By Stephen Ubanna
Ikechukwu Nkemakolam a Lagos based business man went to his bank at Allen, Ikeja, to withdraw money for the weekend but was given mutilated naira notes of twenty naira and one hundred naira denominations. He protested to the cashier that the naira notes were too dirty and demanded that it should be changed. The Cashier claimed that there is nothing that could be done about it because it is only the dirty naira notes that are in circulation in the country for now. The N100.00 notes is perhaps the dirtiest of the denominations and the foreign media are making caricature of the Nigeria currency.
Nkemakolam has every reason to protest. This is because he attended a burial ceremony of a close friend’s father the previous week in Lagos Island and found invited guests spraying the bereaved new naira notes of the denominations of N200.00, N100.00 and N50.00.
He saw young ladies who were holding bundles of new naira notes in the denominations of N1,000.00, N500.00, N200.00, N100.00 , N50.00 and N10.00 notes which were sold to unsuspecting Customers who needed lower denomination to spray the bereaved.
He has been told by friends in the past that the only place where new naira notes could be spent in the country are either at burial ceremonies or parties. But he had never had the opportunity of witnessing it until he saw it life at a burial ceremony at Lagos Island.
The aggrieved Nkemakolam was said to have changed the twenty thousand naira collected at the bank which was in the N1.000.00 for the N100.00 naira notes bundle but the young lady making the change was said to have taken one thousand as commission. He cried out but the lady cautioned him that if he is not ready for the deal, he is free to collect back his back his money and go. It was then it downed on him that there is a syndicate in the bank who are making brisk business with new naira notes to indict the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, currency Department of being ineffective.
The new naira notes deal may have said that much when she confirmed that they buy it from their sources in the bank, who are mostly Branch Managers. She disclosed that all the Commercial banks operating in Lagos are guilty of it, noting that they see it as a source of making more money for the bank operations.
The selling of the new naira note by bank officials to customers may have gotten to the ears of Godwin Emefiele , the CBN, Governor who reached out to the Currency Department to find solution to the naira abuse before it gets worse.
Isaac Okorafor. the CBN acting Director of Communication posits that there was no basis for preponderance of dirty and mutilated naira notes which is in the country , blaming the Commercial banks for sabotaging its efforts at replacing the mutilated notes with new ones.
The CBN acting Director of Communication disclosed that it has enough lower denominations of the new naira notes that could go round the country but the banks had merely been circulating the dirty and mutilated naira notes because of the cost of sorting out the unfit naira notes and returning it to the apex ban for re-issue.
Given an insider information, Okorafor confirmed that several factors account for the worn out naira notes which are in circulation in the country for no. . He cited abuse notes of the naira notes and attitude of banks which fail to return dirty notes to the apex bank for re-issue.
He noted that the problem became pronounced because ”lower denomination notes have greater velocity of circulation, an indication that it is frequently in use and therefore subject to abuse.
Okorafor furtherdisclosed that the apex bank had taken steps to replace the dirty naira notes in circulation across the country. One of the steps, according to him in mopping up the mutilated naira notes in the system was the reduction in the amount it charges for sorting the dirt notes for clean ones from twelve thousand naira to one thousand per box.
He revealed that the initial reduction in sorting of the new naira notes extended to the banks this year lasted three months. The reduction in charges granted to the Commercial banks to encourage them to return more dirty naira notes to CBN, was said to have started on January, 2, 2018 but ended on March 28, 2018.
The acting CBN Communication Director averred that the sorting charges, which used to be N12,000.00 had been reduced N2,000.00 per box after the March28 deadline when the CBN window was closed. He confirmed that the waiver granted the banks in processing the dirty and mutilated naira notes was was to encourage them to”. return unfit notes for re-issue” but regretted that response has not been encouraging
Another step , he said that had been taken by the apex bank in withdrawing the dirty and mutilated naira notes from circulation was the engagement of associations in the major markets across the country to encourage traders to change genuine dirty notes for new ones which Okorafor said would be at no cost to the traders.
The CBN was said to have started the use of the market associations promised would be engaged in witdrawing the dirty naira notes from circulation in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Kaduna and Kano leaving out Lagos, PortHarcourt and Enugu.
Perhaps, to give more dignity to the naira notes the CBN, has appealed to Nigerians to handle the national currency with care as it is a ”symbol of national identity and value which should be handled with respect”. The apex bank is right. This is because of the value attached to United States dollar, Euro and the British pounds as the international currencies are handled with caution world w-wide. take for instance the dollar which could never be squeezed into the pocket or purse . It is not surprising why these international currencies are always new despite many hands that had touched it .
The CBN may have to thinker with the option of protecting the local currency introducing jail terms for people who abuse the naira. This may give a sense of caution to Nigerians to handle the naira with respect.