The introduction of the cashless policy by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) may have thrown up two categories of gainers and losers in the shape of corporate institutions and individuals who have to transact daily businesses using the policy.
Blueprint checks revealed that the two categories are those exploiting the system on the one hand and those at the receiving end on the other.
These are part of the sundry implications of implementing the apex bank’s policy recently introduced solely to limit liquid cash flow in the system, strengthen the naira as well as boost the economy and contain the inflation rate.
In October 2022, CBN Governor Godwin Emefiele had said a total of N3.2 trillion was in circulation as at September.
Of this figure, he said N2.73 trillion was outside the vaults of the banks, describing the development as unacceptable.
The CBN boss also said this had detrimental effect on the economy and impacted negatively the inflation rate in the country currently put at 21.9%, according to the latest Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS) data.
Emefiele, had on October 26, announced moves to redesign the N200, N500 and N1,000 denominations, saying it was part of the drive for a coherent cashless policy.
But following public outcry, the CBN shortly before the yuletide, reviewed cash withdrawal limits to N500, 000 and N5 million for individuals and corporate accounts respectively.
It also reviewed downward the stipulated percentage cost for withdrawals above the stipulated limits.
Expectedly, there are arguments for and against the policy, with the National Assembly calling for a halt on the ground that it would be detrimental to small businesses and the nation’s economy at large.
However, the CBN pressed on, insisting the policy was for the good of all.
Our investigation revealed that corporate institutions like banks, petroleum products marketers, operators of Point of Sales (POS) both micro and macro types, and corporate and individual real estate operators, are being used by politicians and individuals with huge amount of money to launder money that had hitherto been stacked in water reservoirs, soaker wells, shelves and other big containers at homes and industrial complexes.
For instance, findings across the six area councils in the FCT showed that POS operators are one of the major channels politicians who have considerable amount of the currency that will cease to be legal tender by January 31st, 2023, used to launder their money.
For instance, some POS operators in Gwarimpa, Utako, Lugbe, Airport Road, Kuje, Karimo market, Wuse market in the Central Business District, and Timber Market Dei Dei, confirmed they have had huge patronage by certain persons who hitherto had hardly favoured them with their presence.
A POS operator who runs the services in three centres at CBD, Utako and Gwarimpa, told Blueprint Newspapers: “I have had increased patronage since early November. But my big customers now don’t come to withdraw; they rather come to deposit large sums of money with me. In fact, a lady politician who is based in Kaduna deposited N1m daily for me to use at 2% interest.
“What that means is that rather than go to the bank to withdraw money to service the needs of my customers, I simply use her money and deposit the leftover sum with my bank and subsequently on request I transfer to the accounts she had given to me for that purpose. And I make N20, 000 daily for my troubles.”
Similarly, a lady staff of an operator whose POS centre is macro in nature, disclosed that three big men each daily give their “firm” between N4m to N10m daily to transact business with.
“Of course, people don’t collect all that. So, we usually return the leftover to the two old three new generation banks and I am sure Oga collects certain percentage for the service,” Obe (not real name), who resides in Garki village said.
Another big gainers are marketers of petroleum products. We found that at various filling stations, attendants have POS operators who run the business for them.
Usually, car owners who need to purchase premium motor spirit (PMS) but without using physical cash, patronize operators of POS who are now common sight at filling stations.
So, attendants often in collaboration with station managers, launder money for politicians who have huge cash stacked at home.
Idako, an attendant in one the regularly patronised distilling stations along the Airport Road said: “Just before Christmas, two bigshots brought N50 million for us to distribute to our POS operators. They also offered us mouthwatering interest. Imagine getting N80, 000 for every N1million. Naturally, the station’s POS went bad and ours became very active. So, you can say it has been a good Xmas and likely a prosperous New Year in advance for us.”
Banks, real estate
Also, a staff member of a new generation bank in Utako, who spoke under anonymity, said they handled no fewer than 50 to 100 new accounts daily in almost each of their branches since the CBN announced the new cash withdrawal policy. “What that means is that banks will have more new account holders and this should translate to more money to the bank because of the usual service and other transaction charges.”
In Kuje, first and new generation banks have recently witnessed an upsurge in account opening. Though none within the banks located very close to a filling station opted to confirm or deny the increased activity in that department, a supervisor who also prefers anonymity said: “You can see for yourself, in the last four days we have had crowd of people coming in to open new accounts. Maybe it has something to do with the new cash withdrawal policy or it could be because of agric loans for rural farmers.”
In an interview with Blueprint, Alfred, a real estate agent, equally hinted that the sector is enjoying unexpected patronage after a dull business prior to and soon after the COVID 19 years.
According to him, “politicians and their cohorts used to hide money in soaker wells, water reservoirs and seemingly dilapidated warehouses usually guarded.
“A case in point was the soaker well in Lugbe which was loaded to the brim with cash in cartons. An ignorant wife had called a plumber to evacuate it only for the labourer to discover that she had erroneously pointed to the wrong one.”
“The big men don’t want to be caught off guard. So, a good number of them have chosen to invest in real estate. Since October when CBN came up with new cashless policy, I have made very lucrative real estate deals in Kuje, Lugbe Extension, Pyakasa along Airport Road, the new road linking Kaduna from Bwari and hopefully before New Year a deal in Gwarimpa” , he said.
Whereas the banks openly embraced the policy, politicians tended to have strong reservations for it as it provoked heated debate against the policy on the floor of both chambers of the National Assembly. The lawmakers, especially those from the opposition parties and some from the ruling party, severally alleged it was targeted at the opposition in view of the approaching general elections February 2023.
Politicians condemn policy
Also, many politicians said the policy negates the campaigns of the forthcoming general elections, noting that it takes much sums of money to organize a rally around the wards, local government, states and across the country.
Senator Adamu Aliero said: “The proposed CBN policy does not capture the informal sector and very detrimental to the livelihood of rural dwellers, who are not into e-banking.
“Public outcry against the policy is too much; requiring serious caution as far as implementation is concerned because Nigeria economy is predominantly rural.”
Similarly, Senator Adamu Bulkachuwa warned that the proposed policy, if not suspended, may trigger revolt from rural dwellers, stressing that the electorate and the rural poor would be the worst hit.
Bank staff as losers
A staff of GTB who does not want his name said the withdrawal limit policy could have grave adverse effect on the staff of banks, saying banks would be happy to review downward their already strained manpower.
“The introduction of cashless policy now if fully implemented, could spell doom for many bank workers because very limited number of staff will be needed for across the counter operations. Already, a good number of banks rely on ad hoc staff for their services,” he said, pointing out that the policy means increased number of unemployed persons.
New withdrawal regime
In a letter dated December 6, 2022, and addressed to all Deposit Money Banks, and Other Financial Institutions, Payment Service Bank (PSBs), Primary Mortgage Banks (PMBs), and Microfinance Banks (MFBs), the apex bank had restricted the maximum cash withdrawal over the counter (OTC) by individuals and corporate organisations per week to N100, 000 and N500, 000 respectively, effective January 9, 2023.
The letter signed by CBN Director, Banking Supervision Department, Mr. Haruna Mustafa, stated that withdrawals above these thresholds would attract processing fees of 5 per cent and 10 percent respectively for individuals and corporate entities going forward.
In addition, third-party cheques above N50, 000 shall not be eligible for OTC payment while extant limits of N10 million on clearing cheques still remain.
The new withdrawal regime further pegged the maximum cash withdrawal per week via Automated teller Machine (ATM) at N100, 000 subject to a maximum of N20, 000 cash withdrawal per day.
Also, only denominations of N200 and below shall be loaded into ATMs while the maximum amount that can be withdrawn via Point of Sale (POS) terminal was limited to N20, 000 daily.
The policy drew flaks across board as Nigerians and even corporate bodies heatedly disparaged adduced benefits likely to accrue to the country from operation of the new fiscal regime.
The National Assembly and financial experts among others, called for a tone down of the policy because of its likely harsh repercussion on the Nigeria masses.
But some agreed it would be for the good of the larger society. They argued that although the World Bank report on digital financial services for 2020 indicated 850million mobile accounts were opened across 90 countries.
Of this figure, Africa is leading with 21% of the population using digital finance service, and Nigeria, which is the largest economy in Africa and the most populous in the continent, is trailing behind at a poor rate of 3%.
Based on the above data, banks in the country stand to gain a lot when the policy takes effect as there is a likelihood of a rush to open new accounts to enable people carry out digital transactions in line with the new cash withdrawal limit policy.
‘Boost for digital financial transactions’
Accordingly, a financial expert, Agada Apochi, said rather than hurt the larger population of Nigeria; it would ginger them to open bank accounts in order to step up their digital financial transactions.
In other word, he said the policy would generate more customers for banks, thus making them gainers from the policy.
“The policy does not adversely affect the rural woman that does not do grossly weekly sale of N100, 000. Rather, the policy affects those of us who are insisting that the policy is harsh because we are those likely to carry out N100,000 transactions at a go. The World Bank and Nigeria Bureau of Statistics data on the rate of inflation in Nigeria showed this,” Apochi said.
SAN knocks policy
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Dr Paul Anannaba, while arguing against the policy, said rural dwellers would suffer because the shortage of banking facilities in rural areas across Nigeria.
He lamented that “the planners of the cashless policy did not reckon with the poor access and internet problems in the rural areas,” stressing that the apex banks ought to have given serious consideration to this before setting on the cashless and withdrawal limit policy.
“No, Nigerians are not really against the policy but what they are requesting for is that the CBN should adopt the policy slowly in a manner that it will be more beneficial to the greater majority.
“The policy should be accommodating. Will it cater for those without ATM cards, how about the very aged and uneducated persons in the rural areas who cannot operate accounts because they can’t read? Or even those who reside where there either no banking facilities or very limited number of banks in where they reside?
“I agreed that it would help to reduce liquid cash in the system. But where was the CBN when over N100 trillion got out of the banking system into circulation? Let us leave theoretical argument and face reality. If the intention was really to limit cash flow in the system, we should have been taking that up and finish with it before the naira redesign.
“The cash withdrawal should have been done in phases. Nigerians should have been taken along in the process, the NASS who are representatives of the people have complained that they were not even taken along,” Ananaba said in a recent television interview.