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FG, CBN TO TAKE POSITION ON CURRENCY SWAP AFTER S’COURT DETERMINATION TODAY – PRESIDENCY

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•Emefiele: politicians buying, storing new banknotes for elections 

•Berates fuel stations over alleged extortion of customers 

•Courts diplomatic community on naira redesign, cashless policy  

•Maintains currency  hoarders, abusers will go to jail 

•Governors mopping up new notes, CSOs allege

The presidency yesterday disclosed that neither the federal government nor the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) had taken a pre-emptive position on the legality of the old N200, N500 and N1,000 notes in view of the case pending before the Supreme Court, which comes up for hearing today.

In a statement by its spokesperson, Mallam Garba Shehu, the presidency said the federal government’s position on the currency swap would be made public after the determination of the suit.

The statement said, “Following series of enquiries, we wish to state that it is not true that the federal government or the CBN has taken a pre-emptive action on the legality of currency as a legal tender in view of the pendency of the case before the Supreme Court.

“The position of the government and the CBN will be made known upon the determination of the suit coming up Wednesday.”

The Supreme Court had in a ruling on February 8 suspended the CBN’s February 10 deadline to stop the use of old currency notes. The bank had ordered citizens to swap out old N1, 000, N500, and N200 banknotes for a redesigned currency by the deadline. But the apex court, ruling in an ex parte application by three states – Zamfara, Kogi and Kaduna – stopped the CBN from banning the old notes pending the hearing and determination of the case. It fixed February 15 for hearing.

Governor of CBN, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, yesterday, said the apex bank had noticed that some politicians were buying the new N200, N500 and N1, 000 for political purposes.

That was as a coalition of 472 civil society organisations (CSOs) alleged yesterday at a press conference in Abuja that 10 state governors were mopping up the new naira notes in circulation in order to discredit the policy.

Addressing the diplomatic community in Abuja, the CBN governor craved the support and understanding of the foreign missions and Nigerians, in general, towards the implementation of the cashless policy and in achieving the overall objectives of the naira redesign programme.

“The CBN has also noticed that some politicians are buying the new notes and storing them for political purposes,” he said.

Emefiele said the principal aim of the currency redesign initiative was to make monetary policy decisions more effective, adding that inflation has been trending downwards while the exchange rate has recorded some stability since the implementation of the policy.

He said the apex bank remained committed to ensuring a seamless, inclusive, and equitable implementation of the exercise for the overall benefit and growth of Nigerians, the financial system, and the economy as a whole.

He also said the programme sought to increase financial inclusion in the country by reducing the number of the unbanked population.

Emefiele noted that there had been five reversals in the bank’s attempt to go cashless and promote financial inclusion since 2014, when he was first appointed CBN governor. He explained that the reversals were born out of the need to deepen the country’s payment infrastructure, adding that the payment system in Nigeria is now among the best six in the world.

He said, “So, we believe that we have put in place enough infrastructure that would help us attain or achieve a cashless policy that will be in line with global practices.”

The CBN governor told his audience, “You are all foreign dignitaries representing your countries in Nigeria and you know and you would agree that the level at which people carry cash in Nigeria is unacceptable.

“In your countries, you do not carry cash anyhow. If you carry cash and you are seen, you are questioned and profiled continuously.”

He added, “We want to look at your country and that is why we are saying that Nigeria, being the largest economy in Africa and with the largest population in Africa, really must go cashless. And we are delighted at the CBN that with the support of President Muhammadu Buhari, we would achieve this.

“We know that at these initial stages, Nigerians will go through what we call temporary pains and we call it transient because they would come with those kinds of shocks; indeed, I must describe this shock as unprecedented.

“And that is why I would continue to appeal to everybody – Nigerians and those of you that constitute our diplomatic community – to give us all the needed support for us to achieve this objective. We want our country to look like your country and we will continue to seek your support for us to be like you.”

The central bank governor further stressed that the cashless and currency redesign progamme sought to support efforts of the security agencies in combating banditry and ransom-taking in Nigeria. He pointed out that through the redesign, “The military are making good progress in this important task.”

Specifically, Emefiele said the naira redesign policy was expected to curb inflation in the market, as less cash holding reduces currency outside banks and retards money circulation.

He said the accompanying decline in money supply would slow the pace of inflation, adding, “We have started to see inflation trending downwards following general price stability in almost all genre of market, including for goods and financial products.”

Emefiele also said the effective implementation of the policy could scrap four percentage points off the current level of inflation, which stood at 21.34 per cent, as it steadily slowed inflation rate to about 18 per cent by mid-2023.

He said, “This is quite achievable, as data from our market sources indicate that the prices of grains and key staples, around Suleja and Lambata markets, for instance, have generally been on the downward trend since the beginning of the policy.

“The price for soya beans has dropped from N30,000 to N22,000. Maize from N18,000 to N16,000. The price of a bull fell from N400,000 to N330,000 and ram from N75,000 to N50,000.”

He also said the policy had brought some stability to the exchange rate regime, and explained that prior to the announcement of the policy, the huge cash haul outside the banking system had exerted significant pressures on the exchange rate at all windows, but more so at the parallel market as it engendered asset substitution by speculators, and rent-seekers.

Emefiele said, “While the policy was initially estimated to lead to more speculations due to panic moves, as most people try to understand the policy action, it is expected to reduce speculation in the medium- to long-run.

“Today, the limited circulation of the new naira notes has forced the hands of speculators and we are beginning to witness some stability. The initial pressure is projected to further moderate as the implementation of the policy takes-off and a wider understanding pervades the system.”

Emefiele said the central bank was mindful of the challenges citizens faced and was currently addressing them.

He noted, “There have been reports of occasional failures in e-channel platforms. Our monitoring suggests that whilst there has been an expected surge in electronic transactions, these have not risen to unprecedented levels and the payment system is well equipped to handle even higher transaction volumes.

“Whilst transaction failures are bound to occasionally occur, the public is encouraged to have full confidence in Nigeria’s globally recognised payment system infrastructure.

“Banks have also been instructed to ensure 24/7 service availability and promptly address any customer refunds arising from such service failures.”

The CBN governor further acknowledged the widespread inconveniences due to the policy.

He said, “We have observed pervasive incidences of hoarding and predatory activities of some vendors and unscrupulous Nigerians. The principal causes of the hardship to the citizens following the redesign policy include hoarding.

“We have noticed that some members of the public are hoarding the new notes, thereby restricting their flow through the economy.

“Cash kept at home will not circulate but may fuel a perception of scarcity, which leads to higher demand for the currency, signalling to those who don’t have an urgent or immediate need to store cash.”

Emefiele pointed out that there had been tremendous tension and elevated agitation by leaders who should be calming frayed nerves among the citizens.

However, he said, “We believe that a large proportion of these agitations are staged and sponsored propagandas or an exaggeration of the reality. No doubt that there are pockets of pressures in some areas, the CBN is working hard to shift resources to those areas in order to ease the tension.

“The situation is substantially calming down since the commencement of the Over-the-Counter payments to compliment ATM disbursements and the use of super agents.”

On the panic queues at bank ATMs and banking halls, he said “Whilst some of these withdrawal requests are genuine, some are simply the reprehensible activities of miscreants who do not have the genuine intention of making a withdrawal but are seeking quick-earnings by queuing up just to sell their spaces to make money.”

Emefiele alleged, “We have also noticed that some Nigerians are capitalising on the transition to charge exorbitant fees or demand cash payment on the false pretext that PoS don’t work, especially at petrol stations. These selfish actions for personal monetary gain are creating hardship for Nigerians and may come at the expense of fellow citizens’ lives and livelihood.”

Emefiele reiterated the availability of an appropriate amount of the redesigned N200, N500, and N1,000 denominations and current N100, N50, N20, N10 and N5 denominations to support economic activities. He said the bank was collaborating with the entire financial ecosystem, including DMBs, OFIs, MMOs, Super Agents, MFBs Payment System Providers, and EFCC, ICPC and other law enforcement to ensure that Nigerians had a variety of options for financial transactions either through electronic channels or in exceptional circumstances, cash.

He stated, “We tried as much as possible to make this available in a way that it goes out to all Nigerians. But we found the unscrupulous activities by some people – and I will not be too direct – but, of course, when people who don’t own bank accountants begin to go and stay in queues; they wake up 4 a.m. to go and stay in the queue for the ATM and then, when it gets to their turn, they sell their turn and go back and start queuing again.

“And in a day, they could do that four times and then earn between N8,000 to N10,000…POS agents who are to help us deepen financial inclusion are getting involved in this kind of unscrupulous activities.”

The CBN governor stressed, “We have told EFCC, ICPC working with our CBN monitoring team to arrest any POS agent that charges any fee because we have made it clear that whatever is their fee which is not meant to be more than N200 for any amount you exchange, that we CBN we will pay as part of the cost to lessen the burden of this problem.

“And let me make it clear, we started to arrest them and we will prosecute them; they’ll go to jail for getting involved in illegal activities and making our work difficult.

“We are trying to make things good for our country, we cannot allow even some of our countrymen who want to get involved in illegal and illicit kind of businesses to truncate our efforts in making the country a good place. They will be arrested.

“We have seen videos of people who are also stamping money on people in parties and we have said that it is illegal; it is there in our law that it is illegal to stamp money and those who have been caught – they will go to jail because we need to do things right as a country. They have to go to jail so that can set example that we must be law abiding citizens in our country.

“We should not take advantage of situations to create pain for people who generally want to conduct economic activity in the country.”

Governors Mopping Up New Notes, CSOs Allege

A coalition of 472 civil society organisations (CSOs) alleged that 10 governors were mopping up the new naira notes in circulation in order to discredit the policy. National Convener of the Coalition under the aegis of Council of Civil Society Organisations, Obed Okwukwe, stated this at a world press conference.

Okwukwe alleged that the state chief executives he described as “G-10 Governors,” were determined to undermine all constitutional means of achieving the policy aimed at sanitising the economy. He said the group had uncovered a plot by the 10 governors to make Nigeria ungovernable if the policy was not reversed.

Okwukwe said, “These governors are mopping up the money and stopping it from circulation. The CBN had announced that it deployed N300 billion in cash as the first tranche of cash it disbursed.

“We all can agree that the money was hijacked and did not trickle down to the people and the people who took hold of it from the commercial banks have not brought it out to circulate.

“They are withholding the money using various means, including deploying agents, who use multiple ATM cards to withdraw the money, colluding with their banker agents to continue to trap the moneys in the banks and buying off cash from business places that ordinarily make huge cash transactions, like petrol stations, supermarkets and departmental stores.

“This has made some of these businesses insist on only cash payment as the profit they make from the sales of the naira covers for the loss of business from those who do not have the cash to pay.”

He alleged that the governors who approached the Supreme Court against the currency redesign policy did so without the love of their people.

Part of the text of the speech Okwukwe delivered read, “Since the implementation of the new naira policy, Nigerians and, indeed, the system have started seeing the gains.

“Except for the hitches of the unavailability of cash, particularly for small businesses, which is caused by sabotage from those who do not want the policy so they can continue with their illicit trade, other major indicators show that the impact of the policy on our economy is quite positive.

“Also on security, the impact is being felt, as kidnappers now know that there is no cash to pay for ransom. On our electoral process, it is now obvious to Nigerians that it is only the vote buyers that are complaining.

“This policy is facing a syndicated attack from a group of governors who we have termed the G10 Governors. These governors have vowed that this policy will not see the light of day.”

He added, “They are willing to go the extra mile, including making our country ungovernable and undermining constitutional governance and bring the entire country to a halt, all for their own reasons, which are selfish.

“Money moves in cycles. Banks pay out money and money is paid into banks. That is how cash circulates in an economy. So do we not wonder why banks pay out money and the money is not paid back into the bank?”

Okwukwe further said, “We have uncovered a grand plot, I repeat, we have uncovered a grand plot by 10 governors who have resolved to make Nigeria ungovernable for President Muhammadu Buhari if he refuses to reverse the new naira policy.

“It is amazing to note that the governors behind this plot were the same governors a couple of years ago who took advantage of every opportunity to praise President Muhammadu Buhari to high heavens.

“However, obviously, because the second tenure is coming to an end, these governors now believe that the president is not deserving of their respect.

“That is quite hypocritical. It means all they were showing the president was sycophantic solidarity, hence, we must, therefore, remind them at this point in time that President Muhammadu Buhari is and still remains the President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria until the 29th May, 2023 and not one day before.”

Meanwhile, supporters of the new currency policy, who embarked on a peaceful street protest yesterday in Abuja came under heavy attack by thugs and street urchins.

The Civil Society Organisations Central Coordinating Council, which is the apex organ of all civil society organisations in the country, briefed the press before embarking on their march. They had set out to march to the office of the Attorney General of the Federation before they were attacked.

Their attackers were wielding machetes, sticks, iron rods, charms and other dangerous weapons. The attack left many injured while the whereabouts of some of their leaders remained unknown at press time.

One of the peaceful protesters, who spoke to journalists, Audu Emmanuel, said, “They just came out from nowhere and attacked our peaceful march. They were hitting everyone in sight, snatching phones, bags and everything they could lay their filthy hands on especially from the women.”

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China Reaffirms Commitment To Nigeria, Renovates Ogun School

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The Chinese Consul-General, Lagos, Yan Yuqing, has reiterated the commitment of the People’s Republic of China towards assisting Nigerian government to develop its education sector.

The Chinese Consul-General disclosed this during the commissioning of renovated China-Nigeria Friendship Model Primary School, Igbesa in Ado-Odo/Ota Local Government Area of Ogun State.

Yuqing said China is quite convinced that education is the foundation of national development and a weapon to fight poverty.

He said China is always willing to partner with her host country to make meaningful investment in the critical sector

The projects sponsored by the Chinese Consulate and Ogun-Guangdong Free Trade Zone included a block of classrooms, cafeteria, as well as donation of educational materials to the pupils of the school.

Yuqing said, “Chinese admire that education is the foundation of national development in the long run and strong weapon to fight poverty. All modern countries in the world do not fail to attach importance to education. As the largest developing country in the world, China has made remarkable achievements in all aspects of social development.

“These achievements are inseparable from our unswerving implementation of the strategy of invigorating China through science and education. And we always place education in a strategic position of priority development. We will continue to support Nigeria’s education system in all areas”.

She added, “Eleven years ago, the construction of this school began. Since then, this school has become a bridge of friendship and understanding between Nigeria and China and it has witnessed sincere friendship from China.

“Today, you can see here, the classrooms are more spacious, the campus is more beautiful, and the facilities are more complete. I hope that all the children will study harder in these improved classrooms and strive towards achieving their goals as soon as possible”.

While advising the pupils, the Consul-General said, “Children education is related to the future of a country; now you are the future of Nigeria. Work hard and fight for a better tomorrow for the prosperity of Nigeria.”

The Deputy-General, China-Africa Investment, Kevin Liu, said the China-Nigeria Model School stands for knowledge, cultural exchange, and mutual understanding, saying, “These values promote global peace and cooperation and we are committed to maintaining this standard for generations to come”.

Governor Dapo Abiodun, who was represented by a Commissioner-designate,Mr. Sesan Fagbayi, disclosed that the project would no doubt further foster smooth bilateral relationship with the Chinese government.

Abiodun has however appealed to the residents of Igbesa to continue to cooperate with the Chinese investors for peace and friendly environment in order for their businesses to thrive.

The Oloja-Ekun of Igbesaland, Oba Oluwatoyin Akinde, represented by Otunba Ade Durojaiye, lauded the Chinese Consulate and Ogun-Guangdong Free Trade Zone for the project pleading for more support in developing the town.

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Fresh Strike Looms As NLC’s Ultimatum Expires Today

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AS the ultimatum by the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, to the Federal Government to address the mass suffering and pains occasioned by the removal of subsidy on petrol expires today, the leadership of the Congress will meet next week to decide when to begin an indefinite nationwide strike.

But Vanguard gathered that the Vice President, Senator Kashim Shettima, has been meeting with some members of the government team on how to avert the strike.

It was also gathered that the Minister of Finance, Wale Edun, and the Minister of Labour and Employment, Simon Lalong, alongside the Vice President, are putting together a package, including wage awards, to be presented to the NLC leadership.

It will be recalled that NLC had between Tuesday, September 5 and Wednesday 6 embarked on a two-day nationwide warning strike to protest, among others, perceived government insensitivity to plights and sufferings of Nigerians, especially workers, following the subsidy removal.

Ahead of the warning strike, the National Executive Council, NEC, of NLC had issued within 14 working days or 21 days from September 1, 2023, an ultimatum for the government to address the excruciating mass suffering and the impoverishment experienced around the country, threatening an indefinite strike if government failed to address its demands.

As the 21-day ultimatum expires today, Vanguard learned that critical organs of NLC will be meeting next week to decide on the indefinite strike and modalities if nothing concrete was done to lessen the suffering and hardship of Nigerians.

A source said: “The issue is conventional, when an ultimatum expires, you call your organs and the organs will decide when to commence the strike. If we ever decide to say we would take one day or few days or one week to prepare for it, that would be their position.”

Pressed to be more categorical on whether the strike would commence immediately, one of the sources privy to the NLC meetings simply said “Nothing is impossible.”

‘Meeting to hold on a date for the strike to begin’

Another source told Vanguard that the “last NEC held on September 1, 2023, has actually given the leadership of NLC, especially members of the National Administrative Council, NAC, the go-ahead to meet, fix a date for the commencement of the indefinite strike and communicate to the state councils and industrial union affiliates.

“I can tell you that the leadership will meet next week and fix a date for the strike. However, if NAC members are convinced that the government has addressed our demands to an appreciable level, in such a case, the leadership will still call the organs to brief them of the development.”

‘Govt team working to avert strike’

The source, however, said available information revealed that the government team is working seriously to avert another round of industrial unrest by NLC.

He said further that both the minister of finance, and the vice president, who is standing in for the President who is attending the United Nations General Assembly, UNGA, Summit in New York were considering some figures.

“So they know the seriousness of the planned action and some of them are speaking out boldly that they are not afraid because of the package they have for workers.

“Available information is that the government will soon announce what it has. They are really making efforts and again the President is not in the country.

“What we don’t know is whether what they have will be enough for NLC to consider or not. In the past two to three days, the vice president has been meeting with some of the government team to come up with something. “

The source made it clear that the NLC leadership had said it would not be part of any meeting if there were no tangible packages for workers.

Attempt to get a reaction from the Presidency did not yield any results as the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Chief Ajuri Ngelale, is out of the country.

The presidential spokesman is with the President in New York for the UNGA summit.

Recall that while briefing last Friday, after its NEC’s meeting, NLC President, Joe Ajaero, said: “NEC-in-session of NLC resolved to embark on a total and indefinite shutdown of the nation within 14 working days or 21 days from today until steps are taken by the government to address the excruciating mass suffering and the impoverishment experienced around the country.

“To commence a two-day warning strike on Tuesday and Wednesday, 5th and 6th September 2023 to demonstrate our readiness for the indefinite strike later in the month and to also demand that the state vacates the illegally occupied national headquarters of the National Union of Road Transport Workers. “

The NLC also resolved to embark on a mass protest and rally in Imo State within September, and equally raised the alarm over what it described as a renewed onslaught by the government and its agents on labour unions.

Ajaero explained that the proposed strike was necessitated by the government’s deliberate neglect and disregard to engage the relevant stakeholders through the channel of social dialogue.

He said the Federal Government had refused to engage and reach an agreement with organized labour on critical issues on the consequences of the unfortunate hike in prices of petrol which had unleashed massive suffering on Nigerian workers and masses.

Ajaero said: “There is a renewed onslaught against trade unions and its leadership by the state and its agents across Nigeria.

‘’The Police, under the instruction of certain forces peddling the name of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, invaded and occupied illegally the national headquarters of the National Union of Road Transport Workers headquarters seeking to install its own executive.”

Vanguard

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Kogi Declares Free Education In Primary, Secondary Schools; Commences Distribution Of Palliative

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The Kogi government on Thursday declared free education for indigenes at primary and secondary school levels.

Governor Yahaya Bello made the declaration in Lokoja when he inaugurated the distribution of the federal government’s palliatives to cushion the effects of subsidy removal.

“My administration has now declared free education from primary to secondary school in the state and will cover examination fees for WAEC, NECO, and JAMB for all indigenes of Kogi,” he declared.

Mr Bello, who commended the federal government’s efforts to mitigate the impact of fuel subsidy removal on citizens, said the palliatives, which were valued well in excess of N2 billion,  would reach intended beneficiaries regardless of political, religious, or ethnic affiliations.

He extended his gratitude to President Bola Tinubu for the idea.

“Already, all the local government areas of the state have commenced the distribution of rice and other essential items.

“Therefore, this launch is essentially an extension of our ongoing efforts to cushion the impact of the current policy on our citizens.

“We are not only distributing rice but also making cash available to reach the people. The total value of what we are launching for distribution today exceeds N2 billion, and it is intended to reach every household in Kogi,” he stated.

He emphasised that those responsible for the distribution must not discriminate, warning that any report of bias or favoritism, or hoarding would be dealt with accordingly.

The governor, who called on security agencies to ensure a peaceful and smooth distribution process, assured the people that more initiatives to alleviate hardship were in place.

He commended the state’s people for their support for Mr Tinubu’s administration and the New Direction administration in Kogi, which had prioritised the welfare of residents.

While mentioning the various infrastructure developments that had taken place across the state, Mr Bello expressed confidence that the governorship candidate of the APC, Usman Ododo, when elected as his successor, would continue to build on the current achievements. 

(NAN)

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