There is a unique kind of frenzy in the country today. But it is not a general or commonplace hysteria. It is limited to a tiny fraction of the population, but who curiously hold a humongous part of the country’s wealth.
Major denominations of our currency, the naira, have been redesigned, and billed to come into use from December 15. The new 200, 500 and 1,000 notes will be in concurrent use with the old ones till January 31, next year, after which the old ones become obsolete, antiquated, and fit only for the museums.
But that causes a big problem for some people. They have physical cash stored away in incommodious places like water tanks, septic tanks, cellars, and other ‘unholy’ locations. If they would not forfeit such funds, more often than not illegally acquired, they must bring them out pronto into the banking system.
And Big Brother is also watching, so he has introduced some restraining laws. There is a maximum amount you can deposit in a month, both for new and existing accounts. The rats seem cornered.
Somebody went into a banking hall in Abuja a couple of days ago, and came to tell of a mighty stink that had pervaded the entire atmosphere. Whodunnit? A mysterious depositor had brought the sum of N20 million from God knows where, but the currency had become gummed together, damp, and odoriferous..
The bank staff initially made a valiant effort to sort out the notes. With nose masks and hand gloves firmly in place, they began to count. But Lazarus had been dead for too long, and was already decomposing. No way to make the corpse walk. So at a point, the depositor was asked to leave with his cargo, which had long gone into demurrage. He left, with his tail between his legs, like a beaten dog. But the stink stayed behind. The banking hall had to be disinfected, and deodorized.
There have been many stories like the above, whether apocryphal or true, I don’t know. Naira notes, in billions upon billions, are being condemned, consigned to garbage heaps. And you wonder what kind of people we really are. In the midst of severe lack and grinding poverty around them, some people have turned naira notes to totem, a god they must worship, and sprinkle palm oil, alligator pepper, the hair of a cat, tooth of a mouse, leku leja on. A deity. Now, President Buhari has struck, and the gods have become like Dagon, which bowed before the only living God, and got broken to pieces.
There was an initial controversy over whether the naira redesign was legal or authorized. President Buhari put it to rest quickly. Yes, I approved it. And he explained why:
“International best practice requires central banks and national authorities to issue new or redesigned currency notes every 5 to 8 years. Yet, it is now almost 20 years since the last major redesign of our local currency. This implies that the Naira is long overdue to wear a new look.
“A cycle of banknote redesign is generally aimed at achieving specific objectives, including but not limited to: improving security of banknotes, mitigating counterfeiting, preserving the collective national heritage, controlling currency in circulation, and reducing the overall cost of currency management.
“As is known, our local laws – specifically the Central Bank of Nigeria Act of 2007 – grants the Central Bank of Nigeria the power to issue and redesign the Naira. In line with this power, the Central Bank Governor approached me earlier in this year to seek my permission to embark on a currency redesign project. I considered all the facts and reasons presented before me by the Central Bank.
“There was an urgent need to take control of currency in circulation and to address the hoarding of Naira banknotes outside the banking system, the shortage of clean and fit banknotes in circulation and the increase in counterfeiting of high-denomination Naira banknotes. It is on this basis that I gave my approval for the redesign of the ₦200, ₦500 and ₦1000 banknotes.”
The deed is done. From December 15, the new notes swing in, and run parri-passu with the old ones till January 31 next year. What do the cornered rats do with their loot? Throw them away? Burn them? Or eat them, if possible? I have an advice for the possessors of these loots. The festive season is upon us. Become like Santa Claus, and begin to dish out monetary gifts. In bales and loads. Give to the poor, the needy, the aching, and the hurting. It was part of their patrimony, which you had appropriated. Simply return it to them. What does it profit a man, if he gains the whole cash, and the money becomes redundant? Become a do-gooder, at least between now and January ending. Who knows, you may even expiate, atone for your sins of larceny and plunder.
As President Buhari launched the new naira notes last week, I remember a story he had told us in the early days of the administration in 2015. He had recounted how he changed colors of the naira in 1984, when he was military head of state, for the same reasons as listed above.
He said stealth, surreptitiousness, was necessary. “Even Tunde (talking of Babatunde Idiagbon, his deputy, Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters) did not know about it. I kept it close to my chest, till it had been accomplished.”
Talk of a man not afraid of taking decisions, as long as it was good for the country. Buhari has now struck again.
He is full of commendation for the Central Bank, and the minting corporation, which printed the new notes locally, instead of importing at huge cost.
“While this may not be apparent to many Nigerians, only 4 out of the 54 African countries print their currencies in their countries, and Nigeria is one. Hence, a majority of African countries print their currencies abroad and import them the way we import other goods. That is why it is with immense pride that I announce to you that these redesigned currencies are locally produced right here in Nigeria by our Security Printing and Minting PLC.
“The new Naira banknotes have been fortified with security features that make it difficult to counterfeit. These new banknotes will help the Central Bank design and implement better monetary policy objectives. They will also enrich our collective memory of Nigeria’s heritage.
“Let me thank the Governor of the Central Bank and his Deputies for this initiative. I also thank the Managing Director, Executive Directors and staff of the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting for working tirelessly with the Central Bank to make the currency redesign a reality, and for printing the new Naira notes within a comparatively short time.”
Some people will oppose anything, as long as it is coming from government. Do they get kicks from it, or it gives them some kind of sensual pleasure? They have tried to deride the new notes. Oh, it’s a mere coloring of the old ones with crayon. No rigour has gone into the exercise. Kidnappers will now start asking for ransom in hard currencies. Bla bla bla. They have an option: refuse to embrace the new notes, hoard the old ones, and continue presenting them as legal tender after January 31, next year. They will then have to create their own economy. Lol.
Hear Central Bank Governor, Godwin Emefiele, justifying the new notes: “First, a significant hoarding of banknotes by members of the public, with statistics showing that ₦2.72 trillion out of the ₦3.26 trillion currency in circulation as of June 2022 was outside the vaults of commercial banks across the country, and supposedly held by members of the public. This statistic shows that 84.71 percent of currency in circulation are outside the vaults of commercial banks, with only 15.29 percent in the Central Bank and Commercial banks’ vaults.
“Second, is the worsening shortage of clean and fit banknotes with attendant negative perception of the CBN and increased risk to financial stability;
“Third, there is increasing ease by criminals and risk of counterfeiting evidenced by several security reports received at the Central Bank of Nigeria.
“The benefits of the currency redesign to the Nigerian economy are enormous given that :
a) This policy will help to control inflation as the exercise will bring the hoarded currency into the banking system, thereby making monetary policy more effective;
b) It will also help with better design and implementation of Monetary Policy as we would have much more accurate data on money supply and monetary aggregates;
c) We believe that this exercise would help in increasing financial inclusion, moving towards a more cashless economy, and ensuring greater formalization of the Nigerian economy;
d) The currency redesign would assist in the fight against corruption as the exercise would rein in the higher denomination used for corruption, and the movement of such funds from the banking system could be tracked easily.”
He lauded President Buhari for his courage and support in taking the decision to redesign, and standing by it. That is what you get when you have a President who is not transactional, who even has a disdain for filthy lucre and material things. A President who feels freer when he has nothing. Don’t you like that kind of President?
*Adesina is Special Adviser to President Buhari on Media and Publicity