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Opinions of Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Columnist: Sheriffdeen A. Tella

Naira: Let’s stop the abuse

File photo to illustrate the story File photo to illustrate the story

The Central Bank of Nigeria is holding a sledgehammer against anyone that abuses the naira. A country’s domestic currency is like the country’s flag hoisted to identify the country among the comity of nations. It is therefore important that the currency must be protected, managed efficiently and effectively in value against other currencies and kept clean though proper handling. That is why a major function of the CBN, according to the Act setting up the institution, includes the maintenance of a stable value of the currency against other countries’ currencies. If the CBN is unable to do this, it has abused not only the currency but also the Act that set it up.

There are a few ways by which the naira is abused but the one we used to talk about is how people, particularly traders in our local markets, squeeze and rumple the naira while putting it in their ‘tobi’ (a long rope-like pocket usually tied to the waist), ‘bra’ or pockets. These days, we are also concerned with spraying of naira notes in parties to the extent of stepping on the money while dancing. This is really a practice by children of the big men in society who, neither they nor their parents really did work for the money as well as poor or average Nigerians who carelessly want to show off. The former are largely the children and friends of children of our politicians who earn money beyond their efforts and beyond their imagination and public servants who live on transitory incomes without touching their salaries. The other form of naira abuse we do not talk about, either because we do not see or understand it as abuse, is the official denigration of the value of the naira vis-à-vis other countries’ currencies. That is within the purview of management of the naira in relation to other currencies.

The first abuse can be corrected, not by force but through appropriate advertisement. A personal story could suffice here. One evening, I was rushing to tennis court from office and suddenly realised I needed to eat some snacks. So, I got to a petrol station with a small shop, purchased donut and a bottle of Sprite. The young salesgirl brought my N200 as a rumpled note. I advised her never to rumple money again because money has its own spirit which goes to those who treat it well by keeping it neat. I asked her if she had ever seen a rich man spending dirty or rumpled money, which she answered in the negative. They always bring out money from a purse neatly arranged. Three months later, I went to the same small shop deliberately but dressed in my usual French suit rather than sport wear. The girl and her mother did not recognise me but surprisingly the notes were neatly arranged. I told them I was impressed with the arrangement and was told that one man advised them to treat money well if they want to have money and since they have been doing it that way, their sales have improved. There was no way of disputing their claim but I knew it was the Nigerian superstitious belief that was at work. So, an advertisement showing money spirit walking away from abusers and towards someone who cares may go a long way to persuade people, largely poor people, from abusing naira.

The case of those who spray money in parties is not so easy. We cannot claim that it is practised only by the rich and their children. Both the poor and the rich are involved and it depends on which kind of parties you attend. The nature of the party also determines the value of the currency being sprayed, not the neatness. The rich get their mint, hot from the central bank’s vault and exuding the bank’s special attractive odour while the poor or average Nigerian also sprays preserved minted currency supplied by bank workers to currency vendors. The difference is in value and the manner of spraying. With the poor or average household, it is spraying on the forehead of the musician or the celebrant and one hardly sees people spraying high valued naira like N1000 or even N500 notes directly on the forehead of musicians or celebrants, it is always something of lower denomination.

With the children from rich homes, the minimum value is N500 notes and usually sprinkled on the head and body of the celebrant who invariably assumes an ‘I don’t care attitude’ and matches or dances on the currency like any paper! Of course, they have all the right to abuse the naira because they never worked for it and their parents, even at home, just throw all sorts of currencies around like worthless tissue paper. The rich parents on the other hand don’t spray money; they dole it out carelessly on the body of the celebrants and musicians in bundles while an assistant picks the bundle and stacks in a bag provided for such purpose. I once watched in awe such an odious action by some public servants and politicians at a birthday party of another public servant and felt like crying. I knew the amount involved could not have come from normal monthly salaries or hard-earned money. The neat way the bundles were arranged in successive bags did not break any custom of civilisation, but, the avenue and the manner in which the currencies were doled out connote height of abuse of any respectable currency.

But how do you discourage this kind of abuse? The easiest answer is to advocate jail terms for those caught. The question is, do you jail parents for the actions of their children in cases where the children are still juvenile? One thing is sure, the poor or average Nigerians will go to jail while the rich will walk taller even than before. This is a country of inequality and abuse of law. Let us even imagine the picture of the President’s children and their friends playing or throwing up naira bundles in a vehicle on the way to a wedding around the time he gave out his daughter the penultimate month. Who would have arrested them and whom would the police have arrested? The children or their parents? At a social gathering where I suggested that the appropriate thing should be the sacking of the parents of such children from their jobs and some three months residency in a correctional centre for the children, a friend whispered sarcastically into my ears that the sacking should start with the President as a warning signal to lesser Nigerians. Please, pretend that the suggestion was never made!

The last abuse of the naira is the massive depreciation of the currency. Until 1986, when Nigeria, like other African countries, adopted the World Bank/IMF Structural Adjustment Programme of foreign exchange deregulation among others such policies, naira value remained atop of the US dollar. Since then, the domestic currency continued to go down exposing the fragility of out economy. Gradual depreciation can be said to akin to fair management of the whole economy while rapid depreciation implies otherwise. Let us assume that in 1986, the value of one US dollar was one naira. For some 30 years in 2016, the naira depreciated steadily to N360 to US$1 and in the last five years, the value has moved to N560 to US$1! There is no way to cover up this over-abuse. The National Bureau of Statistics has in the last few months been covering up the actual inflationary rates but it cannot cover up the naira value because it is an international figure, not local. How do we treat this abuse or mismanagement? Some Nigerians would ask: ‘Who did we offend?’ We cannot afford to shift the blame to anyone. We offended ourselves and we must pay for it. As Shakespeare would say: “The fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves”. The Nigerian economic managers have abused the naira, the Nigerian flag and they must account for it like other abusers.