Nigeria's Atiku joins calls to extend deadline on old banknotes

FILE PHOTO: A person holds a new 1000 Naira note as the Central Bank of Nigeria releases the notes to the public through the banks in Abuja
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LAGOS (Reuters) - Nigerian opposition presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar urged the central bank on Saturday to extend a Jan. 31 deadline to phase out old high-value banknotes, a measure many Nigerians fear will disrupt business in the cash-reliant economy.

Nigerians have to turn in 1,000 ($2.17), 500 and 200 naira notes by Tuesday when they cease to be legal tender. The central bank started releasing newly designed notes last month but many Nigerians say they are not yet available in banks.

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) says recalling the notes is part of plans to reduce the use of cash. About 1.3 trillion naira in old notes has been deposited into the bank since the announcement in October, the bank said this week.

However, in Africa's biggest economy Nigeria, most people live in rural areas and the biggest employer is the informal sector where cash is used for most transactions.

Atiku, the main opposition People's Democratic Party's candidate in next month's presidential election, said it would be impossible for most of Nigeria's unbanked population to turn in their old notes in time.

"I'm aware of the challenges that farmers and others like artisans in remote areas of the country go through in moving cash to commercial banks for the conversion," Atiku said in a video.

"It is important for the CBN to consider an extension of the time that the public convert their bank monies into new notes, thereby reducing the financial consequences for citizens."

Nigerian legislators have also asked the central bank to extend the Tuesday deadline.

In Lagos, some shops were rejecting old banknotes at the weekend in anticipation of the deadline.

($1 = 459.7800 naira)

(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Helen Popper)