Beggars Groan amid Naira Swap

By Michael Nnebife

A beggar at Everyday Supermarket, Okpuno in Awka, name withheld, is among many of his ilk who are groaning under the yoke of the nation’s Naira swap that has turned a nightmare to many Nigerians. He spends long hours from morning to night hoping that those who patronize the popular supermarket will look his way.

But unlike before, many will walk past him without as much as giving him a glance. He understands that this situation is caused by the difficulties experienced by people in having access to physical cash.

He told this reporter that he did not expect people who are looking for cash to give him money, even when some of them may want to. This beggar’s plight is also experienced by many others across Anambra State.

Indeed, these are difficult times for many Nigerians who can be seen waiting for what appears endlessly at the premises of various banks to either get the new notes through the Automated Teller Machines, ATMs, or over the counter inside the banks. Even when some have an opportunity to withdraw cash, they are given not more than Ten thousand Naira which they will invariably quickly spend and return barely a day after.

Those involved in Point of Sale (POS) business are also going through harrowing times. Many of them come very early in the morning in a bid to beat the expected long queue but even at that they find out that many people are ahead of them.

When they eventually get money they give to their customers at astronomical rates. For instance, during last week a thousand Naira was exchanging for three thousand at POS centres, making many people to complain. This has made people to blame the banks for the dire situation, especially accusing them of hoarding the new notes. Some people also blame the country’s apex bank for wrong timing, coming at a time the price of petrol has gone up.

The President of the Bank Customers Association of Nigeria, Dr Uju Ogunbunka, in a media report, opined that the objectives of the cashless policy was understandable, but pointed out the execution and timing were not right.

He argued, ‘from the cashless policy point of view, we should appreciate that, as much as possible, the government is trying to limit the use of cash for transactions.

‘The second thing is that the government wants to drive the use of online banking which is good for our economy. Unfortunately, there have been so many complaints about failed transactions.

‘There is hardly any week without complaints in the banking hall. You will see people shouting with regard to transfer failures. Have we put enough structure to take care of some of these things? The answer is, we are yet to. We are making progress, yes, but we should give enough room and time for some of these things to pay out rather than short-circuit the system,’ he advised.

The hardship induced by the Naira swap is taking its toll on most Nigerians, particularly those that depend on day-to-day cash transactions for daily living.

But it is among the beggars that it is particularly biting hard. Around Awka, the narrative was not different among the beggars, despite the fact that they mainly receive lower denominations of Naira notes that are not affected by the Naira swap.

A visit to the Enugu-Onitsha expressway, Unizik Temporary Site axis, St Mary’s Catholic Church, and St Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral gates in Awka, where the beggars usually converge to eke out a living, revealed that the CBN’s policy also robbed them of the little benevolence they usually receive from their merciful benefactors.

Like ordinary Nigerians, the beggars were visibly unhappy about the situation which they described as pathetic. One of them, Mr Onyemaechi Ani, who is visually impaired, lamented, ‘The change of money touches mercilessly where it pains. Since the whole thing began, I may stay here more than one hour; nobody gives me 10 kobo.

‘Now, we depend on the money we got before the situation; we need help. We’ll like the government to show face in this situation,’ he said.

Another beggar who simply gave his name as Kabiru at Eke Awka Market, described the Naira swap as terrible. He said, ‘Since morning that I came out, nobody looks at me – I go down and up, but nobody looks at me, let alone giving me money unlike before.’

The scenario, no doubt, portrays danger to Nigeria if this group of people seen as the poorest of the poor could feel the negative impact of the policy at this level.

Against this background, many believe that Nigeria’s apex bank should consider the dispositions of ordinary Nigerians, by ensuring that they have free access to their legitimate money under the banks’ custody, otherwise the policy made to save life becomes the reverse.