Nigeria: Good living no longer a matter of cashBy Clifford Ndujihe
Nigerians love cash and they want to show it when they have got it. To the average Nigerian, good living is a matter of cash. The Nigerian politician loves to deal with cash and transacts businesses in 'Ghana-Must-Go bags' loaded with cash.
The average socialite wants to prove that he has 'arrived' at social functions through spraying of naira notes and even other currencies at parties. To the trader, everything in life has to do with cash and the Churches and other religious groups delight in cash donations, love offerings and seed-sowings done in crisp naira notes and other currencies.
But the apex banking institution, the CBN, is saying that henceforth, good living is no more a matter of cash. It's current jingles on TV and radio and its posters and billboards are saying exactly that as there are better and safer ways of living a good life without parading excess cash.
But 13 days to March 30, 2012 commencement of the Cash-less economic policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), many Nigerians and businessmen are perfecting strategies on how to shunt the policy and make cash deposits and withdrawals above the stipulated limits without incurring extra charges.
Users on queue at a bank's ATM
The cashless economic policy unveiled by CBN last April states that individual and corporate bank customers would be restricted to free daily cumulative cash withdrawals and lodgements of N150,000 and N1 million respectively.
It further states that individuals and corporate organisations that make cash transactions above the limits would be charged a penalty fee of N100/N1000 and N200/N1000 respectively for amounts above the cumulative limits.
So, anyone depositing or withdrawing any amount above N150, 000 would be charged N100 for every additional N1, 000 while for corporate customers, the charge is N200.
Lamenting that the policy could stifle business and make transactions tedious and cumbersome, some businessmen told Saturday Vanguard that they had devised ways around the policy because they could not fold their arms and watch the CBN "kill our businesses sources of livelihood."
Plans to beat the policy are afoot amid expectations that the commencement date for penalising defaulters who exceed the limit would be shifted again. Planned to be operational nationwide by June 2012, the policy was initially billed to commence on January 1 before it spreads to other parts of the country but was extended to March 30.
The pilot project, tagged 'Operation Cashless Lagos', would entail deployment of automated teller machines (ATM), 'POS' terminals in various bank locations both onside and offside locations of the banks, and procurement of POS terminals that customers will use anytime they visit point of sales either in shopping malls, airlines, airports or company factories. As of now, these facilities are not readily available. And CBN Deputy Governor, Operations Directorate, Mr. Tunde Lemo, reportedly said that more PoS machines would soon be deployed and partly attributed the delay in supplying the terminals to the Customs Service.
"The delay was partly caused by the Customs Service that refused to collect five per cent duty on PoS terminals. They insisted on 20 per cent and we have told the banks to go ahead and pay. But we are going to make a case for them with the Minister of Finance so that subsequently imports will be based on five percent."
The new policy is also intended to diminish the need to carry cash and thus minimize cases of armed robberies and other crimes often visited on carriers of heavy cash.
Data from banks show that only about 10 per cent of cash withdrawals from banks are of more than N100,000, meaning only 10 per cent of banking customers who also account for over 75 per cent of all banking transactions, thus accounting for the lion share of the cost of cash management, would be affected by the policy.
However, critics of the policy, argue that crippling impact of epileptic electricity supply remains an albatross in the country's quest for development.
The Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), the Point of Sales (PoS) machines, computers and mobile phones all require electricity as source of energy. How would the Nigerian bank customer transfer fund; make payments or conduct other electronic transactions when these technological devices cannot work all the time because of lack of constant electricity supply? Furthermore, the ATMs and PoS are yet to attain the desired efficiency necessary to drive a cashless economy. The needed technology to maintain a working network and constant connectivity have not been adequately addressed.
Determined to beat the policy, some alternatives Nigerians have come up with to enable them continue to transact businesses with huge amounts of cash, include opening numerous accounts with several banks and issuing multiple cheques to cover the required amounts.
Although, this might be difficult, they contended that it was better than paying the penalties. Going by the policy, an individual withdrawing the sum of N1.65 million will pay a penalty of N150,000. Other measures include shunning the bank altogether and keeping money in safes so that they can assess the cash whenever they need it.
Said Mr Emeka Onwubiko, who deals in tiles and constantly pays at least N400,000 to haulage operators to convey his goods to the northern parts of the country per trailer: "The policy is anti-business. It is not going to be easy. How do they expect me to pay the trailer drivers conveying my goods?
"The drivers need raw cash to operate and this bank thing won't work here. Some of them I pay them N1 million. Whatever, I have decided is to open many accounts with many banks. If I am to pay them N600,000, I will just issue them four cheques of N150,000 each. I will also advise those paying me to issue multiple cheques." On the stress of going from one bank to the other to withdraw money when such transactions could be done in a single transaction within minutes, Onwubiko said most of the banks now cluster in major business areas and markets.
Some stakeholders such as small scale business owners, schools, churches and individuals, are pained by a section of the policy stipulating that they bear the charges if money exceeding the limit was paid into their account.
A school operator in Festac Town, Lagos is at loss on how she would handle school fees next term. According to her, some parents with many wards pay more than N200,000 and if she were to be surcharged for the extra N50,000, it means the parents would be paying less.
Querying the wisdom behind the policy, a Senior editor said: "Why do they want to control how I spend my money? Is it their money? It is my money. They don't have the right to control how I spend my money."
Instead of punishment, some observers, who are still wondering how the policy would operate in remote areas where there are no banks have canvassed postponement of the commencement date to address prevailing teething problems.