WE are in the season of festivity. In fact, this year is significant because the Christians and Muslims are celebrating at the same time. We must maximise this beyond the coincidence of dates. I had mentioned in a previous piece that the challenges of the Nigerian nation are multi-dimensional, that you cannot get the expected change result if we view it from a very narrow prism. Our challenge is embedded in our culture, our attitude, our way of life; of nonchalance, of no care for the consequences of the whole as long as our individual or narrow interests are protected. If the people are not getting it, if the messages are not being absorbed and internalised by those at the bottom rung of the ladder, there is no way we can make progress.
Nigerians are used to suffering and smiling; despite our obvious harsh economic environment, when it comes to party time, we forget our sufferings. There is a tale about a particular ethnic group, that will save their hard earned money from January to December, only to lavishly exhaust such monies at parties during festive periods. That is the way of Nigerians and that is why at some point in time we were rated as the happiest nation on earth.
We are presently in the race to join the ranks of cashless nations, that means, transactions through cash must be reduced to the barest minimum. As a result, people are not expected to have much cash at hand. You will expect that when the cash in circulation is reduced, people are supposed to have new notes for daily transactions but that has not happened. Go to any bank or financial institution in Nigeria, you will never find new notes, no matter how big the cash transaction is. You only see brand new notes at parties, to be flaunted, in conspicuous display of opulence by those who have it. It does not matter how the money is earned. But it is at such parties that Nigerians announce the arrival of wealth. And so, the people at the apex bank together with other accomplices have perfected ways to profit from this negative Nigerian culture. Whilst a small percentage profit from it, the generality of Nigerians who need these notes for genuine business transactions are deprived of it. If you attend any party anywhere in the country, the first thing you notice is the presence of men/women hawking new naira notes in the open. It is exchanged for old notes at a profit. You will think for just 1% or 2% but no, you have to cough out as much as 10% or even more. That means, for every N100,000 you exchange, you pay or cough out N10,000. So easy for those disbursing this money and their racketeering agents. It has become cool business for some and that is why new notes are never found in normal business transactions in Nigeria.
When you go to the bank all you get are recycled notes, even if you complain to the cashier, they are unable to help because the decision is completely out of their hands. The practice is still on in this present government and if that is so, urgent change treatment has to be administered. We all need reorientation in this direction. Why do we love the easy and wasteful routes in this country? Why can’t our leaders and elite help to educate the people that money is an item that should be handled with care? Why must we trample and mutilate hard currencies in the name of partying? How can we move forward with such reckless handling of cash?
Some years ago, because of the rate at which our currencies get damaged, the Central bank of Nigeria imposed a ban on spraying of currencies at parties. It was well advertised but the will to enforce that law was not there. If the law was meant for the poor, maybe it would have been executed effortlessly. But, how do you stop the high and mighty in society from spraying? How do you feed their egos if they are not allowed a public display? That is our dilemma.
You cannot stop people from having parties because if you ask me, that is the number one stress recovery formula for Nigerians but the culture of deliberately mutilating our naira notes must be discouraged. It is a crime to destroy our money and those in authority must begin to make that aspect of our law functional. Secondly, new notes must be made available for people to use instead of a few people allocating it to themselves for strictly profit motives. It is a great pity that we cannot even find new notes in our ATM machines that is supposed to be the best route through which new notes can be distributed equitably. This season of festivity calls for more unity and collaboration between and amongst religions in Nigeria. At this period, the change must trickle down to those racketeering and mutilating our naira notes.
Mr. Ikhioya, a commentator on national issues, writes from Lagos