Cyril Mbah, Abuja.
Many patriotic Nigerians have commended the Naira redesign initiative, which was introduced recently by the Central Bank of Nigeria [CBN], to rescue the ailing currency and help control the amount of money in circulation in and outside the country.
The Central Bank of Nigeria gave several valid reasons why it embarked on the costly redesign of the currency, its timing, the secrecy surrounding its execution and the potential advantages of the project. It vehemently shot down every opposition directed at killing the policy and did everything possible to prevent enemies of the nation from scuttling the scheme.
Sharp opposition against the policy which came from numerous quarters, including the Federal Ministry of Finance were quickly absorbed and easily swept under the carpet primarily because the policy had the backing of President Muhammadu Buhari, who saw in the scheme the opportunity of using it to advance the failed anti-corruption war of the present administration.
As the controversy raged, politicians went to town with allegations that the policy was targeted at preventing or denying opposition political parties access to funds for campaign spending to give the ruling All Progressives Congress [APC] undue advantage against other parties.
The CBN has since denied the allegations and stated that the policy targets people who hoard cash at home, in their farms and in pits as well as unpatriotic elements including drug dealers and kidnap merchants, who forcefully grab people at random, even in broad day time and ask for ransom payment in cash for the release of their victims. It however admitted that the policy also targets politicians who may hope to deploy millions of Naira for vote buying during the general elections later this year.
For whatever it is worth, the currency change policy has been adjudged, even by opponents of the Buhari regime, as a master stroke or the last joker against people who are bent on sabotaging the efforts of the present administration to improve the economy and push-up the value of the Naira against other international currencies especially the US Dollar. Many critics have even ranked the policy as the best initiative or the only tangible achievement of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration in the past seven and half years.
Observers however believe that the Central Bank of Nigeria went too far with the currency plan when it decreed and tried to push an obnoxious new cash withdrawal limit, which was a follow-up strategy to the Naira Redesign Policy, down the throats of Nigerians.
Nigerians, who were still wondering how the new currency will impact on their purchasing power, saw the cash withdrawal plan as anti-people and were justifiably angered when the statement of the Supervising Director of the CBN, Mallam Haruna B. Mustapha was made public, pegging the maximum cash withdrawal over the counter (OTC) by individuals and corporate organizations per week to ₦100,000 and ₦500,000 respectively.
Recall that the statement said withdrawals above t₦100,000 and ₦500,000 limits will attract processing fees of 5% and 10%, respectively and added that, “Third party cheques above ₦50,000 shall not be eligible for payment over the counter, while extant limits of ₦10,000,000 on clearing cheques still subsist. The maximum cash withdrawal per week via Automated Teller Machine (ATM) was then pegged at ₦100,000 subject to a maximum of ₦20,000 cash withdrawal daily.
Although the public outcry, which greeted the ill-advised move and led to its instant review by the CBN has died down, it has been replaced by a national exasperation over the scarcity of the new currency and the fact that some people are rejecting the money due to its alleged low quality and the likelihood that it will be easily forged. People are complaining that banks were not dispensing the currencies either across the counters, through ATM machines and POS channels.
It looked like a deliberate conspiracy and to make matters worse, people across the country and the FCT have not seen the new currencies as at the second week of January 2023, less than two weeks to January 31, the date when the life of the old currency will end and this has led to several accusations; including that the CBN and the government by extension, have a hidden agenda that may be connected to the 2023 general elections.
Happily, Central Bank management has risen up to the challenge and is trying to tackle the problems by mounting public awareness campaigns in markets and other public forums to formally introduce the Naira to the people. It has also warned commercial banks against hoarding the new currency notes and it is expected that changes will soon be noticed in the circulation of the new currency nationwide.
The expected gains of the Naira Redesign Policy may however not be realised except the CBN goes beyond changing the currency. There is urgent need for the bank to start high scale national reorientation of the population on the disadvantages and negative effects of abusing the Naira. The Naira is sick and highly devalued because the citizens contributed in debasing the currency.
Some economists recently dissected the ailment of the Naira in an objective manner and stated that the problem of the currency did not come from hoarding and forging alone. According to the specialists, the problems of the currency are multifaceted and include careless handling by food and mineral drinks vendors, the unethical practices of unlicensed currency hawkers within Nigeria and around the neighbouring countries, especially Niger and Benin republics, CBN devaluation and general financial policies, the abuse of the Naira through reckless spraying of the currency on people at parties and dance floors, where dancers deliberately step on them and mutilate the money as well as complete public disregard for the health of the Naira.
Although the culture of spraying money on people is not unique or peculiar to Nigeria and its citizens alone but the practice has been elevated in this country to such a standard where it has become an act of sheer ostentation. According to Google, there are versions of money-spraying practices in Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Cuba, the Philippines, some African countries and most Slavic nations. In these countries, ‘money-spraying’ on celebrants are known by different names such as “Money Dance,” Apron Dance,” Bridal Dance,” or “Dollar Dance” and people practice the act by pinning currencies on the dresses of celebrants or stuffing the cash into the pockets of beneficiaries with conscious dignity and decorum without debasing their nation’s currency.
Nigerians are however known to be extravagant in the demonstration of wealth and social status. The nation’s elite has shown the world that we are people who relish the act of displaying vain flamboyance by spraying and dancing on the money sprayed on celebrants and dancers at parties as a way of showing-off opulence. This type of practice should be checked because it kills the currency and the psyche of the young ones. Youths, across the country, now practice spraying money with ordinary paper to enable them master stylish ways of partaking in the showiness that has become a disgraceful national culture when they grow up.
The writer does not advocate any ban on generosity. Nobody can stop openhandedness or charity but there are more agreeable or respectable ways of being generous, like putting whatever amount one wishes to give in an envelope and dropping the amount in a tray or on the table provided for this purpose and the amount will be announced, if the donor desires the announcement to bolster his/her ego.
The CBN once proposed and obtained laws against the abuse of the Naira some years ago but laws cannot stop bad habits or effect attitudinal change without being enforced by law-enforcement agents. It is suggested that law enforcement agents should be properly incorporated in the campaign to stop the practice of abusing the Naira even as traditional rulers, market leaders, district and village heads can also be engaged and used to step-up public enlightenment against the flagrant abuse of the currency at parties, public, social engagements and markets.
However, the arrest and prosecution of those who deliberately abuse the currency should receive the foremost attention of the apex bank this New Year to serve as deterrent in its effort to restore the glory of the Naira and make it a currency of pride in the world.