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Sitting in the harmattan breeze and gazing skyward as though expecting heavenly manna, Mrs Chinenye Obi, a petty trader, cut a sorry figure.

She uttered some inaudible sounds, clasping both hands tightly as the wind gently blew her faded blue gown and the apron she tied around her waist.

Her feet looked dry from age and dust and her face had shriveled a bit.

Upon sighting our correspondent, she quickly stood up, and led him to her shop, where she sold vegetables, peppers, tomatoes and soup thickeners.

The kiosk looked empty inside but was packed full on the outside with sacks upon sacks.

“Buy from me, fine uncle. I get pepper and tomatoes. I get ogbono (soup thickener); I go do you well,” she said, as she lit up her face with a wry smile.


Asked if she could take bank transfer, she said, “Transfer? I don’t collect transfers at all. But you can withdraw from the PoS (Point of Sale) lady over there or buy from my neighbour,” she added, disappointed that she had lost a prospecting customer.

She muttered some things in Igbo and heaved a long sigh.


Our correspondent approached the PoS operator at the Ketu Market but she claimed not to have any new notes even though this reporter saw her with some stacks, which she quickly hid as he approached. She said, “If na old notes, I fit give you for the normal price but I no get new notes at all.”

As our correspondent made to leave, she said in pidgin English, “How much you want? If na N2000, I fit manage give you but you go pay N2500.”


After the ‘illegal’ transaction, our correspondent went back to Mrs Obi and requested some fresh peppers and tomatoes. Filled with joy, her face lit up.

“My colour, I go do you well,” referring to our correspondent’s fair complexion.

Asked how the naira scarcity had affected her business, she said sales had dropped drastically in the past weeks, as most customers either did not have the new notes or wanted to do transfers.

Fake transfers thrive

“I have an account o, but I don’t want transfers. I know what I have seen in the hands of these Yahoo boys (Internet fraudsters). They will tell you they have transferred the funds and will show you the debit alert from their end but the money will not enter yours.


“They have done it to me thrice here. I went to my bank and they told me that no money was transferred into my account. Since then, I don’t have any business with customers who want transfers,” she said.

An older woman who sold similar wares adjacent hers, obviously listening to our conversation, said, “Dem (yahoo boys) don do am to me here like four times. My own be say I even see the alert for my own phone but na fake! That is why I no dey collect transfer again at all.”


Continuing, Mrs Obi said her children, who assisted her, had gone back to school and it was from the sales she made from her petty trading that she paid their fees since her husband fell ill.

Begging the Federal Government, she said, “This their naira change policy has scattered everything for us. My tomatoes will stay here till they will rot. The other day, I had to discard more than two full trays of spoilt tomatoes because nobody even buys it again, and the price in the market has increased.

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“How can somebody have money and the bank will say they are not going to give you cash because there is no cash? I have lived for more than 60 years and I have not heard of such a thing before.

“If this hardship continues, I will be forced to close down and go to the village to stay with my husband. If hunger comes and kills us there, fine. If we survive, fine,” she added.


When our correspondent spoke to the older lady who had interrupted Obi, she gave her name simply as Iya Ijesha.

She stated that the policy had reduced buyers in the market, as people did not have access to their money.


Speaking in Pidgin English, Iya Ijesha said, “Take a look at the market yourself. You can count the number of people here. On a Saturday like this, before now, you will not be able to pass. We sell and even oversell because people troop in and out with cash in their hands.

“This policy will kill small businesses like mine that depend on cash to survive. How can someone come to my shop to buy ogbono that is N70 and I will tell the person to transfer? Banks will take their own charges of maybe N20 or N50. How does that even make any sense?”

She also stated that she had lost a lot of her perishable goods, thereby running at a loss.

“Many of us (sellers) here sit all day and only sell to three or four persons for the entire day. Anyone who comes will ask you if you take old notes; once you say no, they will leave,” she lamented as she reached for her purse to show our correspondents how scanty it was from the day’s sales.


Untold hardship

At the Arepo Market in Ogun State, a tomato seller, Musa Hassan, was seen sitting idly as loud Hausa music blasted from his radio device.

The briskly dark young man, who wore a black crisscross bag that housed his money, had a disconsolate demeanor.

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Speaking on the scarcity, he lamented that his business had been affected as he no longer recorded high sales.

In a mixture of English and Pidgin, the young trader said in all his nine years of being in Ogun State, he had never experienced such hardship.

“Even during COVID-19, it was not bad like this. Before, where will I have the opportunity to sit down? Customers will be rushing me here and there. That is the beauty of selling in the market.

“Now, take a look at me. I don’t even know what to do with these tomatoes if nobody buys them. I cannot eat them all; I don’t want to waste them either,” he said.

He packed a sack full of fresh tomatoes and asked this reporter to pay any amount he could afford so it would not be wasted.

An onion seller close to his wooden stand, Ibrahim Sule, was almost brought to tears when asked how business was going.

He said if not for the cold weather, he would have thrown away his entire bag of onions.

“I never see better thing to sell for almost two weeks. Na N200, N400 or N500 onions people dey come buy. Which kind of suffer be this? Help me beg Baba Buhari to help us. Make him release our money wey dey inside the bank for us.

“The other day I go bank and dem say dem no get money to give me. As I dey here now, any money I sell, na food I dey use am buy. E no good na!” His voice shook in anger and discontent.

The confusion

Following the announcement of the Central Bank Governor, Mr Godwin Emefiele, that the now older version of the N200, N500 and N1000 notes would no longer be legal tender from January 31, 2023, the country has not had respite.

Although the deadline was moved to February 10, 2023, Nigerians lamented that the new notes were not available at Automated Teller Machines or over the counter.

Some aggrieved governors later took the Federal Government to the Supreme Court.

The court ruled that the policy should be halted while the case was ongoing.

However, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), in a nationwide broadcast on Thursday, said only the older N200 notes should be re-circulated for another 60 days, stressing that the N500 and N1000 notes were no more legal tender.

The CBN, in response, asked residents who still had the old N500 and N1000 to visit its website, fill out forms and approach any bank to redeem their money.Related News

But in counter directives, some of the apex bank’s officials recanted, saying only depositors with over N500,000 should approach the CBN, urging others with lower amounts to visit the banks.

In a circular on Friday, the CBN made a U-turn again, asking members of the public to deposit their notes with the CBN.

Meanwhile, some commercial banks, including Polaris, United Bank for Africa and First Bank, had asked their customers to deposit their old notes in their branches.

The Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, and Lagos Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, among others, urged residents to keep collecting the old notes pending the determination of the case before the Supreme Court on February 25.

But Sunday PUNCH can confirm that as of the time of filing this report, not even transporters in Lagos accept the old N500 and N1000 notes.

Although with good intentions, the policy has caused unprecedented hardship as many of the traders who spoke to Sunday PUNCH said they did not know what to do with the old notes in their possession.

Policy frustrating

A trader at the Magboro Main Market, Ogun State, who refused to give her name, sat with her face between her legs when our correspondent approached her for an interview.

She looked up, indifferent, and placed her face back where it had been.

She sold some cooking ingredients and had no customers at her table. The market was scanty.

Insisting to know what was wrong with her, she said, “As you see me here, I am thinking about my life. I have not sold anything since morning. See time; it is almost 1pm. Nobody don come my shop.”

A young man who ground pepper said the naira scarcity affected his business as people could not transfer N50 for his services, and if they transferred more, he had no cash to give to them.

“The thing just tire person. How do you expect someone to transfer N50, N30 or N100 for services? The new money self, we no see,” he said, as he went back to his manual grinding machine, swinging it up and down.

Traders in the Agbara Market, along the Lagos-Badagry Expressway, also lamented the policy.

A watermelon trader, Al-Mustapha Hussaini, said up until Friday, he collected the old notes but stopped when his supplier refused to collect them.

“If it is just me, I will continue to collect the old notes. I don’t have a problem. But other people are no longer collecting them. What do I do? I have more than N80,000 of these old notes because I buy my watermelon in bulk,” he said.

From the video he sent to Sunday PUNCH, the market looked busy, but Hussaini said his sales had dropped as people now only went for what they felt was essential and would not just come to the market to buy watermelons if they had not eaten.

Trade by barter

With the scarcity of cash, some Nigerians have resorted to trade by barter, an old commercial practice of exchanging what you have with what you need.

A video circulated on the Internet showed a trader who sold household provisions, exchanging three sachets of detergent, with a woman who sold food.

In the video, the food seller said, “As you can see, this aboki here came with three sachets of detergents which is N300 and asked me to sell food of N300 for him. I gave him N200 worth of rice and N100 worth of spaghetti. Trade by barter has begun again!”

A young woman, who spoke to our correspondent via Twitter, said she had to make a lady’s hair in school in exchange for food.

The student, who did not want her name in print, said, “We agreed that she would sell food for me after I made her hair. So, instead of paying me N500 for the weaving, she sold food worth N500 to me. I had even finished eating before I started making her hair.”

Nigeria’s rising inflation

An online economic resource, Trading Economics, in its latest report quoting from figures recently released by the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics, said the country’s inflation rate ‘unexpectedly soared to fresh 17-year peak’.

It noted that the annual inflation rate in Nigeria accelerated to 21.82 per cent in January 2023, the highest since September 2005, from 21.34 per cent in the prior month, against market expectations of a further slowdown to 21.3 per cent.

“Soaring food prices and a weaker naira currency were the main drivers. Prices of food, which is the most relevant in the CPI basket, recorded an upturn to 24.32 per cent in January from 23.75 per cent in the prior month. On a monthly basis, consumer prices surged by 1.87 per cent, the most in almost 16 years, after a 1.71 per cent increase in the previous month,” part of the publication read.


In November 2022, the International Labour Organisation disclosed that micro, small and medium enterprises contribute 48 per cent of Nigeria’s National Gross Domestic Product.

The ILO, a specialised agency of the United Nations, added that MSMEs accounted for 96 per cent of businesses and 84 per cent of employment in the country.

The Country Director of ILO, Vanessa Phala, reeled out the figures at the opening session of a workshop on promoting decent working conditions among personal protective equipment producing MSMES in Abuja

She said MSMEs were primary platforms for enterprises that played a crucial role in employment, wealth creation, and economic growth.

“Successful enterprises are at the centre of strong economies and societies: they create employment and raise living standards. MSMEs employ; a large proportion of the workforce.

“In Nigeria, SMEs contribute 48 percent of national GDP, account for 96 per cent of businesses and 84 per cent of employment. This sector contributes significantly to alleviating poverty and increasing job creation,” he said.


An economic analyst, Ade Dayo, stressed that the pain occasioned by the scarcity was needless.

This is as he asked the Federal Government not to politicise the issue so the small and medium-scale enterprises do not collapse.

“Nigeria is a cash-based economy. In fact, the Nigerian economy before now was already cashless as any economy could be. We have one of the lowest cash in circulation per capita in the world.

“I don’t want to think this is becoming more of a political than economic issue because even inflation has increased. Millions of MSMEs are suffering and it is very unnecessary,” he said.

According to another economist, Mr Uche Nwadike, small-scale businesses, which are cash-based, will continue to suffer until the new notes circulate.

He urged traders to get portable PoS devices and embrace the digital flow.

“It is a hard policy because it affects everyone. But what can we do? The policymakers feel that is what is good for us at this time. The matter before the Supreme Court does not count for anything to them. So, I will urge every trader to activate their account or connect with PoS operators who can assist them to collect the transfers and get the funds transferred back to the traders at the end of the day’s sales,” he added.

A Germany-based economic researcher, Mr Usman Musa, said the Federal Government needed to rethink the policy.

He said the artificial scarcity of the naira would have been foreseen.

“Nigerians are cash lovers. This is because they know that bank apps can go down anytime. The transporters and petty traders may not receive transfers because their fares are low.

“I was skeptical about the policy from the beginning because I know that the people who the policy is supposed to be against will maneuver and get those new notes. We have seen it in the hands of terrorists. Some politicians were sharing it the other day in a viral video. Why do the poor have to always suffer for the rich?” he asked.

He urged petty traders to come together and get a PoS machine that could help them transact business till the cash fully circulated in the economy.


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