The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has recently advised Nigerians to exchange dirty and mutilated banknotes in any bank nearest to them. The continued circulation of these banknotes is not only embarrassing to the apex bank, but constitutes a dent on the image of the country.Despite the directive to the banks by the CBN to exchange these banknotes, ‘fresh and crispy’ currency notes of N1,000, N500, N200, N100 and N50 denominations are still scarce and cannot be obtained in most of the banks, while Automated Teller Machines (ATM) continue to dispense mutilated banknotes.
But the irony of the situation is that while bank customers are denied new banknotes, these new banknotes are openly sold and exchanged with dirty notes by some agents, who charge commission for it at parties and other social events in the country.
However, selling of local currencies are illegal in Nigeria, but some agents, mostly women, are patronized daily by merry-makers, who are in the habit of spraying crisp banknotes at parties. The CBN had on several instances warned that the habit of spraying money at parties was contributing to the plight of the local currencies as they are usually matched on while spraying and dancing at social events.
But this appeal has not been heeded as “spraying of money” during ceremonies and parties are still going on and the social money agents are still selling new banknotes.
The money spraying culture is largely practiced among the Yoruba people in Nigeria’s South West. But this cultural habit has permeated to the Eastern and Northern parts of Nigeria.
This age-long culture among the Yoruba people involves the celebrants, invited guests and other merry-makers freely spraying banknotes on the fore-heads of musicians, dancers and praise singers.
Many people regardless of their financial status attend weddings, burials, child naming and dedication, and birthdays just to partake in this practice often to demonstrate their affection to the celebrant.
During such merry-making, people come forward while dancing to rain crisp notes on those on the dance floor and the musicians. Aside being a sign of flamboyance, spraying money on the celebrant shows his social status. It is often used to assess how much a person is appreciated by his or her peers, friends and relations.
But this cultural habit is against the law as prescribed by the CBN Act Section 21 which declares that it is illegal and an abuse of the banknotes.
The Act forbids writing on banknotes; stapling banknotes as the pins can cause corrosion; and against the law to tear the banknotes. `It is against the law to append ink stamp on the Naira banknotes or stain the banknotes with oil or ink, as this is also a form of defacing.
Although it is against the law to reject the Naira (Section 20 subsection 5 of the CBN Act), but some Nigerians are compelled to reject tattered banknotes.
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) sees the spraying of the banknotes as the cheapest means of abusing the Naira because merrymakers step on the money on the dancing floor. Some write contact addresses on the banknotes during such lavish parties.
The practice that defaces the local currency has greatly increased the cost of currency management due to frequent replacement.
“Defaced or torn banknotes slow down sorting process resulting in lower output of clean banknotes,” Mr. Dele Alabi, a bank teller said.
He said that it also erodes the sense of pride and confidence that Nigerians should feel about their currency.
“Any form of defacement of the currency is a form of ridicule on the nation.
Prevalence of dirty banknotes in circulation is potential health hazard to the citizenry,” he added.
Aside the economic and political cost, it is also an embarrassment and encourages criminality and envy.
Hajia Amina Sani, a Princess from Sokoto Emirate, though spraying of money during merry making is an African culture, but the Yoruba people of Nigeria have caused a menace of it and the practice has penetrated other tribes deeply.
The Igbo, Hausa, Fulani, Itsekiri, Ijaw, and many other people of different religious faith have imbibed the culture, making it a norm.
“The whole thing is sickening. It emanated from our divorce of asking the right question concerning the source of the income and also a loss of value that make us to be celebrating ills, which has become the norm rather than the exception.
“A lot of the time we celebrate affluence of those who spray rather than a way of assisting the less privileged. Such monies can be better re-directed to more impactful process such a health, education, infrastructure within the communities.
“We no longer value those who give back to our society,” she said.
Ms. Sadiya Hamza, a journalist, said that `Fashin Kudi” as it is called in Hausa language, encourages over spending.
“It is a mere show-off and competitive. Instead of spraying, such money should be packaged and pass on to the celebrant. Honestly it is a bad thing. It encourages youths to steal. Many do not know the source of income of those spraying. It encourages those who do not have money to spray to go into crime.
We do not know the source of wealth of many of these people who spray money.
“It is an abuse of the currency. Why must we disrespect money in that way? The best thing to do is to put the money in an envelope for the receiver instead of public display of money, flaunting wealth to the embarrassment of other less privilege people.
Rev. Jerry Okolo, a leader of Church of Believers, said that he had never supported what he described as “shameful show-off” and “foolish pride that sends the wrong signal and damages the youths”.
“If you want to give money to somebody who is celebrating, give it. It is a bad example on how not to spend money,” he said.
He also explained that spraying of money was the fastest way of causing wear and tear. “ It costs money to print money or replace currency in circulation,” he said.
As the spraying culture degenerated, the apex bank on June 15, 2019 reported that it had started a clamp down on the abuse of naira notes nationwide.
The CBN director of Corporate Communications, Mr. Isaac Okorafor, who spoke at a one-day interactive session with stakeholders in Owerri, the capital of Imo State in south-eastern Nigeria, said that the abuse of the naira notes was a crime in the country.
Okorafor said the spraying of naira was an offence, “as it amounts to abusing the country’s symbol of sovereignty”.
“We have begun the clampdown on the abuse of naira notes. It is a very big offence to spray our naira notes. It is the symbol of our national sovereignty,” he said.
In spite of the declaration and warning, nothing visible has happened as the spraying of crisp banknotes continues across the country, while the commercial banks have been accused of selling the new notes to the agents instead of dispensing them to their customers.
The prevalence of mutilated and dirty banknotes has forced the apex bank to take further action. While the CBN is taking action to reverse the trend through the replacement of mutilated notes, it has also put in place legal instruments to halt the spraying of money, which it has identified as the chief cause of the abuse of the Naira.
“We have told banks to assemble all the old or mutilated naira notes for reprinting. We have given banks three months to do that,” Okorafor said.
He warned those fond of “spraying” money during parties to desist or risk being arrested on the spot.
Okorafor said after a meeting of the Bankers Committee in Lagos, on July 22, 2019 that mobile courts would be deployed to try the offenders.
There would be collaboration with the Nigeria Police Force and the Ministry of Justice to address the issue, he said.
“If a celebrator 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.
“It is the duty of law enforcement agencies to arrest offenders and take them to court. Our collaboration with the police will intensify as we move to implement the mobile court for offenders.
“If you want to give, put the money in an envelope and give it the recipient. Let’s know that anybody hawking and writing on the naira will face six months in jail or N50,000 or both,” he warned.
The new measure put in place to curb spraying of banknotes has been applauded by some Nigerians.
For instance, Mr. Issa Aremu, the National Vice Chairman of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the umbrella body of 55 trade unions, says it is heartwarming that the CBN is exploring deeper measures to ensure sanity and stability in the financial system.
“It is shameful that Nigerians go to the banks or visit the ATMs to collect mutilated notes while merrymakers buy crisp money under the bridges,” he said in Abuja.