After weeks of intense debate on the proposed N5000 note, the Presidency waded in last week and doused the raging inferno. The debate had placed many Nigerians, especially stakeholders in the economy, at daggers-drawn with the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, and its management. The tension had become so palpable that it could be cut through with a knife. At that point, it was obvious that the unexpected could happen. But it took a long time to come. And when it finally came, it was with a bang: Sanusi lost, Nigerians won.
The whole thing was ignited a few weeks back when Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the governor of the apex bank, came under klieg lights and announced that the apex bank had concluded arrangements to introduce the N5000 currency bill into the country’s financial system.
Since then, the debate over the desirability or otherwise of the introduction of the new currency had spread like a wild fire in the harmattan. In most cases the observations raised by people have not gone down well with Sanusi and his lackeys. One of this was the comment made by former President Olusegun Obasanjo at a forum in Lagos. Obasanjo had said that the introduction of the bill was capable of crippling or killing production, thereby causing hyper-inflation. Pronto, Sanusi carpeted the former President, describing him as a “bad economist.” He pointedly asked whether Obasanjo could be said to have contributed to inflation in the country by introducing the N1000 bill during his tenure as president.
Surprisingly, the position of Obasanjo was commended last week by Professor Shamusdeen Tella, a renowned economist. He insisted that the former President was right to say that the introduction of the new notes would not be in the interest of the country’s economy. Tella said the reasons given by Sanusi to conclude that Obasanjo is a “bad economist” are not in tandem with the current economic trends. He explained that the importation and fluctuation levels in the country’s currency had created huge instability in the domestic enterprise, resulting in broader inflation and, as such, “the circumstance does not warrant any higher denomination at all in the system now.”
‘Sanusi must demonstrate civility and flexibility at all times in his conducts because it is not the man that makes the institution; it is the institution that makes the man.’
According to Tella, “collecting higher denominations will mean that people would lose confidence in that money … All these did not happen when such denominations were introduced by Obasanjo’s regime. So Obasanjo is right. Even when he brought the N1000, people accepted it.” Tella also warned that the implication on CBN’s insistence “is that there won’t be anything called cashless economy anymore. There will be serious implication”, he said.
Also last week, the position of Tella and others before him actually got a boost when both houses of the National Assembly came down heavily on Sanusi and the CBN. They passed different resolutions asking President Goodluck Jonathan to stop the CBN from introducing the controversial N5000 note.
However, going by Sanusi’s trademark obstinacy, I doubt it if CBN has not commenced the production or even finished printing the currency and minted the new coins. Nigerians should not be surprised if this becomes an open secret tomorrow. I am saying this because there seems to be a tinge of desperation in Sanusi and his lackeys who have been trying to sell the idea to the public at every available opportunity.
The media has been awash with advertorials over the issue. And these advertorials cost a fortune to place in prime time television and major newspapers. Now, by suspending the project instead of outright cancellation, is the presidency saying that the CBN can continue to waste huge sums of money on the so-called enlightenment? The government should know that Nigerians have spoken; they don’t want the new currency and coins, and no amount of propaganda can change that mindset.
Like many people have rightly observed, the new CBN’s move is a contradiction of its cashless policy, which has not even been accepted in Lagos. People have been devising ingenious methods to circumvent the policy since it was introduced. Sanusi himself attested to this fact recently when he openly admitted that the banks were conniving with their customers to sidetrack the policy.
It is a known fact that the informal sector controls a big chunk of the volume of cash in circulation. The market men and women in Oshodi, and Oke Arin markets in Lagos; Ochanja Market in Onitsha; Fegge Market in Kano; Ariara Market in Aba; and Agenebode market in Edo State transact their businesses in Ghana-Must-Go bags stacked with naira notes. Majority of these traders are peasants and illiterates who do not have any business with the banks. Therefore, I do not see how they can embrace this cashless gambit. I think Sanusi should rather concentrate on how to strengthen the cashless policy and make it work than dissipate energy on selling the idea of N5000 note to unwilling Nigerians.
The other issue is the coins. Sanusi wants to change some lower denominations of the naira like N5, which carries the portrait of Tafawa Balewa; N10, which bears Alvan Ikoku; and N20 which spots late General Murtala Mohammed on it. These people represent many things to many people across the geo-political divides in Nigeria. The implication is that Sanusi is set to consign their memories to the graveyard of history.
Nobody should tell the CBN governor any longer that Nigerians do not like coins. Just like one of the parliamentarians observed last week, even beggars don’t collect coins from alms givers. If Sanusi is so adamant, let him try and introduce the N5000 in coin. Nobody will touch it. Our goods and services are not priced in smaller digits. When it becomes necessary, they are approximated to the next higher denomination. Think of any minute object or commodity such as oranges. It is either they are N10 or N20 each. So why does Sanusi want to devalue our currency by other means?
However, the CBN governor may have probably played the political card by proposing that three women activists of blessed memory -Olufunmilayo Ransom-Kuti, Margaret Ekpo and Gambo Sawaba – will jointly adorn the face of the N5000 note. Even at that, there would still be problems. For instance, in Sanusi’s own part of the country, women are more often relegated to the background in the scheme of things. They can neither be heard nor seen, as it were, which is why many of the men keep their women out of public eyes. The culture there is that women should naturally play second fiddle. What this boils down to is the fact that the stark illiterates in this part of the country, who are mainly traders handling high volume of cash, may not want to have anything to do with the N5000 note.
But Sanusi and his henchmen have a readymade answer for this. They have come out with the cheap propaganda that those who do not want to spend the money are free to reject it. That sounds quite unintelligent. If a person goes to cash money in the bank and the counter clerk tells him that all he has are N5000 notes, what will happen? The customer will have no other choice than to succumb.
As things are now, there is the need to do more research on the real problem bedeviling the naira. This is with a view to fashioning out an appropriate panacea to resolve it rather than the perennial introduction of higher currency and redenomination.
Besides, the usual arrogant posture with which Sanusi has dealt with such issues in the past, and which has manifested in his behaviour over the years, does not augur well for somebody in such a sensitive position. Sanusi must demonstrate civility and flexibility at all times in his conduct because it is not the man that makes the institution; it is the institution that makes the man.