The plan to redesign the naira by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has, like any other issue in Nigeria, been riddled with controversy and even politics. Ordinarily, the redesign of the naira for the envisaged benefits, which many Nigerians are interrogating, would not have generated the needless acrimony if adequate consultations were made and major stakeholders carried along. The differing opinions on the issue from those serving in this government is unnecessary. It is an avoidable distraction. It also shows the level of incoherence among ministers and officials of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. It is unthinkable that such a change in redesign of the naira is being contemplated without the knowledge of the minister of finance even if the law establishing the CBN did not expressly stipulate so.
Ordinary Nigerians should know why the national currency is being redesigned at this inauspicious time. I have come to the conclusion that everything is wrong with the timing of the project. We hope that this will not lead us to the trauma Nigerians experienced in 1984 when a similar exercise was carried out by Buhari’s military government. It was the era of Buhari’s War Against Indiscipline (WAI) and people must be on queues for hours every day to get the new naira notes. Some people even collapsed and died while on queues. Standing under the sun for days and weeks is not an experience many Nigerians would like to be subjected to at this point in time. It is not worth repeating. Many lost some of their money to unscrupulous bank officials and dubious Nigerians during that period. It has been reported that the CBN acting within the laws that established it, had obtained permission and approval of President Buhari to redesign, produce, release and circulate new series of N200, N500 and N1000 bank notes. This was how the spokesman of the apex bank, Osita Nwanisobi, revealed it to newsmen in Abuja a week today. The government and the CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, must listen to Nigerians on the issue.
We believe that carrying Nigerians along and having their buy-in and even input is not out of place in the plan to redesign the naira, which the dollar has literally swallowed in terms of value. In the parallel market one dollar is about N800 and there are strong fears that with the hurried plan to redesign the naira in an election season and towards the Christmas festivities, one dollar may be exchanged with N1000 or even more very soon as politicians are mopping up the dollar for elections. This will cause more inflation, misery and poverty and increase crimes, insecurity and violence across the country. It is very likely that kidnappers will soon be demanding dollar instead of the naira the government is purportedly saving its value and preventing it from being counterfeited. If the past exercise could not save the naira, the new one is not likely to do so. If the first child did not walk, the second one may not.
The politics of the naira redesign is worrisome and raises apprehension among the citizens and even foreigners in our midst. It is seriously affecting businesses and investment prospects. The story that the redesign of the naira will enhance its value or stop kidnapping for ransom is like a fable or what Chinua Achebe would likely describe as a fiction. It is never a reflection of our fiscal reality. That is a cock and bull story. The so-called benefit of the naira redesign is like a moonlight tale. They should tell that to the Marines. It is like a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, as William Shakespeare would intone in Macbeth. No amount of redesign will shore up the value of the naira or save it from being counterfeited now or in future. Even the dollar is not beyond these vagaries. What will shore up the value of the naira is our ability to manufacture enough goods for domestic consumption and for export to earn plenty foreign exchange. It is true that the plan to redesign the naira is in line with the provisions of Section 2(b), section 18(a), and section 19 (a)(b) of the CBN Act 2007, it does not preclude wide consultations even with finance minister, and Nigerians that the government serves.
No law is perfect and a law does not envisage everything. Law is just a guideline which must not be followed sheepishly. Law should be applied with wisdom. That is why laws are made to satisfy both legal and social justice. Lawyers please pardon me if my submission is outlandish because I am not one of you. I am just a layman as far as law is concerned. The absence of working relationship between the monetary and fiscal authorities is probably why the economy is still in doldrums. The seeming disconnect between the officials of this APC-led government was why the ASUU strike was prolonged for eight months. The lack of synergy between the minister of education and his labour counterpart worsened the industrial dispute.
If Dr. Chris Ngige of labour ministry and Adamu Adamu of education ministry had worked in concert, perhaps the ASUU strike would have been settled in a matter of days or weeks. But due to their cluelessness, disdain for university teachers, higher education, and lack of urgency in attending to a national crisis in the higher education sector, the strike became protracted and cost the nation billions of naira in loss of man-hours and education tourism and loss of an academic year. Their differing and conflicting approaches to leadership has contributed to lowering of the quality of Nigerian graduates as well as research by varsity teachers. It also contributed to infrastructural decay in the campuses due to disuse of equipment and buildings. Back to the redesign of the naira which has generated more fears than the terror alerts released by the US and UK governments through their embassies in Abuja. Before the government goes ahead to redesign the naira despite the opposition to it, let it not dismiss or trivialize the terror alerts issued recently by the embassies of US, UK and other western countries about an impending attack on Abuja. Whether we like it or not, these countries have superior intelligence than we can boast of in this part of the world. Officials of the government like the loquacious Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed and others are feasting now as if these countries are alarmists or anarchists. What the federal government should do now is to beef up security across the country. The security agencies must be on red alert in Abuja, especially around the listed targets and other places including the soft targets, which terrorists usually attack if they could not penetrate their targets with precision.
The naira redesign if it is so important can be done next year after the general election. The rush to redesign the naira at this point in time is suspicious and it is already being politicized even by officials of the government. That those in government are not speaking with one voice on the issue shows their level of lack of coordination. It is a monumental tragedy. I hate the stringent and unrealistic deadline for the exercise. It will lead to avoidable stampede to get the new naira notes. The new notes will be hoarded and sold to the highest bidder. It happened in 1984. It may happen again. If the naira redesign must be done, I suggest that it can be seamlessly done within a period of six months or even more. The new notes and the old ones will still be legal tender until the old ones vanishes within six months. It does not require the breathtaking deadline given by the CBN.
The naira redesign can still be shifted till sometime next year, when there will be ample timeframe to carry out the exercise without causing a ‘go-slow’ in the economy, and without inflicting unnecessary pains and trauma on Nigerians because the colour of the naira and some of its features will be redesigned. Nigerians have other issues to grapple with now than the planned redesign of the naira. Will the redesign of the naira bring more food to the table for Nigerians? I don’t think it will do so and many Nigerians probably don’t think so either.