BY CHIDIEBERE NWANKWO
Normalcy is set to return in the banking sector with the directive by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) that banks should resume dispensing the newly designed bank notes over the counter (OTC). In a statement made through the apex banks twitter page on Thursday, CBN said it is committed to ensuring that the new Naira notes reach the hands of Nigerians as soon as possible.
“In collaboration with EFCC and ICPC, CBN has been carrying out Banks’ Branch Spot-Checks on ATMs,” the tweet read.
The CBN, which guaranteed the availability of the bank notes, had earlier instructed banks not to pay customers across the counter, rather that cash dispensing must only be through the Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), while other transactions will be via other channels such as internet banking, USSD and other means of fund transfer. This has created a cash crunch among Nigerians, with the cost of food and other products skyrocketing.
However, the past weeks had seen a surge in customers agitation to withdraw cash across the counters of banks as the ATMs were not dispensing as expected, with banks insisting that the CBN had not allocated them enough of the new bank notes. Most of the banks were dispensing the old bank notes through the ATMs despite the deadline given by the CBN, until the apex bank set its feet down on punishing banks that still dispense old bank notes, thereby frustrating its effort to mop up the old notes from the system.
In a separate statement, the CBN Director Corporate Communication, Osita Nwanisobi, said on Thursday, that deposit money banks (DMBs) must commence the payment of the redesigned Naira notes over the counter, subject to a maximum daily payout limit of N20,000.
He said: “In line with this resolve, the Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, has directed deposit money banks (DMBs) to commence the payment of the redesigned Naira notes over the counter, subject to a maximum daily payout limit of N20,000.
“We also admonish members of the public to embrace and adopt other payment channels for their transactions. The Naira is our legal tender and symbol of national pride. Therefore, let us respect it and handle it with care.”
Nwanisobi further disclosed that the apex bank will collaborate with the Nigeria Police, Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) to prosecute abuses and sellers of the naira, a situation that has irked bank customers, who wondered where the sellers get their cash when banks have refused to dispense through the ATMs.
Speaking on this illegality, Nwanisobi said: “The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has observed, with grave concern, the activities of persons who sell the newly redesigned banknotes and those who flagrantly abuse the legal tender by hurling wads of Naira notes in the air and stamping on the currency at social functions.
“We wish to state unequivocally that, contrary to the practice of these unpatriotic persons, it is unlawful to sell the Naira, hurl (spray), or stamp on the currency under any circumstance whatsoever.
“We have equally noticed the queues at Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) across the country and an upward trend in the cases of people stocking and aggregating the newly introduced banknotes they serially obtain from ATMs for reasons best known to them. Also worrisome are the reported cases of unregistered persons and non-bank officials swapping banknotes for members of the public, purportedly on behalf of the CBN.”
He further referenced stipulated laws against such practices.
“For the avoidance of doubt, Section 21(3) of the Central Bank of Nigeria Act 2007 (As amended) stipulates that “spraying of, dancing or matching on the Naira or any note issued by the Bank during social occasions or otherwise howsoever shall constitute an abuse and defacing of the Naira or such note and shall be punishable under the law by fines or imprisonment or both.”
“Similarly, Section 21(4) states that “It shall also be an offence punishable under Sub-section (1) of this section for any person to hawk, sell or otherwise trade in the Naira notes, coins or any other note issued by the Bank.”
“We, therefore, warn Nigerians, particularly those at social functions such as birthdays, weddings and funerals, to desist from disrespecting the Naira or risk being arrested by law enforcement agencies.
“While reiterating our commitment to Nigerians to ensure the effective distribution of the newly introduced Naira banknotes, we urge them to exercise patience as the CBN is working assiduously to address the challenge of queues at ATMs,” Nwanisobi assured.
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