Dozens of black market currency dealers in Abuja were arrested on Tuesday during an operation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in a bid to halt the free fall of the naira.
The EFCC at about noon raided the Sheraton Hotel area of Wuse Zone 4 in Abuja, where dozens of Bureau De Change (BDC) operators ply their trade.
Naira plunged rapidly between Monday and Tuesday to more than 840 in Abuja a week after the the Central Bank of Nigeria said it will replace higher notes.
President Muhammadu Buhari has backed the move, saying it will help fight corruption. His finance minister criticised the policy.
In a desperate bid to stop a further crash of the naira, the anti-graft agency officials raided the currency dealers offices.
One of PREMIUM TIMES’ reporters who was at the scene of the arrests, said two white Toyota buses were filled up with currency dealers whom EFCC operatives apprehended during the operation on Tuesday.
Colleagues of the detained currency dealers were seen milling around the two buses, appealing to the EFCC officials to release them.
Our reporter saw two white buses parked in front of the Musawa House along Constantine Street of Wuse Zone 4, the EFCC blocked traffic to Constantine Street with two other white buses.
BDC operators who did not want to be named for fear of arrest, said the dollar sold at N860 as of 1p.m on Tuesday.
A dollar was sold at N860 as of 1p.m on Tuesday.
“For now, there is no dollar to sell. This morning (Tuesday), a dollar was selling for N850, while I bought a dollar at N840,” the operator said.
“As of 1.53p.m, the USD was selling between N870 and N900 depending on sellers and buyers bargaining power,” another BDC operator told PREMIUM TIMES.
‘Arrests won’t halt dollar scarcity’
A currency dealer who identified himself as Nuhu said the arrests of his colleagues by the EFCC will not solve the problem of dollar scarcity.
“How will the arrest of BDC operators stop the demand for dollars, when the federal government has failed to meet customers’ demand?” he asked.
Another BDC operator, who did not have his name mentioned for fear of being hounded, said: “until the CBN meets the demands of forex users, the problem will continue.”
He explained that the raid by the EFCC was a cosmetic attempt to deal with a deeply rooted financial crisis.
At the Zenith Bank branch at Wuse Zone 4, our reporter observed that currency dealers thronged to withdraw dollars, suggesting even some bankers are conspiring with BDC operators to make a brisk business out of the lingering currency volatility.
Wilson Uwujaren, EFCC’s spokesperson, said “I can confirm that there was an operation there (Wuse Zone 4 Abuja). That is the most I can say for now,” Mr Uwujaren told PREMIUM TIMES in a telephone interview on Tuesday.
On his part, Association of Bureaux De Change Operators president, Aminu Gwadabe, in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES said he is not aware of the arrest of any licensed BDC operators, but that he knows that some “currency hawkers” were arrested.
“Hawking of currency is a crime,” Mr Gwadabe said.
The currency dealer urged all licensed BDC operators to be careful because they are currently in a trying period.
“Let’s be careful so that we will not fall victim,” he said.
Mr Gwadabe said they are demanding that the federal government revisit the sanction on BDC operators.
He said: “We were suspended because of all these criminalisation. So we are already in the bad books of the CBN for so many infractions. We are still talking to them not to throw the baby and the bad water.”
“If a licensed BDC operator is seen hawking currency on the street it is rather unfortunate. Our members should not be involved. With this redesigning of currency, our members should not be used,” the BDC association president told PREMIUM TIMES.
Mr Gwadabe described his members as “the gatekeepers” and that when people see that they are porous, they may want to take advantage of them.
“In fact, the suspension of BDC operators has made them weaker and even made the unlicensed ones stronger,” he added.