•Says ministers, security agencies abandoned Buhari on new Naira project

Sergius Ogun, a member of the House of Representatives (Esan South-East Federal Constituency of Edo State), is a member of the House Adhoc Committee on Currency Swap. In this interview, Ogun speaks on how the cashless policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) would help stamp corruption and usher Nigeria into a better nation. Excerpts:

How do you describe the state of the nation?

We are faced with the challenge of currency swap that the Central Bank of Nigeria says should be done every five to eight years but it has taken 20 years now. But they gave reasons that the old notes are susceptible to counterfeiting and they had too much of them in circulation. They had to bring the money outside the banking sector into the banking sector.

So, those reasons were cogent enough and they were in the process of doing that but, side-by-side, you have the second policy, which is the cashless policy which stipulates a limit to what you can withdraw from the bank. The Nigeria Security Printing and Minting Company (also known as the MINT) claimed the CBN contracted them to print over N600 billion as of last week when they met with our committee contrary to the rumour that they only have the capacity to print N300 billion.


But the challenge was that they printed the biggest denomination of N1,000 notes instead of printing N200 and N500 that ordinary people would use. So the N1,000 notes they printed, politicians have bought them. So, what is happening is a sabotage of the system. CBN Governor Godwin Emefiele, when the committee invited him, said they had about 30,000 agents in rural areas. So, if those ones were working, why should we be facing what we are facing today? There are just glitches, let’s just bear with the situation; we will come out of it. Why it is like this is because of those who are desperate to buy votes.

But are you aware the policy has de-capitalized most of our small businesses?

Why I am saying we should bear it is because somebody with cancer will not be taking sweet pearl. I can tell you that there are benefits to it. Banditry has come down, kidnapping has been reduced and corruption may be on its way out but not completely. Even security agents are not with the president on this. How many ministers have you heard speaking on this? It is because it has now become the project of the president. So if this can help stamp out corruption, it will be a big bonus for you and I.

Who are the people spearheading the opposition to the policy?

The people heating up the polity are the likes of Governor Abdullahi Ganduje, Governor Muhammed Badaru and Governor Nasir El-Rufai. I strongly feel they are trying to undermine the president.

What about Alhaji Atiku Abubakar?

Atiku insisted that they should allow the policy to work. He only condemned the poor implementation. We know that the policy is good but there is poor implementation.

What about the Supreme Court order?

Despite the Supreme Court order, I am 100 percent with President Buhari on this matter. It must take Nigerians time to get used to not spending money. For the whole of last week till now, I have not had up to N10, 000 cash with me. Why do you think politicians are stealing? If a politician will have to go home with a bullion van, what is his salary? Have you ever asked yourself how much is the salary of the president, what’s the salary of the governor, what is the salary of the senator? A House of Representatives member doesn’t earn more than N1 million monthly.

But the cost of maintenance of cars of security men is more than N1 million. So should we not be asking questions? Let us be doing electronic transfer so that the authorities that are monitoring it would be able to monitor where the monies are going to. It will be easier that way to curb corruption. If truly we want things to change, we should be ready to take steps for things to change. But if we are doing the same thing the same way, we will not get it. The storm we are going through now can be likened to that of the Israelites.

They never faced hardship but they were being enslaved in Egypt. If they never left Egypt, can you compare what their economy is today with ours? Their fathers took the bullet. Although they wanted to go back to Egypt to eat cucumber but after going through that desert, look at what they are today. In other words, like the Israelites, this is our own desert experience and we will come out of it. If you have been listening to the prophecies of men of God, my belief is that I will see a better Nigeria in my own time if Jesus tarries. We have weak institutions in this country. But without strong institutions, how can we change the narrative?

What do you then make of the claim that the policy is a vendetta due to the past elections lost by President Buhari?

The president has gone round to campaign with his party’s presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, unless you say an 80-year-old man is deceiving himself. He wants to do the right thing and leave with a legacy. If he leaves, and this policy works by curtailing corruption, then he has achieved a mighty legacy because he campaigned with it. They have always accused him that he never fights any battle unless it is not going to affect him.

Maybe that is what is playing out. Now, he is not on the ballot and he’s too late to be impeached. But if it’s a card that will make this country work, we will still appreciate him. So, the policy is for us and not so much for him. I believe if we persevere, embrace this policy and support it, it would be to our own benefit.

What do you then make of the violent protests?

People protesting and destroying Automated Teller Machines, ATMs, are sponsored. If for instance I do my business across the road, and I use an ATM and because there is no money today I destroy it, if the money comes tomorrow, will the ATM be available for use? No! That tells you that those destroying the ATM don’t reside around there, don’t do business there. There may be an element of criminality, there’s also an element of sponsorship.

I believe those destroying ATM machines are sponsored. I got to the one in Benin. I was on a journey of two hours, and we spent six hours. It was not pleasurable at all. Protests can be spontaneous. If for example a car runs into a commercial bike rider also called Okada and it triggers a protest, that is understandable, other protests are planned, so you take time to plan them. There is nothing wrong with protests if you are bringing the attention of government to say “look this is what we are going through” and that people are suffering but once it has an element of criminality in it, then people should be concerned.

So what is the way forward?

The way forward is for government to discipline people. When the CBN met with the committee, some weeks ago, we laid our report on the floor of the House. The third resolution we gave the CBN was that they should submit a weekly report of disbursement of funds to commercial banks. If they say they are giving enough money to commercial banks but they don’t know why it is not circulating, let us know how much you are disbursing to commercial banks every week.

It’s been more than two weeks now, I don’t think they have sent any report. If we say we are a National Assembly and we are supervising what these people are doing, we have to press further to know who is lying. Is it the CBN that is lying or are the commercial banks hoarding and selling the new Naira to politicians? So there’s a sabotage in the system. But like I said, if we all work together to make it work, at the end of the day, we will come out of this because there are definite benefits that will come with the currency swap and the limit in cash re-withdrawal. We cannot borrow money to print money. Printing money is very expensive and there are things we have learned within the small window that we can do transactions.

These are things we should save money from the economy to pursue. That is why we need a good leader that can guide. The cash swap has almost come to an end. Cashless society is where the world is today and that is where we are going to. It’s a transition and the policy is good for us but the people shouting the most are politicians because they are the one sabotaging the policy. If there was no election on February 25, these problems would not have been there. That is why they are telling us to start initiating the policy after elections. Why must it start after elections, and why must elections govern our lives? Election is just a one-day event. So, everything about our lives should not be centred round elections. We should not allow politicians to manipulate us this way.

I remember that in the days of former President Jonathan, dollar was about N150 for a long time. But because we were going to election, politicians were heating up the polity so much so that people started selling stuff and sending their children abroad, and that was how dollar went up to about N190. After they won the election, there was so much goodwill, that didn’t translate to anything and that was why it went up further. See what is happening now. The incumbent is leaving and they have started heating the polity again. All we are saying is that it’s not necessary.

Election cycle should not control our lives. We are over-glamorizing political office in this part of the world. If a man’s office salary is N1million (a month), why should he spend about N4billion to get to that office when you know that in four years, there’s going to be another election and in those four years he may not earn N100 million.

So, there is nothing wrong with the policy, there’s nothing wrong with the implementation and there’s sabotage but we should persevere, cooperate with government, believing government will also be honest to us tell us what is happening, the CBN Governor reporting to our committee, telling us about the disbursement of funds to commercial banks.

That is the honesty on the part of the government we are talking about. If they are honest with us and we can verify these things, then we can work together. And within a very short time we can resolve the issues and we would have a better life.

How do you rate the functionality of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System,BVAS, introduced into election?

The elephant in the room is still INEC. If INEC is very objective, how many personnel do they even have? INEC-trained personnel are very few, so they have to engage the services of the ad-hoc staff. I once complained to a retired INEC Director that the adhoc staff that came for my election didn’t know how to operate the card reader then.

The head of the unit said accreditation was manual. So, the election monitors came and asked why it was manual? I then called the Electoral Officer, EO, on it and he said anything done on manually is a waste. So, I gave the head of the unit the phone to speak with the EO before she started using the card reader. But by 2pm she said voting had stopped.

I objected to it and called the EO again before she could allow those on the queue to vote but imagine I didn’t have a network or I could not reach the EO? But was she not trained like others? There was another scene where they gave what I scored to my opponent. Our monitoring agent was very angry and wanted to beat the young girl up and insisted that she was paid, so I had to calm him down. So this is the same set of people that would handle the BVAS. So, how well-trained are they? Secondly, how were they recruited and how well do you pay them? So, that may be a very big problem; otherwise, in other words, the BVAS will be the game changer if INEC would do the right thing.

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