Of The Chequered History And Politicization Of The Naira

By Isaac Asabor

If there is one national symbol that represents Nigeria that can be said to have passed (and still passing) through a chequered history, and also been politicized, it is unarguably its currency, the Naira, which was thus named by Chief Obafemi Awolowo of blessed memory. For the sake of clarity, the Nigerian Naira is issued by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). The Naira went into circulation in 1973, and it is subdivided into 100 kobo, which is the smallest unit of the currency. It also comes in physical denominations such as coins and banknotes with various denominations available, ranging from 1 kobo coin to 500 Naira banknote. Though the coin denominations arepresently not in circulation.

At this juncture, it is expedient to reiteratively recall that the chequered history which describes the Naira as a currency in its journey along the global monetary path commenced in 1973 when Nigeria changed its fiscalbaton, with the introduction of Coins and Bank Notes. The Coins consisted of denominations such as ½, 1, 5, 10, and 25 kobo, with the ½ and 1 kobo in bronze and the higher denominations in cupro-nickel; and the Bank Notes (Naira) were 5K, N1, N5, and N10. Consequently, a new and higher banknote of N20 was later introduced in 1977, and as popularly known today, the note bore the portrait of the late Head of State, General Murtala Muhammed.

In 1989, the 5 kobo and 10 kobo coins were phased out and in 1991, the N50 note was introduced while the 50 kobo and N1 notes were changed to coins. The next change occurred in 1999, the N100 note was introduced,and a year later (year 2000), the N200 note was introduced. Two higher denominations were later introduced, N500 note in 2001 and N1000 in 2005.

At this juncture, it is germane to say that the metamorphosis of Nigeria’s monetary system reflects her history, colonialization, struggle, and strength. The Naira note is beyond a means of transaction and exchange. It is the face and status quo of the nation, particularly as it haswith each evolvement, been playing a two-way system, particularly as its value sometimes dropped and also rose.

All over the world, the currency is seen as a force of unity. As a medium of exchange, it brings interaction between local and foreign border lines (international and local trade). As for Nigeria, the N50 naira note is celebrated as the ‘WaZoBia’ naira note as it illustrates the portraits of thethree major tribes in Nigeria that cut across Yoruba, Igbo,and Hausa.

It is expedient to say that from 1973 when Gen. Yakubu Gowon’s regime moved the pump price from 6 kobo to 8.45 kobo that it has never been better for the Naira as the jerked PMS Price and inflation curves tend to move in the same direction and at a similar speed.

In fact, while bemoaning the fate of the Naira in 2018, Dare Babarinsa in his article titled, “The desperate journey of the naira”, published in the Guardian Newspaper edition on April, 19 of the same year, opinionated, “During the 2015 general elections, a lot of dollars were released to the market to shoot down the naira. When Buhari won, the losing side simply disappeared with their dollars.

Some buried their loot in the cemeteries, some in overhead water tanks, some in soak-away pits, and some in the unsafe safes of their mistresses. Some smart ones migrated into the new ruling party and their loot became clean.

“The truth is that most politicians hold the naira in contempt. There was a time politicians and all Nigerians were in love with the naira. Everyone wanted the naira, including London shopkeepers who learned how to speak in smattering Yoruba as they attend to the free-spending Nigerian bourgeoisie.

“Even the London butchers knew the taste of Nigerian housewives and the preferences of their London palates. Orisirisi wa o! They would chorus once they sighted a Nigerian woman in their iro and buba.

“Now the naira is in trouble. Thank God, it has stabilized a little, but it is not yet in robust health.

“Nobody expects it to get back to its old stamina soon. If it can maintain its current state of health without dipping into further trouble, that would be enough.

“There was a time the naira was the currency of West Africa from Dakar to Duala.

“It was much sought after than the dollar. In 1984, workers at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, IITA, protested against the continuous payment of their salaries in dollars! They wanted naira!”

Having benefited from the forgoing information culled from an article authored by a renowned journalist, columnist, historian, and author, and published by one of Nigeria’s highly-rated national newspapers, one cannot but agree with public opinion that Nigeria has indeed been passing through a chequered history.

Even at the moment, ahead of the upcoming presidential and general elections scheduled to hold in February and March 2023, the political temperature is rising in the country with government and opposition intensifying their battle over a variety of issues with the redesigning of some denominations of the naira notes taking the lead, and they seem to be raising stakes on key economic issues too in the heat of rising political tensions. Thus, for the first time on record, cash in circulation in Africa’s largest economy dropped ahead of elections following the central bank’s decision to redesign high-value naira notes. According to the apex bank, the amount of currency circulating in the economy declined by 4%, moving to 3.16 trillion naira ($6.9 billion) in November 2022 from the previous month.

Despite the fact that the deadline of the return of the old naira notes has been extended to February 10, 2023, which is by 10 days, it is salient to ask “When authorities have failed to manage the physical note in its previous colors and designs, what then does it set to achieve by merely redesigning the same currency? Perhaps, economists and bankers that abound across the country can enlighten this writer and his readers on this.

To buttress the fact that the Naira has been politicized, it is enough to concur with political economists in this context that politics and the economy are intertwined, and that while political stability is a must for the economic progress of a country, exploitation of the economy or economic issues for the sake of petty political gains runs the risk of impeding economic development too.

To reiterate the fact, politics and the economy are closely intertwined. While political stability is a must for the economic progress of a country, exploitation of the economy or economic issues for the sake of petty political gains runs the risk of impeding economic development too.

Against the foregoing backdrop, there has been a suppressed war brewing between members of the two chambers of the National Assembly (NASS) and the leadership of the CBN, with particular reference to its governor, Mr. Ifeanyi Godwin Emefiele, and being in the eye of the storm. To further buttressed the foregoing view, it is expedient to say that the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Ahmed Tinubu, on Wednesday, in Abeokuta, alleged that the current fuel scarcity and naira redesign were parts of the plan by some powers-that-be to sabotage his presidential ambition.

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