Patrick OdionikhereFriday, February 23, 2007



he currency of any nation fulfil amongst others: represents a means to transact any financial exchange, goods and services; international trade; symbolizes national pride and sovereignty; intrinsic and add to a nation's uniqueness internationally. Therefore, in addition to the aforementioned functions, political consideration plays significant role in its design and name. Hence, it is no coincidence that the Arabic inscription on the old naira has outlived Nigeria's contemporary political development and the desire to break the ugly past; when previous military regimes single-handedly implemented contentious and biased policies.

They implemented policies that compromised our diversity and unity. They carried out policies that were insensitive towards other ethnicity. So, it is no surprise that Obasanjo's government is now reversing some of those policies. Unfortunately, replacing Arabic inscriptions on the Naira with Ibo, Hausa and Yoruba is equally not trouble free since it falls short of promoting our diversity and unity. A language neutral Naira would strike a proper political balance to overcome our complex ethnic divide; even though, it would have been desirable to have the Naira in our indigenous language. However, the use of numerical inscriptions would be most perfect in addition to differentiating the denomination in colours like the Euro currency that is language neutral.

The argument offered by Prof. Soludo as reasons for replacing the old Naira is ridiculous and unsatisfactory. If more than half of our population can understand English, which has helped so far to mitigate the divide and accepted as official language, it is difficult to comprehend how the three major languages-Ibo, Hausa and Yoruba will promote literacy and acceptance among the minorities who are in the first place sceptical about the intention of those promoting the new Naira and what it will mean in the future. Any policy of domination has never worked and would always meet resistance and so, those who promote policy of divide and rule are not nation builders and statesmen.

Furthermore, to compensate the three big ethnicities- Ibo, Hausa and Yoruba by having their languages on our national currency, is scandalous since their people contribute less to our economic and political development; and are responsible for our nation's bad international image. Having the new Naira in these languages is bad omen even if we agree that changing the Arabic inscription is expedient. Nonetheless, the use of these major languages is even more absurd and unacceptable since political issue requires political solution.

President Obasanjo and Central Bank governor lack the power to use executive order to change the Naira without a parliamentary mandate. The new Naira is a violation of the constitution since changing it, is a political issue and requires the necessary legislative enactment. The power of the Central Bank governor ends in interest rate fixing, price stability, keeping our foreign reserve, ensuring balance budget and economic policies only. Again, it is incongruous to think that changing the Naira will stop counterfeiting. Rather, emphasis ought to be on printing good and high-tech protected Naira because any currency is prone to counterfeit. It is unfortunate that the government has once again made a blunder and waste of public money. After all, there are more other pressing issues facing Nigeria such as, solving the Niger delta neglect and unemployment.

The reforms so far in the banking sector are not far reaching enough and one expects rigid anti-trust laws to regulate privatization and the consumer market. The central bank governor ought to be preoccupied with how to revive our economic doldrums and not taking unearned merits. Everyday, our people are made to believe that President Obasanjo's government is carrying out economic reforms and yet, inflation and prices of goods and services are rising and no economic benefit to the common-man.

As if Nigerians haven't suffered enough, the government is again compounding further miseries and bottleneck associated with exchanging old currencies for new ones. I personally think that covert reasons in addition to the kickback (bribes), which will accrue to those involved in the decision to produce the new Naira informed the whole exercise as opposed to the governor's (Prof. Soludo) farce argument. I hope he is aware that, frequent changing of currency is bad for currency market since it removes the confidence that traders may have on Naira as a convertible currency and may affect its future value.

Having said that, the New Naira violates our constitution since Ibo, Hausa and Yoruba inscription discriminate the languages of other ethnicity and abhorrent to the constitution of Nigeria. Interestingly, section 15 (4) states that: "the State shall foster a feeling of belonging and of involvement among the various people of the federation, to the end that loyalty to the nation shall override sectional loyalty and equality for the purpose of consolidating the unity of our people".

For those behind the new Naira to blatantly flout this provision is not only scandalous but insensitivity towards minorities. I agree that the Naira must be changed but with the one that is language neutral. At this juncture, I am expecting opposition parties and Nigerians to challenge the introduction of the new Naira in court, which has Ibo, Hausa and Yoruba inscription. I hope both houses of national parliament will correct the oversight and approve only the currency that fosters our diversity and national unity.

A new dawn awaits Nigeria when leaders who know the real issues are in government. The marginalization of minorities must end. It can not be right in spite of their economic relevance that the government still pursue policies that are inimical to them. If you push people to the edge, they will fight back. Remember, a painful divorce is better than a troubled marriage!

Lastly, Nigerians should stay away from the new Naira otherwise they will be consenting to and endorsing president Obasanjo's lawlessness.

Patrick Odionikhere is a legal Adviser at the Austrian federal Asylum Office