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Mutilated Naira Notes, A National Shame



The volume of dirty and mutilated naira notes in circulation is worrisome. It is obvious that the commercial banks, whose responsibility it is to mop up disused naira notes from the system are not bothered regardless of admonition by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). The N100 and the N200 notes are the worse off. At the moment, there is hardly any decent note in these two denominations in circulation. Some of them are so ragged and smelly; looking exactly like things dredged up from pit toilets, such that no one mindful of contagious diseases would want to touch them.

While it is unhealthy to hold the dirty naira notes in the palm, it is risky to keep them in the pocket or wallet because they are so limp that they shred at the slightest of impacts. The ragged naira notes constitute profound health risks given that they harbour pathogens that carry infectious diseases and respiratory disorders.

Dilapidated naira notes have equally constituted a problem in commerce and any other activity that involves the use of the currency. Even bank tellers complain that they tangle in their cash registers, leaving them to do multiple recounting of cash. Apart from slowing down transaction time, refusing to accept the dirty and limp naira notes and the absence of better replacements have in many cases led to severe disagreements and even fights between the parties involved.

Much as our ragged naira notes constitute health hazards and unhelpful to commerce, they have also become a huge national embarrassment. No country that bothers about its image would mindlessly turn a blind eye as its currency notes become as trashy as what we have in the country. The state of our naira notes testifies to a national decadence that has spared nothing within the polity. Even among the polymer denominations of N10, N20 and N50, most of the features that made them legal tender have completely been effaced by wear.

A foreigner who arrives from the West or even some Middle East countries where a smudge or the slightest of tears makes the currency unacceptable would nearly jump out of his skin if he encounters at the point of entry, the ragged, smelly things we cope with in this country as currency notes. As much painful is that those who should rid the system of the dilapidated naira notes feel little or no scruples about the embarrassment.

We recall that in a bid to reduce the quantity of dilapidated naira notes in circulation, the CBN, effective from January 2 this year, opened a window that lasted till March 28, in which it reduced the amount it charges commercial banks for sorting out dilapidated naira notes among the polymer denominations from N12, 000 per box to a paltry N1, 000, and left it at N2000 afterwards. A box of naira notes contains 10,000 notes.

While it is the responsibility of commercial banks to sort out dilapidated naira notes and return them to the CBN in exchange for descent notes, they unfortunately fail to do this, preferring rather to bank their money with the CBN with both the good and the dilapidated notes, jumbled together. The reason is that Nigerian banks would not hire staff to this bit. This leaves the apex bank to do the sorting and charge the banks for the dereliction.

Given the huge decadence among the paper denominations, we believe that it would be helpful if the CBN extends the downward review of the sorting charge it implemented on polymer notes to the paper denominations, even if it is for a period, so that the public can have a breather from the indignities from dilapidated currency notes in circulation. This is all the more compelling given that by the admission of the CBN, commercial banks are not even coming up with the dilapidated naira notes in their possession just because they don’t want to incur the sorting charges. Where the apex bank fails to do a downward review of the sorting charges on the paper currencies, it should spell out penalties against commercial banks for holding onto the dilapidated naira notes and dispensing them to the public. The CBN must also ensure the enforcement of such penalties.

As has been proven in the past, there are cartels in commercial banks, that make a killing through the reintroduction into the system of dilapidated naira notes meant for destruction as well as those who sell fresh currency notes to hawkers in contravention of Section 21(4) of the CBN Act of 2007. Resigning to the situation is not where the solution lies. The apex bank must be seen as doing its utmost in saving the face of the naira and in killing the business of the currency cartels within the banking system.