Between the content of our character and the colour of our currency

There was a Second Republic politician, a stark illiterate, who played a prominent role in helping a particular government to power. He was duly compensated with the post of a commissioner in the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs. As time went by, the man had irreconcilable issues with the appointing authority, the governor, and he was fired. The commissioner boasted that nobody would ever occupy the office he left. Nobody took the boast of an illiterate seriously. The governor went ahead and appointed a replacement. When the sacked commissioner heard about the appointment, he approached the new appointee and said: “Bùòdá, èyin ni wón gbé s’íbè. Aso tí ìpìn bá bó sílè kò sí baba eranko tó lò wo láíláí” (Elderly one, you are the one appointed. Whichever cloth the insect, ìpìn, puts off, no other animal will ever wear it). But before the new man assumed duty, the government changed every piece of furniture in the office, changed the rug and repainted. They knew that the immediate commissioner was very versed in metaphysics. The former man laughed it off. He waited like the old vulture he was. The new appointee was sworn in and moved to the office. Then the unexpected happened. The new man collapsed and was rushed out. When contacted, the sacked commissioner said he was shocked at the ignorance of the government, which went about changing the office paints and the furniture. He intoned that whether the furniture was changed a million times and the walls painted as many times as possible, the curse he placed was on the nomenclature of that office. The government got wiser thereafter and never appointed anyone into that ministry until the government ended its tenure.

Ìkórè (harvest) season used to be the liveliest period of our Anglican Communion in the days of yore. We always looked forward to those colourful celebrations. The healthy competition among the various egbé (groups) in the church was infectious. The womenfolk were the most colourful. My late mother belonged to the Egbé Ìgbàlàyemì (Salvation Befits Me) group. Women younger than her were grouped into Egbé ÌwàbíOlórun (Character like of God). There were other groups, fighting for the Àsíá (plaque). Those women could sing. Most of their songs then were philosophical as they were didactic- speaking to morals, ethos and the dignity of humanity. One of such songs speaks to our discourse today. I crave your indulgence to render the lyrics in its native form. It goes thus: Ùwà l’ènìyàn – Character is the man/Hójé hùnkàn pàtàkì – It is of great value/ Olori Egbé yá múra súwá o – Leader of our group, pay attention to your character.

The women of my mother’s epoch (1927-2006) knew that character is of great value. At any given opportunity, they impressed on their leaders that they would need good character to be able to steer the ship of the groups to the shore of glory (ibùdó ògo). So, they constantly encouraged their Ìyá Egbés to be mindful of their character. Character is the man. What wisdom!

The educationists, who designed our curricula for our early education, were equally wise. They included in the learning processes of those days, ethical orientation programmes that ensured that before we started our classes, we were made to affirm the place of good character above academic excellence. We called it “Àkósórì” (rote learning). Most of the “Àkósórì” were poems written by the best of that era in children’s literature, Joseph Folahan Odunjo, popularly known as J .F. Odunjo. As we assembled to pray and listen to the daily instructions from the headmaster, we would recite one Àkósórì or the other. One of such recitations has its first clause as: “Tojú ìwà re òré mi” (Take care of your character, my friend). The recitation says money, beauty and education without character is nothing.

  1. F wrote another poem in his Alawiye Series, titled, “Ise Logun ise” (Work is the antidote for poverty). He emphasises the need to be self-dependent and rely on one’s efforts and cut off entitlement mentality. The import of the messages in all the poems is about good character. If any man, and by extension, a nation or a people must make any progress, the character of such a man or people must be above board. No nation without leaders of good character can make any progress. You may change the policy directions as many times as you can, without a change in character for positive dispositions, nothing will change. These are the lessons we were taught in those good old days. The question now is: How many of our leaders still remember those messages? How many are applying them in the running of the nation?

On October 26, 2022, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, announced that our currency, the Naira, in 200, 500 and 1000 denominations would be redesigned. The CBN top shot said that one of the principal factors responsible for the policy is the issue of hoarding of the banknotes by some Nigerians. Like edible commodities, some Nigerians are in the habit of hoarding the nation’s banknotes. According to Emefiele, over 80 per cent of the currency in circulation was outside the vaults of the commercial banks. He gave a worrisome figure. Of the total sum of N3.2 trillion printed Nigerian currency in circulation, as at September this year, a huge sum of N2.73 trillion was in the hands of individuals, outside the vaults of the various banks. What the CBN Governor was saying in the usual government diplomatic parlance is that some greedy Nigerians are in possession of over 80 percent of our entire money in circulation.


I was privileged to be taught elementary Economics in secondary school by two brilliant minds; Messrs Alebiosu in Form Four, and Fabamise in Form Five. These two gentlemen, if they were to explain the scenario painted by Emefiele, would simply say: because such a huge amount of our currency are outside the banking halls, where the banks could lend them to investors, our economic development is halted and where there are no companies and cottage industries, the unemployment rates will be high. Alebiosu and Fabamise would then swear that should that be the case, poverty, a very crushing one, would be the lot of the people. Simple Economics! That is exactly what we are experiencing in the country today. The CBN boss said that to arrest the situation, we would have to redesign our currency notes from the N200 denomination to the highest, which is the N1000 note. Then, measures were put in place to ensure that those hoarding the Naira notes would not be able to deposit them in large figures. I will not bother with all those measures for just one simple reason: those who have the capacity to hoard 80 percent of our money in circulation also have the capacity to frustrate any measure aimed at getting at them.

Why would anyone, for instance, bury say, N1 billion in a hole in his bedroom? What sort of human beings would mop up over 80 percent of a nation’s money in circulation and keep that to themselves while poverty walks the streets of Nigeria in three piece suits? The answer is, again, character. Only a man of character, and good character for that matter, would realise that a wealthy man among millions of poor relations is the poorest of all men. Character alone would teach a man that appropriating a communal purse for personal use is tantamount to pure madness.

That is why, on a personal level, I find Emefiele’s policy of redesigning the Naira as not only inappropriate, but highly ridiculous. I will leave economists and financial experts to deal with the issues of the implications of the policy on the nation’s economy. I will equally not bother myself with the negative effects many of the aforementioned experts said it would bring to bear on our already comatose economy. My point here is: how long, after the redesigning, will it take the same hawks to mop up the newly introduced notes and hoard them the same way they did to the ones Emefiele and the voodoo economists of the Muhammadu Buhari administration are planning to change from December 15, 2022 to January 31, 2023? How do you redesign a currency without a corresponding redesigning of the character of the players in the nation’s economy? It is amusing, you know. The policy reminds me of the story of a Second Republic politician told above.

Rather than changing the colours of our Naira notes like a chameleon, Nigeria needs to change the characters of the money bags, the politicians, the businessmen and women, who get tax reliefs without any corresponding effects on the lives of the average citizens. When the government gives the monopoly of virtually every commodity to an individual, such a government ought to go a step further to check how much such commodities cost in the Nigerian markets. When a multi billionaire gets tax relief for many years, we need to ask him what he is spending the extra money on. Is it on what is beneficial to the mass of the people or what? We need to put a punitive system in place such that once we discover a huge amount of money on someone’s farm; such an individual is heavily punished.

If it is true that a few Nigerians are hoarding over 80 percent of our Naira notes, we need to ask ourselves questions. For instance, how many of our past governors have been indicted for financial infractions? How many billions of naira have we traced to them? Where did they invest the money? How many of them are in jail houses for such infractions? Was it not recently that the same government, which promised to fight corruption, granted amnesty to former Governors Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame of  Plateau and Taraba States, respectively? These were individuals jailed for helping themselves to their states’ funds and before they could finish their terms, they were set free. What message is the government passing to the current and future hawks occupying leadership positions in the country? Is it our currency and its colours that should change or our orientation as a people? I can go on and on. For me, I think the issue of currency hoarding goes beyond changing the colours of the Naira notes. What Nigeria needs, and what it lacks in a very devastating magnitude, is the ethical orientation that would make such hideous practice a condemnable act, punishable by the laws of the land. What we need is a strong institution that punishes infractions like currency hoarding or currency decimation. A country which promotes, worships and rewards rogues like Nigeria does can change the colours of its banknotes as many times as it wishes; without a change in the character of those running roughshod over the affairs of the country, the currency redesigning becomes another hollow ritual! Like we say in my Ekiti dialect:  hi a luffecti – it will have no effect. The exercise is like a woman who changes her husband without changing her character, she will still come back to the same old problem.

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