas with cash swops with the over 30,000 super agents that are being sent out.

“So, there is an extra level of oversight and monitoring that is being done now and added to the process.”

He said the President would defend the masses no matter whose ox is gored, adding that he wouldn’t be opposed to an extension if it became necessary.

He added, “If he gets any intelligence that during the length of this 10-day window that the wrong things have been done or the right things have not been done and that the new naira notes have not been distributed among the people, Mr President has that option on the table of extending that deadline and that will be left to his discretion. Certainly, it is going to be based on what he sees happening across the country in the course of these seven days.

“We are heartened by the new information we received from the CBN that now over-the-counter collections of the new naira notes will now be made available to banking customers.”

Even though the President on Friday asked for seven days to solve the naira scarcity, many Nigerians are apprehensive about the extent to which the crisis could have degenerated at the end of the seven days.

Bankers endangered – Unions

Meanwhile, as protests and anger continue to spread across the country over the scarce naira notes, coupled with pockets of attacks on banks and their staff members by furious customers, bank workers have expressed concerns over their safety.

The President, National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institution Employees, Anthony Abakpa, in an interview with one of our correspondents on Saturday said bankers were stressed due to the situation, noting that their work had become hectic.

He added, “Honestly, the situation is hectic, it is not a healthy environment at all. Even as a bank staff and an individual, the masses are angry because there is no cash available and their money is in the bank. The situation is worrisome.

“We will continue to engage and ensure that the safety of every individual working in the bank and insurance sector is upheld, and that is our demand.”

Similarly, the Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions called on security agencies to ensure the safety and security of bank workers and property.

The News Agency of Nigeria reported that ASSBIFI President, Mr Olusoji Oluwole, in a statement on Saturday condemned recent attacks on some financial institutions, saying such endanger the lives of bank workers.

Oluwole stated, “We strongly condemn this act which is borne out of the propaganda against banks as the sole cause of the inability of the public to have access to cash across the country. We have seen a few videos of bank branches allegedly hoarding cash in their vaults.

“While we do not hold brief for these isolated cases or condone any verified bad behaviour, we expect the same sources of these videos to also project the many locations that have continued to provide cash to customers or have empty vaults due to the unavailability of cash. Unfortunately, we do not deem it security conscious for us to share videos or pictures of our vaults with the public as professionals.”

He said bank workers had in the past few weeks worked tirelessly, every day for long hours against the prescribed work hours, noting that such sacrifice was to ensure customers were able to deposit their old currency notes and make the new ones available for withdrawals at Automated Teller Machines.

He added, “This exercise has taken its toll on their health, work-life balance, and families while being faced daily with the fear of physical assaults by irate customers. While we assure the public of our commitment to ensure their pain is ameliorated, we appeal for calm and understanding at this time as we call on the security agencies to ensure the safety and security of our lives and bank property.”

NLC forecloses strike

The Nigeria Labour Congress has ruled out the possibility of embarking on strike action to compel the government to find urgent solutions to the dual crisis of naira and petrol scarcity.

It said going on strike when general elections were a couple of days away could present the union as insensitive, heat up the polity and cause problems. It said Nigerians should rather make use of their permanent voter cards to elect the leaders they believe could make their lives better.

Independent of the naira notes scarcity, the prolonged fuel scarcity, which begun last year, has subjected commuters, business owners and individuals to untold misery, with people spending hours in queues, while a litre of petrol sells for about N500 in some places as against the N185 control price.

 But, reacting to the dual impact of the scarcity, the NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, said, “We cannot go on strike on the eve of an election; we also cannot join retrogressive forces. We can use the power of the ballot and our PVCs to bring about a system that will make everybody happy. But if there is a call to go on strike on the eve of elections, I am not sure it is a better option.

“Things will not get better, people should be ready; we cannot change a system through lamentation. Lamentation has not changed any system. What will change the system is for the people to be wise, because this same issue we are talking about, either the fuel or the economy, has been around for the past 30 years.”

He said since the advent of democracy, promises were made but not fulfilled but that it was fruitless to dwell on that.

“Our suggestion is that all of us must work together to hold people in government at all levels accountable and this is important; from the president to the governors, National Assembly members and others,” he stated. “Everybody must be seen to be improving the system, not improving themselves.

“We cannot go on strike on the eve of the election. Have you ever seen that on the eve of elections, the NLC mobilised (people) to go on strike? So, if there is a problem now and the election did not hold, won’t you come back to say the same NLC made the election not to hold. Which is a better option? Is it to use your PVC to elect people who will change the narrative or we continue to lament?”

Civil servants stranded

The National President, Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria, Tommy Etim, has lamented that some workers have been unable to go to work because they do not have cash for transportation.

In an interview with one of our correspondents on Thursday, Etim, who doubles as the Vice-President of the Trade Union Congress, noted that the only condition for the Central Bank of Nigeria’s February 10 deadline to stand was for there to be enough new notes in circulation.

He stated, “The policy is a good one but unfortunately, it is not working as planned. Now, it is not even politicians who are suffering, it is the poor masses. From the socio-economic outlook, the informal sector is bearing the brunt. A lot of workers don’t even have money to go to the office, how will productivity come to place? If there is no productivity, how will the economy grow? A civil servant cannot pay taxi N200 with bank transfer because drivers only believe in the cash they see with their hands.

‘Military operations affected’

Similarly, the Chairman, Senate Committee on the Army, Ali Ndume, has raised the alarm that the naira scarcity, occasioned by the naira redesign and the cashless policy of the CBN, is affecting military operations, especially at the battlefield.

He told journalists in Maiduguri on Saturday, “Naira redesign and the CBN’s cashless policy are gravely affecting the strategic operations of troops at battlefields across the country. Troops find it difficult to survive at the battlefields because they lack access to cash to buy their daily, basic needs in the remote communities across terrains of insecurity in the country.

“Now, a soldier stays for hours in the ATM or POS queues just to access the stipend, when he should be discharging his duties at the battlefield. This situation has dampened the morale of the troops at the battlefield.”

He said terrorists had said they were already in possession of the new notes, which undermines part of the objectives of the policy to block terror financing. He called on the Federal Government and the CBN to make arrangements for troops to access cash easily, given the critical nature of their duties.

Police seek calm

Following the violence and protests that erupted in states like Ondo, Oyo, Delta, Enugu and some other parts of the country, the Nigeria Police Force has urged citizens to eschew violence.

The Force Public Relations Officer, Olumuyiwa Adejobi, said, “We appeal to our people to be patient and eschew violence as the government and all relevant agencies and stakeholders are working on how to resolve this problem.

“We also urge bank customers affected by the naira scarcity to be patient, and those attacking bank facilities should desist from such. It is illegal. Nigerians should be patient and not resort to violence. No one asked people not to protest; they could have held their protests with decorum and maturity without resorting to violence or attacking a police station.”

He said the violence in Ibadan on Friday would have escalated but for the timely intervention of the police.

Patrol in Kwara

The Kwara State Police Commissioner, Paul Odama, has ordered an aggressive patrol of banks across the state to prevent hoodlums from fomenting trouble as a result of the naira scarcity.

The spokesperson for the command, SP Okasanmi Ajayi, said in a statement, “Intelligence available to the command indicates that hoodlums have perfected plans to replicate the lawlessness that was unleashed on some banks in some states.

“The command wishes to assure the good people of Kwara State of its capacity to deal ruthlessly with any law-breaker. Anyone arrested would meet heavy consequences. Criminals are therefore advised to shelve any such dastardly idea. Consequently, the Commissioner of Police, Paul Odama, has ordered aggressive patrol of banks and other financial facilities across the state.”

PoS operators lament

The General Secretary, Association of Mobile Money and Bank Agents in Nigeria, Mr Odion Andrew, has also lamented that many of his members have not started receiving funds from the banks to cushion the New Naira note crisis.

Odion told Sunday PUNCH that the cash swop directed by the CBN suffered setbacks because it had refused to recognise many of its members.

“These agents, Mobile Money Operators and Microfinance Banks, compiled lists and sent them to the CBN. You can imagine over 1.4 million agents; the CBN said it has over 30,000 MMOs on its list and there are just a few of our members there.”

When our correspondent asked why PoS operators were charging higher rates for withdrawals, he said they were responding to the factors of demand and supply, adding that since the PoS operators were not recognised by the CBN, the association could not regulate them.

Makinde’s free buses

To ease the pain of commuting in the state on account of the naira and fuel scarcity, Oyo State Governor, Mr Seyi Makinde, has announced the provision of free transportation on designated routes.

According to a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Taiwo Adisa, the governor announced this in a statewide broadcast aired on the Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State on Friday night.

The governor, who frowned at the resort to violence by protesters earlier on Friday, said people have the right and even responsibility to protest when they have reservations about certain things but that they must be conscious that a peaceful protest could turn violent and lead to the loss of lives and property.

“I urge all law-abiding citizens and residents of the state to go about their lawful activities. All our security agencies are on high alert, and so peaceful residents have no cause to fear. As a palliative measure, I have directed that the Omituntun Mass Transit Buses be deployed to more routes within the state for free.”

Police nab dealers

Meanwhile, the Enugu State police command said it arrested 39-year-old Joseph Chinenye and 29-year-old Onyeka Ezeja for possessing, transacting and selling 180 pieces of counterfeited new N1,000 notes.

The Police PRO in the state, DSP Daniel Ndukwe, in a statement on Friday night, said, “The suspects claimed to have secured the counterfeited naira notes from an unidentified woman in Benin, Edo State. In addition, they confessed to attempting to sell the naira notes to a PoS operator, who rejected them.”

He asked residents of the state to be vigilant, noting that the duo would be arraigned in court upon conclusion of investigation into the case.

Wike fumes

Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, on Saturday urged Nigerians not to vote for any candidate supporting the manner in which the currency redesign policy is being implemented.

Speaking at Opobo during the state chapter of the PDP’s campaign rally, he stated, “The primary target of this policy is to provoke Nigerians to embark on civil disturbance which they will capitalise on to say they cannot conduct election and push for enthronement of an interim government.

“No matter the provocation, I urge everyone to be calm. This election must hold because nothing will stop an Opobo man from becoming governor.” The governorship candidate of the PDP, Siminialayi Fubara, is from Opobo.

He also asked a former Minister of Transportation, Dr Abiye Sekibo, whom he had been at loggerheads with to explain why former President Olusegun Obasanjo sacked him from his cabinet.

Zulum threatens banks

The Governor of Borno State, Prof Babagana Zulum, has warned that any commercial bank that refuses to dispense the new naira notes will have its land revoked by the state government.

He issued the warning on Friday afternoon in Maiduguri, the state capital, after visiting some banks to assess the difficulties residents have while trying to access the new notes.

He stated, “Any bank in Borno State that is not willing to ensure their ATMs are fully dispensing new naira notes to ease the suffering of our people, we will withdraw their land title immediately.

“We will only spare banks with genuine constraints that are verifiable. The new naira note and even the old ones are not available and that is adversely affecting commercial activities in the state and people are suffering.”

Zulum said he was unhappy seeing hundreds of people queuing at a bank, with only one out of 10 ATMs dispensing cash. He lamented that the state government had just released salaries of about N5bn but the banks were not paying customers.

He stated, “We don’t have any problem with the CBN policy or the withdrawal limit, they said individuals can only withdraw N20,000, but why can’t everyone have access to that N20,000? Yesterday, I was in Gubio with a population of over 70,000 people but it was impossible to source N100,000 in the entire local government, either new or old notes.”

The governor had last week directed the state’s ministry of finance to fast-track the establishment of the branches of Borno’s existing microfinance bank across all the 27 LGAs.

Small businesses lament

The National President, Association of Small Business Owners of Nigeria, Dr Femi Egbesola, told one of our correspondents in an interview that the dual impact of the fuel and naira scarcity was killing businesses and making it impossible for some MSMEs owners to meet their loan repayment obligations to banks.

He stated, “Some businesses that are cash-dependent are constrained because there is no cash anywhere, while PoS operators who have it charge up to 20 per cent of the amount you want to withdraw.

“If you go to some areas, you realise that quite a number of shops are closed. Some of them don’t even have cash for transportation to their workplace. People’s livelihoods are also being affected, except the select few who are rich. If nothing is done about it, it could lead to agitations because people are frustrated. Even online banking is sometimes hampered by network problems.

“On fuel scarcity, many businesses can’t operate because electricity is not stable, there are long queues at filling stations and they sell at exorbitant prices. Just this morning, some of the banks called me saying that our members are not meeting their loan repayment obligations. How will they be able to when their business is not running?”

Yusuf laments impact

Similarly, an economist and Chief Executive Officer, Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise, Dr Muda Yusuf, said the naira scarcity could end up pushing many small business owners out of operations because the working capital of many MSMEs and the money of those who should patronise them were already trapped in the banks.

He added, “Many businesses have been paralysed as a result of this. Also, in the ECOWAS sub-region, naira is a dominant currency and the bulk of the trade in the sub-region is informal and they deal in cash. Now, there is no cash to do the trade. The PUNCH reported during the week that many border communities are now trading in CFA franc because the naira is not available.”

He however pointed out that the withdrawal of the old notes and replacement of the new notes should have been gradual. “I hope they will allow more time, because there is nowhere in the world where you print all the currency at the same time. It is gradual. The shock on the system is too much.”

Obi seeks understanding

The presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Mr Peter Obi, has called for calm on account of the hardship caused by the naira and fuel scarcity.

Obi who spoke in Lagos on Saturday said, “The currency redesign is not peculiar to Nigeria. It is an exercise that comes with some inconvenience and pain but it has significant long-term economic and social benefits.

“Even though there are improvements that can be made, I urge Nigerians to bear with the CBN and the Federal Government with the hope that the general populace will harvest the gains that will come with the reforms. We equally implore the CBN and the banks to expedite efforts to make the new currency available.”

Customers demand sanction

Some bank customers in Sango-Ota, Ogun State, have asked the central bank to sanction Deposit Money Banks that are not paying the N20,000 maximum limit to customers over the counter.

The customers, who spoke with NAN in separate interviews on Friday, said the scarcity had almost paralysed their business and economic activities.

One of them, Mr Joseph Ogunyemi, said he wanted to withdraw N20,000 from the counter but he only got N5,000, adding that the apex bank should impose stiffer sanctions on any bank that disregards its directive.

Another customer, Kunle Lawal, also said he visited the bank to withdraw N20,000 but only got N5,000. “It is really unfortunate that we found ourselves in such a situation but I believe the regulator should be able to put them in check,” he said.

Nigerians angry –Expert

A security expert, Nnamdi Anekwe-Chive, has advised the Federal Government to resolve the lingering crisis to avoid escalated negative reactions from the public.

He added, “Nigerians are going through a lot this period; there is fuel scarcity, naira scarcity, power supply problem and rising inflation and people are not happy. It is similar to what happened during the #EndSARS protest and people stormed the street. If actions are not taken to improve on the current situation, more people will move to the street to protest.”

‘Emefiele should resign’

The North-Central Youth Stakeholders Forum has threatened to embark on protest if the naira scarcity exceeds February 5.

The group in a statement by its Chairman, Mohammed Mohammed, faulted the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar, for saying the deadline should not be extended.

It also called for Emefiele’s immediate resignation as the governor of the CBN.

Obas demand solution

Yoruba traditional rulers, under the aegis of the Yoruba Obas Forum, have appealed to the Federal Government to find a lasting solution to naira and petrol scarcity.

According to the News Agency of Nigeria, the forum, which has members across the South-West and some North-Central states, in a communiqué at the end of their executive meeting in Osogbo, Osun State capital, frowned at the hardships brought about by the scarcity.

The communiqué, signed by the forum’s president, the Molokun of Atijere, Oba Samuel Adeoye; and the administrator, the Elerinmo of Erinmo, Oba Michael Ajayi, partly read, “The current situation has forced traders to increase the prices of their products, it has also affected commercial transportation of goods and forced most traders to lock their shops.”

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