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The dry ATMs – Tribune

By The Citizen
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It is the country's most joyous festive season, but Nigerians are lamenting. In the past two weeks at least, withdrawals at the Automated Teller Machine (ATM) points and even the banking halls have become a painful experience.  Of course, the country being in the grip of a recession, there was no way that the majority of Nigerians could have celebrated last Christmas with the comfort, however relative, of previous years. As over three million Nigerians were also caught in the disappointment of the Mavrodi Moneybox Mundial (MMM) Ponzi scheme, things became a lot more complicated. But more disappointments were to come as, two days before Christmas, customers were decrying the dearth of  cash at the ATM points  across the country. As widely reported in the national dailies, Nigerians went through harrowing experiences trying to withdraw their money from most of the banks which, quite inscrutably, 'ran out of cash' trying to meet customers' demands. However, if Nigerians hoped that the nightmare of scarcity would vanish with the Christmas, they were grossly mistaken.  The situation has refused to abate, as the New Year approaches, and there is apprehension in the land.

Many of the ATMs are not working, and customers have to endure long and excruciating queues.  Because of the pressing nature of the needs that those on queue are aiming to meet, the ATM points have become sites of verbal and, in some cases, physical aggression. Simply put, they have become theatres of avoidable conflict. Probably because of the reported circular  issued to the commercial banks to peg withdrawals at N30 million per day, withdrawing one's money has become a daunting exercise, and even some lucky customers have had to contend with the sordid experience of receiving their money only in N100 notes. The impression is given, as the customer exits the banking hall, that he or she has withdrawn millions of naira, and extra vigilance is needed to escape the traps of pickpockets and thieves.

In many cases, customers cannot withdraw more than N15,000 per day, even if they try using different ATM points. The suggestion is rife that this limitation on spending is a strategy for curbing recession. This, however, is a chronically uninformed step, because restricting spending during a recession is nothing but a recipe for disaster. To conquer a recession, you have to spend your way out of it. The government has consistently spoken of its efforts to reflate the economy, so why restrict spending? Why give something to the economy with one hand while simultaneously taking it back with the other?

Because about 90 percent of financial transactions in the country are cash-based, the shortage of the naira is having very adverse effects on the economy. This is particularly saddening because the Christmas/New Year season is a period of intense economic activity when Nigerians go out of their way to give themselves a treat after labouring for the past one year; it is a period where the purchase and consumption of food, clothing, household appliances and other basic needs is arguably the highest in the year. This year, however, as bank customers struggle to pry money from the unwilling ATMs, business activities have stagnated, and many families are in pain.

Amidst this anomaly, the only explanation offered by the Although the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) so far has been that the country's banking system is 'very sound', a patently absurd self congratulatory statement that further testifies to the derision with which officialdom views the long-suffering masses. What kind of banking system denies customers access to their hard-earned money, particularly when they need it most? Can the apex bank claim to be unaware of the pains that Nigerians are going through in the banking halls and the ATM points?

The money that Nigerians put in the banks is for their comfort, and denying them access to it, particularly at the present trying times, is to assault their humanity and put their forbearance to the test. Nigerians, irrespective of the appalling conditions in which the majority of them are trapped, have cultivated a culture of savings; they should not be forced to close their accounts at the nation's commercial banks. There must be money to spend this season and beyond. We call on the CBN to address the issue of the shortage of the naira in the economy without delay. The ATMs must obey legitimate command.