By Marcel Okeke
Just before the commencement of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting on Wednesday, November 23, 2022, President Muhammadu Buhari unveiled (the redesigned) new Naira bank notes in the denominations of 200; 500 and 1000 Naira. This symbolic but significant event pointedly underscored the Central Bank of Nigeria’s seriousness and commitment to expeditiously and effectively implementing the Naira redesigning and reissuance policy it announced on October 26, 2022—an initiative that literally touched the raw nerves of not a few stakeholders and operators in the Nigerian economy. By this singular act of unveiling the redesigned Naira notes about three weeks ahead of schedule, the apex bank has effectively crossed the Rubicon and proved to every doubting Thomas that it meant business. The redesigned Naira notes were originally scheduled to be unveiled and made available to the public on Thursday December 15, 2022.
Since the announcement of the Naira redesigning and reissuance initiative on Wednesday, October 26, 2022, the policy has drawn the ire of not a few economic agents—even from unexpected quarters—but it has also attracted the approval and commendation of many stakeholders. The first thunderbolt came from no less a person than the Honourable Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, who completely disowned the policy. Less than forty-eight hours after a special press conference at which the CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, announced the Naira redesigning policy, the Honourable Minister not only literally shredded the initiative but warned of real and imaginary dire consequences it would unleash on the economy.
But for the timely intervention of President Buhari, as it were, to co-own the CBN effort and restate his approval of same, the Honourable Minister’s tirade had totally exposed the currency initiative to public disdain and opprobrium. Rightly, the CBN had gotten the consent and approval of Mr. President before going public with the policy. The apex bank has full backing of its enabling law as the sole issuer and manager of the country’s currency. The CBN Act 2007 provides all the enablement: Section 19 says: The currency notes and coins issued by the Bank shall be (a) in such denominations of the Naira or fractions thereof as shall be approved by the President on the recommendation of the Board; and (b) of such forms and designs and bear such devices as shall be approved by the President on the recommendation of the Board. That is, recommendations of the Board of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the approval of the President is all that is required for the apex bank to embark on any currency management initiative it deems appropriate.
However in the face of the confusion unleashed by the Minister’s stance and wilful distortions of the currency policy, many fraudsters, currency counterfeiters, money launderers and hoarders deployed all manner of tricks to ‘beat’ the objectives of the CBN policy. Many hoarders of huge volumes of Naira notes were noticed running helter-skelter, rushing to every available Bureau de Change (BDC) to mop up every available dollar (and other hard currencies)—and this showed up as ‘freefall’ of the Naira against the dollar and other currencies in the (‘black’ market) foreign exchange market. In the official window of the foreign exchange market however, the Naira experienced minimal depreciation against the dollar and other currencies. Incidentally, a timely search on the operations of some of the BDCs conducted by the operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) fully exposed the nefarious activities of the BDCs and their ignoble collusion with some economic saboteurs. This EFCC’s timely onslaught has since deflated the forex racketeers and completely stymied the rate of Naira depreciation in all ‘windows’ of the foreign exchange market.
At a point, when the economic saboteurs and their cohorts appeared to be succeeding in ‘submerging’ the Naira redesigning policy, the support and ‘approval’ of the members of the upper legislative house (the Senate) of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provided the needed impetus and fillip to the implementation of the currency initiative. The Senate, after detailed engagement with the leadership of the apex bank, gave their full support and pledged to back up the policy with every necessary legislative pinning. It (the Senate) however requested that the January 31, 2023 deadline for the closure of the new currency exercise be extended to the close of first quarter 2023—a plea the CBN has foreclosed through the guidelines and timelines it had issued to the deposit money banks (DMBs) in respect of the new Naira project. And the DMBs have remained upbeat ever since.
Indeed, since the beginning of November 2022, practically all the DMBs have adjusted their work schedules—to accommodate all manner of depositors (new and existing ones) who could come at any time of the day/week. A typical notice to this effect, by the DMBs goes thus: “Temporary extension of banking hours: Following the CBN’s announcement on the currency redesign exercise, please note that we have reviewed our working hours: Weekdays—Monday to Friday: All branches will open by 8am and close by 6pm; Saturdays—Branches will open by 10am and close by 4pm.”
Just before the unveiling of the redesigned Naira notes, part of the ‘products’ being spewed out of the rumour mill had been that President Muhammadu Buhari was bent on having his image on one of the new Naira bills. This ‘fake news’ was so widespread that its purveyors argued that having Mr. President’s image on a higher value Naira note was even the sole reason for the CBN’s move ab initio. However, at a forum in Abuja, President Buhari reportedly said: “Please ignore any rumour that says my face will be on one of the new bills. Yes, it was discussed (in my kitchen) but we did not agree which picture, so we left at that.”
While unveiling the redesigned Naira notes, President Buhari underscored the importance of the new Naira policy, saying it was aimed at addressing issues of illicit financial flows, corruption, improvement of the nation’s economy as well as ensuring advancement in the value of the Naira. Noting that the currency redesign will also boost the CBN’s monetary policy initiatives, Mr. President also stated that the first set of currency which was printed locally by the Nigeria Printing and Minting Company (The Mint) will fundamentally prevent counterfeiting of the Naira notes. On his own part, the CBN Governor, Mr. Emefiele, maintained that going forward, there would be heavy restriction on the volume of cash that people can withdraw over the counter, as the apex bank works with the EFCC to monitor the purpose for any heavy transaction. He asserted that the redesigned currency notes “can never” be counterfeited, adding that to forestall such occurrence, the CBN would “redesign the notes after every five to eight years.”
In all, and having come this far with the new policy, the apex bank deserves all the kudos and encouragement to see the initiative to its logical conclusion. Although it attracted mixed reactions at the outset, the new Naira policy, on dispassionate consideration, has a multiplicity of noble intentions and objectives. And as the CBN boss has assured, the policy is not targeted at any person or group in the society. We hope for the best, as a polity!
- Mr. Okeke, an economist, sustainability expert and business strategy consultant is a National Daily Columnist. He can be reached at: [email protected]