Covid-19 Lockdown: Nigerian Government Makes Room for Skeletal Banking, Petty Trading

Covid-19 Lockdown: Nigerian Government Makes Room for Skeletal Banking, Petty Trading

The Minister of Finance Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, and the Central Bank Governor, Godwin Emefiele jointly announced on Monday that the Federal Government has approved skeletal operations for banks and other financial services as the busiest states in Nigeria go on lockdown.

In line with our commitment to always provide excellent services and keep you abreast of regulatory directives that may affect you, please be informed that the Central Bank of Nigeria has suspended the clearing of cheques from March 31, 2020, until further notice, as part of measures to contain the spread of COVID-19.

However, settlement activities for electronic instruments such as NEFT and NAPs will continue during this period of suspension. (Source: UBA)

The federal government on Sunday, announced a 14-day shutdown of the FCT, Lagos and Ogun States, as a measure to curtail the spread of coronavirus pandemic. The effects of the shutdown touch many aspects of living, opening voids that make it difficult for people in the affected states to cope. One of them is the use of banking services, a situation that necessitated the intervention of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

On Monday, the apex bank shared a circular title: Notice to Affected Stakeholders and General Public Regarding COVID-19 and Restrictions in Movement of Persons, where it disclosed that it has obtained exemptions from the Federal Government for some banking activities:

“To ensure that Nigerians can still perform online transactions and use ATMs while observing these restrictions, we will like to inform the general public and all affected stakeholders that we have obtained exemptions from the president to allow very skeletal operations in the Financial System and Money Markets in order to keep the system in light operations during this time.

“To this end, all relevant staff of affected outfits and agencies should look out for further instructions from their immediate bosses. We are mindful of the difficulties this would bring on ordinary Nigerians and are grateful to the president for approving these exemptions, which should help ease some of the burdens. We urge all Nigerians to be patient, cooperative and united as all hands are on deck to defeat this virus.”

This intervention has brought calm to the environments as people were witnessed in panic withdrawal of funds on Monday.

The Lagos State Government has also embarked on data collection for the distribution of food items for sustenance of Lagosians during the stay-at-home period. The state has promised to make basic food provisions for all and appears keen to keep the promise.

Meanwhile, the police have said that street businesses which do not operate on major roads are allowed to function during the lockdown. The Lagos State Police Command’s Spokesman Bala Elkana made the clarification after reports emerged that some petty trading is going on in the streets.

Elkana said the restriction doesn’t include such businesses as long as they maintain the social distancing rule even though they don’t sell essential commodities as stipulated in the shutdown rules. He added that the enforcement unit of the police has been urged to show understanding and compassion as they go about enforcing the stay-at-home order.

“Well let me start by saying that this is not a conventional situation. The primary mandate of the police is to protect lives and properties and I am not sure we have found ourselves in this kind of situation where we need to enforce not the conventional law, but how to stop the spread of the virus.

“So this is a new one that requires new approach. It requires more of compassion, sympathy and you know something that is new also needs more time for people to get used to it. So, that is why the commissioner of police is leading the enforcement. We go round together, meet people, and also look at what the police are doing. We also gave out dedicated lines for people to call and register their complaints.

“The complaints we have received so far have been minimal and they are addressed as they come in. since the situation also affected the physical meetings between the Commissioner of Police and officers and men across the state, more radio communication is being used and so, once a complaint is received, the CP addresses it through the radio.

“The policemen have been given clearance that the shutdown basically affects markets and these are markets where they do not sell essential commodities. This does not include isolated shops on the streets. Only markets because markets attract a large number of people.

“Life must continue, we are not shutting down Lagos completely. The order did not shut down Lagos. The order is saying that markets that attract crowd to them should remain closed because they have high risk of spreading the virus.

“That is the clearance the CP gave yesterday very well to all the policemen and he made sure they all acknowledged and they understood it. He gave room for them to ask questions through the walkie-talkie on areas they needed clarification.

“Even if the shops on the streets do not deal in essential commodities, they are free to open up.

“The only condition is that crowd must not gather there. The shop owner must not have more than 25 persons at a time gathering there, and if people are coming into the shop, he should make sure that they have space.

“If you have a small shop, do not let it get congested, let some people wait outside while you attend to some. There has to be space so that there is no body contact. All these are guidelines to help us stop the spread of this virus,” Elkana said.

However, some are criticizing the government’s decision granting banks exemption to operate skeletal services while other corporations remain totally closed.

Former Senator Shehu Sani said it is no longer a lockdown: “If commercial banks and other financial institutions will still operate in Lagos while other people are confined to their homes, then it’s not lockdown but locksome,” he said.

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