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Editorial

Government must address lingering currency crisis

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The ongoing currency crisis caused by a shortage of new naira notes amid several challenges Nigerians struggle with on a daily basis. Just like the suffering caused by fuel scarcity many Nigerians now spend hours queueing for cash from ATMs across the country.

The currency crisis has become a pain in the axe of many Nigerians as the lack of cash in ATMs, Point of Sale, POS and other agents further heightens Nigeria’s economic challenges.

Despite the Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele announcing a 10-day extension to the deadline to phase out the old currency, Nigerians continue to decry the scarcity of the new naira notes.

The Jigawa State Government raised concerns over the scarcity of new naira notes, saying residents of the state are sleeping at Automated Teller Machines stands.

The state’s Commissioner of Finance and Economic Development, Babangida Gantsa, said during his visit to several commercial banks in the state on Wednesday, no fewer than 250 customers queued at ATM stands for cash withdrawals.

Gantsa explained that the unavailability of naira notes in circulation had paralyzed economic activities and other social lives in Jigawa.

A similar situation is ongoing in FCT, Lagos EDO, Delta, Nasarawa, Niger and Nationwide.

The glaring reality is that the new notes are scarce. Therefore, the CBN, which insists that the new notes are available, is not truthful. A new polling by NOI Poll commencing on January 9 stated that over 40 per cent of adult Nigerians had not seen the new notes since they were first issued mid-December. Nigerians are being exploited by PoS operators, who are charging as high as N200 to withdraw N1,000!The policy is just compounding the suffering of the masses.

The chaos began in December when business owners started rejecting the old notes. The reaction of the CBN to this was to state that the new notes were available at the banks. This is difficult to believe as the ATMs had none. The faulty implementation, especially with the short time given to actualise it, is turning it into an organized perplexity.

For now, the policy is breeding disorder. There were reports that some customers threatened physical assault against bank officials because they could not get cash. Not only that, crooked bank officials are exploiting the gaps as they allegedly sell the new notes to politicians at premium. Originally, the policy was targeted at preventing politicians from using money to buy votes and influence elections. The threats by Emefiele to sanction the banks for sabotaging the policy seem like an empty threat. So, the CBN needs to walk its talk.

In the rural areas, where financial exclusion is very high, the deadline might wreck more havoc on livelihoods. In December, the World Bank warned that the timing and short transition period of the policy could negatively affect small and medium-sized businesses and the poor, 133 million overall. NGO Inclusion for All Initiative said 54.4 per cent of the rural population might lose their savings to the policy.

According to CBN the policy wants to recover the N2.73 trillion outside the banking system. As of October, currency in circulation was N3.23 trillion. Of that, only N500 billion was traceable in the banking system. That is a huge gap. Emefiele said, “So far and since the commencement of this programme, we have collected about N1.9 trillion, leaving us with about N900 billion.”

But in Nigeria, the informal sector sustains the economy. London-based World Economists says Nigeria’s informal economy is 57.7 per cent of GDP. World Bank data states that 80.4 per cent of all employment in Nigeria is in that sector.

Unfortunately, the economy is deteriorating. For the second time in three months, Moody’s, a global credit rating agency, downgraded Nigeria from (P)Caa1 to Caa1 (junk) at the weekend. This is Nigeria’s lowest since 2006, a period of 17 years.

On these counts, the policy, which elevates cashless above cash transactions, is precipitated. It will constrain the economy further, as for now, the informal sector is still largely dependent on cash transactions. A Nigerian NewsDirect in this editorial urged the CBN to seriously consider averting a deteriorating breakdown of Nigeria’s economy.

Again, the cashless policy, good as it is, would continue to evolve. In Nigeria, the available internet infrastructure cannot yet support a brisk online economy the CBN wants to build. For instance, the recent reliance on internet banking has resulted in a breakdown, Nigerians can no longer carry out transactions on the space.

Nigerians are losing money and time to incomplete ATM transactions, they are being debited for transfers that fail, even with the same bank. In this situation, the cashless policy should be implemented in phases.

Lessons from other jurisdictions support those who argue that the 10-day extension period is still too short. The Bangko Sentra ng Pilipinas, which launched a redesign of its P1,000 currency from paper to polymer in April 2022, has given a timeline of one year to fully implement the policy in the Philippines. In December, the Bank of England unveiled its redesigned £5, £10, £20, and £50 banknotes that will carry the portrait of King Charles III to replace that of Queen Elizabeth II. However, the BoE said the new notes would enter circulation mid-2024. There are no sensible arguments against these timelines.

Therefore, Emefiele should adopt a more pragmatic implementation of the new naira policy. The old and new notes should be legal tender concurrently for a longer period. In conjunction with the security agencies, the CBN should clamp down on naira abusers. It should make the new naira notes available to the banks, mete severe sanctions on banks that hoard the banknotes and use technology to track the distribution of the currency.

Editorial

Addressing the socioeconomic factors contributing to suicide rates in Nigeria

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The tragic incident that unfolded in the Magboro area of Ogun State, where Victoria Idowu, a 49-year-old woman, took her own life by hanging herself on a ceiling fan, is a poignant reminder of the deep-rooted issues surrounding mental health in our society.

The discovery of her lifeless body by her son upon his return from a church service emphasises the devastating impact of such actions on loved ones and communities at large.

This unfortunate event, coupled with the recent case of Deputy Commissioner of Police Gbolaha Oyedemi, who also tragically ended his own life, sends shockwaves across the nation. Oyedemi’s untimely demise, particularly given his position within the Force Criminal and Investigation Department in Lagos State, raises questions about the unseen burdens individuals may carry, even in seemingly successful and accomplished lives.

These incidents compel us to confront the pressing need for enhanced mental health awareness, support systems, and destigmatisation efforts within our society.

While the reasons behind such tragic decisions may remain elusive, it is imperative that we foster an environment where individuals feel empowered to seek help without fear of judgment or ostracisation.

As a nation, we must prioritise mental health initiatives, invest in accessible counseling services, and promote open dialogue about mental well-being in homes, workplaces, and communities. Only through collective action and compassion can we hope to prevent further loss and support those struggling with mental health challenges.

The intertwined tales of Victoria Idowu and Deputy Commissioner Gbolaha Oyedemi paint a harrowing portrait of despair echoing across Nigeria’s landscape.

Idowu’s final act, discovered by her son amidst the echoes of church hymns, and Oyedemi’s perplexing departure, once the trusted aide to a former governor, unveil a somber truth: suicide’s haunting grip knows no bounds.

Their stories, etched with the weight of societal expectations and personal demons, illuminate a troubling trend veiling Nigeria in sorrow.

From the seasoned to the youthful, lives are lost to the silent whispers of despair, leaving behind unanswered questions and shattered hearts.

In the shadows of these tragedies, Nigeria grapples with a growing epidemic, where the specter of suicide looms larger with each passing day. The reasons, as diverse as the nation itself, intertwine threads of societal strain, economic woes, mental anguish, and a dearth of solace in the face of adversity.

Yet, amid this darkness, one truth shines unwaveringly: suicide, however tempting, is not an adequate solution. It is a plea for help lost in the silence, a cry for understanding drowned in the noise. In the face of despair, let us extend hands of compassion, build bridges of support, and shatter the silence with voices of hope. For in unity, in empathy, lies the beacon of light guiding us through the darkest of nights.

In 2019, the tragic loss of a university student in Lagos to suicide, amid the weight of academic pressures and depression, stirred conversations about mental health awareness within educational institutions.

The following year, the untimely demise of a renowned Nigerian musician, who was discovered dead by suicide in his Lagos home, cast a spotlight on the silent struggles faced by celebrities and public figures battling mental health issues.

Similarly, in 2020, the distressing case of a young woman in Abuja, who took her own life after sharing troubling messages on social media, underscored the crucial need for accessible support systems for individuals grappling with mental health crises.

Then, in 2021, the heartbreaking loss of a teenager in Kano, driven to suicide by the torment of bullying and harassment at school, sparked urgent calls for concerted action to address both bullying and mental health concerns among students.

These poignant examples serve as reminders of the pressing imperative for heightened awareness, robust support networks, and adequate resources to combat mental health challenges and stem the tide of suicide across Nigeria.

Nigeria faces a sobering reality according to the World Health Organization, grappling with one of Africa’s highest suicide rates, with a notable portion of victims being young people. Worse, the ratio of psychiatrists to population is 1:800,000.

However, there’s a beacon of hope: fostering mental health awareness and education emerges as one of the most potent tools in combating this crisis. Despite prevailing stigmas branding mental health issues as taboo or indicative of weakness, dispelling these misconceptions can pave the way for a more compassionate and supportive society. By shedding light on mental health challenges, we can dismantle barriers to seeking help and foster understanding for those battling depression and suicidal thoughts.

Moreover, addressing the recurring tide of suicides demands an overhaul of mental health services accessibility nationwide. Presently, many Nigerians, particularly in rural areas, face insurmountable hurdles in accessing vital care and support. By bridging this gap and ensuring equitable access to mental health services, we can extend a lifeline to those in dire need, fostering a nation where every individual’s well-being is prioritized and safeguarded.

Governments, healthcare providers, and non-governmental organisations could work together to expand mental health services, train healthcare professionals, and integrate mental health into primary healthcare systems.

To effectively combat the pervasive issue of suicide in Nigeria, collaboration between governments, healthcare providers, and non-governmental organisations is paramount. Together, they can expand mental health services, equip healthcare professionals with necessary training, and integrate mental health into primary healthcare systems.

Establishing robust support networks is crucial for individuals grappling with mental health challenges and suicidal ideation. This entails offering accessible avenues for seeking help, such as helplines, support groups, and online forums. Education initiatives should empower friends, family, and communities to recognize signs of depression and suicidal behavior, fostering environments of support and understanding.

Furthermore, advocating self-care practices like exercise, mindfulness, and relaxation techniques equips individuals with tools to manage their mental well-being and mitigate the risk of suicidal tendencies.

Addressing the persistent scourge of suicide demands a holistic approach that delves into its root causes while providing effective interventions and support for those in crisis. Through concerted efforts to promote mental health awareness, improve access to services, foster support networks, and empower individuals, Nigeria can forge a path towards suicide prevention and cultivate a healthier society for all.

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Editorial

Nigeria’s National Identity Card initiative: A misguided venture

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The recent announcement by the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) regarding the launch of a new national identity card with payment functionality epitomises folly.

While touted as a solution to streamline identification and financial services, the collaboration between NIMC, the Central Bank of Nigeria, and the Nigeria Inter-bank Settlement System appears to be a misaligned endeavour.

In a nation burdened by limited resources and an array of urgent challenges, Nigeria’s pursuit of grandiose projects with questionable benefits is a luxury it cannot afford.

Despite its surface appeal, closer scrutiny reveals a troubling trend of duplication, bureaucratic inefficiency, and a glaring gap between governmental aspirations and citizens’ realities.

This venture echoes previous attempts to overhaul the national identification system, notably the ill-fated 2006 concession awarded to Chams.

That endeavour, marred by allegations of collusion and technical sabotage, squandered over $100 million, leaving a bitter legacy of failure. In light of this history, skepticism abounds regarding the prospects of the current initiative.

As Nigeria grapples with pressing socio-economic issues, including poverty, insecurity, and inadequate infrastructure, it is imperative that resources be directed towards initiatives with tangible benefits for the populace.

The proposed national identity card, with its payment functionality, appears to be a misplaced priority in this context.

Rather than embarking on ventures with dubious returns, Nigerian authorities must prioritise accountability, transparency, and citizen-centric policies. The nation cannot afford to repeat past mistakes at the expense of its long-suffering populace.

Furthermore, the purported justification for the new card – facilitating access to “multiple government intervention programs” for the financially marginalised – falls short when juxtaposed with the formidable hurdles Nigerians encounter in simply linking their National Identification Number (NIN) to vital services like mobile phone accounts or bank facilities.

The pandemonium and exasperation prevalent in these endeavours, resulting in citizens squandering valuable time and resources, should stand as a stark warning regarding the government’s competence in executing such extensive identity management schemes.

Moreover, if the concern is the proliferation of identification documents in Nigeria – from international passports and driver’s licenses to voter cards and the existing national ID card – this newspaper holds that this mosaic of identification systems not only spawns unnecessary confusion and bureaucratic headaches for citizens but also casts doubt on the government’s capacity to efficiently orchestrate and amalgamate these diverse platforms.

Instead of tackling these persistent issues head-on, the introduction of yet another identity card appears to be an ill-conceived effort to reinvent the wheel, with scant consideration for the practical challenges confronting Nigerians in their daily lives.

In a nation grappling with limited resources and a plethora of pressing needs, the decision to allocate billions of naira to this new card project is both confounding and deeply concerning. Many would argue that the government’s time and financial resources could be more effectively directed towards enhancing existing infrastructure, fortifying public services, and confronting the numerous socioeconomic challenges plaguing the country.

From the dire state of the healthcare system to the ongoing insecurity that has resulted in significant loss of life, there exist far more urgent issues warranting the government’s attention and, critically, its constrained financial resources.

Moreover, the assertion that the new card will facilitate access to “government intervention programs” for the financially marginalised raises concerns about introducing yet another bureaucratic barrier for vulnerable Nigerians.

Instead of introducing a new identification system, the government’s focus should be on refining and strengthening existing social welfare programs, ensuring they are accessible, efficient, and tailored to meet the needs of the populace.

The government’s ambition to distribute the new card to approximately 104 million citizens is cause for concern. Undertaking such a monumental task without a clear and comprehensive plan is likely to result in further delays, logistical complexities, and a considerable squandering of public funds – resources that could have been channeled towards making tangible improvements in the lives of Nigerians.

In essence, the rollout of the new national identity card with payment functionality reflects a recurring pattern in Nigerian governance: the inclination towards grand, top-down initiatives that often fall short of addressing the underlying issues fueling the country’s challenges.

Instead of pursuing this dubious venture, the government’s focus should shift towards strengthening existing identification systems, fostering better coordination among government agencies, and prioritising investments in areas directly impacting the lives of Nigerians.

As a nation, we must resist the temptation of embracing flashy new projects that promise quick fixes to complex problems.

Achieving genuine progress demands a nuanced, collaborative, and evidence-based approach that acknowledges the distinct needs and challenges of diverse communities.

It’s high time for the government to abandon this latest identity card scheme and redirect its efforts towards more impactful and sustainable initiatives that truly serve the citizens it is sworn to uplift.

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Editorial

Articulated vehicles and the scourge of avoidable deaths

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Nigerians across the country continue to die utterly preventable deaths thanks to a lack of political will on the part of its leaders. It is an ugly fate thrust upon its citizens to live in a country whose economy is built upon the blood of the ordinary people, not out of sacrifice, but nonchalance. Articulated vehicles wipe out families, dreams, and human capital in one fell swoop. Press statements from the leaders are not enough. We need the May 2024 immediacy of the Tinubu administration in this sector too.

Last week, a falling container killed a woman in the Ogudu area of Lagos. The woman was inside a car when the fully loaded 40ft Mack articulated truck fell on it, leading to her instant death, according to the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA).

In October 2023, a businessman identified as Akuma Kalu, was crushed to death by a 40-feet container that fell on his car along the failed portion of Etche-Ngokpala road in Etche Local Government Area of Rivers state.

In September 2023, five women died in a fatal accident that occurred in the early hours of Friday at Odumodu Junction, Nteje, Oyi Local Government Area along Awka Road, Anambra State. As usual, the container of the truck fell upon the bus carrying these people, killing them. We could go on and on. The story remains the same: tragedy upon tragedy.

Every year, the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, does sensitisation with little result to show for it because the arm of the law is too short to punish offenders at the root of the problem. The constant assault on the senses has led to a desensitisation on the part of the populace. Month after month, another story of a truck that erases a family, or multiple families because its brakes fail, or its container is overturned. The combination of the death of empathy on the part of leaders and the emotional exhaustion of the citizens will lead Nigeria down the path of a dystopia.

The governors of each state have a responsibility to institute laws to protect the indigenes. This, the Federal Government must also do nationwide. The FRSC has rules and regulations for trucks. The Government needs to only enforce these rules. Enough of blaming the trucks themselves because they are not the evil entities. The lack of accountability and a weak system perpetuates the dilemma.

The political class should not wait until Nigeria happens to one of their own before acting as is usually the case. Most cases bear the mark of immediate fatality. By the time a family member experiences it, it would have already been too late. We have hope that this administration will do what it takes to restore hope to the common man. Time to act is now.

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