This, alas, has nothing to do with Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Instead, it has everything to do with clangers being dropped at the apex bank. In fact, it is arguable that by leaving our currencies in the abysmal state that they currently are, the CBN brings into some disrepute the persons whose visages they bear. But that is not all.


That paeans to and plaints against social media occur in equal measure, I take to be evidence of its beneficial effect, on balance. Still, the extremes that these experiences describe could be excessive. I struggle with the process by which “fake news” is disseminated, for example. My grief is about the decision, deliberately to put out a lie, in the hope that others will latch on to it, and subsequently bruit it about. I quail at the realisation that nearly always, it is the intendment of vendors of such “news” to hurt others, or, which is the same thing, secure unearned advantages for themselves or for some others.

As a weapon in international relations, propaganda, even of the agitational kind, has long been acknowledged — if not endorsed. It is thus understandable that a state would go to great lengths to doctor, and tinker with photographic records to strengthen narratives that play to its advantages, or weaken those that may otherwise undermine it. But why would individuals do this? Lies have long been key aspects of interpersonal relationships. Like propaganda between states, not endorsed; but acknowledged as ever-present, all the same. All social media appears to have done in this regard is provide a steroid boost to both the process which produces taradiddles, and the incentives to produce them.

Up against instances of such untruths, it pays to try to understand the “why” of it. And in a recent conversation, I struggled to make this sense. At the nub of the conversation was the fact that someone had posted on a friend’s timeline that the only reason why the N100 note is as decrepit as it currently is, is that it depicts a Nigerian whose ethnic stock are known for their shlock. Which is an obvious lie. For it is the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) duty to keep our currency (in its many carnations) in fine fettle. It helps this line of thought, that currency notes initially put out by the CBN enters the market in mint condition.

Because of the volume of small transactions that take place in the economy daily, lower denomination currencies come off worse than the higher denomination ones. Nine years ago, when the CBN converted the material for the N5, N10, N20, and N50 notes into polymer substrates…


Because of the volume of small transactions that take place in the economy daily, lower denomination currencies come off worse than the higher denomination ones. Nine years ago, when the CBN converted the material for the N5, N10, N20, and N50 notes into polymer substrates, this was one of the main arguments for. The apex bank argued then, that these notes do not tear easily and are not easily soiled. It seemed, also to matter, that the new material would “reduce the cost of replacing dirty notes”, and that the “reduction in cost will free resources that could be used for other commitments”.

Anyone who has paid attention to the fortunes of these notes would readily conclude that the apex bank’s justification was clearly exaggerated. Any of several things could be to blame for this. (1) The CBN may have underestimated the number of transactions these currencies support. (2) Nigerians may have subjected the notes to far more abuse than they were originally tested for. Irrespective of what the outcomes were, the CBN ought to have regularly removed currency notes, which are no longer fit for purpose from circulation, and replaced them with new notes.

It does not. You only need to talk to our banks to understand the difficulties they go through looking for ATM-fit notes. I have heard of custodians of ATMs ironing the notes to make it easier for the automated teller machines to dispense. With the polymer substrate-based notes turning into collectors’ items, it was inevitable that the N100 note would bear the brunt of the heavy domestic commercial traffic. It is, unfortunately, more pliant, being of an earlier vintage. And so, has borne this brunt poorly. Consequently, the N100 note is nearly always grimy, and falling apart.

For much of the market’s reaction to the shortage of lower denomination currencies speaks to how current coinage developed in the face of the inadequacy of trade by barter. It speaks, just as eloquently, to the ease with which non-state actors may usurp the functions of an effete state.


This, alas, has nothing to do with Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Instead, it has everything to do with clangers being dropped at the apex bank. In fact, it is arguable that by leaving our currencies in the abysmal state that they currently are, the CBN brings into some disrepute the persons whose visages they bear. But that is not all. Take a trip down Main Street. The dearth of small change has gradually become the bugbear of local commerce. It is the reason why patrons stand by commercial motorcycles, while their riders run hither and thither looking for “change”. Almost without fail, the racket at the filling station is the mark of a driver’s impatience at the sedate rate at which the vehicle ahead of her leaves the pump after buying fuel ― the wait is for an attendant who has gone looking for change.

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It is a long list. But my favourite example is of a bespoke eatery where the vendors issue pieces of signed paper acknowledging their debt to patrons for different amounts of “change”. An interesting metaphor, really. For much of the market’s reaction to the shortage of lower denomination currencies speaks to how current coinage developed in the face of the inadequacy of trade by barter. It speaks, just as eloquently, to the ease with which non-state actors may usurp the functions of an effete state.
The only thing it does not do is explain the mischief that allows anyone attribute all of these shortcomings to Chief Awolowo.

Uddin Ifeanyi, journalist manqué and retired civil servant, can be reached @IfeanyiUddin.