It is not disputable that naira is one of the most abused national currencies in the world. Apart from the outright mutilation of the naira, writing on naira notes and defacing of the naira, spraying of the national currency during social events such as weddings and political rallies has become more notorious. Despite the laws against the sundry abuse of the naira, the menace has continued unabated. In this part of the world, it is a cultural practice to spray people money during social events, including burial ceremonies and others.

The serial abuse of the naira might have informed the latest moves by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to prosecute some of the nation’s social celebrities and influencers found to have abused the naira. Their prosecution will send signal that the agency is serious in fighting the war against naira abuse. The agency recently secured conviction against the controversial cross-dresser, Idris Okuneye, popularly known as Bobrisky. For abusing the naira, the socialite was sentenced to six-month imprisonment without an option of fine by a Federal High Court in Lagos. No doubt, the sentence will apparently deter others from abusing the naira.

Similarly, it is expected that the ongoing prosecution of a businessman and socialite, Paschal Okechukwu, popularly known as Cubana Chief Priest, in a Federal High Court in Lagos will serve the same purpose. In fact, the spraying of naira banknotes at social events, writing on naira, mutilation of the naira, dancing on naira notes, tearing of naira notes, stamping on the naira, selling the naira and rejection of the currency contravene Section 21 of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Act 2007.

The prosecution of those who abuse the naira is in line with the clean notes policy of the CBN, which aims to enhance the visual appeal and durability of the banknotes in circulation. According to the apex bank, the objective is to guarantee that the naira banknotes in circulation maintain a high standard of quality, enabling them to be easily processed and accepted by the general public.

With this policy, the CBN seeks to instill a culture of responsible currency handling among citizens, thereby curbing prevalent practices detrimental to the longevity of banknotes.  The offence is punishable by a jail term of not less than six months or a fine of not less than N50,000 or both.

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The abuse of the naira is condemnable. Apart from the high cost of replacing the mutilated banknotes, the national currency deserves respect. However, the selective prosecution of naira abusers has raised some issues about the provisions of the law against naira abuse. Some critics have argued that the CBN lacks powers to prosecute those who abuse the naira. They say that such functions belong to the CBN or the police and not the EFCC. According to them, naira abuse is not among the functions of EFCC as listed in the Act establishing it.

Therefore, it will be better for the EFCC to restrict itself to its core mandate, which is prosecuting those who committed financial crimes. Chasing naira abusers is like leaving is main mandate to chase shadows. Again, the selective prosecution of the alleged naira abusers leaves much to be desired. There are naira abusers among politicians, government officials, prominent individuals and affluent Nigerians. Prosecuting Bobrisky and Cubana Chief Priest is over-dramatisation of the naira abuse challenge.

The government cannot succeed in curbing the naira abuse if it adopts only the prosecutorial channel. The major slack in this approach is that whether the case is prosecuted by EFCC, the CBN or police, they cannot prosecute every offender and there are even no prisons to contain the many abusers of the naira. Let government use moral persuasion to make those who abuse the naira to have attitudinal change. Every matter cannot be resolved through prosecution of offenders, jail terms and fines.

The government should also note that spraying of money has cultural undertone in many parts of the country. The government should provide an alternative to this cultural practice without defacing the naira. We believe that some enlightenment campaigns, especially in the cultures where spraying of money is in vogue can stop the menace. Many Nigerians are not even aware of what constitutes an abuse of the naira. The government should engage those, who abuse the naira, to make them see reason to stop the habit.