Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, yesterday, announced the postponement of President Muhammadu Buhari’s visit to Kano State to commission some projects, citing security reasons but interpreted in some quarters as a move to avoid a repeat of last Thursday’s protest by some Katsina residents to register their displeasure over the difficulties ongoing currency swap is causing in the nation when the President visited his home state.
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) had set Tuesday as the deadline for Nigerians to exchange old Naira notes with new ones after the apex bank redesigned the nation’s currency.
But many Nigerians say it is difficult to get the new notes as the distribution is restricted to ATMs and not through bank counters.
The process has inevitably created long queues at ATM points even as people lamented the scarcity of the new notes and the effect on doing business.
Reports last week indicated that many communities across Nigeria had started rejecting the old Naira as legal tender regardless of the slow injection of the new notes into circulation.
Alarmed by the development, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, begged the CBN to extend the deadline for the cessation of the old Naira as legal tender.
Meanwhile, Buhari appeared to have waded into the swap chaos, yesterday,. when he assured that government will eliminate the squeeze.
The President had scheduled to visit Kano tomorrow to commission projects executed by the Ganduje administration.
The projects include a new bridge/ interchange, 10 megawatts independent hydropower project, a multi-billion naira ultra-modern cancer Centre, the Dala Dry Inland Port and solar power projects.
Others are the 700 teachers’ housing estate and the Dangote Ultra-modern Skill Acquisition Center.
Ganduje confirmed that the state had written to the Presidency that the visit had been aborted during interactive sessions with scholars, legislators, political leaders and the business community in the state at Government House, Kano.
The governor, according to a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Abba Anwar, said the decision was taken to avoid any unforeseen circumstances.
“As we are waiting for this important visit, we found ourselves in this situation which puts citizens into untold hardship. For security purposes we wrote to Presidency that the President Muhammadu Buhari’s visit to Kano is postponed”, he said.
“We got an acknowledgement copy of the letter. People are really suffering because of this policy.”
“There are no banks in most of our rural communities. How these people get new Naira notes is of great concern. Just look at what is happening in our urban areas, people go and spend hours upon hours in banks. And without any assurances of getting the new notes.”
Even at Point of Sale (POS), according to the governor, one cannot transact with ease, hinting that many of them closed shops due to uncertainty.
He emphasized that Kano, being a commercial hub, must be heard loudly.
“This problem affects all of us. Therefore our voice must be heard in all nooks and crannies. We are a commercial hub. As such our position must be loud and clear”, the governor stated.
Ganduje stressed that, under one platform, governors, without consideration of party affiliation, sent delegates to Buhari complaining to him about the hardship caused by the new development.
“Governors from all the political parties put heads together and sent delegates but to no avail. Traditional rulers followed the same path, but individually. But up to now, there is nothing in that respect,” he disclosed.
In Kano, according to him, the government calls leaders of all sections of people around whenever a situation like this arises. “We invited scholars who were here yesterday. And today we are having this interactive session with your business community and our legislators,” the governor said.
To validate the position of the Kano people, as contained in the letter sent, Ganduje would take representatives from sections of the populace to go and see Buhari and hear from them verbatim.
During the meeting with sections of citizens in the state, they accepted that the decision to postpone the Buhari visit was a unanimous one as they all spoke in support of the letter sent to the Presidency.
Two senators from the All Progressives Congress (APC), Kabiru Ibrahim Gaya and Barau Jibrin, 20 members of the House of Representatives and 30 legislators from the state House of Assembly were among the groups that put their weight behind the governor.
Some youths had staged a protest in Katsina against the Naira swap difficulties and the economic hardship in the country shortly after Buhari inaugurated the Kofar Kaura Underpass last Thursday.
The protesters caused a commotion as they threw stones at the crowd after the President left the area.
The boys also set up bonfires along the Yahaya Madaki Way a few meters from the underpass, while shouting: ‘We don’t need you,’ ‘We no go do,’ in Hausa.
A viral video showed a mass of youths violently denouncing the government as they engaged some policemen on the road.
The development came 72 hours after the presidential standard bearer of the Labour Party, Peter Obi, was stoned by suspected hoodlums at a campaign rally in Katsina.
Atiku, yesterday, joined calls to prevail on the CBN and the Federal Government to extend the cash swap deadline.
The PDP presidential candidate appealed to them to reconsider the deadline to ease the suffering of ordinary Nigerians who, according to him, are finding it difficult to exchange the old Naira for the new ones.
He spoke in a video posted on his verified Twitter handle @atiku.
He said, “The ongoing policy by the Central Bank of Nigeria to redesign the Naira has generated wide reactions across the country and beyond.
“This exercise is a worldwide practice and therefore not anything new especially as the January 31st deadline draws closer, a great number of Nigerians out of good conscience have expressed apprehension about how the policy deadline will make life more difficult for Nigerians.
“The large number of unbaked Nigerians who do their business, especially in rural areas will find it difficult almost impossible to meet up with the January 31st deadline to exchange their old bank notes with the redesigned currencies.
“I’m aware of the challenges farmers and other artisans face with moving money to commercial banks for the conversion.
“On this note, I’m compelled to align my position with the upsurge of demands for a small extension of the monetary conversion policy. The January 31st deadline is certainly going to cause heavy discomfort for our people.”
The PDP candidate explained that his appeal hinged on the fact that he knows that the intention of the monetary policy was not to hurt the poor.
A statement by Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to the President, yesterday, said Buhari had assured that government will ensure that citizens are unharmed in their businesses and no disruption is caused to the entire supply chain arising from the currency swap due to end shortly.
Reacting to reports of long queues of people waiting for hours for their turn to deposit old notes and get new ones, triggering public anger and opposition’s criticism, Shehu quoted his principal as reiterating that the currency changes were aimed at people hoarding illicit funds and not the common man and that it had become necessary to prevent counterfeits, corruption, and terrorist funding.
“This, he assured, will stabilize and strengthen the economy”, a statement signed by the spokesman said.
“While taking note that the poorest section of society is facing hardship as they often keep hard cash at home for various expenses, President Buhari gave strong assurances that the government will not leave them to their own fate.
“He reiterated that a number of initiatives by the Central Bank and all commercial banks are underway to speed up distribution of the new notes and do all that is necessary to forestall cash squeeze and chaos’’.