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Worries over currency mutilation syndrome

Defacing of the naira is a common practice among some people. It is evident that naira notes from the lowest to the highest denominations come…

Defacing of the naira is a common practice among some people. It is evident that naira notes from the lowest to the highest denominations come as mints but later get defaced in circulation. Commonly, a lot of them look rough, rusty brown, tattered and scornful so much that they lose status as legal tender. Daily Trust on Sunday brings to the fore the extent of mutilation suffered by the currency through flagrant abuse and how to salvage it from the brink of unabated menace.

For a long time, experts and government officials have bemoaned the manner in which naira notes are handled by end users.  The naira, according to the experts, is supposed to be a national symbol of identity, dignity and honour.  But appallingly, it is never accorded the desired regard as it is wantonly abused by people at a reckless abandon.

The contempt meted out to currency occurs at public events such as burial ceremonies, traditional marriage, wedding, house warming etc where money is being sprayed and trampled upon in a feat of ostentation.

The tendency to squeeze money in the palms, pockets or envelops also leads to defacing of the naira as it does not only get stained, especially if the handler’s hands are dirty, but also weakens until it gets tattered in circulation.

Mutilated naira notes

Other people, especially market women, squeeze the naira especially when they use the edge of their wrappers they are adorning to tie it.

The need to handle naira notes with care can not be emphasized.  It is against this background that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) came up with a clean note policy.

Doctor Otobi, aka Eji Sam Eji, who runs a clinic at Mararaba area, said mutilated naira menace posed a lot of inconveniences to his operations.

He told Daily Trust that there was a cartel for defaced naira in the area so much that members of the cartel move  about with whopping amounts of defaced currencies to transact business.

“There is a cartel for it. They move about with mutilated notes to buy things and cheat unsuspecting people that they patronize. They do it mostly in the night when their victims are under pressure to close but still trying to meet some sales target. Under such pressure, they don’t bother to check whether the naira notes are good or bad.  By the time they discover later in the day, it is too late to recover because they never know who brought such money,” he said.

While explaining how they do it and get away with it, he noted:  “Some people bury the money under good ones when they want to pay for product or service. It happens to me regularly. One night,  a lady who last came to buy some drugs brought bad money. Unknown to me, I put it in one of my pockets. Thank God, there was no other money in that pocket. When I later discovered that the money was bad, I kept it and waited to see if she would come back the next time. Surprisingly, she came again the same hour the following night with mutilated money to buy drugs. That was when I drew her attention to the game she was playing. When I rejected the money, she went back and brought a clean money but stopped patronizing me. Since then, I started taking cognizance of mutilated notes.”

“Queuing in banks to deposit such money is frustrating.  In order to avoid incurring losses, I also started burying deface notes among clean ones and buy products,” Eji said.

A motorist in Wuse area of Abuja, Monday Sani, said: “When commuters bring out rough money to pay transport fare and the driver rejects  it, the next thing you will hear is that they don’t have another money. You have to collect it because you don’t want to lose the money or be arguing over it and losing passengers that are waiting for your service.”

He added that when drivers rejected a tattered money, passengers would always tell them to collect and use it to buy fuel. He lamented that they (transporters) had continued to lose a lot of money because fuel attendants also reject such money when taken there to buy fuel.

“I have lost a lot of money due to rejection by fuel attendants and other customers. Even commuters who commonly bring such money, if you give it to them as change they reject it, but they like dumping it on us,”  Sani said.

“If you decide to keep the money, pending when you could have opportunity to change it from the bank or use it to buy fuel, it may get lost at last. That is why, we sometime accept it in case one is lucky to have it changed in the bank or use it to buy fuel,” he added.

Sani, however, said that people that gave out products, especially plastics as trade by barter would collect defaced money.

“Hawkers  who do trade by barter collect such money. But they are not easy to get.  They may give you omo, soap, plastic rubber  etc and collect the money.   Maybe, they have a special way of changing it for clean money. Some of them claim that they take it to Kano. But the problem with barter is that the products you get is not always worth the money you are parting with.  However, it is better instead of losing the money completely.  Half bread is better than none,” Sani said.

He, however, said that arguments between transporters and commuters over tattered money had led to fights.

“There was a time I took somebody from Karimu to Wuse in Abuja and we almost fought. She gave me N1,000 that was torn and rough and wanted to collect change, despite that I rejected it.  I asked her to give me a clean money, but she said that was all she had.  I was not ready to give her change because I felt that nobody would collect the defaced N1,000 from me. She wasn’t ready to lose her money even though it was bad and I didn’t want to lose my own clean money by giving her change. This almost led to a fight until I later accepted it grudgingly. Rough money is always a problem,” Sani said.

Mr Desmond John, a supervisor at a petrol station in Utako District area of Abuja also lamented the crises that defaced naira pose to business.  He told Daily Trust on Sunday that transporters were fund of bringing rough money to buy fuel when they accept it from passengers that always tell them to go and use it to buy fuel.

“Transporters are fund of bringing a lot of such money to us to buy fuel as if petrol is station is a dumping ground for such money. They must now realize that petrol stations are no longer dumping grounds for defaced naira.  We accept it most times because we feel we can take it to the bank. But banks, too, have started rejecting such money.  I took rough cash to the bank at least two times per week and they reject it. We lose a lot when it is rejected.

John told Daily Trust that his petrol station lost about N5,000 monthly due to rejected defaced cash.

“We no longer accept rough money anymore because it causes problems for us. Before I serve oil to customers, I first of all look at the money in their hands to be sure that it is not tattered money. That is what I have been doing recently.  Since we stopped accepting rough money at our station,  the amount of such money coming to us on daily basis has reduced.

Naira notes being sprayed at a ceremony

John said mechanics were the major culprits in the naira defacing offence.

“Mechanics are the main culprits of spoiling the naira. They are fond of squeezing money into their pockets with hands already stained with diesel, petrol or engine oil. In the process, some of the currencies get torn. Then, they use the same dirty and torn money to buy food and other items.  A lot of such money gets into circulation. At the end of it all, those that end up in the hands of motorists will also end up at our own petrol station with the slogan: “You can use it to buy fuel,”” John said.

He added: “The best way to avoid the problem is that Nigerians should learn how to handle money with care. Most times, some naira notes are full of biro ink because people scribble something or write figures on them as if they are ordinary papers.  Some people also squeeze them any how as if they are mere tissue papers. These practices are bad. The naira should be handled with respect. Mechanics must learn how to use a wallet to keep money and clean their hands before touching money.”

John Paul, a  fuel attendant at Jabi area of Abuja said: “I reject rough money because banks, too, have started rejecting it. If banks reject it, where do you want me to take it to? That is why I reject it. Rejection is the only way to solve the problem and teach Nigerians a lesson on how to handle the naira well,” he said.

If I am given bad money by a customer after serving fuel, I make sure the customer gives me good one. In such a situation, we advise them to use POS and settle,” he added.

A pastor in one of the Pentecostal churches, who preferred anonymity, said: “Yes, some people are fond of bringing bad notes to the church as offering and tithe. In this church and I am sure in many other churches too, envelopes are given to members to enable them put the notes in a clean way. Yet, some people squeeze money into the envelopes. Other people are fond of bringing dirty and tattered money to the church. As far as I am concerned, they don’t have the fear of God. Anybody that has the fear of God is supposed to bring the best gift to Him.”

He added: “We have a lot of mutilated money which can not even be accepted by banks. It is a waste. Can God bless people that bring such money to the church? I don’t think so because such money is useless.”

Mrs Amarachi Nwobodo, who runs a supermarket in Wuse 2, Abuja, said: “Bad naira notes are frustrating. People who use them to buy things from me come mainly in the night when they know that I am rushing and about to close and won’t have enough time to check. Most times, they hide such money between clean ones and buy things. Some of them give such money to my children who assist me to sell.  I have a lot of such money rejected by other customers in this box.”

“Most times, banks reject them. I can’t even go and queue there to exchange bad money for clean ones. I no longer collect such money from customers. Whoever does not have clean money can’t buy anything from me,” Mrs Nwobodo added.

A trader fondly called Madam Joy said: “As a market woman, there is no easy way to getting on with your business of the day without you hurriedly squeezing money you have been paid for a good and tucking it away in my bag under my wrapper.”

She explained that the easiest way to keep accounts at the end of the day was by writing the total amount gotten on the body of the naira notes and using a rubber band to hold them together.

“As a trader, I am in different thrift cooperatives. Most times, what I do is to count the money for each thrift collector and setting it aside. I then identify which is which by writing the amount and the name of the person on the money. That is the only way things can be done easily for me. These days, is there anyone that rejects money on which something is written?” she asked rhetorically.

Another trader, who didn’t want her name mentioned,  said: “Most of my customers send their house helps to me in the market to buy things. They write my name and phone number on the money so that the house help can easily contact me when he gets to the market. I don’t reject the money. After all, it is my name and number written on it.  The only money I reject is one that is torn and doesn’t have its complete serial number. For me, it is no longer a legal tender,” she said.

Hakeem Ibrahim, a trader who spoke about the spiritual consequences of defacing money said: “They forget that the way we treat money determines if money stays with us or not. With the way some people abuse our currency at parties, do they expect to have a happy home? The way we treat money has multiplier effects on how money comes into our hands. If you see the way some women treat money in the market, you begin to wonder why they are surprised why they don’t have customers. If you see where some market women put money, you won’t want to accept any money from them.”

He added: “There is power in someone’s name. Why should I accept money that has someone’s name written on it? Do I know the kind of person he or she is?

Financial Consultant/Managing Partner, Kustomer Service Kommunications Lagos, Jerry Ojonugwa, in a chat with Daily Trust,  spoke on the integrity of the naira and the defacing menace it is subjected to by some people.

While explaining defaced naira notes, he made an apt reference to the  CBN Clean Note Policy: “According to the Central Bank of Nigeria Clean Note Policy, a mutilated banknote refers to a poor quality banknote that requires a special examination to determine its value. The note could be partially or permanently damaged by fire, water, dye, insects, rodents, or destroyed by natural disasters.”

Ojonugwa stressed that the policy became important and timely to ensure and sustain sanity of  the currency since it (the currency) also depicts the image of the country. But as good as this policy appears, it comes with its own challenges.

“During one of our spot checks in one of the  Deposit Money Banks (DMBs), we discovered that banks didn’t just collect it as their responsibility as it came. On one occasion, we were told that they hadn’t been instructed to collect it from the head office. Further enquires revealed that the CBN charged the DMBs per box of mutilated notes ranging from N12,000 or as could be determined by the bank. I think this should be reviewed,” he said.

Ojonugwa who is also the progenitor and presenter of a financial inclusive and awareness programme on TV,   Banking and You, added: “Banks reject such money at some point and collect at another point.  But the body language always appears as if the Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) are doing the customer a favour.”

He also spoke on the fate of mutilated currency: “The Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) which include commercial banks or the Cash Processing Companies (CPC)  which also include banker’s warehouse and cash movement companies  collect mutilated notes and deposit same with the Central Bank which, thereafter, withdraws such money from circulation because they are unfit.’

He, however, said that losses suffered by banks over defaced currency could not easily be determined. This, according to him,  is because it goes with meagre charges per box to ensure the DMBs and CPCs educate their customers on cash handling. “Yes, banks suffer a bearable loss, but I think the DMBs equally have provisions in their books to remedy loss,” he said.

Ojonugwa added that it was the environment where banks were located that determined how often they received defaced currencies as well as amounts received.

“It depends on the location of the DMBs. Banks located in market environments tend to receive more mutilated notes than those located in corporate environments because corporate people tend to be more careful in cash handling than market women and other business people.

Ojonugwa said that banks did not push defaced currencies into circulation any how “because during  my banking career, we used to take in mutilated notes as they came and evacuated them immediately we got an instruction from our Cash Processing Centre.”

“In fact, there was a column in our monthly report that used to capture the value of mutilated notes received within the period under review. I implore all DMBs to make this a routine,” he added.

He also gave an insight into how Nigerians could handle the naira to avoid mutilation.

“The naira is a national symbol and identity. We should handle it with respect. Nigerians must show respect for the currency. Beyond the banks, the National Orientation Agency  (NOA) should come up with an orientation programme to address the menace.”

He added: “People should keep naira notes neatly in their wallets. They should avoid spraying notes, soiling and stepping on them during public ceremonies. Also, an active task force should be established to monitor compliance. Under  no circumstance should the naira be stapled or should anybody write on the surface of naira notes.

Naira notes being neatly arranged into a wallet

“Charges of mutilated notes should come to the customers directly because when they are given less value than the face value of a mutilated note deposited, they would be forced to handle notes with care.”

Daily Trust reports that punishment now awaits naira-defacing culprits and or offenders by the CBN.

Head of Corporate Communications of the apex bank, Osita Nwasinobi, who disclosed this noted: “Recent activities by those who flagrantly abuse the legal tender by spraying, dancing or matching on it at parties will be punished.”

He stressed that the CBN would not continue to watch the activities of persons who abuse the legal tender by hurling wads of naira notes in the air and stamping on the currency at social functions.

“There have also been cases where people mishandle the naira, deface it, hawk the currency at parties and reject it in some instances,” Nwasinobi said.

“It should be stated that, contrary to the practice of these unpatriotic persons, it is neither cultural nor moral for people to disrespect the currency which citizens trade in,” he added.

“For the avoidance of doubt, Section 21(3) of the Central Bank of Nigeria Act 2007 (as amended) stipulates that “spraying of, dancing or matching on the naira or any note issued by the bank during social occasions or otherwise shall constitute an abuse and defacing of the naira or such note and shall be punishable under the law by fines or imprisonment or both,” he stressed.

“Accordingly, the Central Bank of Nigeria is collaborating with the Nigeria Police, the Federal Inland Revenue Service, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit to address the unpatriotic practice.”

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