Mutilating Nigerian naira can now send anyone to jail

You are currently viewing Mutilating Nigerian naira can now send anyone to jail
Oluwadarasimi Omoseyin

By Our Special  Correspondent

The act of spraying money in parties has long been a popular tradition in Nigeria, often serving as a lively icebreaker at gatherings. For Nigerians, the spectacle of unfurling a bundle of crisp naira notes and showering them on the dancing floor carries with it an implicit message of wealth and status.

It is common to see Nigerians throw naira notes in the air, step on them or paste them on other people while dancing at parties and other social events, including traditional weddings. Throwing money in the air as the bride and her team come into the venue is said to signify love, affection and affluence.

Nigerians say they throw naira notes around to show love: but that gesture can now  land anyone in jail. The legal implication of physically damaging Nigeria’s currency, the naira, came into focus recently with the prosecution of at least two celebrities by the country’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

Nigeria has a law that prohibits what it terms abuse of the currency, which also includes writing on the notes or crumpling them. The law which also covers naira coins was introduced in 2007 but few Nigerians knew of its existence until now. A public law professor, Abiodun Odusote, explained why the law didn’t appear to have been effective before now. Some celebrities ran into trouble with the law on account of the way they had allegedly handled the currency. Among those prosecuted was Idris Okuneye, a controversial celebrity also known as Bobrisky. Bobrisky was tried and handed a six-month prison sentence. Shortly after that, a socialite, Pascal Okechukwu, also known as Cubana Chief Priest, was arraigned. He pleaded not guilty and his trial is under way. But in a recent development, Cubana Chief Priest and the EFCC have agreed to settle out of court. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had on April 16 filed a three-count charge against Pascal Okechukwu over alleged naira abuse.

 

He was arraigned the following day at the federal high court in Lagos and pleaded not guilty to the charges. The judge, thereafter granted him bail in the sum of N10 million with two responsible sureties in like sum. The judge ruled that the bail conditions must be perfected within seven days and adjourned to May 2 for continuation. Socialite and nightlife promoter, Cubana Chief Priest arrived at the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos, for the continuation of his alleged naira abuse trial. But in a sudden dramatic  twist, both parties decided to settle the “dispute” out of court.

A Nigerian actress, Oluwadarasimi Omoseyin, was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment for spraying and stepping on naira notes. She was filmed spraying and stepping on newly issued naira notes last year. Omoseyin was arrested last February in Lagos after the video of her at a party surfaced online. The Nollywood star was also seen flaunting wads of the money that had just been redesigned. She changed her initial not guilty plea to guilty, the authorities said. The Nollywood star was filmed with 100,000-naira ($83; £66) worth of notes while dancing at a friend’s wedding in Lekki, Lagos a year ago, the country’s anti-fraud agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), said.

 

In her statement to the commission, Omoseyin said she received the new naira notes from her fans at the party and that she did not know the people who gave her the money. When she appeared in court on that Thursday, Omoseyin pleaded guilty following “overwhelming” evidence against her, the EFCC said in a statement posted on X. Through her lawyer, the actress pleaded for leniency, saying she was a first-time offender and a mother of one.

 

Omoseyin, who is popularly known as Simi Gold, further asked for a non-custodial sentence, according to EFCC. Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke sentenced the defendant to six months imprisonment with an option to pay $250 fine. It did not appear clear that the actress was going to appeal against the court ruling. The incident happened at a time when there was a severe scarcity of naira cash following the controversial withdrawal of old 200, 500 and1,000 notes from circulation. Last November, the country’s central bank said the old bank notes would remain legal tender, ending months of uncertainty. Although many Nigerians did not know about it, Sections 20 and 21 of the Central Bank of Nigeria Act became law in 2007. The law applied only to Nigeria’s currency, not to others. The aim was to stem the abuse of naira notes and coins and improve the lifespan of the notes.

 

The polymer notes – N50, N20, N10 and N5 – were designed to last for 18 to 24 months, but the higher denominations – N100, N200, N500, and N1,000 – are not available in polymer. Naira notes are often dirty and mutilated, which is not the case with other global currency notes in circulation. It is sometimes difficult to accept or touch some naira notes because of the extent of abuse that had been inflicted on them.

The law prohibits various forms of abuse. These include soiling, spraying, dancing on, stamping, writing on, mutilating, diminishing, engraving, piercing, squeezing, tearing or stapling them as well as any other form of defacement. It is a criminal offence to damage the currency in any way. In the public view, the wording could also mean that rolling up naira notes and keeping them in one’s socks or underwear could fall foul of the law.

Spraying

The precise number of those who have been convicted of the abuse of naira notes may not yet be generally known but they are mostly on the low. The reason for the low conviction rate is that part of the law seemingly violates Nigerian cultural and traditional practices. How will a traditional marriage be performed without money being thrown in the air (known locally as spraying)? When the bride is called in to meet the groom and members of the groom’s family, how will money not be sprayed?

Any Nigerian would readily testify that he or she has never attended a traditional marriage or engagement where this doesn’t happen. It is a significant part of the traditional marriage ceremony. Money is also sprayed in this way at the christening of babies, and at funerals. Many are of the opinion that the government should concentrate on prosecuting those mutilating the currency – soiling, tearing and engraving. The law says that any person convicted for the abuse of a naira note or who tampers with a coin or note is liable for imprisonment for a term not less than six months or to a fine not less than N50,000 or to both a fine and imprisonment. A good number of Nigerians feels that the law has failed abysmally as a deterrent. It criminalised a long-established tradition and cultural practice without any engagement with the people or advocacy or enlightenment. Nigerians have actually recently devised other means of spraying money, like dropping it into a box while dancing, using vouchers as money and handing over the money to the celebrant while dancing.

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