Nigeria’s Buhari visits stronghold amid riots over currency swap

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An angry mob clashed with police Monday in the northern Nigerian city of Kano to protest a visit by President Muhammadu Buhari, as anger grew over a controversial currency swap that caught many people by surprise.

Kano, a commercial hub, has traditionally been a support base for Buhari, who is not standing for re-election in a vote less than one month away.

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It is also expected to be a key city for Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the candidate of Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) for the February 25 contest.

But when Buhari arrived by helicopter at around 1100 GMT from his country home in Daura, near the border with Niger, the demonstrators massed in the Hotoro area of the city, a flashpoint of political unrest.

Police fired shots in the air to disperse young protesters who hurled stones and screamed anti-Buhari slogans over the scarcity of a new naira currency, introduced to replace the old ones by the country’s central bank.

The currency swap aims to give authorities greater control over monetary policy, in particular to combat inflation, and tackle the amount of counterfeit bills circulating in the country.

But the sudden introduction of the change just a few weeks before the presidential vote has caused long queues at banks and money changers of Nigerians rushing to beat a deadline for turning in old notes, and at ATMs to withdraw limited news notes.

“Buhari has fallen from grace to grass, for him to shun people in his stronghold is a clear indication that he has squandered their goodwill which he has taken for granted,” a Kano resident, Shehu Musa, told AFP.

Buhari has long enjoyed massive support in Kano, where he garnered the most votes in all the four presidential elections in which he has run since 2007.

Widespread complaints had already forced the central bank to extend by two weeks its January 31 deadline to change old 200-, 500- and 1,000-naira notes to the new ones.

“It is heartless for Buhari to have introduced this policy at such a short notice, and putting tight restrictions on cash withdrawals only kills commerce and makes life difficult for people,” said another resident, Habib Sule.

“This is what has cost him the support of Kano which has been unwavering all these years, and it would have been unthinkable that Buhari would receive such a hostile welcome in Kano,” he added.

Heavily armed soldiers, police and other paramilitary personnel cordoned off all the eight locations where Buhari was billed to visit, preventing residents access.

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