May 05, 2024

Party spraying is not what damages the naira - Abimbola Adelakun

Since the arrest of another Nigerian socialite, Pascal Okechukwu (aka Cubana Chef Priest), I have come across jejune assertions justifying the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s pursuit of those spraying naira at parties. While reading comments made by a random commenter on social media but unsupported with sensible evidence is one thing, it is another entirely when the illogic becomes the subject of a newspaper editorial. We must be careful not to contort logic because we want to justify the abuse of power by an organisation like the EFCC that hardly boasts a significant record of conviction against perpetrators of massive heists but wants to convince us that naira spraying is where the problem lies. If the EFCC’s move against those charged to court for abusing the naira is truly about the naira and not a mere pursuit of vendetta against select individuals, the CBN Act 2007 would have long netted traditional rulers, politicians, popular juju/fuji musicians, and even Afrobeat artistes. We all know the reason the EFCC will not dare.
The campaign against naira abuse has subsisted for decades but selecting individuals for prosecution based on what they do at parties/events is a new development. Maybe, the madcap is due to the EFCC’s new sheriff or a newfangled zeal to remain relevant since the prosecution of actual thieves is impossible for them. Naira spraying, a practice associated with faaji-loving Yorubas, has existed for decades and is now appropriated by other ethnic groups in the country.
Money spraying has given rise to a mini-industry of buying and selling crisp and clean notes at party sites, an enterprise that must irk a joyless organisation like the EFCC. Interestingly, party sites are about the only place you are guaranteed to ever see crisp notes in Nigeria. I have been to several countries but Nigeria is about the only place where the dirtiest and the most diseased currency notes circulate. Even banks unembarrassedly hand you piles of dirty and shrunk notes that should have been shredded five years ago! Unless you are connected to someone high up who can help you procure clean crisp notes, it is virtually impossible to get them in Nigeria. It is at those party sites that ordinary folks get to sight and buy them to spray; such is the nature of our cultural attitude to ostentatious displays of joy. Unfortunately, it is also that very joy that the EFCC has sneakily come to steal, kill and destroy with their sudden clampdown.
First, a major reason the naira notes get so easily mutilated is that our economy is heavily cash-dependent. The practices that Section 21 of the Central Bank of the Nigeria Act of 2007 identifies as naira abuse and for which punishments are prescribed only marginally contribute to the problem of the shortened life of the notes. The Act stipulates activities such as spraying at events and dancing or stumping on naira notes; writing, stapling, and tearing banknotes; defacing, selling, and mutilating, as examples of naira abuse but all of the above barely culminate in the diseased condition of the notes in circulations. Money is too scarce in Nigeria for anyone to mutilate it like that. What is far more responsible for the limited life of naira notes is their heavy usage. How?
Nigeria has a high percentage of what they call the “unbanked population.” That is, a section of people who do not have an account with a financial institution nor are connected to the grid of mobile monetary payment systems anywhere. Consequently, we transact in cash a lot, which puts a heavy strain on our naira notes. In 2022, a report put Nigeria as one of the seven countries that comprise half the world’s unbanked population. That is a lot of people who do not use the electronic systems of banking that have reduced the demand for physical notes in other countries. The factors that have helped advanced economies to achieve cashlessness—that is, ready availability and reliability of digital payment systems and infrastructure—are still largely missing in Nigeria. Without knowing Nigeria’s population, we can only guess that those who use cash in daily transactions run into millions.
Meanwhile, much of what also constitutes our economy is classified as “informal,” meaning a bulk of transactions we carry out daily pass beneath the radar of what is formally accounted for by institutions. Our daily habits do not help the condition of the naira either. How many Nigerians use wallets to store their cash? In marketplaces, people squeeze naira notes before tucking them in their waist bags and aprons. Those are the daily activities that strain the naira. Was the whole idea behind changing the material used to produce the smaller denominations of the naira to polymer to reduce the strain of the heavy usage of those notes?
While it is easy and cheap, in fact to blame naira spraying at parties for the poor condition of the physical notes, nobody has established a reasonable connection between the two. What does naira spraying have to do with the ultimate condition of diseased naira notes? Nobody can say for a fact that the dirty naira notes that circulate in the country came about because they were sprayed at parties. Yes, people spray money at parties, but most of those gatherings also mop up the money immediately! The naira notes that people take home after concluding their celebrations usually retain their newness and crispness, so what is anyone talking about?
Second, while there is no denying that there has been a significant decrease in our unbanked population due to the 2022/2023 naira redesign policy, overall, there is still too little physical cash in circulation. The naira redesign policy that the former administration introduced to reduce the overreliance of our economy on cash and encourage us to adopt digital alternatives sapped Nigerians of naira. For a country already heavily dependent on cash, withdrawing more than two trillion from circulation was an unmitigated disaster. Around this time last year, one of the major conspiracy allegations surrounding the general elections was how the country was being starved of naira notes to reduce the electoral chances of a political candidate whom everyone knew was going to hand out cash to bribe prospective voters. The election has long been over. The candidate they allegedly conspired against won, but the problem of the paucity of cash in circulation has hardly improved.
Our leaders must stop pursuing frivolities and focus on abstract solutions to our economic problems. Nigeria is not the only country where people spray money. In the United States, they throw cash at strip dancers who tuck the cash in their G-strings. The Federal Bureau of Investigation never pursues people like that because they know that that is not where the strength of the dollar lies. What makes the dollar the dollar is not the piece of paper they printed a few symbols on; the dollar is the dollar because the US is the US. When Nigerians throw a party in Europe, they procure $1 bills to spray at parties. You will never hear the US barking at anyone in the name of defending its currency.
Our currency is frequently defended with all kinds of tactics, yet its value hardly appreciates. When it does, the gains are not sustained. From arresting Bureau De Change operators to Binance officials, Nigeria uses too much physical force rather than informed technical knowledge to supposedly advocate its currency. Where does it ever get us? Our leaders do not seem to know how to make naira great, and that is why they resort to gimmicks such as arresting people for spraying naira at social events.

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