Protests erupted in Lagos, Ogun State, and Rivers on Friday over the naira scarcity and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)’s currency swap policy.
Since the CBN began to swap old naira bills for new, re-designed ones, Nigerians have continued to battle a shortage of cash.
The cash scarcity has triggered protests in major cities as angry customers attacked banks and barricaded roads in unrest just days before Nigeria holds a presidential election.
President Muhammadu Buhari in a Thursday broadcast sought to ease the scarcity by allowing old N200 bills to circulate until April 10. Old N500 and N1,000 notes were no longer legal tenders, he said.
But that did not dissuade some angry persons who hit the streets in several parts of Nigeria. In the nation’s commercial capital, the protests took place around the Mile 12, Ojota, and Ketu areas of the state.
At Ojota, close to the busy Mile 12 food market, a crowd of protesters gathered as early as 7 am and set fire to used tyres to block the popular Ikorodu road. Many motorists were stranded.
Similar protests broke out in the Agege, Ikotu, Iyana-Iba, Ipaja and Abule-Egba areas as angry protesters barricaded roads and major streets with burning tyres.
But it degenerated into chaos when suspected louts hijacked the protest. Videos on social media showed people scampering for safety with many commuters reportedly attacked.
Business owners were forced to close to avoid attacks and vandalisation.
Security forces were later deployed to the areas before normalcy was restored. In the wake of the incident, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State called for calm, saying there is no need for violence.
CP Idowu Owohunwa at Mile 12 to have an on-the-spot assessment of the situation.
Other parts of Lagos State were equally visited.
‘Trouble makers will surely be dealt with while law abiding citizens will be protected.’ – CP Idowu Owohunwa. pic.twitter.com/xqJ3OoeJ8c
— SP Benjamin Hundeyin (@BenHundeyin) February 17, 2023
“Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu believes there is no need for violence as the Supreme Court is looking into this controversial matter and will make its position known on February 22,” the Lagos State Information and Strategy Commissioner Gbenga Omotosho said in a statement.
“Residents should continue to be law-abiding by shunning any form of incitement by mischief makers,” he added.
Our officials led by our Commander, CSP Yinka Egbeyemi are presently in Ibafo on intelligence that hoodlums blocked the Lagos – Ibadan Expressway which created extended traffic to Otedola Bridge.
Our officers are clearing debris of burnt tyres left by the hoodlums. pic.twitter.com/FPIWUP00WO
— Lagos State Police Command II (@rrslagos767) February 17, 2023
In neighbouring Ogun State, the situation was the same as protesters took to the streets at the Mowe end of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.
They set bonfires on the road, forcing motorists to turn back. It also spread to the Magboro axis of the highway. This caused motorists to turn back to the Lagos end of the road. The recent protest followed a similar one in the Abeokuta area of the state with some banking facilities destroyed.
Governor Dapo Abiodun then threatened to shut down banks rejecting the old naira notes. On Friday, he extended it to businesses or other organisation.
“The Ogun State Government will be revoking the certificate of occupancy, CofO of any corporation or store that rejects old Naira notes from members of the public in the State in exchange for goods and services,” he said, citing a Supreme Court ruling that said the old naira notes are still legal tenders.
The Ogun State Government will be revoking the certificate of occupancy, CofO of any corporation or store that rejects old Naira notes from members of the public in the State in exchange for goods and services.
— Prince Dr. Dapo Abiodun – MFR (@dabiodunMFR) February 17, 2023
But the South-West region was not the only part of Nigeria that experienced unrest on Friday over the naira policy.
Miles away in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, angry residents stormed the streets around the Mile 3 Market along Ikwerre Road. It, however, turned violent when hoodlums hijacked the protests and stripped people of their valuables.
Some shops in the area were also burgled and cars along the streets were damaged. Drivers and passersby were equally wounded. Hours after, peace was restored with the Rivers State Commissioner of Police Okon Effiong confirming this to Channels Television.
The state Governor Nyesom Wike has repeatedly faulted the naira swap policy, saying it was ill-timed and won’t help in the fight against corruption.
“Mr President, I know the pressure. But please, since two of us are going at the same time, this policy has nothing to [do with trying to] fight corruption at all. It has nothing to [do with trying to] fight politicians at all,” he said at the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) campaign rally in Okrika Local Government Area
“The policy aims to suffer the people who elected us to govern over them (sic). Our business is not to make people suffer. We all know how to fight corruption; we all know how to fight politicians. This particular one does not come in at all.”
Friday’s protests were the latest to hit Nigeria over the cash shortages, which are raising tensions before the February 25 ballot to elect the successor to Buhari.
The CBN said the currency policy was aimed at clearing up excess and counterfeit naira as well as discouraging cash ransom payments to kidnappers and bandits.
The policy was also introduced to promote cashless transactions by limiting the use of cash for businesses.