Nigerian leader defends currency swap as protests mount

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday said the country’s redesigned currency would boost the upcoming presidential election and called for an end to violent protests over a resulting cash shortage This has led to bank lines lasting for days, business closures and people unable to pay for their basic needs.

When he came under increasing pressure to intervene after days of bank attacks by Nigerians who refused to withdraw their moneyBuhari pointed to expected gains from exchanging the old naira notes, from curbing rising inflation to reducing the influence of money in the Feb. 25 vote to elect his successor.

“This is a positive departure from the past and represents a bold step by this government to lay a strong foundation for free and fair elections,” Buhari said.

Nigerians do not have access to cash in recent weeks after the country’s central bank began exchanging higher denominations of 1,000 naira ($2.16), 500 naira ($1.08), 200 naira (43 US cents) notes for redesigned notes.

Politicians said the move will help make Africa’s largest economy more cashless and inclusive. But a limited supply of new notes in banks has instead caused pain for many who deposited their old currency before the February 10 deadline but are now unable to withdraw cash.

The West African country relies heavily on cash and, according to the World Bank, only 45% of adults held a bank account in 2021. The limited supply has forced people to wait in line at banks all day and all night to try to withdraw cash that only lasts for a day.

On Wednesday, week-long anti-cash protests continued to escalate in Nigeria’s southern region, where two banks were torched and major roads blocked, halting commercial activity. In Edo state, police fired tear gas at protesters as they attacked banking facilities.

Adding to the pain of ongoing fuel shortages in major cities across Nigeria, many businesses have been forced to close, putting further pressure on the informal economy – from agriculture to street trading – which is key to economic growth.

Buhari urged “violence likely to disrupt the electoral process” in the elections that would see Africa’s most populous country elect a new president after his second and final term.

“Unscrupulous banking industry officials” who are sabotaging monetary policy being challenged in court by hoarding new bills must be prosecuted, said Buhari, who extended the use of the old 200-naira note until April 10 to get all over those unintended ones Results.”

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