CBN’s Cashless Policy and the “No Alternative” Syndrome In Policymaking, By Oluwadele Bolutife
The government, with its “signpost” of enabling a cashless economy is ill-prepared for this; and for the lack of proper words, the beneficiaries of the policy – our banks – like the legendary “lazy yoots” are bereft of innovative ideas on how to grow the economy, and therefore find unfortunate “comfort” in plowing on the backs of an already overburdened populace.
Like a thief in the night, the “no alternative” philosophy entered into our policy lexicon, and it has become almost intractable ever since. It was during the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) that the policymakers forced it down our throats. They let us know that for the country to move forward, the one and only alternative was SAP. It was to be the magic wand! But today, as it is often said, the rest has become history. As identified in one of my previous writings, many of our present woes can be traced to that era. We also know that policy is formulated to address an identified problem in society. It may be used to foster a pattern of behaviour or to correct a not-too-favourable habit. One of its cardinal focus is in developing many viable alternatives and selecting whichever one is optimal. Like it is said in the local parlance, many roads usually lead to the marketplace.
For this reason, governments all over the world continuously formulate policy to effect desirable changes in the polity. No doubt, policy needs not to be popular or even perfect, but it should at least pass the reasonableness test. One of the ways of testing that is to meaningfully engage stakeholders in robust communication before the policy that affects them is rolled out. Again, since policy is a deliberate effort to channel an action, or what is actionable, some time is given for effective transition.
The current policy on the cashless economy rolled by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), with “immediate alacrity” doesn’t seem to have passed through the rigour of “reasonableness.” Were stakeholders thoroughly engaged? For the definition of stakeholders in this instance, the Bankers’ Committee constitutes a nearly “insignificant” piece of the lot. They are more of beneficiaries.
How were the concerns of Alphonsus in Aba market; Mallam Tanko in Fage; Arimoro, the Osomalo in Erekesan market; Baba Kwara in Oke Arin; or Uncle Bassey in Tinapa incorporated into the making of the policy? Will they now be punished after having suffered the loss of goods to fake “credit alert” from dubious customers, hence insisting on receiving cash before goods are delivered?
How well are the supportive infrastructures in place to make the policy worthwhile? In an environment where we continuously hear of “servers were down,” how on earth was that not addressed to its logical conclusion before we are served with another “not going back” phenomenon, which is not only disrespectful but an unfortunate part of our military hangover? And talking about constant complaints of “servers’ breakdown,” one has had a fair share of experiences that will require a complete treatise to narrate. As of recent, one heard of many occasions where the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System (NIBSS) had to return transactions initiated through it as the platform for e-transfers because the receiving banks cannot accept money due to “technical reasons” (the regular masked words for server’ breakdown).
However, from close observation, since this rather “hasty” policy was announced, the banks in Nigeria have been inundating their customers with endless emails. Oh, so the servers are no longer breaking down? With ‘sweet’ and free money to be made, our banks have suddenly become hyper-efficient, and are not waiting to feed us with “we are sorry for the inconvenience” they usually deplore to explain some of the pains they afflict on us, such as that of ATM failure, when one’s account was debited even when no money was discharged. Not to talk of the ‘eternity’ it takes to reverse a ‘simple’ entry, so far it benefits the customers. This current policy is ‘sweeter’ than foreign exchange round-tripping, as it has “executive backing” of “stealing from the poor to pay the already bloated rich.”
Can this policy be subjected to rigorous analysis with due consideration for the infrastructural deficiency that makes the cashless economy more utopian than reality? What will be the effects of erratic networks and gross electricity insufficiency on the otherwise laudable project?
The imperfection of strategy atimes is what makes room for its reviews, which may lead to its reversal, correction, or outright abrogation. Can this policy be subjected to rigorous analysis with due consideration for the infrastructural deficiency that makes the cashless economy more utopian than reality? What will be the effects of erratic networks and gross electricity insufficiency on the otherwise laudable project?
Perhaps, this is another means of “fighting corruption” since the biometric verification number (BVN) has not achieved the desired effect of “curbing” the circulation of fleece money, especially amongst government functionaries. What does a “bribe-taker” lose if an “insignificant” part of the bribe is used to service bank charges? In an environment heavy on the unbanked populace, how will the policy drive more people further away from the banks? Will it produce more “Bakin Zuwos”, who will instead keep the cash out of the reach of the “glutinous offspring” of the “Daewoo Racer Professionals”?
In short, the policy is akin to a hungry man walking around looking for where to eat. Then suddenly he sees a signpost saying: “come inside, food is ready.” He gladly goes in, only to be welcomed to the sound of pepper being ground. He is then told to exercise a little patience as finishing touches are being put to the food. He is also asked what he would like to eat. After being given water to keep him company or perhaps to ‘trap’ him, he thereafter hears the owner of the eatery saying; “Bukky, go and collect two bottles of palm oil from Iya Risi. On your way, collect one paint bucket of yellow gari from Chinedu, then collect two cups of egusi from Mama Blessing. Also, do not forget to collect two cups of crayfish from Mama Ifot (actually Ufot), and tell Mallam Sule to bring the meat quickly o. Go with your brother. You people should not start fighting on the way. Be quick; the customer is waiting.”
The government, with its “signpost” of enabling a cashless economy is ill-prepared for this; and for the lack of proper words, the beneficiaries of the policy – our banks – like the legendary “lazy yoots” are bereft of innovative ideas on how to grow the economy, and therefore find unfortunate “comfort” in plowing on the backs of an already overburdened populace. The argument of how many people have the N500,000 cash ceiling as the amount possible for bank withdrawals notwithstanding, the policy is merely building on the existing “dubious” protocol of “no alternative”, that has become the regrettable fulcrum of our policymaking. Yet again, I’m just thinking aloud.
Oluwadele L. Bolutife, a chartered accountant and a public policy and administration scholar, writes from Canada.