I have moved around the globe, touched and used currencies from countries to continents but have never seen currencies no matter the amount of worth so highly disrespected, so badly treated and so poorly handled as the Nigerian Naira. It’s a currency that has been in many places: some men put it inside their underwear while some women place it inside their bras not minding or respecting the picture of the heads of our heroes past on the different notes.
Currency is referred to as a universal language as it breaks down all tongues into one. With currency, we all speak one language. Naira is an essential symbol of nationalism and the nation’s pride.
During the pre-colonial era, different tribes used a variety of items as a means of trading and exchange, these included cowries, beads, bottles, salts, etc. Trade by barter was the only means for trading in these eras and the goods that were always in good shape and well-fed animals are the main, if not only, acceptable medium of exchange for other goods like foodstuffs or clothes and even services.
Since Nigeria’s independence in 1960, the monetary units and system have evolved through various stages of transformation. It evolved from the initial use of barter to the use of cowries and bronze or copper which are sometimes worn as bracelets.
During the course of using these means of exchange, the items were respected and valued, and appreciated. A spoilt item will not be exchanged, an underage goat will be rejected, a sick animal was not accepted, and a worn-out cloth was ignored and not considered.
The naira was introduced on 1st January 1973, replacing the use of Pounds, shillings, and pence. Nigeria was the last country to abandon this system among the British-Colonized Countries. Though not entirely abolished, some part of a community in Cross Rivers State still practices trade by barter till today.
In 1973, Nigeria changed the baton, with the introduction of Coins and Bank Notes. The Coins consisted of denominations such as ½, 1, 5, 10, and 25 kobos, 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. A new and higher banknote was later introduced in 1977, ‘N20’. This was seen as gold because it bore the portrait of Nigeria’s revolution torchbearer, 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 50 kobo and N1 notes were changed to coins. The next change occurred in 1999, N100 note was introduced, and a year later (the year 2000), the N200 note was introduced. Two higher denominations were later introduced, the N500 note in 2001 and the N1000 in 2005.
The evolution of Nigeria’s monetary system reflects her history, colonization, struggle, and strength. Currency is seen as a force of unity, it’s the one common language every tribe within the nation speaks and as a medium of exchange, it brings interaction between local and foreign border lines (international and local trade). The N50 naira note is celebrated as the ‘WaZoBia’ naira note. It illustrated portraits of the major ethnic groups in Nigeria, Yoruba, Igbo, and Hausa.
But in recent times, the currency is being degraded to nothing. It is being stepped on, spread at events and weddings with zero care in the world. The value of the currency that has the faces of our heroes past, the same currency that serves as a national treasure and a medium of exchange representing the country is being turned to nothingness by the same citizens meant to honor it. The naira note is beyond a means of transaction and exchange. It is the face and status quo of the nation.
On different occasions, people abuse the legal tender by hurling wads of Naira notes in the air and stomping on the currency at social functions.
In some cases, people mishandle the currency, hawk the currency at parties, deface it, and ladies use it to design their fingers and fashions. Defacing the currency is morally and legally wrong in all ramifications. The value of the Nigerian currency has drastically reduced becoming one of the most disregarded currencies in the world.
Deviating from moral and legal standards, the notes have on them images of people who at one point or the other made heroic moves that furthered the course of the nation irrespective of the current situation. How do we turn around to deface the notes that have the faces of our heroes’ past boldly imprinted on them? Does it mean we care less about these heroes? How do we have the faces of our celebrated heroes on pieces of papers that we have little or no value for? Devaluation of the naira has created a lot of unemployment as people can barely cater to their needs with the value of the currency, degradation of these notes has increased the rate of diseases as people who put these in their underwear are prune to cancerous diseases and whatnot.
How do we immortalize OUR heroes’ on a currency as degrading as the Naira?
Should we rethink? Was it a mistake or is there a cause for change in the management and handling of the currency?
If we must continue to honor our heroes’ past with their heads on our naira notes, there will be the need to rethink and redesign the notes in such a way making it difficult for abuse. The quality of the paper must change and not be allowed to stay in the public for a long time. It must also be remembered that the naira currency is a symbol of our unity or whatever is left of it.
In addition, the central bank should have an expiration date for every currency in circulation and withdraw when it expires for the sake of the health of the users of the naira currency. Nothing lasts forever so the naira notes shouldn’t be expected to. Banks shouldn’t be giving out damaged notes, returning them to the public’s domain to be further abused. A conscious approach from top-bottom and bottom to top needs to be adopted to rescue the highly disregarded legal tender of the nation.