THE 2023 general election is only a few hours away, but the scarcity of naira notes is the topic on the lips of most Nigerians.
With the long queues at the commercial banks, the increase in the cost of POS withdrawals, poor internet network for online banking including transfers, and a shortage of available notes, the Naira redesign policy left in its wake hardship and frustration — as the days passed, the hardship bites harder.
The Federal Government said it intends to curb vote buying in the coming election with this policy. But as the hardship intensifies, more Nigerians might be susceptible to financial inducement.
To understand the impact of this policy on voters during the polls, The ICIR spoke to several Nigerians across different local government areas in Abuja.
Some of the voters who spoke to The ICIR said they would not accept any sum during the polls; others said they would take new notes from party supporters “because they need it” but would still vote for their preferred candidates.
Some people said they were unsure if cash offers wouldn’t influence them, while others said their choices are flexible.
Choice can be switched
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One of those open to exchanging their vote for new notes is Olaolu Raymond, a 35-year-old artisan in FHA Estate, in the Lugbe area of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Although Raymond has a preferred presidential candidate, he won’t mind switching his choice, but there is a condition attached; the cash gift has to be in the new naira notes.
As a result of the shortfall in cash supply, Raymond’s business suffered setbacks. His job offers have reduced, and jobs earlier contracted to him have been challenging to execute as the cash needed to buy necessary materials is unavailable.
Raymond desperately needs cash “to work, eat, settle apprentices and go about day-to-day activities”.
“I have someone I’ll like to vote for, but if I see new money, I can change my mind; I need cash.”
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) announced on October 26 that it would be decommissioning N200, N500, and N1000 notes with new versions.
This was in line with plans to curb vote buying and fight counterfeiting, kidnapping, corruption, money laundering and other illicit financial flows.
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But since the deadline for old note usage passed, many Nigerians have experienced increased hardship.
‘We need cash’
A large crowd gathered outside Wema Bank PLC in Lugbe on Tuesday, February 21 when The ICIR visited. The bank was rowdy; people struggled to join and maintain their positions in the ATM queue.
Fights broke out at intervals, and people yelled and hurled curses at one another. The environment was agitated as people struggled for a chance to withdraw cash.
Tired, Ikenna Moses sat in one corner of the bank and watched the crowd.
“I cannot struggle with these people and I need to withdraw. I doubt it can get to my turn,” he said to The ICIR reporter who was beside him.
Moses explained that he has been trying to get cash and buy food items in his home for over a week, but his endeavours have been unsuccessful.
“This is the third time this week that I’ll be coming to the bank for money, and from the look of things, I might not get cash today either. I have money, but I can’t use it. Imagine that,” he said.
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When asked, Moses cheerfully affirmed that he intends to vote for his preferred candidate in the presidential polls.
But he noted if he is still unable to get cash by then, he might be swayed to accept a cash gift from another candidate.
Others at the bank who spoke to The ICIR affirmed that they would strictly vote for their preferred candidates. However, they would accept the money from party supporters because “they need cash.”
Traders vow to vote preferred candidates
Sandra, a petty trader at Gwagwalada market, Gwagwalada Local Government Area, has been frustrated by the cash scarcity.
The mother of two sells kerosene in a small kiosk at the market entrance. The location of her stall has always been an advantage.
People going in and out of the market would always stop at her place for kerosene.
However, due to the cash scarcity, patronage has significantly reduced.
Sandra said people who want to buy kerosene often offer to pay through a bank transfer. And she, sceptical of the network reception, would have to decline.
Sandra is determined to vote. She said nothing would sway her choice, not the cash scarcity nor low sales. She said she has sworn not to vote in exchange for money, regardless of her situation.
But Ikenna, another trader in the market, made a slightly different decision.
The thrift clothes seller said he would accept cash gifts but still vote for his preferred candidates.
Ikenna said, “If they give me new money, I will collect because I need cash, but I will not vote for them.”
The ICIR also spoke to residents in Giri and Dagiri towns, who agreed they would accept cash from other candidates — but added that it might not influence their voting choice.
No cash, no vote
A resident of Kuje, Mohammed Umar, told The ICIR that he would not be voting for any candidate unless he is offered a sum.
The bike rider spent eight hours at the bank before he was able to withdraw a sum of N5000 from his account.
Exhaustion was written all over him. As he spoke, sweat trickled down his face.
“I cannot vote for anyone just like that. This last election, I actively participated, but what good did that do for me? Look at how I struggle to spend the money I worked hard for.
“I need cash, and I will vote for whoever can offer me a good amount.”
Residents of Dabi, in Kwali LGA, said they are looking forward to the presidential poll. While some residents know their preferred candidate, others are still unsure.
Ugo, a trader in the community, is optimistic that the election can usher in a new and progressive leadership. And to make this happen, he would be participating in the poll.
However, Ugo’s choice of candidate would not stop him from accepting cash gifts from other candidates.
Considering that his business has not been thriving, the sum offered could help cater for a few of his needs.
Vote selling might increase
The head of Media and Community at YIAGA Africa, a non-profit devoted to democratic governance in Nigeria, Mashood Isah, said the scarcity of cash could compel voters to want to sell their votes.
According to him, the voters consider this a way to reduce hardship and get cash quickly.
Describing the policy as an extreme measure to curb vote buying, Isah said the limited cash supply would limit the number of votes politicians can buy. But it could also increase the number of citizens willing to sell their votes.
Isah said, “To solve vote buying, one has to look at vote buying holistically; there are laws guiding this. Cash swap alone is not sufficient to fight vote buying. We can’t keep changing notes during every election.
“Yes, the policy could reduce vote buying as limited cash would limit the number of votes a politician can afford. But on the other hand, it won’t prevent people from selling their votes.
“The people would be more inclined to sell their votes because they will see that as an easy way to get cash.
It could reduce vote buying but will increase vote selling.
“Generally, the policy has negatively impacted Nigerians. It has caused hardship; people cannot access their own money. It has made life difficult for many.”