Indications have emerged that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is set to raid new naira note racketeers in key commercial cities including Lagos, Port Harcourt, and Kaduna.
The commission indicated this on Tuesday when it disclosed that it had arrested members of a syndicate of currency racketeers trading in the redesigned naira notes at Zone 4, Wuse and Dei-Dei axis of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
The Abuja suspects were nabbed during an operation to halt the illicit currency trading carried out by the anti-graft agency between Saturday and Monday.
The EFCC spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren, confirmed the development in a statement on Tuesday.
Findings from EFCC officials showed its operatives had penned down some commercial nerve centres in Lagos, Port Harcourt, and Kaduna, where currency hawkers are having a field day.
The EFCC planned raids came on the heels of similar raids of currency hawkers and racketeers by personnel of the Department of State Services.
The EFCC planned raids came a day after the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefile, said the apex bank would collaborate with law enforcement agencies such as the EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, to track heavy withdrawals.
The PUNCH reports that the CBN had extended the deadline for the validity of the old N200, N500 and N1,000 notes from January 31 to February 10.
The Department of State Services revealed on Monday that its operatives arrested some currency traders who had turned the sale of newly redesigned notes into brisk business.
The secret police also alleged that the perpetrators were working in cahoots with officials of commercial banks.
Meanwhile, the EFCC further noted that its findings revealed that some of the money traders were working with officials of Money Deposit Banks, vowing to extend its operation to all major commercial centres across the country until all the syndicates involved in the illegal trade are demobilized.
The anti-graft agency also urged financial market operators to ensure compliance with the guidelines set by the CBN.
It added, “The suspects have made useful statements, including a disclosure that they were acting in cohort with some unscrupulous officials of Money Deposit Banks.
“The commission will extend the operation to all the major commercial centres of the country until all the syndicates involved in the illegal trade are demobilised. Financial system operators are also warned to desist from the sharp practices or risk arrest and prosecution.
“Zonal commanders of the EFCC also met with officials of various banks in their commands in an effort to ascertain the volume of the new notes issued to the commercial banks and how the banks were dispensing the monies to their customers.”
“The commanders urged the financial market operators to ensure compliance with the guidelines set by the Central Bank of Nigeria while disclosing that they have dispatched operatives across their commands to monitor the level of compliance by banks and other operators in the financial market.”
The apex bank has asked commercial banks to stop multiple debit card withdrawals as it stepped up efforts to implement a seamless currency change regime.
The CBN governor, Emefiele, in a meeting with commercial banks on Monday also reportedly directed banks not to pay old notes via ATMs or over the counter.
He equally instructed the EFCC and ICPC officials to inspect bank branches over the next two weeks to ensure full compliance with the guidelines.
The reported directive read in part, “At the CBN Bankers Committee meeting today (Monday), the governor instructed Banks as follows: No Bank is authorised to pay out old notes via ATMs or in bank branches over-the-counter
“No payment of new notes over the counter. Banks are only allowed to release new notes via ATMs. Corporates that require cash should only be given the old N100 notes and below. Corporates must not be given new notes.
“EFCC/ICPC officials will accompany CBN examiners to inspect bank branches over the next two weeks to assess full Compliance with CBN guidelines above.
“Officials of branches that fail to comply or that release cash to corporates and politicians will face termination of their contracts and the respective banks will be sanctioned
“No branch should allow an individual with multiple debit cards to do multiple transactions on ATMs.
“All new notes have tracking numbers to trace them back to state, bank and bank branches. So, notes confiscated at parties and other locations can be traced back to the bank and applicable branch.”
Bank customers in Lagos expressed worries over their inability to get either old naira notes over the counter or at the ATMs.
The two banks visited by The PUNCH in Marina had queues of customers in the banking hall.
According to the customers, the ban on over-the-counter transactions of old notes was meant to compound the problems of Nigerians.
While speaking with our correspondent at the banking hall of the United Bank for Africa located by Leventis, Marina, Adewale Adebayo said the banks were out to punish the masses.
He said, “When you are talking about banning counter transactions of the old notes when the majority of the machines were not working, the decision does not make any sense.
“They say it is going to stop the old notes in circulation, but this is not true. These old notes are still everywhere. The PoS people are still giving the old notes. Banning it without the provision on how to get the new ones is too complicated for those of us who need cash for daily survival.’’
Suleiman Rasaki, a cooperative operator, told The PUNCH at the banking hall of the Sterling bank in Marina, Lagos, that the rationale behind banning transactions of the old notes when the ATMs were not dispensing sufficient cash was ill-conceived.
But Emmanuel Anoro believed the decision was the right one considering the depreciation in the value of the naira.
He added that “The changing of new naira notes is okay. It will help to change the contaminated notes and discourage people who are keeping money inside their houses.”
As of the time of filing the report around 2 pm, only a few machines were working in all the ATMs visited in Marina.
Our correspondent also reported that the banks visited fully complied with the CBN directive as other denominations such as N200 and N100 as well as a few new notes were sighted at the hall.
Speaking with The PUNCH, a Pos operator, who identified herself as Mercy disclosed that her account officer told her that she could only withdraw N10,000 over-the-counter in N100 and N50 denominations.
“I use this money for my business; how can I be handing out N50 naira to customers. We can’t get money at the ATMs. I have had to buy old notes from people who have them. This is so frustrating, I wish the deadline was not extended.
‘’The extension has thrown us into this turmoil. Going forward, I am raising my charges: N200 for N5,000 old notes and N500 for N5,000 new notes.
Another customer, Fatima, stated, “I have been queuing at the ATMs but when it gets to my turn, the ATM won’t dispense cash. I have taken all my cash to restock my shop and now I am in trouble.”
Other customers who attempted to withdraw from the PoS complained about the poor network and bank officials being unavailable to solve their problems.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a trader in Mowe, Ogun state, said, “Right now, my money is stuck; about N5000. I tried to transfer to buy a pack of drinks and the transaction failed. The PoS operator did not get the money and now my money is hanging. My husband tried to go to the bank to complain but the sight of the mammoth crowd dissuaded him.”
Findings by The PUNCH indicated that the recent directive of the CBN to commercial banks to dispense only N100, N50, and N20 instead of higher denominations might have prompted some banks to stop dispensing cash as many Deposit Money Banks failed to issue money to stranded customers.
Our correspondent observed that none of the banks along the Ikotun-Idimu axis was dispensing any currency.
A staff member of Access Bank at Ikotun, who spoke to our correspondent on the condition of anonymity, said that they stopped dispensing cash through the ATM last week.