The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

OSUN, Nigeria – Since the death of her late husband, Adeyemi Opeyemi, presumably in her early forties, has sold fruit as the only source of income to provide for her four children. Things were going well for Adeyemi at the local market until the government introduced new currency notes and tried to encourage Nigerians to embrace a cashless society.

In October 2022, Godwin Emefiele, the governor of Nigeria’s central bank, announced that the country would move toward a cashless society, and that newly redesigned notes would also be introduced. Nigerians who still had old notes were told to swap them for new ones at nearby commercial banks since these notes had expired.

“We all have deposited our money and we thought we could receive the new notes but unfortunately we were unable to. It has really put us in destitution,” Adeyemi told me.

But that was not the only hardship that the new policy would bring upon Adeyemi. For weeks, Adeyemi received few new customers, if any at all, because her customers did not have the access to the new notes as banks were not dispensing them into circulation. The only option was to allow her customers to pay through a bank transfer but after several failed transactions the bank disabled this option. This has resulted in unsold inventory and lost income.

When asked what she has lost so far, Adeyemi almost burst into tears. She said she lost about N10,000 ($21.67) to a customer who did a fake transaction to her account four days prior. Sadly, for her, she and her children have been struggling to eat two meals a day since the new policy plunged the nation into confusion.

Nigeria’s central bank explained that the redesign of the notes is vital in a bid to curb currency fraud, control inflation, and the amount of money in circulation, and put an end to ransom demands by bandits who have kidnapped thousands of children and hapless adults which has resulted in millions of dollars paid by ordinary Nigerians.

Commenting on how she has been struggling to feed her family, Adeyemi said that she has not been making enough sales due to the currency shortage. Adeyemi pointed out that angry young people are protesting in the streets, hospital patients are dying and ordinary Nigerians are struggling to make ends meet much like herself.

“Not all of us have husbands, some that even have their husbands are not responsible, the government should help us. They should not let us suffer, we are facing many challenges at banks every day despite the fact that we own our money, this policy is not helping,” Adeyemi bemoaned.

In a bid to lessen the economic impact the poorly thought-out policy has had on ordinary Nigerians, Nigeria’s Supreme Court ruled that older currency notes won’t expire until the end of the year. Meanwhile, ordinary Nigerians, especially market women like Adeyemi are still suffering the aftermath of depositing all of their old notes in banks.

For Salami Aderonke, a garri seller, bringing the old notes back into circulation has not been beneficial, because she is still unable to withdraw cash, and people are not patronizing her, adding that those who do visit her stall still don’t have any money.

“It is not really helping fully because money is not in circulation, the money is not flowing, if they want us to spend the old notes, they should let it be available in banks,” Salami told me as she asked people passing by what was selling.

Salami and other market women like her are not happy because what customers do visit her have made several fake bank transfers. Salami and others are concerned because they said their goods were all purchased on credit, and they would need to pay the wholesalers back regardless of whether they sell anything.

Abigael Aralade, one of the locals that sells vegetables in the market, said that the currency scarcity has affected her business in different ways, saying that despite new orders, notes are not in circulation.

“It affects me in so many ways because I couldn’t take transfers and people are not buying from me, the government should let the money be in circulation,” Abigael told me.

Emmanuel Kilaso, the founder of Securecycle Initiative, an Ogun-based nonprofit with a special focus on environmental solutions, told me that the federal government is working towards making digital payment methods thrive. Until then, Nigerians would still bear the brunt of the policy.

“I think the aim of the government is a digital payment method so that they can track transactions made by people, but business transactions can only continue if the government can look into the high charges required for Internet banking. With this, market women who are paid by digital means will not be asking buyers to put extra charges on the commodities purchased and would help to ensure peace.”

“We believe that a lot of electronic channels have been put in place that will aid people in conducting banking and financial service transactions in Nigeria,” Emmanuel said in a statement after meeting with President Buhari regarding his proposal to introduce new naira notes.

Boluwatife Adedokun is a freelance journalist from Ondo, Southwest Nigeria. She is a final year student at Adekunle Ajasin University Akungba Ondo State, interested in stories on human angles and accountability. She believes that she can correct the anomalies in society through the power of her pen.