Twenty-four hours after the Central Bank of Nigeria directed deposit money banks to start giving the redesigned naira notes to customers, partygoers, high net worth customers and currency traffickers are mopping up the new notes from the banks even as the notes are being rationed to the majority of customers.
Saturday PUNCH gathered on Friday that despite the official position of the banks that the new notes were not available in huge volumes, some categories of influential customers had infiltrated the banks and were being given new notes far above the limits set by the lenders.
One of our correspondents, who visited a branch of a new generation bank in the Abule Egba area of Lagos State on Friday, was told that the new notes were no longer available as what was allocated to the branch had been exhausted before 10am.
A senior official of the bank, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, “We received about N1.5m in N1,000 notes on Wednesday from our head office. We gave out about N250,000 on Thursday when the redesigned naira notes officially hit the market as a lot of customers were hesitant to collect them.
“However, by this morning (Friday), the request for the new notes across the counter had surged. What we noticed was that some high net worth customers requested far above the limit we set per customer, which was N10,000. Some of them requested between N100,000 and N200,000 and they are customers we can’t ignore their requests.”
A branch manager of a tier-1 bank on Lagos Island told Saturday PUNCH, “The latest instruction from our head office is that we should not give more than N50,000 per customer and we are giving out the new notes. It is against the CBN rule to keep cash in our vaults. Initially, the limit per customer was set at N2,000 and it was later increased to N10,000 and has been increased to N50,000.
“However, some high net worth customers have been calling to ask for higher amounts of up to N300,000. You have to manage a customer whose account balance is up to N5bn. We use our discretion in such circumstances.”
One of our correspondents, who tried to make a withdrawal from an Automated Teller Machine at the Ojodu Berger area of Lagos on Friday, observed that the five paying points dispensed old naira notes and when he went inside the banking hall and insisted on having the new notes across the counter, he was told that the maximum he could have was N5,000.
The teller told him in confidence that currency traffickers, who usually sell freshly minted naira notes at partygoers to spray on organisers, were conniving with bank tellers and their managers to mop up the new naira notes.
A teller, who gave his name simply as Ambrose, said, “The currency hawkers, who made it difficult before now for regular customers to get clean notes, popularly called ‘mint’, from the banks, have found a way to mop up the redesigned naira notes released to the banks just on Thursday.
“Our ogas (bosses) are in partnership with the currency hawkers and we tellers dare not go against them as our continued stay on the job depends largely on them. One of the hawkers, who I am friendly with, told me that she wanted to cash in on Nigerians’ eagerness for the new notes to make profits before the daily withdrawal limits set by the CBN begins at the end of January.”
A currency hawker, Modinat Azeez, told one of our correspondents that there were many social engagements planned for the weekend and it would make good business sense to go to the venues with the new notes.
“You know that Nigerians love to show off. Even though the existing naira notes and the redesigned ones have the same values, many partygoers will like to make a statement by ‘spraying’ the new notes at parties. It will be like ‘spraying’ dollar notes; so, I am prepared to offer a premium to get the new notes from the banks as I know that I will make my money back,” she said.
Abuja bank customers
There was no improvement in the dispensing of the new naira notes to customers in the Federal Capital Territory on Friday.
Our correspondents, who visited several banking halls and ATM stands in the city of Abuja on Friday, observed that the cash machines were not dispensing the new naira notes.
Visits to the branches of leading banks and ATM points showed that the institutions were grappling with network issues.
The banks visited include Stanbic IBTC, Zenith, United Bank for Africa Bank and First Bank situated at Sauka, Airport Road and Kuje.
Saturday PUNCH also visited Guaranty Trust Bank, Stanbic IBTC, UBA, Zenith Bank and Polaris Bank branches located at the Central Business District.
At Stanbic IBTC in Sauka, customers grumbled over network failure and the slow pace of cash withdrawals, which one of our correspondents later found to be old notes.
An official of the bank, who did not disclose his name, said limited quantum of new N1,000 notes was given to the branch hence its scarcity