Two Catholic Prelates in Nigeria have, on separate occasions, lamented the ongoing process of redesigning Nigeria’s currency, the Naira.
Archbishop Gabriel ‘Leke Abegunrin has described the new Nigerian currency (Naira notes) as being “less in value, not interesting, not fascinating”.
For Bishop Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo, the redesigning process is “being inflicted on Nigerians” in a sloppy manner and millions of people are experiencing challenges exchanging their “hard-earned old currency notes” with new ones.
In October last year, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) announced plans to redesign its highest-value banknotes in a bid to address the challenge of excess cash and inflation.
CBN allowed citizens to swap old naira notes with the redesigned bills from January 2023 to boost the adoption and circulation of the new currency before the old bills cease to be legal tender at the end of the month.
The Bank gave citizens until January 31 this year to change their old notes for new ones at banks, with the aim of bringing some of the estimated 2.7 trillion Nairas (US$5.8 billion) that circulates in informal channels into the regular banking system.
According to local media, the process of switching the Naira notes has faced challenges, especially in rural areas where people live far from banking services.
In his message shared with ACI Africa Friday, January 27, Bishop Badejo laments, “The ongoing currency redesign and the sloppy way in which it is being inflicted on Nigerians is causing untold hardship for most of the Nigerian people.”
The Local Ordinary of Nigeria’s Oyo Diocese adds, “A policy which sucks up the hard-earned old currency notes which most people depend on, with little guarantee of getting new currency notes to them to spend is tantamount to squeezing the life out of millions.”
He says that besides the frustration that has come with the financial policy, millions of Nigerians have expressed the “low level of confidence” they have in the system behind the currency redesigning process.
The Nigerian Catholic Bishop criticizes CBN leadership for failing to prepare Nigerians adequately for the currency redesigning process.
“The Central Bank governor’s grandstanding about not shifting his January 31 deadline for turning in the old notes can only make justifiable sense if his office had done everything possible and necessary to make the new notes available to the largest percentage of Nigerians 100 days ago,” he says.
“Why then should the general public suffer for the institution’s failure?” he poses, and continues, “The reported appeal to subsidiary banks by the Central Bank to collect and disburse the redesigned notes when it should have made them do it is simply laughable and indicative of the nature of governance in Nigeria.”
The Local Ordinary of Oyo Diocese who doubles as the President of the Pan African Episcopal Committee for Social Communications (CEPACS) says that the plight of Nigerians is escalated by the fact that most of them live in “large swathes of the country where there is no banking service whatsoever within kilometers.”
The whole scenario of financial policy is “complicated by the paralyzing fuel scarcity which has now raised the price of petrol to 400 Nairas or more in some places,” he laments.
The 61-year-old Nigerian Church leader who was appointed member of the Vatican Dicastery for Communication in December 2021 says that he finds it regrettable that President Muhammadu Buhari’s government has formulated a task force to make petrol available, a task force he says will just deteriorate the country’s financial situation.
“This typically Nigerian style of throwing stones at a charging lion is hardly surprising! What about those whose job it was to make petrol available in the first place? Now we have a committee that will spend more money to redress our already monumental loss of money,” he says.
According to Bishop Badejo, the 100-day period given to switch from old notes to the new currency notes is not enough.
“President Muhammadu Buhari’s declaration that 100 day-period is more than sufficient for the public to change the old currencies to new ones is easy to make when you live in Aso Rock and get bales of new notes thrown at you at your beck and call,” he says.Bishop Badejo says that the 100-day ultimatum shows that the Nigerian President “does not seem to know anything about the alarming incompetence and insensitivity which the banking system has shown in getting those new notes to members of the public who wish to get them.”
He says the current timeframe is made impossible because of the skyrocketing price of goods and services and the 2023 general elections that have subjected the struggling masses to anger and frustration.
With all the frustrations and anger as manifested by Nigerians, the Catholic Bishop who started his Episcopal Ministry in October 2007 as Coadjutor Bishop of Oyo Diocese says, “How then will the elections be free and fair? Is there a sinister plan hidden somewhere behind all this?”
Bishop Badejo urges the Nigerian government to “react quickly to the current hard times to avoid public revolt and chaos.”
“If the monetary policy is hurting the same people which it is intended to serve, why can’t some modification be made to its timing and execution,” he says, and adds, “Do our leaders need to be reminded that the power of the people will always outlast the people in power? A day of judgment will surely come!”
The Catholic Bishop says that for a government to have what he referred to as “a human face, " its policies must be formulated for the good of the people.
“In executing even, the best and most urgent policies, the people’s interest, not party ego or selfish plans must be at the center of honest governance. Government and public officials in a democracy are public servants, not slave drivers. That is what it means for governance to have a human face,” Bishop Badejo says in his message shared with ACI Africa January 27.
On his part, Archbishop Abegunrin who was addressing the International Colloquium for the 700th anniversary of the Canonization of St. Thomas Aquinas on January 25 said that the changing of Naira notes in not in the interest of ordinary Nigerians.
“I thought our new Naira note will be of good value, but it is less in value the way I look at it because it is not interesting, it is not fascinating, maybe they know why they changed it,” the Local Ordinary of the Catholic Archdiocese of Ibadan in Nigeria said during the event held at Dominican University in the Archdiocese of Ibadan.
The new Naira notes are “a disappointment but Nigeria has nothing to do as it is already in circulation though not fully out,” the Nigerian Archbishop said at the January 25-26 event that was organized under the theme, “Stop the war, make peace”.
Reflecting on the theme of the colloquium, Archbishop Abegunrin described Africa’s most populous nation as a country replete with multiple other wars that it has to deal with besides the insecurity crisis.
“When we say stop the war, many people will think we are talking about Boko Haram, banditry and all that; I think it is far more than that,” the Nigerian Archbishop who has been at the helm of Ibadan Archdiocese since January 2014 said.
He explained, “There is still war in the world even in the family; anything that disturbs the peace in the world is war.”
“I think the call to stop the war is for all of us when we talk about preaching the gospel,” Archbishop Abegunrin said, and underscored the need to foster peaceful coexistence in all sectors of society, both private and public.