Nigerian cash crisis brings pain: ‘Everything is just tough’

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — No one in Godgift Inemesit’s family of eight is sure when they will eat each day — except for her three kids, two of whom have malaria. She can’t pay for the drugs they need or feed the rest of her family regularly.

Like most Nigerians, the family’s savings are trapped in the bank. A changeover to redesigned currency has plunged Africa’s largest economy into crisis just ahead of a presidential election: There aren’t enough new banknotes in a country reliant on cash.

For Inemesit, 28, the shortage of cash means even basics like food and medicine are getting trimmed for her husband, mother, kids ages 4 to 8 and two other relatives. One recent afternoon, only the children had gotten bread and hot drinks.

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“We usually eat three square meals, but now we eat once sometimes because there is no money to use,” Inemesit said in her house in Banana village, an overcrowded shanty town tucked in the southern corner of the Nigerian capital of Abuja.

“We were told to drop the old currency (notes) in the bank and that new one is coming,” she said. “But we don’t have the new currency and no old currency. Everything is just tough.”

Customers are waiting all day at banks and ATMs to withdraw only enough money — called naira — to last a day. Fights have broken out in bank halls, angry customers have attacked workers and protesters have set financial institutions on fire. Businesses unable carry out transactions have been forced to close, and people are illegally selling new currency notes at higher rates.