10th September, 2012
By Peter Claver Oparah.
From the erratic, unpredictable and unsure brainwave that rules the country economy at present came the decree one sultry morning that the Naira is about to be restructured. The high point of the restructuring is the plan to print N5, 000 notes and the conversion of lower denomination of the national currency into coins.
The issuing authority quickly unfurled the design and nature of the envisaged super note, as well as the faces marked to don its face. Almost immediately, we heard that the Central Bank has earmarked a huge N40 billion for the printing of this new currency. Although it was to deny this later, it has not told us what it plans to spend for this project. Yes, this came as a decree given the way and manner it was announced and how the Central Bank governor and the government he works for have gone on this thus far. There was no interval for us to catch our breath, least of all, make our own contribution or even our opinion on what should be a hefty policy decision that would certainly affect us all. For a regime that was whining publicly for self pity the other day, one would have expected some level of deference to the views and opinions of the governed but this was ignominiously left out. The government and its agents in the Central Bank did not expect our input. Like most policies of the government, Nigerians matter little and their interests do not count on issues like this. The announcement of the decree itself was to fulfil all righteousness as the currency restructuring or whatever term it was given, could as well have been implemented unannounced.
But Nigerians did not keep quiet. They shouted and blared it on rooftops that the so called restructuring especially the printing of a new N5, 000 is not going to be for them. Labour, Nigeria Bar Association, Nigerian Medical Association, civil society, the press, the critical mass, market women, students and indeed every segment of the population have voiced their disapproval of this policy and called government to drop it. They are still shouting because they know they are the prime targets of these cut and dry economic policies. Even the National Assembly has weighed in and asked the Central Bank to rescind this plan but like in the infamous fuel price increment, Nigerians must be talking to the winds as President Jonathan and his so called economic team have come to lend their weight to this unpopular policy. The stage is drawn for another round of cold battle between the government and the governed and this leads one to inquest whom government makes it policies for and to what end such policies are made.
In opposing the planned printing of a super note, Nigerians have marshalled some impeccable points and two stands out for their impregnability. One is the inflationary whirlwind the policy will enhance while the other is that the decision is not in consonance with the cashless policy of the present government which led to a ceiling on daily banking transactions for both individuals and corporate bodies. So far, there has been no convincing rebuttal of these points nor has the government enriched its own new policy with convincing reasons why it must force its way through the stiff resistance of Nigerians, as it is committed to doing at present. The absence of faultless reasons backing this new policy has fuelled the impression that, as is usual with Nigerian officialdom, the government is working from the answer to the question in a vital policy that would certainly take its tolls on long suffering Nigerians.
At best, what Nigerians are seeing is a government that is retching up a cacophony of reasons; spurious afterthoughts; ranging from the petty to the absurd to unleash another economic policy that will certainly exacerbate the already precarious economic state of famished and poverty racked Nigerians. So far two of such reasons stand out, not because of their value but their self contradictory worth. One of the reasons the government is dropping is that printing the N5, 000 notes would save the costs spent on printing lower denominations of the nation’s currency. Again, it says that the proposed N5, 000 notes would not be mass circulated. One begins to wonder if the printing of the N5, 000 notes would lead to the stoppage of the printing of the lower denominations by which it is true that money would be saved. But the knockout punch is how the government can achieve limited circulation of the proposed N5, 000 notes when it has stopped or reduced the printing volume of the lower denominations. Pray, what monetary policy effectively restricts access to a currency in circulation? How can government achieve such restriction in a situation where the printing of lower denominations has been compacted or stopped so as to achieve the dream of cost saving? Is the government planning to print the N5,000 notes and restrict its circulation to its inner caucus and economic team members to be used as pieces of artefacts? Again, what does restricting or stopping the printing of lower denominations lead to if not the gradual elevation of the envisaged N5.000 note to the single denomination? Whichever way you look it, the reasons are as silly as they are impracticable even as they sell the impression that the government wants to print fancy notes that would be employed as a status symbol or an easier way of moving or storing illicit cash.
But the common man who wears the shoe knows where it pinches hence his unassailable fear that the proposed N5,000 notes will unleash another round of inflation that will take its toll from the already sapped and pummelled common man. In studiously opposing this policy, he has practical lessons to guide him. The common man operates in the practical market where it happens. This is far from the paper market-a poor mimicry of advanced markets in developed societies-where our so called economic team operates. The common Nigerian directly feels the pangs of the wild inflationary sound bites which have become the lots of the Nigerian economy and this is far from the scripted and heavily talcumed figures the government and its agents periodically humour themselves as inflation figures. So he needs no tutorial on its nuisance value because he can feel it with his bare hands. He knows he is the direct victim of such rash and thoughtless policies because by the time lower denominations are flushed out of the system, he would be left at the mercy of the harsh economic realities such policies inflict.
Every past introduction of higher denominations of the Nigerian currency had all led to uncurbed inflation and when this happens, the government had looked the other way and life has continued its assured slide in a major oil produced country, wracked to the seams by poverty, want and disease. Do Nigerians still remember that N1, 50k, 25k and 10k are still legal tenders? In the dingy chamber where government forges its crooked economic policies, they are still legal tenders but they have long been consigned to extinction by the deliberate falsity that accompanies government’s policies. The route they took to extinction is their being converted into coins, which is the same deadly road the new policy wants to sentence N5, N10, and N20 to. Given our experience in the past, the new policy will phase out these currencies and N50 will become the lowest denomination by the time this new policy starts functioning. When this happens, prices of goods and services would automatically mark up, sometimes in higher proportion than the new reality. When we consider the fact that what passes as the Nigerian economy is a primitive, chaotic, predatory and volatile jungle where survival belongs to the fittest, the Nigerian poor, who constitute over 80 per cent of the population will be at the receiving ends of unflagging inflationary wild cats fed and nurtured by this policy.
Our so called economic policies, such as the one under review, is no more than the whimsical brainwaves of the elite hustlers who run our economy, who unleash such polices depending on the side of the bed they wake up from every morning and on where their bread is buttered. They are complemented in the so called economic team by a bevy of free loaders whose prosperity is traceable to their access to the common till. They care less what befalls the common man in forcing through those policies that rob the common man to enrich them. They revel in promoting such banal farce and unseen paradox as the claim that Nigeria is the third fastest growing economy in the world, in one breath and that poverty has risen to over 80 per cent mark in the other. We run an economy with no benchmarks, no workable indices for measurement and no safeguards. In its stead, what we get is flattering self-written reports that speak of economic prosperity as Nigerians bleed from worsening economic woes and continue to die from hunger, poverty and want.
One would not be surprised if, at the end of the day, the obduracy of the government and its fronts in forcing through this policy is not driven by the ultra corrupt and heartless contract culture which sees government contract as free access to share government largesse. As this has funded so many anti people policies in Nigeria, it is not strange if the government is insisting on printing new currencies at a time Nigerians are ranged against many problems, is informed by that deadly urge to pander to the demands of this rotten contract culture. As has been shown, the government lacks convincing reasons for this ill informed decision that will certainly hand the battered citizenry the short end of the stick. What is even most galling is that this policy is coming shortly after another of such cut-and-paste policies was forced on Nigerians whereby citizens are tied down to certain limits of banking withdrawal and deposit in the name of enforcing a cashless society. That the same people that forced through this cashless policy are now hell bent on printing higher denominations of the nation’s currency makes their intentions and desires for Nigerians suspect.
It is the common Nigerian that bears the brunt of the failure of the half baked economic policies as the one that is informing this wild excursion. He becomes the singular victim while the enforcers of these policies smile home with their dollar denominated loots. He stays the long night alone and bears the heavy burden of failure while our economic adventurers move on to the next lush garden. It is so scary yet so real in the present day Nigeria.
•Oparah wrote from Lagos. E-mail: [email protected]