Some senior management staff of banks have taken advantage of the scarcity of the redesigned new naira notes in major cities of the country to enrich themselves at the expense of needy members of the public, Blueprint ’s investigation has revealed.
Specifically, the bankers sell the new notes to the highest bidders and other desperate citizens.
And as a confirmation of our investigation, the Department of State Services (DSS) has intercepted members of the syndicates selling the new naira notes, just as it implicated some commercial bank officials of being involved in the racket.
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Sunday heeded calls from different sectors and extended the deadline to February 10.
Our investigation showed the scarce new notes were sold surreptitiously to big politicians and other “big shots’ sometimes in the bank premises, and at other times, the vault is taken to their private homes for the deal to exchange hands with relative ease.”
Besides, our findings also revealed that the cronies of these senior bank staffers conduct the business on their behalf at a fee at big supermarkets mostly in Wuse, Airport Road and few other places in the Abuja metropolis.
Similarly, some of these bank staffers equally made use of the services of the Point of Sales (POS) agents to trade the scarce new notes to desperate members of the public for a return.
Also, some royal fathers have unsuspectingly benefitted from the immoral deal as some banks executives had visited them to intimate them with the essence of the change and at the same assisted them with ease to change their notes thereby giving them impression that doing so is not tiresome.
Senior Staff of banks
It was gathered from dependable sources that some senior bank management staff took it upon themselves to personally attend to prominent customers in their cozy offices and homes, as well as other individuals willing and ready to pay their price for the new notes.
A marketer in one of the banks located in Central Business District in Abuja told one of reporters that “a deal is closed if any of the choicest customers is ready to part with N50, 000 for every N1.5m new notes with minimum hassles.”
Another marketer who mostly seeks the patronage of spare parts sellers in Utako and Kugbo, told Blueprint “we are eager to do business with them and parting with N75, 000 for N2 million or N100k for N2.5 million was beans cake for them”.
A fair complexion male marketer with more than 15-year experience in the business of scouting for new depositors in one of the blue chip banks spoke to this newspaper on his experience.
He said: “The new notes are not scarce at all. It is only scarce if the customer does not know what to do or if the customer has ‘groundnut’ money.
“From Tuesday last week when there was pressure, any willing customer could walk in directly to the senior personnel and get things sorted out. The deal was simple. You part with 50k for every N1.5 million. But the peak was over the weekend when people were desperate and their demands were equally desperately met as N1.5million went for N70, 000.”
As ATM fails POS to the rescue
Also in his frustration, a POS operator who also deals in GSM cards said “the new notes are available in most banks but only to a selected few who are willing to play ball with those in charge.”
The operator, who runs his POS business in Kuje, Lugbe and Jabi, disclosed that bank personnel have become willing to trade as much as N3 million for N120,000 while they (POS operators) charge N15,000 for N400.
But another POS operator who charges N2000 for every N20000, said: “On Friday, we were at a bank in Wuse and were barely able to receive N2million but not without a cut. We paid N25, 000 per a million naira. Therefore, in my office in Kuje, we charge N1000 for any amount below N15, 000.
“However, those with huge sums ranging from N100, 000 to N500, 000 depending on the bargaining power of the customer, we charge an amount commensurate with the amount.”
He sympathised with the ordinary citizens at the receiving end of the new Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) policy.
Over the weekend, most Automated Teller Machines (ATM) in Abuja and its environs as well as many other major cities in Nigeria, were crowded with desperate citizens desirous of changing their old notes into new ones because of the initial January 31 deadline.
But the common strand in almost all the banks and ATM outlets is severe scarcity of the precious new notes.
In some cases for instance, further investigation show that banks openly invited their customers to seek alternative means of changing their old notes because of the insufficient amount at their disposal.
Although the CBN keeps insisting there is ample amount of the new notes available for collection, banks debunked the assertion, saying what is made available to them is grossly below their needs.
Customers sleep at ATM points
It was also gathered that some citizens in Calabar, Lagos, Abuja, Lafia, Kaduna, Katsina, Port Harcourt and Owerri among others, “slept at ATM premises in anticipation of likely late night loading of the machines while some were willing to part with any amount to get the new notes.”
For instance, at the popular Douglas Road, Owerri, we learnt POS operators in possession of the new notes traded them at N150 per N10, 000 and N500 per N50000 even as most of the ATMs were either out of service or sparingly dispensed few new notes.
Also Monday in Kuje, an FCT suburb, in one of the banks near popular filling stations, the ATM failed for the umpteenth time to dispense a dime even as crowds gathered anxiously waiting for any sign of life in the machine.
A scene was created when a senior staff of the old generation bank appealed to waiting customers to go into banking hall if they were interested in receiving N100 denomination. Within a minute, the hall was filled to the brim forcing a retraction from the bank.
Super market comes handy
At a popular supermarket along the Airport Road, Lugbe, Blueprint correspondent learnt the new notes were available for purchase as agents of some banks secretly sold them to willing customers.
Joel Amah, who was fortunate to change his old notes said: “Look I don’t mind what it cost to change my old notes to new ones because for two days, I was unable to get them changed in two separate banks. So, paying N5,000 for N120000 is no big deal, after all this is hardly possible in banking halls and the ATMs where the CBN directed banks to stock the new notes to serve the needs of customers.”
Also, there are reports of malfunctioning ATMs in Lagos, Kaduna, and Port Harcourt even as the POS as the ready alternative, swung to life in full force as agents charged desperate citizens eager to change their old notes before the January 31 deadline later extended by 10 days to February 10.
Meanwhile, the DSS intercepted members of the syndicates selling the new naira notes.
In a statement Monday in Abuja, DSS Public Relations Officer (PRO) Dr. Peter Afunanya said: said: “The DSS hereby informs the public that it has intercepted some members of organised syndicates involved in the sale of the new redesigned naira notes.
“In the course of its operations, in this regard in parts of the country, it was also established that some commercial Bank officials are aiding the economic malfeasance.
“Consequently, the Service warns the currency racketeers to desist from this ignoble act. Appropriate regulatory authorities are, in this same vein, urged to step up monitoring and supervisory activities to expeditiously address the emerging trends.”
“It should be noted that the Service has ordered its Commands and Formations to further ensure that all persons and groups engaged in the illegal sale of the notes are identified.
“Therefore, anyone with useful information relating to this is encouraged to pass the same to the relevant authorities,” the statement further added.
Also in separate operations, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) stormed the Zone 4 and Dei Dei axis of the Federal Capital Territory Saturday and Monday, January, during which operatives nabbed members of a syndicate of currency racketeers hoarding and trading with the redesigned Naira notes.
The operation followed intelligence on activities of unscrupulous currency speculators exploiting desperate citizens by offering them the new Naira notes for foreign currencies at below the going rate.
The suspects have made useful statements, including disclosure that they were acting in cohort with some unscrupulous officials of Money Deposit Banks.
“The Commission will extend the operation to all the major commercial centres of the country until all the syndicates involved in the illegal trade are demobilised. Financial system operators are also warned to desist from the sharp practices or risk arrest and prosecution,” it said.
The EFCC zonal commanders also met with officials of various banks in their commands Monday in an effort to ascertain the volume of the new notes issued to the commercial banks and how the banks were dispensing the monies to their customers.
They tasked the financial market operators to ensure compliance with the guidelines set by the CBN, while disclosing that they have dispatched operatives across their commands to monitor the level of compliance by banks and other operators in the financial market
Concerns from Nigerians in Diaspora
And from Nigerians in the Diaspora, there are concerns over what becomes of the old naira notes in their possession.
Colin Udoh, a Nigerian who according to his Twitter profile lives in the US and is a former Super Eagles press officer, asked: “I have some old naira notes with me. So far, I haven’t seen or heard of any plans by central bank for folks in diaspora with old naira notes to exchange theirs. Am I missing something?”
Responding to Mr Udoh, Abike Dabira-Erewa, chairperson of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) asked: “Do Nigerians in diaspora keep or spend Naira notes abroad? Am I missing something?”
In response, Udoh said he always has naira notes for whenever he returns to Nigeria.
“I always carry some naira with me in case I need to pay for stuff. And on arrival, it’s a backup to pay for things like trolley, car rental, assistance, hotels, etc in case ATM fails,” Udoh wrote in response.
Corroborating Udoh, Osariemen, another user whose profile suggests he lives in the US, said it is an unspoken rule to keep naira notes for anyone who plans to return to Nigeria.
“I have Naira note here, trust me, you do not want to arrive Nigeria without it. Those airport people will milk you. It is an unspoken rule, keep Naira notes if you intend travelling back to Nigeria,” she said.
Shola Olushola added that “most Nigerians keep Naira with us so that during a visit home, there will be some cash to spend for one or 2 days before visiting BDC. So, it is not out of place if anyone asks for the central bank’s plan towards those in the Diaspora.”
Similarly, Farooq Kperogi, a professor of journalism at Kennesaw State University in the US, said he takes back naira notes when he travels to Nigeria “so that when we have occasion to visit again we can have naira to spend at the airport for trolleys and to pay for taxis to our hotels or houses. I’m now resigned to the fact that the naira I have with me here is useless.”