The plan by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to establish special mobile courts to check currency abuse may be the final deal to save naira, reports Abdulwahab Isa
A nation’s currency is her priceless asset. It deserves a royal treatment; a sort of preservation to shield it from easy tear and quick fade.
A valued commodity to exchange for goods and settling of services rendered, the currency or ‘money’ as alternatively called is handled with modicum of care in advanced economies unlike what obtains here in Nigeria.
The naira faces series of abuses . The odds against it make it vulnerable to easy tear and wear.
These include mutilation, defacement; hawking in open places and spraying at social gatherings.
To check the menace, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is waging a consistent war. At best, the apex bank’s effort had remained a flash lacking punitive measures on offenders.
Odds against naira
There is a stack odd confronting naira. The apex bank seizes every avenue to sensitise the public on best ways to handle it in order to preserve it for longevity.
Earlier in the year, when the abuse got to a worrisome level, the CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, threatened that culprits caught in any of the acts would be liable to six-month imprisonment or a fine of N50,000 or both, in accordance with CBN Act of 2007.
At a two-day sensitisation/enlightenment workshop themed, ‘Promoting Financial Stability and Economic Development’, organised for industrialists, manufacturers, hair dressers, bakers, members of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, tailors and mechanics,
among others, in Owerri, Imo state capital earlier in the year, Emefiele, represented by the Director of Communications of the bank, Isaac Okorafor, tasked Nigerians to accord naira equal respect and dignity as shown to national flag, stating that the nation was spending more than N100 to mint a N100 note.
In another forum in Akure, Ondo state capital, Assistant Director (Currency Operation Department), CBN, Mr Benedict Maduagwu, admonished citizens to develop good habit of naira note handling.
Maduagwu, who was among the CBN officials who educated the bank customers and traders in attendance, reiterated that anybody caught mishandling naira notes would be jailed for five years with an option of N50,000 fine.
“Government uses taxpayers’ money to print the naira notes; so, it is unfair for us to be handling the notes poorly. If you continue to spoil the naira notes, there will be no much money for the commercial banks to give out as loans to you customers and this will affect our economy.
“Do not squeeze the naira notes, do not write on the notes and do not put the notes under clothes because of bacterial infection to the body, “ he counselled.
In South East, the police in 2017 arrested seven persons hawking currency notes in Onitsha, Anambra State.
Commissioner of Police, Garba Umar, who paraded the suspects before journalists, said they were engaged in an illegal act and punishable under the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Act.
Umar said the suspects were arrested in a sting operation after officials of CBN complained about the activities of the hawkers.
He said the clampdown on the suspects was hinged on the CBN Act, section 20 and 21, in which Section 20 sub-section 4, makes it an offence punishable by a term of imprisonment not less than five years for any person to falsify, make or counterfeit any bank notes or coin issued by the bank.
The arrested suspects were Clementina Uche, Emeka Iyida Wilfred, Anthony Onyebuchi, James Odumodu, Petercross Olabuche, Apeh Ekene and Valentine Ekwueme.
Open sale of naira is not limited to Onitsha. it thrives across the spectrum of Nigeria. At Dei- Dei, a suburb settlement along Kubwa highway in Abuja, one is confronted with open sale of all denomination of currencies.
How the new notes got smuggled into the streets for hawking beats imagination. What can’t be ruled out is the heinous role by bank insider.
Unconfirmed reports alleged that security agents whose sole responsibility is to thwart sale of naira in open space are culpable in aiding. They let go arrested culprits after a bribe is offered
Prosecution as last resort
With plea and advocacy failing, the apex bank is raising the compliance bar.
At the recent Bankers’ Committee meeting in Lagos, the bank, for the last time, pronounced court prosecution for naira abuse offenders.
CBN warned that henceforth any Nigerian that sprays naira notes at parties either risks going to jail for about six months or pay a N50,000 fine or both as special mobile courts would be deployed nationwide for prosecution of offenders.
Okorafor said the police and officials of the Federal Ministry of Justice would be involved in monitoring and enforcement of the law.
“If a celebrant is dancing and you spray him/her, you may go to jail from the party venue, because the law enforcement agents will be there, waiting to arrest you,” Mr Okorafor said in a statement published by the News Agency of Nigeria.
“It is the duty of the law enforcement agencies to catch offenders and take them to court. Our (CBN) collaboration with the police will intensify as we move to implement the mobile court for offenders,” he said
He admonished Nigerians, who use cash as gift to their loved ones, to ensure such monies are properly put in an envelope before giving to the celebrant.
Besides, he also warned that those in the habit of mutilating or defacing the naira notes by using them as writing pads would equally face six months jail term or N50,000, or both.
Corroborating Okorafor’s position, Managing Director of First Securities Discount House (FSDH) Merchant Bank, Handa Ambah, said people caught selling naira notes would also be punished.
“We need to let people know that this is our money. The fact that you cannot spray money at parties does not mean that you cannot put money in an envelope and pass it to the celebrants” Ambah said.
The mobile courts as CBN’s ultimate remedial measure against naira abuse is appropriate and timely. However, the bank must follow through by working with the judiciary in ensuring very competent and transparent judicial officers are selected to man the courts.