The Central Bank of Nigeria has mobilized 30,000 agents nationwide to help the vulnerable and those living in remote areas exchange their cash for the nation’s new currency.
The bank has also extended the deadline for exchanging old bills by 10 days, saying some 30 percent of the old bills are still in circulation. But critics say authorities should have stuck to the deadline for the currency swap.
The deployment of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) agents followed Sunday's announcement of a 10-day extension of the January 31 deadline for citizens to swap their old cash for the new currency.
The central bank said the gesture was to allow more citizens to exchange their old bills and reduce the risk of losses, especially for those in Nigeria’s rural areas with limited access to financial services.
The CBN also approved a seven-day window period after the new deadline, during which citizens still holding the old currency must then deposit the bills directly to the central bank.
But while many praise the longer changeover time, Abuja resident Prince Eromosele said the CBN succumbed to pressures from the political class.
"I had this feeling that it might be extended because of the APC and PDP presidential aspirants' reactions,” Eromosele aid. “If I'm being honest, I'm very, very disappointed with the CBN governor. Thirty-first is 31st, Nigerians had already started adapting to it already, we just have to make rules and abide by them.”
The measure, launched in October, saw the redesigning of Nigeria’s 200-, 500-, and 1000-naira notes.
The move is meant to combat counterfeiting, encourage more online payments and reduce crime, including the practice of vote-buying using stashes of accumulated cash.
Nigeria holds general elections next month.
Ndu Nwokolo, a lead partner at Nextier a public policy think tank, said the currency swap is beneficial.
"I think what CBN did was to look at some critical variables around the system in terms of the present circumstances in the country,” he said. “You have an election going on, you have the pressures from political parties, you have the ongoing fuel crisis, these things are all drivers, and the economy is interwoven. So, I think they looked at the entire situation."
Some 40 percent of Nigerians do not have access to bank services. Nwokolo said the exchange swap is an opportunity to correct that.
"It could be another opportunity to start looking at how you start getting these people into the legal banking system,” Nwokolo said. “You don't want a situation where the politicians can cash in on that and cause a kind of revolt against the government.”
The central bank has faced backlash from critics opposed to the currency reforms, including some lawmakers.
Last week, the speaker of the house of representatives threatened to arrest Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele over his refusal to appear before the house committee investigating the alleged scarcity of the redesigned naira notes across the country.
Meanwhile Nigeria’s secret police are investigating Emefiele for alleged financial crimes, financing terrorism and graft.
This is Nigeria's first currency update in nearly two decades.