Nigerian leader defends currency swap as pain, protests grow

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said Thursday that the country’s redesigned currency would bolster the upcoming presidential election, appealing for an end to violent protests over a resulting cash shortage that has led to daylong lines at banks, business closures and people unable to pay for basic needs. As he came under growing pressure to intervene after days of bank attacks by Nigerians who have failed to withdraw their money, Buhari pointed to the expected gains from swapping out the old naira notes, from curbing surging 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 legacy step by this administration towards laying a strong foundation for free and fair elections,” Buhari said. Nigerians have been unable to access cash in recent weeks after the country’s central bank started switching out currency notes of higher denominations of 1,000 naira ($2.16), 500 naira ($1.08), 200 naira (43 U.S. cents) with redesigned ones. Policymakers said the move will help make Africa’s largest economy cashless and more inclusive. But a limited supply of new notes in banks has resulted in pain instead for many who deposited their old currency ahead of a Feb. 10 deadline but are now unable to withdraw cash to use. The West African country is heavily reliant on cash and only 45% of adults owned a bank account as of 2021, according to the World Bank.