In a press release on February 10, 2023, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) came out guns blazing to tell Nigerians that news of it being unable to distribute the new naira banknotes due to the mint’s shortage of printing materials were false. 

Part of the statement, signed by its spokesperson, Osita Nwanisobi read, “we are alarmed at the extent to which vested interests are attempting to manipulate facts and pitch the public against the bank.”

The new scourge plaguing the Nigerian economy isn’t inflation or economic mismanagement. To the contrary, it’s a shadowy group of individuals described as “vested interests” by the CBN, or if you prefer Nasir El-Rufai’s version, the “cabal.”

While those in charge point fingers and abdicate responsibility for the current naira scarcity, we shouldn’t be distracted. Every Nigerian should ask: what’s the value of the new naira notes the CBN issued?

A house divided

On October 26, 2022, the CBN governor Godwin (Meffy) Emefiele took Nigerians by surprise when he announced he’d retire the big boy naira denominations of ₦200, ₦500 and ₦1000 notes to give them a facelift.

Meffy gave several reasons for this move. He said Nigerians were hoarding too much cash. Then there was that one about fighting counterfeiters and, our favourite — to choke kidnappers.

A couple of days later, we heard from the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, that she wasn’t consulted on it and received the news about the same time as we did. Granted, the CBN and the ministry of finance have different areas of remit. Still, the fact that a decision of this magnitude was taken without even briefing a related ministry was an early sign that the CBN was doing its thing, haters be damned. 

At the time, we wondered if the redesign was just banter but Meffy has not stopped pressing our necks.

On November 23, 2022, the new notes were shown to the public for the first time, spawning questions about which Snapchat filters were used to redesign them. On December 15, the new naira notes entered circulation but were scarce. The House of Representatives summoned the CBN to explain the reason. They asked the Deputy Governor of the CBN how many new notes were printed. Her initial response was that she didn’t know, lol. 

Only after continued grilling did she say the CBN ordered 500 million new naira notes for printing. Keep this number in mind.

Rumours and chaos

The CBN initially fixed a deadline for January 31, 2023 for the old banknotes to stop being used. It then extended it to February 10, 2023. The CBN remained adamant on this new deadline despite pleas from several Nigerians and even the International Monetary Fund (IMF), asking for an extension.

The scenes which played out over the naira scarcity nationwide include protests, riots and even vandalism. Some banks have had to shut down their branches because of the security threats posed by angry customers starved of cash. The CBN’s silence on the issue has created a hotbed of rumours. Some have accused commercial banks of hoarding money, and the banks have refuted those claims.

What’s the exact value of the naira notes that the CBN released?

According to BusinessDay, there’s some secrecy surrounding the exact volume of new naira notes in circulation. This is unusual. In 2019, 3.05 billion banknotes were produced. For 2020, the CBN released 2.52 billion banknotes. In 2021, 2.5 billion banknotes were produced at a cost of ₦58.6 billion. BusinessDay estimates they’d spend around ₦77.6 billion printing those 500 million banknotes, with another ₦6 billion to distribute across the country. 

According to Punch, the total value of the new ₦1,000, ₦500 and ₦200 notes printed amounts to ₦500 billion. That figure varies with another source saying it’s ₦400 billion. Who do we believe?

Time for the CBN to open up

No one knows anything for sure, a blame that lies squarely on the CBN. Instead of issuing bland press releases that don’t address the issue, the CBN must, as a matter of transparency, tell us the monetary value of the new notes that have been printed. It should also tell us how they’re disbursed to the commercial banks in the country. That way, we’ll know who to drag.

In the meantime, the February 10 deadline has elapsed. However, some state governors dragged the CBN to court over the naira fiasco. The Supreme Court will rule on the matter on February 15. 

For now, we’re in limbo, and no one’s quite sure how to proceed even though the federal government has said it’ll await the court’s ruling. We all look forward to the February 15 ruling with bated breath. 

Regardless of the outcome, we must continue to ask: what’s the value of the new naira notes the CBN released in circulation? 

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