In its renewed effort to stop the hawking and abuse of the national currency, the Naira, and rid the economy of dirty currency notes in circulation, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has mapped out measures that will rein in offenders with sanctions such as imprisonment, fine or both. The campaign to rid the economy of dirty naira notes has already begun with direct disbursement of new banknotes to marketers, merchants, shopping malls, supermarkets, tollgates across some states in the country.
According to the CBN, a key component of the measures to curb the hawking and mishandling of the naira is the setting up of mobile courts that will try offenders on the spot. The idea of mobile court to try offenders is in collaboration with law enforcement agencies- the Police, Federal Ministry of Justice and the Judiciary. It is also one of the outcomes of the recent meeting of the Bankers’ Committee in Lagos.
We support efforts that will make the members of the public handle the national currency with care and respect. It is, indeed, sad that while most Nigerians cherish and handle foreign currencies such as the American dollar with respect, the reverse is the case with the naira. According to the CBN Act 2007, it is a criminal offence to abuse the national currency. We, however, consider it unreasonable to impose a prison sentence on violators convicted of the sale, spraying or mutilating of banknotes. But we support maximum prosecution of offenders who counterfeit the naira. The offence attracts five years imprisonment without an option of fine. We believe the prescribed punishments for those who abuse the naira are appropriate. However, the mobile courts should be fair and just.
The apex bank must ensure that the ongoing direct disbursement of new banknotes to replace the dirty ones in circulation gets to all the targeted groups. Under the arrangement, the management of the CBN has approved the circulation a total of N1.9bn, comprising N200, N100, N50, N20, N10 and N5 denominations to economic agents. It is commendable that the apex regulator has put in place safeguards to prevent abuse, hoarding or diversion of the new banknotes that will create scarcity of these lower denominations.
According to CBN’s Director of Currency Operations, Mrs. Priscilla Eleje, a watchdog, otherwise known as “mystery shopper” has been put in place in each state to monitor compliance with the banknotes to avoid hoarding and sale by unscrupulous agents. The regulation says that any beneficiary found to violate the procedure would be delisted. We advise that the regulation and framework for disbursing the new naira notes be strictly enforced.
The framework stipulates that the denominations should be made through the respective commercial banks of the beneficiaries. The beneficiaries are required to ensure that their accounts are funded before any withdrawal will be made on their behalf, while the banks are expected to include the demands of their agents in their request to CBN when making normal withdrawal or deposit. We welcome the fact that the new banknotes will be delivered to the beneficiaries at no extra cost. The monetary authority should bear in mind that checking the abuse of the naira which has become common at parties, weddings and other occasions, needs the cooperation of all to succeed. We urge the banks to develop an effective framework that will ensure the judicious utilisation of the funds disbursed.
Altogether, sustained public sensitization, using the mass media is essential to curb the current abuse of the naira. The present collaboration of the apex bank with the National Orientation Agency (NOA) in this regard should cover all parts of the country. The way the citizens handle the national currency impacts on the nation’s image.
Billions of foreign exchange is reported to be spent annually in printing importing the naira notes abroad. It is bad for the citizens to abuse the currency. It bears repeating that dissemination of information about the best way to handle the national currency has become imperative.
Inculcating this new culture of responsibility must go together with making sure that clean naira notes of all denomination notes are readily available for economic activities. Lower denomination notes facilitate modern business economy, attract more customers and lead to financial inclusion.