There seems to be a renewed zeal on the part of Nigerian monetary authorities to check pervasive abuse of the national currency. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) lately deplored the rate at which some citizens mutilate, deface, squeeze, vend and spray naira notes at social events, warning that such practices were penalisable with a prison term and/or payment of fine.
CBN spokesman, Isaac Okorafor, was reported saying in a statement late last week that the apex bank had resolved to seek the establishment of mobile courts to prosecute those abusing the naira. Defaulters, according to him, could be jailed for not less than six months or given the option of a N50,000 fine. He added that security agencies, particularly police personnel, would be enlisted to monitor the trend of naira usage and deter its abuse. “If a celebrant is dancing and you spray him/her, you may go to jail from the party venue, because law enforcement agents will be there waiting to arrest you. Law enforcement agencies would 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,” Okorafor was quoted saying in the statement.
The same stance was simultaneously echoed by another top official of the regulatory bank. Speaking last Thursday at the opening of a two-day sensitisation fair by the CBN in Abeokuta, Ogun State, an assistant director at the currency operations department, Aladeen Badajo, urged Nigerians to regard the naira as a symbol of national identity, saying there was need to handle banknotes with care and dignity, considering huge sums being spent on reprinting them.
It is not news that abuse of the naira is forbidden by law, and the apex bank periodically holds fairs to raise public awareness on this. Section 21(3) of CBN Act 2007 provides that “spraying of, dancing or matching on the naira or any note issued by the Bank (CBN) during social occasions or otherwise howsoever shall constitute an abuse and defacing of the naira or such note, and shall be punishable under sub-section 1 of this section.” The same law, in sub-section 5(i), defines ‘matching’ to include “spreading, scattering or littering of any surface with naira notes or coins and stepping thereon, regardless of the value, volume, occasion or intent,” while according to sub-section 5(ii), ‘spraying’ includes “adorning, decorating or spraying anything or any person or any part of any person or the person of another with naira notes or coins, or sprinkling or sticking of naira notes or coins in a similar manner regardless of the amount, occasion or the intent.”
In Section 21(4), it is also a punishable offence for any person to “hawk, sell or otherwise trade in naira notes, coins or any other note issued by the Bank.” The stated offences are punishable under 21(1), which provides among others that a person “shall on conviction be liable to imprisonment for a term not less than six months or to a fine not less than N50,000, or to both such fine and imprisonment.”
This law has for long been in existence, it is implementation that has been lacking and it is time relevant authorities made good on enforcing the provisions. The abuse of the naira at social gatherings is sheer vanity that this country can, and must do without, and the surest route to doing that is enforcing the extant law. We recognise, of course, that with the massive scale of violation, holding offenders to account would be unwieldy for law enforcers. But the best option in such circumstance is to make example of some offenders, so to deter others. And it is most effective when examples are made of prominent and highly-placed offenders.
We urge the CBN to get up its act on enforcing the existing law and stamp out this cultural obscenity.