By Chikaobi Idenyi
When the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) unveiled the polymer notes to the general public in 2009, the media was awash with stories of how they were crease-resistant,washable when dirty or falls into red oil, cannot be torn with the hands and so on and so forth. At that point we all breathed a sigh of relief with the hopes that we won’t have to deal with the mutilation of naira notes again, at least not for the lower denominations of N5, N10, N20 and N50 notes.
The media was very instrumental to the CBN to paint a very wonderful picture for the masses that we, at that time, started believing that we now have an indestructible Naira note that can stand the test of time and the cruel hands of Nigerians. You can imagine the types of experiment these poor polymer notes had to pass through at the hands of curious Nigerians. Little did we know that the so called ‘indestructible’ naira notes, once they start aging, will start losing its complexion to the point that we won’t get to recognize the faces of our heroes on them or that it also tend to fold permanently in your pocket, like a burnt nylon, if you as much as run a temperature above what it is used to. Oh! And one more thing, it does get torn after all and unlike its counterpart the paper notes, once it gets torn, it looks very ugly even when remedial work is done on it and in that state, the public rejects it like it’s a plague!
There is currently a very strong wave of mutilated naira notes, both polymer and paper notes, sweeping across the country like a wild fire and it calls for serious concern as it is turning to a national disgrace. Markets, the transport sector and all other places where money change hands are gradually turning into wrestling rings because of what these mutilated naira notes are causing. Those who could not contain their disdain for the mutilated note that was given to them by another party, engages in a shouting match and sometimes throwing of punches.
Having grown up in the eastern part of the country where as little as a dent on a Naira note makes the public to frown which most times leads to onward rejection of the note, I was taken aback when I came to the capital city of Abuja and noticed that nobody cares about the dents or mutilation to naira notes. I rejected some notes for a while, which caused me and the second parties to have serious arguments that I had to start letting go to avoid altercations and embarrassments. It wasn’t long before I stopped caring too, which is very sad.
I once visited Katsina earlier this year and what I saw in terms of mutilated Naira notes left me bewildered, and this is already coming at the backdrop of not caring about dented notes I encounter daily in Abuja. Imagine what my reaction would have been if I had gone straight to Katsina from the East. The culture shock would have been devastating.
The truth is that we Nigerians do not give much respect and regard for our National Symbols. Our handling of the Naira notes, for lack of better word, is very cruel. I remember some time ago when I was trying to salvage a Naira note a taxi driver gave to me by cellotaping it together, my colleague in the office told me that I was just wasting my time, that left for him, he would just spend it like that. I just looked at him and shook my head. I can also recall an incident that happened during my service year at our orientation camp in Kubwa.
One fateful evening, we all gathered in the hall for a welcome party organized for new corps members and there was this young man, bursting with energy that danced so well and in the heat of his dance, a fellow corps member came and sprayed him a couple of N10 notes to encourage him. The young man, to everyone’s surprise, picked one of the N10 notes and tore it to pieces. That singular action infuriated the camp commandant who ordered his immediate arrest. It took the intervention and series of pleas from NYSC officials to prevent the young man from being taken to guard room that night. That was how the welcome party was brought to an abrupt stop that evening.
I have been asking myself questions since that day as to what could have made the young man who have passed through the four walls of a higher institution take such action in front of hundreds of people, and the answer is very simple, there is no consciousness of our nationhood, our national symbols and what they represent. If a so called learned young man could severe the Naira note in public, what then can be said of those that are not learned?
I had the opportunity of traveling to the eastern part of the country not long ago and to my dismay I noticed that people no longer cared about mutilated Naira notes as before and I had to ask why it was so, as I was disturbed seeing that our conscience is eroding faster than the complexion of the polymer notes. I was simply told that I should count myself lucky that I even saw the money at all. And I ask myself, could it be that the CBN is deliberately recycling worn out and mutilated naira notes to encourage and enforce their cashless policy? Could it also be the reason why banks no longer accept mutilated naira notes from the public as is done in times past?
I call on the CBN to ease their approach towards achieving the cashless economy and wipe out this national embarrassment that is sweeping across the land in the form of mutilated and worn out naira notes. Also, they should resuscitate and sustain their previous campaign against those that abuse the naira notes by spraying it in parties and functions. Those caught in the act should be prosecuted along with the celebrants/hosts of such parties as this will serve as deterrent to others.
The National Orientation Agency should rise up to the occasion as there is a serious need for a reorientation of the Nigerian populace on how to handle the naira note and other national symbols carefully and with respect. There were some network providers that gave out wallets in times past; such promotions should be encouraged as it will help to reduce the mutilation of Naira notes to the barest minimum.