SANUSI LAMIDO SANUSI PLAYS GOD
When some renowned Nigerian intellectuals like Prof. Pat Utomi were describing Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, as emotional, reckless, with a penchant to play to the gallery, over his banking reforms about a year ago, I was inclined to give Sanusi the benefit of doubt. When Sanusi himself gave the terroristic antics of the Western dominated, racist, obtuse, morally delinquent IMF leadership's destructive economic recommendations against African best interests a TKO, in March, 2011, I was completely bowled over to Sanusi's side. I started seeing him, along with Prof. Attahiru Jega, as the first two potential Nigerian presidential materials to blossom out of the North in our recent history. Sanusi's dumb announcement in April, 2011, to limit individual customers' daily money bank withdrawals and lodgments to N150, 000.00, confirmed beyond doubt that our Pat Utomis were right all along about their assessment of Sanusi as being bereft of substance and full of drama and hyperbole.
May be his recent award as the World's Central Bank Governor of the year got into his head and he decided to play God. He even boasts about not going back on his plans as if his mandate as the Nigeria Central Bank Governor stretches to the point of limiting how much cash an individual bank customer can withdraw from or lodge daily in money bank accounts. No Central Bank Governor in the world has such a mandate. No head of state has such a mandate either, definitely not the Nigerian President. Our National Assembly could make such a law only after declaring a national emergency as a consequence of a debilitating war situation perhaps.
The relationship between a bank depositor and his bank is predicated on the trust that the customer can withdraw his money at will and without penalties the next minute after making the deposit, regardless of the amount involved. In other words, he can close his account any minute and any day, no matter the amount in the account. This law is sacrosanct and is the most important one in the relationship between banks and their customers. When you withdraw this rule, you destroy banking. You are telling customers not to trust their banks, or that our banks are financially stressed and unreliable, and that customers should keep their cash under their pillows at home. Eighty percent of the money in circulation in Nigeria is outside the banking system. With this Sanusi's scare, the twenty percent domestic activities money in banks is being asked to join the eighty percent cash outside the banking system.
The safest time-proven way to withdraw money from a bank account is with signatures and physical appearances before bank cashers. The system is not hundred percent theft proof but is a long way more secure than using ATM machines or POS terminals or credit cards, which are extremely unsafe and untried in our environment. Electronic money is propelled by electricity. There are several communities in Nigeria that have never enjoyed electricity use. Even in our urban areas, we often do not have electricity for days, weeks and even months at a time. Would buying and selling businesses have to stop when there is no electricity?
The POS system works like the Western Union or Money Gram transfers which Nigerian banks have turned into a nightmarish experience for customers. Bank clerks after verifying customers' withdrawal secret codes on their computers, tell the customers either that their money has not arrived or that the codes are incorrect, and ask the customers to check with their benefactors. While the customers are out of the bank trying to reach their benefactors on the phone etc, the bank clerks use proxies to collect the money and tell the customers when they return to the bank, that the money has been collected. Bank authorities treat such grossly aggrieved and cheated customers' protests often with levity and turn the heat on the customers as if they are the thieves.
Our banks sabotage the ATMs too. More money has been stolen by bank staff in Nigeria in the last two years through the ATM cash withdrawal system than through signature induced cash withdrawals in the last twenty years, for instance. Everyone I know, using the bank ATM machines, has lost staggering amounts to bank staff in the last two years and this is because private codes facilitating withdrawals consist of numbers and or letters easy to memorise and use by thieves without attracting forgery notice as with signatures. There are several cases in courts at the moment involving millions of naira stolen by bank staff through the ATM facility.
Credit cards are just as unsafe as the ATMs because many people have access and can steal customers' private codes or PINs at the terminal end of purchases or services. Nigeria is not only notorious as one of the most corrupt nations on earth, several chief executives of banks and their wives are being prosecuted at the moment for stealing their banks sick to the tune of billions of naira. Nine out of 24 Nigerian banks are stressed almost beyond rescue right now by their chief executive scoundrels and we do not know how many of the banks would survive even three months from now. These bank chiefs form the core of the Bankers Committee hailing Sanusi on, to force the e-money system on citizens, because the system is easy for them to manipulate and undermine. You dare not issue dud cheques in advanced economies. Our Central bank has not measured up to that task yet. Our cheques bounce like yoyos; our credit cards are suspect; our ATM/POS are robbers' toys, and Sanusi wants to kill cash transactions, the only system that is slightly sane in our environment right now.
The legal instrument of doing business in Nigeria and the instrument recognized by the constitution is the naira cash currency. All other forms of exchange whether electronic or barter are optional and cannot be forced as replacement for naira cash usage. In other words, the individual has the option and prerogative to indulge in the options at his or her own risk. Even in very sophisticated societies were the optional instruments of doing business have been in operation for decades and have achieved some measure of popularity and efficiency, the optional forms of money for doing business remain optional, which the individual is not forced to use but is free to indulge in at his peril. The facilitators of credit cards such as the VISA and MasterCard are still struggling to perfect the reduction of their illegal usage around the world with a new chip recently introduced. There are websites on the Internet selling credit card codes and PINs discretely. Nigerians are among the most notorious credit card fraudsters and abusers abroad so you can imagine what they could turn the system into in their own environment.
There is no cashless country in the world and no country restricts cash withdrawals or deposits. Sanusi quotes the examples of Kenya and Uganda to support his plan. These countries do not restrict cash deposits and withdrawals. What has happened in Kenya, Uganda, Europe and the USA is that the e-money system has won customers' confidence enough to be in popular use in retail and other outlets and to compete with cash withdrawals from banks. It has not removed cash withdrawals or deposits; it has only become the preferred choice of customers by its efficiency, convenience and reliability. In Britain and the USA, I withdraw thousands of dollars or pounds cash from my account when I visit and want to buy things to bring back to Nigeria. In fact, abroad, restrictions on withdrawals are placed on electronic money rather than on cash withdrawals because of the relatively insecure nature of the e-money system. Because ATMs are placed in public places where a robber with gun could be standing next to you on the queue, it is dangerous to openly and brazenly withdraw a lot of cash in broad day light. Credit card withdrawals are on the average limited to periodic manageable amounts such as $100 or pounds, to control the volume of money that could be stolen at a time.
You can not jump from the fiftieth economy in the world to the twentieth, let alone to number one, in twelve months. I wonder if there is something we do not know yet about who got what and how e-money licenses? The scandalous haste to surpass countries that have been using e-money for forty to fifty years, in one noon-day swoop that puts the cart before the horse, or practice above learning, is very disturbing in deed. This is more so in our society where 99.9% of the people do not know what e-money means and 95% is ICT illiterate. Sixty to eighty percent more Nigerians need to have access to banking facilities before e-money can begin to compete with cash transactions. These people cannot be cajoled into banking halls in one year of newspaper advert blitz they are too illiterate to read, or TV and Radio jingles they have no electricity to see or hear. It would require, at least, ten years of intensive mass literacy drive, consistent proven evidence of strong growth in confidence in doing business with banks, and massive incentives by banks to attract customers to use the options. Incentives similar to what mobile phone companies currently use to win over customers.
How many outlets in Nigeria yet accept credit cards? I am not aware of any. One might be able to use it for airline tickets to travel abroad and on the Internet to buy goods or services but how many Nigerians are travelling abroad or living by the Internet? Is my neighbourhood shop or the Ajegunle market woman selling provisions online? Can I use credit cards to buy stuffs from Alaba market or car parts from Oshodi or Mushin? Is Sanusi's mum Internet literate? What about his maiguard, washerman, housemaid, driver? How do they begin to live on e-money in one over-night plunge? Can I use credit cards to buy land or pay school fees or sponsor ceremonies like graduation or freedom parties or birthdays for my kids or the birth of a new born baby or the death anniversary of a parent, or the marriage of a daughter? Will celebrants accept the excuse that Sanusi did not allow me to withdraw enough money from my bank account? How do I sponsor relatives' business activities or feed or bury the dead or pay for utility services' or accident victims' bills? Would rural clinics accept credit cards or would dying patients have to wait for the e-money to materialize into real money, or credit cards verified, before receiving treatment?
On the day I first read about Sanusi's cash transaction restrictions, I had gone to the bank to withdraw N600k. By the evening of that day, I had less than N8k cash left from the money withdrawn. I had spent the cash repairing my car, helping some relatives, buying food items for the home, paying domestic staff salaries and picking a N28k generating set from Alaba market for a friend's shop. Of course, I do not spend N600k daily but no one has the right to restrict me from spending more or less than that daily on essential needs if I have the money.
If 80% of the cash used in Nigeria is from outside banking, is it not wicked to try to restrict movements of the 20% cash in banks? Most of the money individuals spend daily in Nigeria is spent in the informal market. Our informal business sector accounts for over 80% of Nigeria's domestic economic activities and depends entirely on cash usage. The informal market feeds the formal and vice versa. There is a symbiotic relationship. Money moves unhindered between them. The urban dweller, perhaps banked, hires transportation at great expense to the rural areas to buy truck loads of yams, plantains, groundnuts, palm oil and even cows to bring back to Sanusi's urban market to distribute to retail outlets. Millions of naira business takes place daily at petrol stations, beer or textile distributors' outlets, electronic shops etc, which by Sanusi's laws, they cannot bank and must take home to keep under their pillows. Sanusi believes the informal market does not exist or matter because it does not trade with e-money or on the Internet.
Sanusi says he is doing us a favour by saving cost of managing cash movements. No country penalizes self and her citizens by truncating economic activities because of such inconsequential or negligible social cost. A robust economy benefits from citizens' free use of cash etc. In any case, how much cash are we moving in our 'yeye' economy anyway, compared with the economies of developed countries like the USA, Japan and Germany? Our supposed large cash movement is due to our irrational and unrealistic exchange rate of 156 or more naira to the dollar. If we maintain the correct exchange rate of ten naira to the dollar, we would have less volume of naira chasing after a dollar worth of business or services. A book that costs $30 in the USA should not cost more than N300 in Nigeria, but our bad economic policies force us to pay the equivalent of the average Nigerian worker's monthly salary for the book. Does that make sense? How are we going to develop if we do not read and cannot buy basic necessities of life taken for granted by rank and file workers around the world, just because IMF says so?
The Governor of the Central Bank has other less expensive ways of reducing cost of managing cash movement. He recently printed plastic rather than paper cash for the lower denominations of the naira. It is not popular because it does not fold easily, in a society where large cash amounts have to be carried about in pockets of attires, but the Central bank cannot be faulted because it saves currency wear and tear costs.
Soludo, the previous Central Bank Governor, came up with the laudable idea of moving our exchange rate of a hundred naira to the dollar then, one decimal point to the left of the rate, at the early stages of Yar'Adua's regime, but all hell was let loose because the president said he was not carried along. Ghana moved their exchange rate decimal point, three steps to the left without qualms, and it has reduced the cost of managing large cash movements in Ghana. The alternative to such decimal point movement of the exchange rate is not the limitation of customers' cash withdrawals from money banks. Surprisingly, Sanusi himself knows this because he said at a meeting with the Senate Committee on Finance on 27 May, 2011, that his intention is to bring to their knees, our economically most successful 10% dealing in large cash amounts. First of all, it is daft to claim that withdrawal of over N150k daily is limited to ten percent depositors. It cuts across all strata of depositors ten percent of the time. It is time sensitive, but Sanusi is targeting the middle class.
Sanusi, rather than grow 90% catch-up, wants to retard and pauperize our most progressive and promising. A satanic and backward geo-political agenda to regiment, cage and destroy, the struggling youthful generation, creating a fledgling Nigerian middle class on their own steam from the ashes of Babangida's structural adjustment disaster. Can Sanusi use N150k to cut a music video or shoot a movie in the savage jungle of our cruel work space that lacks all basic survival amenities? The middle class is the engine room of any society. They are the innovators, inventors, risk takers, investors and entrepreneurs. Without the middle class, no society can grow. Babangida with the help of the IMF killed our middle class in his time. Now Sanusi, with the help of the World Bank wants to snuff life out of our fledgling middle class. Why is the World Bank not restricting cash withdrawals and deposits in their advanced economies? Why do they leave the choice of what options to use, to the customers in Europe and the USA? If Jonathan will not call his rascally Central Bank Governor to order, the Senate should, otherwise, Nigerians should go to the courts to stop Sanusi's madness because no body can stop me from or penalise me for closing my bank account any time or day I choose, regardless of the amount involved.
Naiwu Osahon: Sage of the New World Order, renowned author, philosopher of science, mystique, leader of the world Pan-African Movement.