By Bose Adebayo and Nwakanma Chukwuma
Time was 2.30 pm when the commercial bus took off from Mile 12 to Oshodi on that sunny day. The passengers who were mostly traders were engrossed in sundryÂ conversations when the conductor made an announcement in Yoruba: â€œEni ba ni eti meji, ki o gbo o, moto yi o gba owo atiâ€™jo oâ€( meaning: Whosoever has ears should listen. We do not collect old currency notes in this bus).
Blessing Akubueze and her two friends, Emily and Augusta who were the only Igbo passengers in the bus did not bother to seek for the interpretation of the announcement until the passengers were asked to pay their fares of N70.
Blessing gave the conductor N200 and an old N10 note, informing that they would alightÂ at Charley Boy Bus-stop.Â To everybodyâ€™s astonishment, the conductor responded by raining abuses on them after which he also threw the old N10 note at them. â€œEti yin di nigbati mo n pariwo pe mi o fe owo yii…?(meaning: Were you deaf when I announced that I will not accept the old currency?). I will not allow you to come down at Charley Boy until you change this money O,â€ he threatened.
Indeed, the conduct made good his threat as he and his driver forcefully prevented the three passengers from alighting at Charley Boy Bus-stop. It took the intervention of other commuters before the passengers were allowed to go.
But not before the situation almost degenerated into a free for all fight, with other passengers sharply divided between the conductor and Blessing. While some said the old notes were still legal tender, others argued that they were no longer acceptable in the society.
The Central Bank of Nigeria had earlier announced that the old paper notes of N5, N10 and N50 which came into circulation in September 2009 would cease to be a legal tender by the end of March. However, some individuals started rejecting the notes by the first week of the month.
Vanguard Metroâ€™s investigations revealed that the old notes are now outrightly being rejected by most commercial vehicle operators and traders.Â Funny enough, the notes are also no longer accepted byÂ uniformed officials who prey on commercial drivers by extorting money from them. For instance, a commercial driver who conveyed this reporter from Ejigbo en route Iyana-Ipaja was almost arrested by some uniformed men at Idimu for daring to offer them the old N50 currency when theÂ fellow they use as a front approached the driver for â€˜settlementâ€™.
When Vanguard Metro sought peopleâ€™s opinion on the issue, many of them said they have been finding it difficult spending the old currencies. â€œSince police men have stopped collecting the old currencies at road blocks, who else would collect them when they is no longer acceptable among government officials?â€ asked a commercial driver, Ernest Godwin.
â€œRejection of these currencies implies that CBN is not doing enough in terms of awareness at the grassroots; it should therefore act in the interest of the populace by mounting a serious campaign on it,â€ said Madam Bunmi Awoyinfa.
A trader at Alaba International Market, Mr. Cletus Eke, lamented that transacting business with the notes has been difficult in the past few weeks. â€œThe idea of changing currencies to polymer notes is encouraging since it will help to preserve the notes,â€ he said, but decried the slow pace in withdrawing the old notes from circulation.
At Iyana-Iba market along the Lagos- Badagry expressway, a trader Mrs. Morenike sholanke said: â€œTo pay a bus conductor or a trader with the old currencies will only attract insults which makes one to wonder if all the campaigns by the CBN for the extension of the expiration date is getting to the grassroots at all. Both the elites and illiterates alike now reject the notes,â€ she said.
A civil servant Mr. Tunde Adams told Vanguard Metro thus: â€œI no longer accept the notes because at the end of the day, nobody is willing to collect them from me. Rejection of the notes started in March. Though I know the notes are still valid according to the CBN, but what can I do since nobody will collect them from me anywhere I go,â€ he asked rather helplessly.
â€œIf I collect the money, I will not be able to spend it. I have a lot of them with me in my house. Look at this N5 note (she showed this reporter an oldÂ N5 note). I collected it from a buyer. Since the beginning of this month, nobody has accepted it from me. How will I be encouraged to collect it from others? If you make any attempt to take them to banks, only God knows the number of hours you will spend on the long queues there,â€ said Mrs. Atinuke Oshodi.