- Anti-democratic elements must be resisted – stakeholders
- JAMB extends 2023 UTME registration by one week
BY AUGUSTINE AVWODE, TIMOTHY AGBOR, BAMIDELE FAMOOFO, BENEDICT NWACHUKWU, FESTUS OKOROMADU, MAYOWA SAMUEL AND BRIGHT JACOB
Violent protests erupted on Wednesday in some states across Nigeria over the hardship by residents following the rejection of old naira notes by traders, banks and commercial transporters.
In Delta, angry youths in Warri town, set fire on one of the branches of a commercial bank while protesting against the persisting scarcity of Naira notes that has forced many businesses across the country to shut down.
This was captured in viral videos showing the angry youths protesting around Udu road axis disrupting vehicular movements and destroying valuable properties in the area.
It was also alleged that two persons were feared killed as a result of a stray bullet.
In the same vein, three persons were reportedly shot in Benin City, Edo State, when youths staged a protest against the currency swap.
One of the victims was reportedly killed near the Central Bank Nigeria Office in Benin, while two were said to have died at the Sakponba road axis during an attempt by the protesters to attack banks in the area.
Trouble was said to have started when some persons came to the CBN to deposit their money in compliance with the bank’s regulation of depositing old bank notes.
It was gathered that while this was going on, an unmarked Toyota vehicle came to the gate of the CBN trying to gain entry but was stopped by those who were already at the bank.
Violent protests also erupted in Akure, Ondo State, over the refusal of commercial banks to collect the old notes as well as pay money to customers.
The protest began at the First Bank, Alagbaka by angry customers who had waited for several hours without being attended to.
Other banks in Akure swiftly shut down businesses to avoid being attacked.
Consequently, commercial activities were put on hold in some areas in Ibadan following a protest embarked upon by residents over the deadline of the naira swap.
Affected areas in Ibadan were Ologuneru, Sango Polytechnic road, Eleyele and Mokola roundabout.
Detachment of security operatives including the Army was deployed to the affected areas to maintain peace.
Armed policemen and soldiers were strategically positioned at Mokola roundabout.
More so, in Kwara State, the protests started from the Oko-Olowo market axis and spread to Oloje, Alore, Omoda and Adangba areas of the Ilorin metropolis.
Motorists deserted the roads as tyres were set on fire to disrupt the free flow of traffic, while commuters were stranded.
The situation was later brought under control by the state police command, and normalcy restored, with five suspects now in police custody in connection with the incident.
Reacting, the Kwara State Police Command spokesman, Okasanmi Ajayi said “I woke up to an unlawful burning of disused tires on some major roads in the Ilorin Metropolitan Area this morning, in spite of the earlier warning by the Command against such unwholesome behaviour by hoodlums in the wake of the Naira note swap.”
Ajayi said in Ilorin on Wednesday that the Commissioner of Police, Kwara State Police Command, Paul Odama, has ordered aggressive motorized and foot patrols of the city.
He advised parents and guardians to warn their children or wards to avoid being used as canon-fodders by disgruntled political activists, as anyone arrested in the process of committing any crime, either as a result of the fuel or Naira challenges would be made to face the consequences of such actions alone.
“Once again, the good people of Kwara State are advised to go about their lawful daily endeavours. Enough security arrangements have been placed across the length and breadth of Kwara State to ensure the safety and security of law-abiding citizens and residents,” the statement added.
Also, with the Supreme Court adjourning hearing on the Naira redesign case to February 22, 2023 amid violent protests and attacks on banking facilities by angry Nigerians, notable stakeholders have declared that the failure of concerned authorities to take a final and timely stance on the policy may jeopardise the expected large turnout of voters on election days.
They expressed dismay that the apex court decided to move hearing on the controversial currency swap issue to February 22, which is three days to the Presidential and National Assembly elections despite the anguish Nigerian masses have been facing.
If the challenges associated with the naira redesign and deadline of the old notes are not quickly resolved, and the CBN pumping more of the new notes for Nigerians to access, the stakeholders said that there would voters’ apathy as Nigerians who may want to travel to their respective polling units ahead of the elections may not be able to do so because of paucity of new cash.
A chieftain of the People’s Democratic Party in Delta State, who pleaded not to be named, said he is beginning to doubt if the election will hold.
He argued that with 10 days to the first set of elections, it is inconceivable that the electorate should be facing this type of harrowing experience.
He further stated that if the electoral umpire is complaining that there is no money, and if angry members of the public are beginning to vent their anger on bank installations like ATM galleries, then the policy as designed by the Central Bank of Nigeria is a total failure notwithstanding the good intentions of the policy.
“I have some feelings that maybe they are not ready to conduct the elections. Honestly, that is my take now. I tell you, no matter how well-intentioned a policy may be, if it subjects people to this kind of harrowing experience, then it is witchcraft in design and in execution. This is witchcraft. Godwin Emefiele must be held responsible for whatever happens to this country as a result of this policy. He had all the time in the world to do this currency redesign, but he left it and went chasing after his presidential aspiration where he failed.
“He is on a revenge mission. He doesn’t want the elections to be held. The Independent National Electoral Commission is crying that there is no money, just 10 days to the election. How will it be able to meet certain logistics obligations? God will judge all of them. They are not sincere. They are just wicked and only God will judge them. Nigerians should not be subjected to this hardship. He even refused to obey the Supreme Court, can you beat that? It tells you his actions are not altruistic,” he stated.
Legal luminary, Itsay Sagay, said that if things were “normal” in Nigeria and the Supreme Court had sustained its order for the continued use of the old naira notes until the case was decided, there would have been a return to normalcy pending the final hearing.
Sagay told our correspondent that following the adjournment by the apex court, the voting population would be drastically reduced as those who may not have money to purchase food items would find it difficult to go out and vote.
Sagay said, “You see, if things were normal in Nigeria, for example the Supreme Court sustains the order it has already given about the use of the old notes, there will be a return to normalcy pending the final hearing.
“If the CBN had complied with the order of the Supreme Court, there would be no problem.
“But if it continues to defy the Supreme Court and this shortage of money continues, of course the voting population will be drastically reduced because many people may not even have food to eat, not to talk of going to vote in an election. The adjournment will be a major discouragement for people to go and vote, there’s no question about that,” he added.
Also, human rights activist and pro-democracy advocate, Shehu Sani, counseled Nigerians to avoid any forms of protests saying that “any spark is intended to lead to conflagration
Writing on his verified Twitter handle, @ShehuSani, the Kaduna State pro-democracy advocate tweeted that “The general public must avoid any form of protest in the name of cash or fuel scarcity at this 11th hour. The people in the South East must defy any call to sit at home. Any spark is intended to lead to conflagration. Anti-democratic elements must be resisted. Let’s focus on the election.”
Giving his opinion, human rights lawyer, Libiurous Oshoma said, “The CBN is behaving as if it’s an Island of its own, which is what is actually trying to sink the country into chaos and anarchy that if care is not taken, it will decay. And if it gets into that, the election that the CBN so much wants to protect, and avoid vote buying for, might not even hold because there will be chaos and anarchy.
“Already, INEC has said elections won’t be held in some polling units. If there’s a crisis and unrest, will INEC be able to conduct elections in those places where there’s unrest? Already, we’ve learnt that there’s civil unrest in some cities. How are we sure that even on the day of the election, there’ll be peace? What will be the injustice or hardship that the CBN will suffer if they allow both currencies to exist side by side, like it is done in other societies? Against the backdrop that the CBN does not even have capacity to print the new naira notes, assuming without conceding that they want to print more.
“Some people, for political sentiments are saying that the policy is good and it will sanitise the country and eradicate corruption yet, in the same breath, the CBN is complaining that the money released is being mopped up by the same politicians. So, if the politicians are able to mop up the little ones that you released, that means the policy will not be able to stop politicians in their game. So, do you now want to suffer the people because you are trying to stop politicians in their game? Moreover, is that part of the functions of the CBN, to eradicate vote buying? Corruption is not our problem, our problem is structural.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with The Point, some civil societies disclosed that certain Nigerians who are of voting age are already deciding to stay off the polls because of the suffering that the naira redesign had plunged them into.
The chairman of the Network of Non-Governmental Organisations of Osun State, Michael Ebofin, said people were already expressing doubt about their participation in the electoral process since the cash crunch issue worsened.
“Voters’ apathy is already setting in because some people are making up their minds not to vote. We are engaging the people in voter education and they are asking us questions. You can imagine when you are teaching people how to perform their civic duties and they are now asking you questions, you know you will be dumbfounded. Someone who has no penny to eat but has money in the bank, how will such a person go and vote? They are asking this question but we were just trying to convince them but with this situation now, how do we address these people now? What do we tell them?” Ebofin asked rhetorically.
He added that prolonging the naira case would affect preparations of the Independent National Electoral Commission, saying, “Surely, it’s going to affect preparations for the general elections, even for the ones slated for March because we can see a lot of unrest now. The INEC Chairman had said that if there are no security measures put in place, the election may not hold. That’s why we see security agencies now come out to address some security issues. But, insecurity is now coming out from another dimension being caused by the government itself, our duty bearers. We don’t really know why the President has not addressed the nation on this naira crisis. It’s so unfortunate again that the Governor of the Central Bank will now be holding a nation into ransom. It’s very unfortunate.”
“Thank God we have stakeholders meeting tomorrow (Thursday) with INEC and we shall be there to discuss it. The INEC Chairman and others are already saying that the election may not hold but we are praying that the election should hold because the money being extended for this election is much and we shouldn’t run into another deficit. If it doesn’t hold now, it’s going to be budgeted for again and you know what people have been facing already.”
For a cleric, Bishop Seun Adeoye, though, the logistics preparations of the electoral umpire would not be hampered by the naira crisis since the nation is going cashless, the situation would cause voter apathy because voters may lack cash to move about as most commercial transporters don’t take internet transfer of money.
Adeoye, the Founder of the Sufficient Grace and Truth Ministry, said, “I don’t expect any other logistics to be affected, after all, INEC is not complaining that there is no money and INEC is not complaining that they don’t have enough funds for the election. I believe strongly that INEC should be able to find its way out. In these days where we are having online transactions of businesses, I believe we should be able to do that. The only people that may likely be affected are the riggers who have been looking for cash to spend during the election but I don’t know how the Supreme Court will go about saying the old money should be spent. In Osun State in particular, I am not sure if there is any place where they are still collecting the old naira notes.
But, a lawyer, Nurudeen Kareem, said the cash crisis ought not to prevent the electorate from exercising their franchise, saying, “I do not see how the cash crunch case will affect participation of the people in the general elections. In the first place, the liberality of our electoral system these days allows someone to change from a polling unit to the other. So, if I was living in Osogbo before and I moved down to Lagos, the law allows me to change my polling unit. So, elections do not necessarily require the movement of the people if we are going to play the game according to the rules. Despite that there are issues arising from the naira redesign policy, people still get little money to do something. As I speak with you, I cannot boast of N10, 000 because most of my transactions are done online, but I don’t see how that one will affect the conduct of the election.”
Former National Auditor of the People’s Democratic Party, Ray Nnaji said the adjournment of the Naira redesign case by the Supreme Court to next week Wednesday means that the continuation of cash crunch might encourage voter apathy.
Nnaji, a lawyer, said the scarcity of both the old and new Naira notes has subjected the citizen to untold hardship and may likely affect the election adversely.
“I have earlier told you that the Naira redesign is a very good policy but the truth is that the implementation is a big issue. This is taking a good decision at the wrong time. The people are faced with two herculean tasks of cash crunch and fuel scarcity that are very crucial to the forthcoming elections and I don’t see how people with empty stomachs will file out to queue to vote. If it happens that means they are taking the election more seriously than their lives.”
Nnaji further noted that whatever reason the CBN has for the Naira redesign is now suffering a backlash because the policy has become unfriendly and that makes it seem to be anti-people.
He maintained that anti people policy is not good at this point in time the country has crucial polls to decide the country’s future.
“The CBN has a very good plan for our economy in the sense that the money it said was out of bank vaults is alarmingly incredible and with such, no country’s economy thrives but they were not prepared for the step they took. To them, the step was aimed at recovering the loose money and equally checkmate vote buying which has become a cancer in our politics. But as it has planned out, the election may be riddled with both voter apathy and vote buying.”
A civil society activist, Samuel Obioma, said the situation at hand calls for caution.
He said “there is tension in the land, many people are angry, if we continue this way people may even lose interest in the election. Those who even embraced the policy at inception are now rising against it.
“How will the policy prevent vote buying, has it stopped the political parties from embarking on campaign?”
“Nigerians are going through hard times, the government needs to act fast to save the situation.
“The question for now is how do people survive before the election, if vote buying or electoral corruption is what the policy is out to fight?
“As I speak with you the ordinary Nigerians are tensed up as they cannot access the money they keep in the banks.
“People are selling their goods at cost price just to get cash to meet their needs.
“If something urgent is not done, businesses will crash. There is a need for a gradual implementation of the policy,” he said.
Mike Ocheme, a resident of Kado, said the Supreme Court pronouncement was supposed to have helped reduce the tension in the land but unfortunately it appears the Federal government is not ready to abide by it.
Ocheme wondered why Nigerians should wait till next week before they can withdraw their money.
“The question is did the Federal Government obey the first extension by the court?
“My concern here is why is President Muhammadu Buhari refusing to address the nation over the issue? The president should speak to Nigerians to calm down the situation. We’re hearing that lives are already being lost as the protest continues in the south.
“There is no reason to go to the Supreme Court in the first place if the purpose of the policy is to curb corruption of vote buying.
“The CBN could have introduced lower denominations if the issue is about hoarding of the Naira note. Print the lower denomination of the Naira, the people will be forced to accept and use them. The challenge at hand is how people can access cash, not the denomination. Someone who needs N200 to pay transport fare would not mind if the bank ATM gives him twenty pieces of N50 notes. The important thing is he gets the money to meet his needs.
“So, let’s see how we survive before the election comes up.
On his part a lawyer, Joseph Okoh, expressed worries over the political turn the policy implementation has taken.
He said the banks and the politicians seem to be fueling the crisis on ground.
He said “Take a look at the governors heading to the Supreme Court, they belong to one political party while those opposing it and taking side with the Federal Government are from the opposition party.
“The implementation of policy is not well thought through, the CBN can simply introduce the use of coins.
“I don’t know how the government intends to encourage Nigerians to stay without money till the Supreme Court decides the case.”
On how the situation can affect the forthcoming election, he said, “People need money to carry on their daily transactions before the election.
“For instance someone who lives in Abuja but is registered to vote in Lagos and needs money for transportation, what do you expect him or her to do? The government has to resolve this issue before the election,” he said.
Also, the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board has extended its 2023 UTME registration exercise by one week starting from Wednesday, February 15, 2023.
By this extension, the sale of ePINs would end on Monday, February 20, 2023, while the UTME registration ends on Wednesday, February 22, 2023.
According to the Board’s 2023 Schedule of Activities, as earlier released, the closing date for the sale of both the ePINs and the 2023 UTME application documents was slated for Tuesday, February 14, 2023.
At the close of the sale of ePINs on Tuesday, February 14, 2023, 1,527,068 candidates had successfully registered for the 2023 UTME exercise inclusive of the 168,748, who indicated their interest to take the Mock-UTME.
It should also be noted that the Board, based on its projections, had expanded its capacity to register up to a hundred thousand candidates per day. With this, it was possible to register all desiring candidates within the space of a few days.
A statement issued by Fabian Benjamin, Head, Public Affairs and Protocol of the examination body on Wednesday, however, disclosed that less than fifty thousand candidates were turning up for registration which is less than the installed registration capacity.
“Surprisingly, in the last two days before the closing date, the pace picked up remarkably with over a hundred thousand candidates registering on a daily basis.
“Furthermore, the Board, as a responsive and proactive agency, took cognisance of the reports from across the country indicating some difficulties being faced by many Nigerians in using their electronic channels to purchase the ePINs or obtain cash readily within the stipulated period. It has, as a consequence, granted this extension to ensure that all candidates who desire to register for the 2023 UTME are given the opportunity to do so especially when the extant challenges are not of their own making,” it stated.