Economics, Politics

Nigerian Government Takes Tough Stance Against Currency Abuse

Ogunbiyi Kayode


April 21, 2024

Dear Beamers,

Greetings! We can all agree that the glorification of societal malaise can lead to its normalization, potentially resulting in well-intentioned efforts against it being perceived as acts of extreme patriotism. However, it’s important to recognize that extreme measures of patriotism, particularly those involving violence towards other nations, do not align with genuine patriotism. True patriotism is exemplified by the defense of our dignity and the preservation of our national identity, including the symbolism represented by our currency.

A nation’s domestic currency serves as a symbolic representation akin to a flag, distinguishing it within the international community. In Nigeria, however, the treatment of the naira often lacks the reverence and care it deserves, with frequent instances of abuse, mutilation, and tearing by its citizens. This disregard for the currency reflects a broader lack of appreciation and respect for its significance. In this week’s newsletter, we endeavor to enlighten readers about the concerning issue of naira abuse and propose strategies to deter such behavior through well-researched insights and information.

“Every country has its own currency. Here in Nigeria, it’s the naira and kobo, used for buying and selling goods and services. Naira is a big part of our national identity. In other places, people treat their currency with the same respect they give their national symbols. European countries even have laws against mistreating their money, making it a duty for everyone to handle it carefully and respectfully.” Says Adewale Adefila

Preserving the integrity of our currency is paramount, necessitating diligent management to uphold its value relative to other currencies and ensure its cleanliness through proper handling. Regrettably, certain individuals in Nigeria have demonstrated a disregard for these principles, engaging in careless treatment of the naira that tarnishes our nation’s reputation and integrity.

For this reason, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has intensified its enforcement efforts to combat naira abuse, emphasizing its commitment to upholding the currency’s integrity. As stipulated in the institution’s founding legislation, one of the primary mandates of the CBN is to safeguard the stability of the currency relative to other global currencies. Additionally, the CBN plays a vital role in fostering respect for the currency among both domestic and international stakeholders, thereby preventing its misuse. Failure to fulfill these obligations not only undermines the currency but also constitutes a violation of the mandate entrusted to the CBN by its governing legislation.

In pursuit of enhancing the esteem accorded to the naira, the CBN has introduced the Clean Notes Policy. This initiative, established by the CBN, aims to enhance the physical condition and longevity of circulating banknotes. The policy mandates that the production and issuance of new banknotes, as well as their recirculation, adhere strictly to predefined standards. Furthermore, it seeks to maintain the quality of naira banknotes in circulation at a high standard to facilitate seamless processing and widespread acceptance among the populace.

Various forms of naira abuse are pervasive, and many individuals have either been tempted to engage in such practices or have fallen victim to them. Naira abuse is particularly rampant in settings where currency serves as the primary medium of exchange throughout Nigeria. One commonly discussed example involves traders in local markets who habitually crumple and mishandle the naira as they store it in their “tobi” (a long rope-like pocket typically tied around the waist), bras, or pockets. Similarly, in banking halls, individuals are observed retrieving cash from concealed locations within their attire, resulting in the rough handling and soiling of banknotes.

Olaleye Adamu believes that naira abuse is a popular phenomenon, with even hardworking individuals being significant contributors to it. In his words,

“Naira abuse is rampant in Nigeria, practiced by individuals across all sectors of society, including some of our leaders. A common occurrence involves professionals in technical fields mishandling the currency at their workplaces. While some bus conductors demonstrate organization by neatly arranging money according to denominations for efficient transactions, others engage in reckless behavior, such as squeezing the notes as if they were disposable. Mechanics, hawkers, and food sellers are also guilty of mishandling naira, with some maintaining cleanliness while others contribute to its degradation.”

The negligent treatment of the naira extends to gatherings such as parties and social events. In recent times, there has been a growing concern regarding the practice of “spraying” naira notes at parties, often to the extent of attendees stepping on the money while dancing. This behavior has become normalized among affluent members of society who flaunt their extravagant lifestyles by showering parties with stacks of naira from suitcases, creating a spectacle for all to witness. Unfortunately, the money is frequently trampled upon during the festivities before being collected. Rather than engaging in such displays of opulence, a more prudent approach would be to directly provide the intended cash gifts to the celebrant or performer, thereby avoiding unnecessary waste and disrespect towards the currency.

The spraying of money at events and crumpling of banknotes are among the commonly observed forms of naira abuse, yet they are not the sole manifestations of such behavior. Some individuals engage in the unlawful act of writing on banknotes, a practice deemed criminal by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Similarly, stamping on banknotes is also considered a criminal offense, as the pins used can lead to the corrosion of the currency.

Additionally, staining banknotes with oil or ink constitutes defacement, further degrading the integrity of the naira. Defaced or torn banknotes impede the sorting process, resulting in a diminished output of clean banknotes. Such actions undermine the sense of pride and confidence that Nigerians should have in their currency, as any form of defacement serves as a derogatory reflection on the nation.

Sukanmi Oyeyemi, a Lagos-based event planner, contends that it would be biased to claim that this behavior is exclusive to the affluent and their offspring. He expressed:

“Both the rich and the less privileged participate in currency spraying, depending on the type of gatherings they attend. The cleanliness of the currency isn’t necessarily determined by their socioeconomic status. While the currency sprayed by those with less means may not always be neat or many, they still engage in the practice to join in the festivities or feel included. In contrast, the wealthy acquire fresh notes directly from the central bank, emitting a distinct, attractive odor.”

While the meticulous arrangement of money bundles sprayed at parties in successive bags may appear commendable and culturally acceptable, the manner and context in which these currencies are distributed suggest a blatant disregard for the integrity of any respectable currency. It is a reprehensible practice often perpetrated by public servants and esteemed individuals who are well aware of the economic implications of naira abuse. These individuals, who are expected to serve as role models and mentors in responsible currency management, instead, promote a culture of disrespect towards the naira as long as it gratifies them, regardless of its ethical implications.

The prevalence of naira abuse is escalating and beginning to be perceived as a societal norm without causing concern. If left unaddressed, it risks perpetuating itself as a detrimental habit passed down through generations. Therefore, proactive and stringent measures must be promptly implemented to curb this trend before it becomes ingrained in our cultural fabric.

However, how can this type of abuse be effectively deterred to ensure prompt compliance? Legally, a stringent measure that has demonstrated efficacy over time is the imposition of jail terms and imprisonment. In a society governed by the rule of law, where legal statutes are impartial and apply to all, the prospect of imprisonment serves as a powerful deterrent, compelling individuals to refrain from engaging in activities that could jeopardize their freedom.

An unsettling question arises: will this law be effectively enforced? In a society like Nigeria, where certain influential individuals are perceived as immune to legal consequences and are considered untouchable, there are concerns about the robustness of law enforcement. This underscores the necessity for collaborative efforts between law enforcement agencies and an incorruptible legal system to ensure the effective implementation and enforcement of these laws.

According to Stella Dario, a student at a Nigerian university,

“It’s inevitable that over time, even the strictest rules will lose their power. In the end, it’s likely that it will be the poor or average Nigerians who end up facing jail time for naira abuse, while the wealthy will continue to wield their influence with impunity. This reflects the inequality and disregard for the rule of law in our country, where laws often seem to be enforced more rigorously against the less privileged while the rich remain untouched by consequences.”

Now more than ever, decisive steps must be taken to preserve and uphold respect for the naira. There is a pressing need for sustained public awareness campaigns on naira abuse and proper handling practices to prolong the lifespan of banknotes and mitigate the significant costs associated with processing and replacing them. Such campaigns will ensure that everyone remains uniformly informed about the importance of valuing the naira and the consequences of its abuse.

The CBN should conduct public sensitization campaigns on the proper handling and security features of Naira banknotes. Efforts to promote and maintain public confidence in our currency should be reinforced, particularly in conjunction with campaigns against the abuse and counterfeiting of the Naira, treating such actions as criminal offenses. Additionally, measures should be implemented to ensure that deposit money banks (DMBs) do not recirculate dirty notes, as this practice significantly contributes to the spread of poor-quality banknotes.

Local banks should periodically organize seminars for representatives of financial institutions, various cash handlers, and security personnel to educate them on the fundamental security features of naira notes and the significance of handling the currency as a national symbol. Additionally, the Central Bank should continue its efforts to provide and distribute educational and training materials to the public, police, and other cash handlers. These initiatives will enhance public awareness and promote proper handling of naira banknotes.

The public also plays a significant role in combating naira abuse through various means. Familiarizing oneself with the security features on banknotes can help detect counterfeit currency, which is a form of currency abuse.

Tawa Nambo, a trader, offers some valuable insights into detecting counterfeit banknotes. She states:

“Detecting counterfeit banknotes is actually quite straightforward. First, take a close look at the printing quality, paying attention to details. Next, compare the note with another of the same denomination and series to spot any discrepancies. Then, tilt the banknote to observe the silver lining on the higher denominations, which should become visible when held against a light source. Finally, feel the texture of the banknote, as genuine currency typically has a distinct feel that counterfeit notes often lack.”

Above all, the federal government holds a paramount responsibility and authority in safeguarding the integrity of the naira. To address the issue of illicit naira spraying at events, the Federal Government should establish a dedicated monitoring task force tasked with overseeing all gatherings, regardless of their organizers or locations. Individuals found engaging in such activities should be prosecuted in accordance with the law.

Furthermore, the Federal Government should mandate the withdrawal and destruction of all mutilated currencies currently in circulation. This process must be closely monitored to ensure the proper destruction of the mutilated currencies, as past reports have revealed instances where such currencies, intended for destruction, re-entered circulation due to corrupt and fraudulent practices among certain bank officials.

Restoring the pride of our nation necessitates deliberate actions in the correct direction. Many systemic flaws have been overlooked for too long, and rectifying them now requires stringent processes. However, it is better to act late than not at all. Our naira symbolizes our national pride, and how we handle it with dignity reflects our respect for our country to the world. Achieving this objective demands collective efforts to guide any transgressors toward the right path. To address the multitude of challenges facing our nation, we must begin by repairing each fissure, starting with a renewed emphasis on respecting our currency like never before.

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