The ongoing campaign by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to dissuade members of the public from abusing the naira must be sustained. The fact remains that every nation’s currency is part of her cherished symbols that must be handled with utmost respect and dignity. Unfortunately, that is not the case with the naira as it is continually abused, mutilated and defaced by many Nigerians. That should not be the case.
A few weeks ago, the apex bank cautioned the public against the act, describing our currency as a “national identity and the pride of the nation.” The Principal Manager, Currency Operations Department, Mrs. Dorothy Onyene, while speaking at a CBN organised sensitisation function in Awka, Anambra State, warned traders, farmers, business people, and indeed, all Nigerians, to stop the abuse of the naira notes. She frowned at the manner the public mutilate, fold, deface and use the naira as if it was a writing pad.
The campaign against naira abuse has been on for years, but it is yet to yield the desired results, even as defaulters are reminded of the penalty that awaits them. It is paradoxical that Nigerians who abuse the naira jealously handle with utmost decency other foreign currencies. Therefore, the campaign against naira abuse by apex bank is understandable. The abuse of the currency notes contravenes Section 21(1) of the CBN Act 2007. Specifically, the section stipulates that any person who tampers with any legal tender, coin, or note, issued by the CBN, is guilty of an offence. The offence also includes selling, buying, spraying and squeezing of the naira. The offence is punishable with six months imprisonment, and/or N50,000.00 fine or both upon conviction. While the punishment for abuse of the naira is in order, emphasis should be more on cashless policy, which permits less cash in hand.
In the past, the Enforcement Committee of the CBN, with the support of the Nigeria Police, had raided some parts of the country where the abuse of the naira was reported to be prevalent. The renewed effort is in furtherance of the urgency to stop the abuse of the national currency. Wedding venues and social engagements spots are prime targets of the enforcement campaign. Therefore, there is need for a change in public attitude, while the campaign must be sustained using different communication/media tools, print and electronic, as well as opinion moulders, in both urban and rural areas. The National Orientation Agency (NOA) at federal and state levels should play a key role in the campaign. There is need to restore confidence in our national currency. The effort by the CBN should go together with restoring the value of the currency and bringing down inflation rate.
We also welcome recent measures by the CBN to make the national currency look decent. Last year, it said about 100 tonnes of mutilated naira notes were generated as wastes and destroyed weekly through open air burning at its 12 disposal centres across the country. Despite the disposal, many dirty naira notes are still in circulation.
It is in this regard that we welcome the plan by the CBN to commence the recycling of unfit banknotes. According to Sections 18(d) and 20(3) of the CBN Act 2007, the CBN is authorised to arrange for the destruction of mutilated currency notes and coins withdrawn from circulation. No doubt, recycling bad currency notes is the best way to prevent wastage of potentially useful materials, minimise energy usage and avoid possible air pollution, and convert them to products that will enhance economic activities.
While we commend the Central Bank for taking this bold step of recycling old naira notes, the task before the apex bank will be minimised if Nigerians will decently handle the national currency. In 2019, for example, the CBN mopped up millions of mutilated naira notes in circulation across the country. Also in 2018, the CBN set up mobile courts to try offenders of naira abuse. This was in collaboration with the police and the Federal Ministry of Justice. A watchdog, known as “mystery shopper,” was put in place in each state of the federation to monitor compliance with the enforcement. The idea of a mobile court to try hawkers of the naira was the outcome of the meeting of the Bankers Committee.
Under the new CBN guidelines on currency mutilation and counterfeiting, branch controllers of Deposit Money Banks are authorised to work with security agencies to ensure that cases of currency mutilation are addressed. Ensuring the circulation of clean banknotes requires the collaborative effort of all stakeholders – the CBN, banknote suppliers, Deposit Money Banks, manufacturers of currency management, processing companies, security agents and the general public. There is also need to improve the quality and durability of the naira notes.