By Elvis Eromosele
There is a popular theory that Nigerians are resilient. The CBN naira redesign policy put that famous theory to the test in several ways. People have been stretched in a myriad of directions in the scramble to overcome the scarcity of new naira notes. Banking halls, ATM points, and POS stations are packed out with people seeking cash to handle everyday transactions.
Every day over the last couple of weeks has been a nightmare for most Nigerians. Many have struggled to pay for the essentials including food not because they don’t have money but simply due to the challenge of accessing funds from the banks.
Banks have been vilified for this reason. Some have even called them ‘economic saboteurs’. This perception unfortunately led to attacks on bank branches, including arson. Preventable.
There are other villains in this stodgy tale – the POS operators who overcharge to exchange cash, the bank staff who sell cash and the regulator of the financial sector, the CBN.
In my books, the CBN failed on two fronts. Number one, it was slow to wise up to the antics of the banks as they refuse to dispense the new naira notes all through December and the first three weeks in January. Also, the CBN hardly appeared to have had a communication strategy for the naira redesign policy.
My focus here is on communication shortcomings.
How many jingles were created and aired? Were there any billboards? How about television commercials?
It would appear that the CBN did not treat the whole exercise with the seriousness that it deserves, in terms of communication.
It makes one question whether the CBN has a communications unit. What role did public relations play to get the message out there? The CBN could have done more to communicate the naira redesign message. I’ll be quick to admit that because the whole process has politics written all other it, the CBN’s communications team was possibly hamstrung all through. This does not excuse the bank.
Now, when a central bank introduces new currency notes, it’s important to communicate the change to all citizens in the country. And it must do it effectively. The bank must take certain steps to get the message out there.
For instance, the central bank can issue public announcements through various media channels such as newspapers, radio, television, and social media platforms. The announcements should provide clear information about the new currency notes, including their design, security features, and the timeline for the introduction.
Aside from one or two advertisements in print newspapers and social media posts, how radio and television jingles did the CBN deploy?
How many persons reading this can remember any message about the naira redesign policy?
Please note that we are possibly the group that most actively seeks news.
The central bank should have launched and pushed educational campaigns to educate the public about the new currency notes. Brochures, flyers, and posters would have been produced during this campaign and distributed to schools, banks, and public places such as shopping malls, markets, and bus stops.
In addition, the CBN could have sought opportunities for collaboration with banks and financial institutions to ensure that they are aware of the new currency notes and can help in spreading the message to their customers. It could have partnered with the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR), the National Orientation Agency (NOA)and the Federal Ministries of Information and Communications and Digital Economy.
With the partnership, telecommunications services providers could have easily sent out text and WhatsApp messages every weekday and twice on weekends.
The central bank could also have provided training sessions for businesses and retailers to ensure that they are aware of the new currency notes and can educate their customers about the changes.
We should ask questions. For instance, how many public events such as exhibitions, roadshows, and seminars did the CBN organise to showcase the new currency notes and provide information to the public?
When it set a deadline for the demonetization of the old notes, did it provide clear guidelines on how and where to exchange them?
How many people can honestly say that the central bank used a variety of communication methods to ensure that the message reaches all citizens in the country?
Did the CBN provide clear and concise information to avoid confusion and facilitate a smooth transition to the new currency notes?
The answer to these questions is a measure of the effectiveness of the CBN’s naira redesign
The reality is that the CBN could have done more. The truth is that all through the period, the CBN acted like it couldn’t be bothered.
In implementing a project such as introducing new currency notes, it’s essential for the central bank to continuously monitor and review the process to ensure that it stays on track and achieves its objectives. This would have helped it make the necessary adjustments.
How did the bank fare here?
Consider monitoring. The central bank ought to have monitored the project’s progress regularly, and if possible, in real time. This will enable it to identify issues and address them promptly.
The CBN failed to monitor the banks.
The central bank was almost asleep while the banks withheld new naira notes. It played the ostrich when people complained about the unwillingness of the banks to load ATMs with the new notes or pay across the counter.
Furthermore, the collection of feedback from stakeholders, such as citizens, financial institutions, and businesses should have been a priority. This enables it to evaluate the satisfaction with the new currency notes and the project’s overall progress.
How about the area of identifying potential risks to the project’s success and the development of plans to mitigate or manage them? Were there contingency plans in place in case of unexpected events? Did it activate these plans when things went south?
Did the central bank seek external expertise to provide an independent assessment of the project’s progress and suggest areas for improvement?
Did the CBN do everything that it could to ensure that the project achieved its intended objectives?
The first time that I saw a new note was the last week in January 2023. Of course, I didn’t mind because I could still use the old notes. Panic began to set in when the January 31, deadline drew close.
As patriotic Nigerians, we pretend to understand the haste but we can’t excuse the shortcomings, failings and gross inefficiency with which the process was handled.
The CBN, it would appear, didn’t rate the citizens. It pretended not to hear genuine complaints, ignored veritable solutions and refuse to evaluate the process to improve it.
The CBN could have done a lot of things differently and better. The suffering the people went through was needless and we should be talking about compensation.
The central bank didn’t do justice to the naira redesign communication. So, the CBN should be rightly counted as a villain in this naira redesign imbroglio.
Eromosele, a Corporate Communication professional and public affairs analyst lives in Lagos.