Currencies are stores of value and means of exchange for commercial transactions within a given geographical boundary. Currencies have undergone several transformations from the ancient times to modern civilizations and today every nation has its own currency that is usually widely circulated and accepted for transactions within their borders. Some have however scaled up their acceptance and have become international (or convertible) currencies. The American Dollar leads the pack in this direction as it is usually used as a benchmark currency for most commodities of the world and for international trade. The Dollar has however assumed an alarming status in Nigeria’s financial, political and commercial circles.
A resolution in the House of Representatives last year, which was passed by a motion, moved by Mr. Nadu Karibo (PDP, Bayelsa State), asking the Central Bank of Nigeria to ban the use of the Dollar and other foreign currencies in local transactions is instructive here though the CBN through its Deputy Governor Operations, Mr. Tunde Lemo has since responded that the CBN does not possess such powers.
What started as an exceptional practice has fast blossomed int a new fad, a growing culture where price tags on many government projects, luxury goods, VIP services, blue-chip real estate and elite schools as well as other sundry transactions are quoted in US Dollars in Nigeria with insistence most times that the Naira equivalent will not be accepted. This is scandalous. National currencies are assets and a symbol of identity for citizens. South Africa is fully mindful of this fact that is why any transaction not made in the South African Rand is deemed illegal and those engaged in it will be prosecuted. So, even if you come in with all the Dollar in the world to South Africa, you will have to visit a Bureau de Change and convert into Rands before you can buy anything. Curiously, the reverse seems to be the case with this troubling trend in Nigeria whereby Naira is converted into Dollar before transactions can be effected for certain categories of transactions.
Since July 1st, 1959 when the Central Bank of Nigeria issued the Nigerian currency notes and coins and the West African Currency Board notes and coins were withdrawn with it attaining legal tender status on 1st July, 1962, at no time has the Naira suffered such disrespect, almost disdain than now from the Nigerian elite. It will be recalled that in the 70s and early 80s, the same Naira was being smuggled out of Nigeria for black market trading in US and UK because it had a stronger value than the Dollar. IMF apologists at the time claimed that the Naira was over-valued but was it really?
If we recall at that time, we had a thriving industrial production base and Nigeria serviced the manufactured products needs of many West African countries. When the IMF and World Bank agents finally convinced us to take loans we did not need and make a devaluation that was not necessary, the result is the scandalous free-fall of the Naira, the near collapse of Nigerian industrial and productive capacities and the reversal of Nigeria to one of the world’s leading dumping grounds for all manner of cheap and sub-standard goods.
Retooling the Naira to regain its lost glory goes beyond criminalizing non-Naira transactions as called for by the the Honourable representative to the CBN last year. We have to develop a strategy that will take us back to the pre- IBB era when the Naira was the international currency denominator in the West African sub-region; we should also set a time frame to make the Naira a pan-African currency in due course. This can only happen if we have brands and products to push into the African markets that will compete favorably with the Chinese and European products. It will also require an aggressive but effective Political-Economic philosophy that will engender pride and dignity for Nigerians as represented in the Naira Brand.
To this end we must commend the effort of the CBN under Mallam Sanusi Lamido’s leadership to promote respect for the Naira through publicity campaigns and even legislation. The present cashless economy programme will also help the fate of the Naira if an appreciable level of success is recorded. We cannot end this editorial without pointing out the damaging effect of corruption in public and even private institutions where it is learnt that the ubiquitous Naira-filled Ghana-must-go has now given way to Naira-converted Dollar-filled envelopes. The pressure this is putting on the value of the Naira is better imagined.
The Naira is a national heritage let us uphold its dignity at all times.