Dozens of black market foreign exchange dealers in Abuja were arrested on Tuesday during an operation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in an attempt to stop the free fall of the naira.
Around noon, the EFCC raided the Sheraton Hotel area of Wuse Zone 4 in Abuja, where dozens of Bureau of Exchange (BDC) operators ply their trade.
Naira plunged quickly between Monday and Tuesday to more than 840 in Abuja a week after the Nigerian Central Bank said it will replace higher notes.
President Muhammadu Buhari has backed the move, saying it will help fight corruption. His finance minister criticized the policy.
In a desperate attempt to stop a further slide in the naira, officials from the anti-corruption agency raided the offices of currency dealers.
One of the PREMIUM TIMES reporters who was at the scene of the arrests said that two white Toyota buses were filled with currency smugglers that EFCC agents detained during Tuesday’s operation.
Colleagues of the detained currency traders were seen circling the two buses, appealing to EFCC officials to release them.
Our reporter saw two white buses parked in front of Musawa House along Constantine Street in Wuse Zone 4, the EFCC blocked traffic to Constantine Street with another two white buses.
BDC traders, who did not want to be identified for fear of arrest, said the dollar was sold at N860 as of 1 pm Tuesday.
“For now there is no dollar to sell. This morning (Tuesday) one dollar was selling at N850, while I bought one dollar at N840,” the trader said.
“As of 1:53 pm, USD was trading between N870 and N900 depending on the trading power of sellers and buyers,”
“Arrests Won’t Stop Dollar Shortage”
A foreign exchange trader who identified himself as Nuhu said the EFCC’s arrests of his colleagues will not solve the dollar shortage problem.
“How will the arrest of BDC operators stop the demand for dollars, when the federal government has failed to meet customer demand?” she asked.
Another BDC trader, who did not mention his name for fear of being harassed, said: “Until the CBN satisfies the demands of currency users, the problem will continue.”
He explained that the EFCC raid was a cosmetic attempt to deal with a deep-seated financial crisis.
At the Zenith Bank branch in Wuse Zone 4, our reporter observed forex dealers flocking to withdraw dollars, suggesting that even some bankers are colluding with BDC dealers to make a good deal out of the persistent currency volatility.
EFCC spokesman Wilson Uwujaren said: “I can confirm there was an operation there (Wuse Zone 4, Abuja). That is the most I can say for now,” Uwujaren told PREMIUM TIMES in a telephone interview on Tuesday.
For his part, the president of the Association of Bureaux De Change Operators, Aminu Gwadabe, in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES, said that he is not aware of the arrest of any licensed BDC operators, but that he knows that some “foreign exchange sellers” were arrested.
“Selling currency is a crime,” Gwadabe said.
The forex trader urged all licensed BDC traders to be careful because they are currently in a trial period.
“Let us be careful so that we are not victims,” he said.
Gwadabe said they are demanding that the federal government review the sanctioning of BDC operators.
He said: “We were suspended because of all this criminalization. So we are already in the CBN bad books for so many infractions. We are still talking to them so they don’t throw the baby and the bad water.”
“If you see a licensed BDC operator selling money on the street, it’s pretty unlucky. Our members should not be involved. With this redesign of the currency, our members should not be used,” the president of the BDC association 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 weakened them and even strengthened the unlicensed ones,” he added.