By Ola Emmanuel
The man suddenly found himself trekking on the highway on a long-distance journey to his home town in another state. How he managed to embark on the trip without informing anybody—not even his wife—remains a puzzle to him.
Without money in his pocket, safe for a note whose value couldn’t cover the trip, he started thinking about how to get out of the situation he found himself in.
He would trek some kilometres, then use the note in his pocket to board any available vehicle. He would call his brother to meet with him where the vehicle would drop him off so that the brother could take him to the village.
Suddenly he became aware of his financial status. Why would he make this trip to the village without anything on him? What called for the trip? Why was he going to the village—a trip he didn’t plan, a trip he didn’t know when he left his house, and without informing anybody?
No one knew where he was. Here, on the tip alone and trekking, he was going home to see who and for what purpose. There was nothing with him or on him to give anybody in the village.
Of what use was the trip? But he continued on the journey. On reaching the intersection where the state government-announced road network project was happening, a construction work that the state government announced with fanfare, was already an abandoned project.
The work had been abandoned, and the site was desolate and overgrown with weeds. The beams for the flyover had also been removed.
He continued on the journey, trekking on the highway, and was being moved by a force to embark on a journey he knew he shouldn’t take. After some kilometers, he saw ahead of him some individuals boarding a vehicle, and he hastened his steps to join them.
But he was suddenly confronted by a fellow who was trying to steal something from him. That was the time he became aware that he had his telephone handset on him, and the assailant was trying frantically to get the mobile phone.
Somehow he managed to defend himself, secure the mobile phone, and a series of activities followed at that spot. In the end, he didn’t board any vehicle, didn’t call his brother again, and never continued on the journey to the village.
What could this mean at this time when the non-availability of cash has rendered every city, town, village, and hamlet very mournful? I remembered the direction of the discussion that I and my guest had on my radio programme about the latest CBN’s attitude toward the Supreme Court ruling that the old notes should return as legal tender until December 31, 2023.
The conclusion of our discussion did not show that millions of Nigerians who are suffering due to a shortage of cash will enjoy any respite soon. Without clear-cut instructions from the CBN, can the money-deposit banks on their own obey the apex court’s judgement? The doubt remains.
But the suffering caused by the cashless situation is already at breaking point. Depositors’ funds are trapped in various banks. Youths and elders alike are daily amassing at the entrances of the banks for hours on end, wailing, gnashing their teeth, and shouting themselves hoarse.
More than 10 days after the supreme court ruling, I am convinced that the CBN has no cash, new or old notes, to release to the people.
Clearly, a greater percentage of Nigerians, the 135 million who are adjudged to be multi-dimensionally poor (National Multidimensional Poverty Index Report, November 2022), are on their own and practically abandoned.
These are people that rely on their daily incomes in cash to buy food, buy drugs to take care of their health, take care of their children’s education, and keep their souls and bodies together in their own little way in a country where their well-being is of less concern to the people that rule over them.
They are micro traders who dominate the informal sector and rely solely on daily sales and payment in cash for services rendered through hard labour before they can eat and feed their family members and other dependents.
Through the non-availability of cash to enable them to carry out their enterprises, these people are already dropping dead. It was shocking when the news broke on Saturday morning of a radio presenter in Ibadan who was said to be trekking because the radio station had no cash for its early morning programme.
He never reached the station, several miles away, because it was reported he slumped on the way. It is easy to imagine the condition of this man that led to his finishing the journey of his life by collapsing by the roadside.
Lack of cash and his inability to gain access to what he had in his bank account would have affected the quality of his food intake. Perhaps he was not able to eat the night before, and in the week preceding this unfortunate incident, he had forced himself to adjust the eating pattern of his family to reflect the cashless situation.
The Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) demonetisation policy had destroyed the businesses of several millions of Nigerians. Go to local markets where petty traders hawk their wares and see waste.
Yam sellers, fish sellers, plantain sellers, and others like them have lost their businesses. These over 135 million are people who don’t have bank accounts and are trying to sell to those who don’t have the cash to buy.
For months now, it has been a case of hunger, misery, and untimely death among these multi-dimensionally poor people. This pathetic state is caused by CBN’s inability to understand the state and condition of the people it is churning out policies to affect. Mr CBN Governor, your currency reform policy, like others before them, are too deficient and myopic.
Now, to the market leaders and trade association leaders, this is the time to think outside the box to help your members who are negatively affected by the current CBN cashless activities.
Instead of appearing helpless and disillusioned as leaders of the micro traders, it is time to think outside the box. You need to get more organised and become more effective in your leadership responsibilities.
Unusual situations require an unusual approach. If the policymakers have no place for you in their thinking, you need to reinvent your own approach to mitigate and cushion the negative impacts of policies that affect how you do business.
This is not the time to be rigid in approach and process. If your members rely on cash before they can sell and the buyers have no cash, perhaps you need to consider having a point of sale where buyers can pay for purchases and you have a good understanding with your trader-members to have their money.
The cashless situation we currently experiencing lends credence to the cooperative economy I have been talking and writing about for years. Individualism is failing; you need to become more organised and collaborative to seize opportunities and enjoy good business.
* Editor’s Note: This article was written before the CBN issued a statement on its compliance with the Supreme Court ruling on old naira notes
- Emmanuel is a business planning consultant and the founder of Leacent Incorporated Trustees, a network of entrepreneurs and a group of cooperatives.