The bid by the Central Bank of Nigeria to restructure the currency has generated a lot of controversies in recent weeks. In this report, Onwuka Nzeshi captures the intervention of the National Assembly and its eventual outcome
When Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi announced plans to restructure the nation’s currency and introduce the Five Thousand Naira (N5000) bank note, he probably did not envisage the kind of opposition the project would attract from the National Assembly.
In conceiving the project, Sanusi took two strategic decisions meant to placate the parliament and the womenfolk, two sensitive groups in the country.
By designing the N5000 bank note, embossing the images of three heroines of the struggle against colonialism and capturing the imposing National Assembly at the back, Sanusi perhaps thought that his “Project Cure” was already a done deal. Initially it appeared so as the Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Joy Emodi, hailed the project, describing it as a boost to democracy and gender equality crusade in Nigeria.
Expectedly, Emodi commended President Goodluck Jonathan particularly for approving that the logo of the National Assembly be embossed on the new bank note. According to her, the inclusion of the National Assembly in the design of the new bank note was an eloquent testimony of the importance the Jonathan administration attaches to the parliament.
“The National Assembly of Nigeria is not only the symbol of democratic governance in the nation but is indeed a micro-Nigeria in composition. The representation of the National Assembly on the new currency is a further confirmation of Mr. President’s continued recognition of the parliament as the embodiment of the people’s sovereignty exercised through their elected representatives. This also shows that Mr. President appreciates the efforts of the National Assembly in deepening democracy and boosting the social and economic development of Nigeria,” Emodi had said.
On the inclusion of the portraits of Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Madam Margaret Ekpo and Hajia Gambo Sawaba on the proposed new bank note, Emodi said the three women deserved the honour having contributed immensely to the development of Nigeria during their lifetimes.
“This move is historic for Nigerian women as it marks the very first time any government, whether military or civilian, will bestow them (women) with this magnitude of recognition and respect. Also, the unprecedented appointment of more women into the federal cabinet and other key positions in government not only affirms that Mr. President can be trusted to keep his promise to elevate women to where they rightly belong in the scheme of things,” she said.
The remembrance of these women long after their death, Emodi said, should serve as a lesson to Nigerians, especially the political elite, that posterity will reward individuals as heroes or villains depending the roles they play during moments of national challenges.
Although, the House Committee on Banking and Currency reacted cautiously to the project a few days after it was unveiled, the reaction of the whole House last Tuesday when the lawmakers resumed from their annual recess was far from cautious. In the House of Representatives, Chairman, Committee on Rules and Business, Hon. Albert Sam-Tsokwa, led the debate against the N5000 bank note project. Debate on the currency restructure was listed on the Order Paper as the first business of the day. Sam-Tsokwa and 21 other lawmakers were the sponsors of the motion. The lawmakers expressed worry that the currency restructure was coming when the cashless policy was yet to fully sink into the psyche of the citizens. Sam-Tsokwa described the views expressed by some economists and professionals that the N5000 note will not cause inflation or reduce purchasing power of the currency as misleading.
“The policy is also inconsistent with international best practices as leading economies like the United States of America (USA), Britain and China do not have such high currency notes in circulation. The largest denomination of the British Pound currently in circulation is the 50 pound note and that of the United States is the 100 dollar bill. The United States had at a point in time experimented and introduced high denominations such $500, $1000, $5000 and $10,000 but phased them out or withdrew them from circulation due to their adverse effects on the United States economy as well as the use of electronic money transfer,” he said.
Chairman, House Committee on Banking and Currency, Hon. Jones Onyereri, also briefed the House on the policy. Onyereri said the CBN did not intimate the relevant committees of the parliament before introducing the currency restructure project, adding that the committee had conveyed its strong reservations on the issue to the apex bank. About the same time, a similar debate was going on in the Senate.
It was obvious that the currency restructure project and proposed introduction of the N5000 bank note had run into a major hitch.
In separate motions, the parliamentarians unanimously voted against the proposal and urged President Jonathan to direct the CBN Governor to halt the project.
However, in addition, the House directed its Committee on Banking and Currency to conduct an investigation into the planned restructure of the currency and report back in four weeks. While the investigation lasts, the House said, the CBN must suspend all plans and processes towards the actualisation of the project.
The lower chamber of the parliament also resolved to pursue the amendment of the CBN Act to ensure that in future the apex bank is compelled not only to submit its annual budget for parliamentary scrutiny but seek parliamentary approval on issues such as currency restructure and re-denomination. This latter resolution followed an observation made by the Minority Leader of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, on the legality of Sanusi’s actions.
According to Gbajabiamila, in other climes, the apex bank cannot embark on such a strategic project without seeking parliamentary endorsement but the Nigerian parliament sold its right on such issues when it gave sweeping powers to the Governor of the Central Bank in the CBN Act.
Barely twenty-four hours after the National Assembly voted against the introduction of N5,000 bank note by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), there came some strong indications that the project may be shelved in line with the resolutions of the parliament. President Jonathan reportedly met with the leadership of the National Assembly a few hours after the resolutions to take a second look at the project.
They agreed in principle to explore the possibility of shelving it. Although it has remained a subject of speculations and denials in some circles, THISDAY confirmed that the leadership of the National Assembly had successfully swayed the Presidency to drop the project because of the perceived negative impact it would have on the economy. Jonathan was also said to be getting weary of swimming against the tide of public opinion and the rage of the parliament.
THISDAY learnt that one of the reasons behind the plan to shelve the N5000 project was because the President had seen the writing on the wall and was prepared to change gear even though he had earlier approved it for the apex bank.
The dropping of the proposal was later made official as President Jonathan asked Sanusi to suspend the planned introduction of the N5000 note. The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity Dr. Reuben Abati confirmed this to State House Correspondents on Thursday. The shelving of the plan is a credit to the National Assembly and vocal Nigerians who vehemently opposed it. President Jonathan’s courage in bowing to public opinion by suspending the idea is also worthy of commendation.