Naira as symbol of our collective identity (1)

(By Oni Oluwafemi)

The big question is, “who can be held responsible for the mutilating naira notes in circulation? Nearly every Nigerian is responsible for the dirty and mutilated notes that are circulating daily in the country, including banks which prefer to recycle dirty notes instead of returning them to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Nigeria currency, the Naira, is unarguably one of the currencies that are badly handled in the world. Naira notes hardly last for more than one year owing to poor or negative money handling practices like spraying during ceremonies where such notes may be trampled upon when they fall on the ground.

ALL around the globe, the use of currencies as legal means of transacting business is an age-old mode of facilitating commerce and economic growth. Money is used as a medium of exchange for goods and services, settlement of debts and for deferred payments in economic activities. The essence of money is now laid bare. Money is wanted not for its own sake but for things it will buy. Trade by batter which had been used for exchange, gave way to the age of paper money. It can be rightly argued that colonialism brought a new dimension to our socio-economic values. The colonial government embarked on the institution of a monetary economy so as to integrate it into the imperial capital economy. To this end, a new currency that could sustain any expanding market economy replaced the hitherto cumbersome cowry and manila for British coins and currency notes. The earliest banks were the British Bank for West Africa (known today as First Bank of Nigeria Plc) and Barclays Bank, DCO.

    In Nigeria, the currency is highly abused especially in the manner by which it is handled. At present, it is commonly seen faded, torn, stapled, cellotaped, squeezed and written on them. Dirty notes are common sights in the society. A first-time visitor to the country would be surprised at the sight of dirty, mutilated and then the stinking Nigerian currency notes.  Daily transactions have made the naira notes to pass through many hands or are placed in dirty spots. When paying for a transaction, the seller prefers clean note yet they are scarce. Moreso, dirty notes continue to go around in circulation because people do not have confidence in transacting business with cheques in a society where nobody trusts one another. This is why cash is used for nearly every business transaction. I could remember a mutilated N50 note that a bus conductor once gave me, boldly scribbled on the note was “ahorai”. Initially I was shocked to see this kind of note, the person sitting close to me in the commercial bus shouted that I should not collect the N50 note. He said the N50 note may have spiritual connotation! Haba! For how long are we going to continue to deface the note all in the name of spiritual motive?

   The big question is, “who can be held responsible for the mutilating naira notes in circulation? Nearly every Nigerian is responsible for the dirty and mutilated notes that are circulating daily in the country, including banks which prefer to recycle dirty notes instead of returning them to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Nigeria currency, the Naira, is unarguably one of the currencies that are badly handled in the world. Naira notes hardly last for more than one year owing to poor or negative money handling practices like spraying during ceremonies where such notes may be trampled upon when they fall on the ground. From market women to commercial transport operators, and even road side grocery sellers, it is not uncommon to hear that the naira note offered as medium of exchange has been rejected because it is either mutilated or dirty. Nigeria’s currency, the Naira, in all its denominations, has been severely mutilated, overused and over-circulated such that it has become an issue of luck to come across a clean note. Access to clean notes is now by luck, a special request with pleas and sometimes, financial inducement and purchase from sellers who have taken to the streets to sell the clean notes to legitimate customers who have no access to them.

   In the past, mutilated or dirty notes were not common in currency circulation. Anyone with such notes only needed to walk into any banking hall to get them exchanged for new and crispy ones. Today, the situation has changed, as most banks in the country scarcely pay out new notes. It’s always a shouting match in banking halls, where bank notes considered to have been mutilated are being refused. Depositors are quick to ask if they are the makers of the bad naira note. While it is the policy of the Central Bank to ensure that clean notes are issued into the circulation, it is only through the commercial banks that it could get the clean notes to the public. And while the banks are expected to bring back for counting and destruction of old notes, they do the contrary, so when people go to banks to withdraw their money, what they get is a mixture of mutilated dirty notes.

   Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) should not be wholly blamed for the mutilated monies in circulation. Rather, the entire Nigeria citizenry should be blamed as a result of poor or negative money handling practices like spraying during ceremonies. Notes are sprayed on the celebrant(s) and in the process fall on the ground where a large number of people dancing, step on them with soiled shoes or even bare ground. In fact, it is deliberate to allow them to fall on the ground so that the littered notes could show how much money they have to throw around.  This results in a considerable amount of physical dirty/mutilated naira notes. No thanks to our local musicians who encourage them as they begin to sing their praises to high heavens. I think PMAN should wade in to this. Musicians should be contented with the professional fees they charge for performance at parties. If there is any need to spray at a party, the invited musicians should have added this to his professional fees.

   Not only this, also common among market traders is the superstitious belief that it is not good to use bare hands to collect notes on a Monday morning. According to them, it is advisable that one uses saliva to rub the two hands before collecting monies from any customers on any Monday morning! It is also presumed among the same market traders that notes (especially higher denominations) can disappear. So they bite after using the convenience off a tip from a corner of the note. If asked why, they tell you that this is to ensure non-disappearance of the money. This act alone is a major form of defacing and mutilating of notes by the public. It is imperative that market women are sensitised on the ills this superstitious practice has on the general public health.

To be continued.

• Oluwafemi is a PhD student of University of Lagos.

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