SPECIAL REPORT: CBN’s Naira Redesign: Scrutinising the raging debates

Aminu Imam

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) last month announced out-of-the-blue that it will redesign, produce, and circulate new series of banknotes at N100, N200, N500, and N1, 000 levels.

According to the CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, the management of the apex bank sought and obtained the approval of President Muhammadu Buhari for the initiative. He said the new and existing currencies shall remain legal tender and circulate together until January 31, 2023, when the existing currencies shall cease to be legal tender.

Emefiele noted that significant hoarding of banknotes by members of the public, the worsening shortage of clean and fit banknotes and the increasing ease and risk of counterfeiting, evidenced by several security reports, as some of the reasons for the planned Naira notes redesigning.

Many public commentators have commended the apex bank’s move, saying it is in line with global standards, and that despite the huge cost involved in changing currency notes, it is time to sanitise the system, especially now that electioneering activities have kicked-off.

Some critics however disagreed with the planned move, saying the deadline of January 31, 2023 is too short, given the number of naira denominations involved, from N100 to N1,000; some advised the CBN to consider extending the time.

However, an op-ed article by one Maiwada Danmallam was recently published where he stated that the amount of literature uploaded in the media following the CBN pronouncement to condemn the “cluelessness” of the Buhari administration for the unawareness of the Minister of Finance about the CBN’s redesign plans, as revealed by the Minister when she appeared before a Senate Committee, as simply mesmerizing. 

According to him, “The amazement is more for the cluelessness of the assorted collection of “economic experts” sympathising with the minister for the “shabby CBN treatment” than for the apex bank’s “unforgivable sin” of keeping her in the dark about the plans. 

He said, “Majority of these pundits hit their keyboards without knowing that the CBN is autonomous and operating with clearly specified monetary laws that gives it the leverage to redesign the Naira without consulting the Ministry of Finance. The CBN Act, 2007 provides that the CBN shall be a FULLY AUTONOMOUS body in the discharge of its functions under the Act and the Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act (BOFIA), with the objective of promoting stability and continuity in economic management. 

“Even sadder, the cluelessness doesn’t end with the CBN Act, 2007. These ‘experts’ are not even aware of an existing Bill seeking to amend the CBN Act, 2007 which was deliberated upon at the Senate’s plenary on 27th September 2022 and which, in summary, is seeking to erode the bank’s operational independence (the right not consult the Ministry of Finance), contrary to the existing Section 1(3) of CBN Act 2007 which states: ‘the Bank shall be an independent body in the discharge of its functions’.

“So, how do Buhari and his administration clueless on the basis of the Minister’s unawareness about a matter the law excluded her from the list of those who should be aware? I’m not a lawyer to explain the full meaning of autonomy and independence in the context of the CBN Act, 2007. Still, the basicity of autonomy and independence in the context of this debate shouldn’t be missed by even a “Clueless-Promax”.

“That these pundits were out to cry more than the bereaved is unquestionable. While the minister was not complaining about CBN undermining her authority or keeping her in the dark, these pundits are busy beating drums of war to defend her from CBN’s ‘excesses’. 

“For some reason, the Minister, unlike majority pundits, refused to accuse the CBN of insubordination or usurpation of her powers. Unlike them, she’s very aware of her limitations and responsibilities viz-a-viz the on-going saga. She also respects the autonomy of the CBN not to see the ‘cluelessness’ of the Buhari administration for keeping her in the dark about the decisions of an autonomous agency that many believed cannot move an inch without her approval which is not the case. 

“When politely appealing to the Senate Committee to invite the CBN Governor for required explanations as regards the policy, she didn’t appeal to the Committee to also interrogate the Governor on why he refused to consult the Ministry of Finance because unlike ‘them’ she’s very aware the Governor did no wrong and it is within his powers to redesign the Naira without consulting the ministry. 

“Even the element of secrecy being infused into the debates, possibly to juxtapose the policy with a similar one in 1984 under then Head of State, Major General Muhammadu Buhari, is not for relevance and significance but just to make brighter the colour of insensitivity the present Buhari administration is being painted to score cheap political mileage in an election season. Nigerians were given advance notice by the CBN Governor, which all the media houses carried, hence the current debates. In 1984, the majority members of the Supreme Military Council (SMC), then the highest military ruling body, were kept in the dark about plans to redesign the Naira and only knew about when shipments of the new Naira notes were already in the country. 

“Truly, more than the fear of the fate waiting to pounce on the Naira in its new dress as cautioned by the Minister of Finance is the fear of self-educated ‘one-stop-shop’ experts on government policies patrolling media platforms looking for government’s fault to pick and display their ‘prowess’ to impress the gullible majority”.

However, as the debate rages on many Nigerians seem to agree that the CBN’s planned policy is in the right direction, with some advising that Nigerians should give the CBN the benefit of doubt and support.

Many ordinary citizens do not have up to N10, 000 cash in their hands. It is better for the ordinary Nigerians if the cashless policy of the Government can be allowed to work. Money laundering, kidnappings and terrorism can be reduced with the redesign of our currencies and implementation of the cashless policy.

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