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The currency of any country is a source of pride to its citizens. That explains why every country frowns at any form of abuse of its legal tender currency. Here in Nigeria, the abuse of the Naira is one that has continued to be a challenge to the relevant authorities. Although there are extant laws tailored towards preventing such abuses, many are still in the habit of scribbling on Naira notes, squeezing them into their pockets or soiling them. The most common abuse of the Naira, however, is throwing notes in the air or pasting them on the foreheads of celebrants during celebrations in a practice described in local parlance as “spraying”. Besides spraying, the celebrants and others usually dance and trample the bills underneath their feet. Equally worrisome is the hawking of the Naira like any other commodity.
There have been attempts to check this disturbing menace before now, but many have defied the government and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
The monetary authority, the CBN, had on a number of occasions campaigned on the need to handle the naira with care, but the efforts have yet to yield the desired dividend. The Bank had also warned and threatened perpetrators of arrest by the security agencies, yet the authorities saddled with the responsibility of arresting and punishing the culprits have turned out to be accomplices. The nauseating menace is the way people ‘spray’ the Naira at social gatherings and hawking of new Naira notes on the streets. This habit used to be a way of appreciating musicians at parties in the early 1960s through 1970s, but has grown in a greater dimension to the embarrassment of our collective values as a nation.
It is curious that customers hardly get new mints notes from the banks, but on the streets it is available at a percentage discount. It is not for anything but for spraying at social parties. One does not need any ethnographic census to know that this menace started with the Yorubas. It is an indisputable fact that the Yorubas are probably the most sociable race in Nigeria, and very rich in culture. From history immemorial, cowry was the legal tender, and the Yoruba aboriginal tribes were identified with spraying money during social functions. Then it was to honor the gods of social life on the dance floor. It was also another way of honoring and appreciating or sharing joy with friends and relatives. The practice was also a way of reciprocating love among the people.
But today, the practice has taken on a demeaning toga of showing-off and imitative tendencies among Nigerians which has made ostentatious money spraying our national culture. Another noticeable factor is the dynamism of social life that has penetrated and made it obnoxious. It is now an acceptable norm even with the Igbo ethnic tribe, stamping on and defacing Naira printed with millions of Naira. This practice has often times cut short the currency life span causing the nation a huge cost to replace them.
Who are we to blame? The CBN issues clean mint Naira notes out to commercial banks as intermediaries between the apex bank and the people, do we then say it is the shortage of the new notes to the banks by the CBN that is responsible for this ‘treasonable’ behavior, or can we also assume that the same CBN should be held responsible for the supply of new notes to these criminal end-user elements?
Many genuine end-users of new bank notes have complained loudly enough to the government to arrest this menace, and have equally accused the commercial banks of culpability. The CBN had at various times issued warnings, but the menace remains unabated, indicating that the commercial banks are either not sincere or are accomplices in this menace. They are culpable, and are the big masquerades behind the currency hawkers. The commercial banks must have seen the business as lucrative to heed warnings and stop. The spraying of money therefore may have exacerbated illegal minting of new notes by criminals in exchange for the real currency. It can then be said that illegal mint operators are strategically positioned to exchange their fake notes for old genuine ones through exchange made from money sprayers to enable them deposit the proceeds with the banks in old dirty notes, a fact that may be responsible for fake currency in circulation.
This recalcitrant criminal activity of currency hawkers is likely to make impossible for the CBN to achieve success in its frequent efforts to mop up excess liquidity in the economy and control inflation. It is therefore imperative and apt for the security agencies to step up their act, as no responsible government would fold its arms watching this immoral and uncivilized behavior destroy the economy masquerading as culture. Nigerians have become laughing stock for this untoward practice and have even ingloriously exported it abroad in the name of culture. Other jurisdictions in the world don’t do this. Why is ours so different. Have we completely lost our values? Monies can be enveloped as gifts instead of showing-off, spraying celebrants thus defacing, debasing our national symbol. This is more dignifying. Equally, with the introduction of electronic money transfer, such medium can be used to send money as gifts.
Laws already exist. Perhaps we may want to recommend that the police and other security agencies ensure they enforce the provisions of the law. We may also want to highlight the advent of new technology and payments system through which people could transfer monies to celebrants. The Police and other security agencies should without delay step-up their act by arresting and prosecuting offenders to serve as deterrent to others and give Naira, our heritage its right value in our national life.
Abiodun Sheinjobi wrote in from Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State