A Cashless Society and the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC)

Yesterday, I couldn’t completely pay the vulcanizer who fixed two of my four tyres. I was strapped for cash and the option of electronic money transfer was out because “Madam, I nor get the account number.”

My experience is not a peculiar one; 90 per cent of Nigerians or more have similar tales.

Unless you have been living under a rock in Nigeria for the last two months, you should be familiar with the suffering of its citizens due to the country’s Central Bank process for the naira redesign of the following denominations – 200, 500, and 1, 000.

It has resulted in a severe scarcity of new notes; people regularly besieging banks’ premises from the early hours of the day; some banks closing early, opening late or not at all; a spike in online transactions; point-of-sales operators making a killing out a dire situation; and petty traders, like the vulcanizer above, unable to effectively conduct their businesses because they are cash-dependent.

But what has all of these got to do with the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC)?

A lot. Stay with me.

For one, it is a government establishment, generating revenue for its boss – the Nigerian Government. For another, it should be seen as furthering the cause of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) – enabling a cashless society.

But alas, the NRC collects only cash in exchange for tickets at its counter. At least for the Lagos-Abeokuta-Ibadan route.

Some commuters of the railway service on LinkedIn, where this aberration was raised and discussed, shared their experiences. They all uttered the same thing in varying forms, confirming the cash-only policy of the NRC.

“How come the Central Bank of Nigeria has instituted a cashless policy and buying a ticket at the railway counter can only be done by cash?”

“It is ridiculous that a corporation with that magnitude of business will insist on receiving cash for their services. Why not POS or transfer?”

“I have had to pay cash every time I used the train service.”

This appears to be a blatant disregard for the directive of the CBN and indeed the Nigerian Government. And a frustrating, avoidable scenario when the country is undergoing severe naira notes scarcity.

However, one commuter mentioned the Abuja-Kaduna route in his comment and by way of trying to make sense of NRC’s behaviour: “I’m aware that there is (used to be) an e-payment option for e-tickets on it. . . not sure if it was a pilot program that was meant to be deployed to other parts of the country based on its success or otherwise, but the e-ticketing worked while it lasted.”

Well, it looks like this technology is still on its way to the former capital of Nigeria, Lagos. If you go to the NRC’s website, there is a ticketing app and instructions on how to pay without using physical cash. Just not for the Lagos-Abeokuta-Ibadan route.

A World Bank’s Country Partnership Framework 2021-24 (CPF) for Nigeria might explain this anomaly. It proposes advancement in key engagement areas including human capital investment and strengthening the foundations of public sector institutions; moves which will encourage a joined-up approach between government institutions to deliver successful implementation policies.

In other words, “the Nigerian Government is simply unable to successfully implement policy initiatives,” concluded yet another comment on the social media platform.

Sad, and probably true.

However, it does not deter from making Nigerians ponder: What does the NRC have against POS/electronic transfer payments? Even market traders, and commercial bus drivers and their conductors in the metropolis have embraced the electronic funds’ transfer methods for goods and services rendered. Fuel station attendants too when their POS devices begin to act up.

Yet a government corporation with such a magnitude of daily business transactions wants to be left behind? In the 21st century? At a time Nigerians are sweating profusely to get cash? Does the NRC, a public sector institution that should be championing the cashless policy, realise that insisting on cash for government services is, perhaps, creating a breeding ground for corruption to thrive?

Two weeks have gone by since this discus and the NRC is yet to make a comment, refuting or justifying its unfriendly ticketing process. Not as a press release or on its website.

While Nigerians await a plausible response to this huge misnomer, let me go in search of cash to pay the vulcanizer.

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