Naira redesign: Buhari, villain or hero?

As expected, the CBN naira redesign policy had provoked and, indeed ignite a thunderous conversation, across the country. With only few days before the presidential polls, the conversation had shifted and got a lot more traction than the election itself.

When the CBN announced last October, it has redesign the currency, and by 31 January, 2023, old notes would cease to be legal tender, many were skeptical and never took them serious.

For all intent, the policy had visited an untold hardship on Nigerians. For a fact, it had. But, could the CBN policy be without merit?
Countries around the world, at some point, had cause to redesign their currency. Most financial experts are in agreement that, key factors, or determinants for changing currency, include, politics, economy, security and lot more. All of these are grim realities, staring at us.

For instance, if we take politics as factor, to explain the motivation, which informed CBN’s decision for the Naira redesign, it won’t be out if place. Because, contrary to public perception of President Buhari, as a political midget, with near zero understanding of economy and sociopolitical dynamics. Such perception is premised on inaccuracies. President Buhari, having ruled the country as military leader, in the 1980s, grasps fully the influence and impact of money in politics. Financial muscles almost always determine electoral victory, in the country. He is a victim, because lack of funds had denied him access to the presidency, each time he contested, since 2003. His victory and ascension to power in 2015, was a direct result of a merger, and fusion with moneybags, who bankroll his elections, including campaigns financing.

Vote buying, has been as old as elections itself in Nigeria, and Buhari knows this.
He had consistently promise to bequeath to Nigerians a credible, transparent, free, and fair elections, where every vote would count. With signing into Law, the Electoral Act, 2022, he made good his promise.
INEC, on her part has lived up to this task. The introduction and adoption of technology in the mould of BVAS and IReV, has indeed change the narrative. Politicians has only one option open — Vote-buying. And it requires monstrous amount of cash. And the politicians were prepared and had loads of it. We had been inundated with news of security and intelligence report of some governors stacking government, as well as warehouses houses with cash, ready to buy vote. Little wonder, for the first time, a federal government policy is hitting hard, and having direct impact on both ordinary citizens, elected officials and political actors.
The intensity is so severe to the point, governors of same political party are rebellious, and locked in a fierce battle of supremacy, at the Supreme court, with a president who’s a leader of the party.

If economy would be a premise, to explain the CBN Naira redesign, certainly, such policy is apt, and has short, sturdy unpleasantness, with long term benefits. Economies the world over prided themselves with a strong currency. Nigeria in the past seven years has been in and out of recession, leaving the economy bruised, and in a bad shape. Soaring prices of commodities, high tax regime, heavy exchange rate with the Dollars, and the planned removal of subsidy compounded and stretch the economy.

An American economist, Jeffrey Sachs, who propounded the “shock therapy” refers to the concept of figuratively shocking, or shaking up, the economy, with sudden and dramatic economic policies that affect prices and employment.
Nigeria’s economy, at the moment require a sudden and realistic approach. The amounts of Naira in circulation, before the CBN policy was put at 3 trillion. So many fake and counterfeit money are in flow, as well. The cash crunch is taking its toll and hurting the economy, which experts believe the shock, would abate, with time. Sudden crash in prices of commodities, especially food, received mixed reactions. Some allude that farmers, were at the receiving end, but on the contrary, farmers had indeed sold their produce, long ago to middle men, who actually hoarded and expect bigger profits, unfortunately, they are now caught in the web of the policy.

For those who would adduce to security, as critical factor, which informed CBN’s decision for the Naira redesign, might not be completely wrong. Kidnap for ransom, has been as profitable a business, as oil and gas. Some many organized criminal enterprise are neck deep into it. From North, to South of the country. It was so lucrative, no day passes, without someone being kidnapped. And the mode of payment is usually through loads of cash, running into millions. In the forest enclaves of the bandits, especially in northewest, security report has it that, billions of cash, obviously proceed of ransom payments are stashed in the forest. Now, with such monetary policy, monies stashed in there would be worthless.
Sadly, we have had instances where, even family members fake their own kidnap, inorder to get relatives pay ransom. In fact, cases of kidnapping, especially the past few months had drastically declined.

It was reported that, some ISWAP fighters, in Maiduguri/Monguno, highway,in Borno State, distributed, freely old Naira notes to commuters, obviously because the deadline, and the policy had affected their operations.
Security remains top among the existential threat in the country, if the “shock therapy” monitory policy is aimed at, and effectively curtailing cases of kidnapping and other criminalities, those arguing for the merit of the policy on security, are about just right.

In spite of the upheaval, confusion and uncertainties, for most part, the victim/beneficiary is the ordinary Nigerian, depending on his perceptive reasoning. Change and adaptation comes with a huge price. For whatever it seems, the sociopolitical dynamics in the ensuing drama is glaring. It is an epic battle of political gladiators, with the spectators (masses) looking in an astonishing awe. Some state governors, who had zero empathy for masses had now become their overnight mouthpieces.

Running to supreme court, which according to legal experts lack the jurisdiction, to challenge the presidency and CBN, is a well scripted Class Act. For instance, in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, stimulus intervention and palliatives meant for the same masses were diverted, and sold to highest bidders. Same governors looked away and remain aloof, while their states were almost overran by bandits, who fixed a parallel security and taxation system on citizens, in exchange of security. Never had they gone overboard, in a bid to bring succor to their masses.

In an act of desperation, same state governors, had openly chose the path of anarchy, by endorsing the continued use of old Naira notes, as legal tender in their respective states, citing supreme court pronouncements. But the court, according to experts in legal matters lacks jurisdiction, as all monetary policies are the exclusive rights of the president. In fact, it fall under the exclusive list. Those who disapprove of the policy, especially political actors, seemingly had an ulterior motives, which are disguised in the new found empathy and love for the masses.

While it is true, some opposition candidates, in this week’s elections stand to benefit from the policy, the innate motives or ground upon which it was made should not becloud or obscure the long term benefits.
Even those who never saw anything good in Buhari, has now turn his apostles, and sing his daily praise.

We all are already caught in this web of hysterical cash crunch, with excruciating implications, which are surmountable. With perseverance, the storm will be over. But, Saturday 25th, is judgement and referendum day. Whatever ones inclination is, the ballot box offers a unique opportunity for soothing reprieve. Nigeria, is greater than any individual, group or interest.

Mohammed writes from Department of Political Science and International Studies, Ahmadu Bello University-Zaria
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