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NIGERIANS DEFY CBN, SELL, SPRAY NAIRA NOTES

By NBF News

The vigorous campaign by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) against subjecting the Naira to various abuses seems to have fallen like water off a duck's back. Across many areas in Lagos, flagrant abuses of the naira among some residents would undeniably prick the eyes of the CBN boss, Lamido Sanusi Lamido.

The abuse of the naira in many locations in Lagos seems to justify public fear on the failure of the CBN campaign. Carefree Lagosians take the law into their hands as they subject the naira to various abuses.

The culture of spraying new naira notes at social ceremonies resulting to squeezing and trampling has remained a recurring scene at major events in the state. Added to this is the illegal act of countless hawkers who sell Naira on the streets.

The apex bank had in its Act 2007 drawn public attention to the indecorous treatment of the nation's currency and introduced legislation to this effect. The CBN Act 2007 prescribes a six-month jail term or a fine of N50, 000 or both for such offence.

The CBN outlawed matching, spreading, scattering or littering of any surface with Naira notes or coins and stepping thereon, regardless of the value, volume, occasion or intent.

By this Act, spraying of Naira notes at private or public functions becomes a punishable offence. This also includes 'adorning, decorating or spraying anything or any person or any part of any person or the person of another with Naira notes or coins or sprinkling or sticking of the Naira notes or coins in a similar manner regardless of the amount, occasion or the intent.'

Other forms of abuses were also spelt out by the bank: 'A coin or note shall be deemed to have been tampered with if the coin or note has been impaired, diminished or lightening otherwise than by fair wear and tear or has been defaced by stumping, engraving, mutilating, piercing, stapling, writing, tearing, soiling, squeezing, or any other form of deliberate and wilful abuse whether the coin or the note has or has not been thereby diminished or lightened.'

In spite of these warnings, the abuse of the Naira has never ceased. At a wedding receptions witnessed by our reporter at Ojo-Alaba, some traders from Alaba International Market who were guests at the occasion sprayed new Naira notes like unguided missiles on the celebrants.

The guests bluntly ignored the earlier plea by the organisers for cash envelopes to be dropped in a basket provided for the purpose. Rather, they took to the dancing floor armed with bundles of crisp notes, and as if in competition for the highest giver left large volumes of crumpled notes on the dusty floor. Not satisfied, the bridal train and other well-wishers went wild in celebration of the great harvest as they danced to high-life music.

Reacting to such acts prevalent at social ceremonies, one of the guests at the wedding, Adeola, argued that naira spraying is a culture that has come to stay. She shared her sentiments with Daily Sun.

'It is not only in Lagos that people spray money. Lagosians have this long-standing tradition of spraying money at occasions like this. That is our lifestyle. It would not be easy to stop this social life. There is joy in dancing with the celebrants and you cannot face them empty-handed. How many envelops would you carry till the end of the dance? The culture is not bad,' she argued.

'Aside these abuses, the CBN also spelt out severe penalty for those who buy and sell naira notes. 'It shall also be an offence punishable under Sub-section (1) of this section for any person to hawk, sell or otherwise trade in the Naira notes.'

Not minding this prohibition, many Lagosians see Naira trading as a lucrative business. At major bus stops and public centres, young men and women flock around with bags full of new Naira notes for sale.

At the gate of St. Patrick's Catholic Church, Ojo-Alaba, some hawkers are regularly seen selling new naira notes to guests attending the wedding reception organised in the premises.

One of the hawkers, who declined giving her name, explained that she usually smiles home with over N1000 profit after such events. Although the charge for the change to lesser denomination might differ among the hawkers, those engaged in the business never run at a loss, she said.

The lady, presumably in her late 30s, refused to name the bank where she sources the new notes, but she admitted that there are reliable contacts in some banks that supply the notes. And when our reporter pressed her to disclose her bank source, she retorted defiantly: 'Go to the bank and ask. No be me go show you the road to your papa house!'

One of the hawkers who plies his trade at Agric Bus-stop, along Lagos/Badagry Expressway, Idah Boso, put up a strong defence of his business as he spoke with Daily Sun. He argued defiantly that Naira trading was not a crime when compared with armed robbery and burglary. He reasoned that since they never raid the banks to collect the new notes, their business must not be termed illegal.

Our reporter, who visited several motor-parks like Ojota, Maza-Maza, Orile and Surulere, also met hordes of naira hawkers plying their trade without qualms. They sell new notes to travellers going to the South East, who would prefer crisp notes to announce their presence at home.

Added to these abuses is the menace of road transporters who squeeze Naira notes in their palms as they cling precariously on fast-moving buses. One of the Danfo bus conductors, Kayode Adeyemi, said that they prefer to hold the money tight in their hands for fear of pickpockets and street hooligans, popularly known as Area Boys.

'If these boys surround you, they quickly search your pockets and take whatever they can find. You risk losing all your day's sweat if you are not smart enough to withstand them. If you keep the money in a wallet, I'm sorry for you. Pickpockets will go home rejoicing,' he explained.

Also, a Molue driver who gave his name as Adamu, reasoned along with Kayode. He explained that the use of wallets would ruin business for transporters, especially in Lagos where hooligans prowl for spoils. Rather than clamp down on offenders, Adamu advised the CBN to take into cognisance the peculiar feature of the Nigerian society and make all the notes durable in order to withstand the effects of wear and tear.

Mails sent to the media unit of the CBN to ascertain the exact number of offenders that have been charged to court since the campaign against naira abuse started three years ago were not replied. Also, messages sent to some commercial banks and efforts made to speak with the bank chiefs were not successful.