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Re- CBN Spends N58.6 billion to print notes

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By Philip Agbese

The above news headline, “CBN spends N58.6bn to print 2.5bn Naira notes”, which got my attention requires analysis and a rejoinder to set the record straight. As a public affairs commentator, one is bound at all times to educate the public. So, it is not to hold brief for the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) or its Governor but to fulfill a sacred obligation which is to always set the record straight thereby saving the country from the grief some people are hell-bent on visiting the nation and the rest of us collectively.

One would be forgiven for frothing at the mouth and raining curses upon seeing the headline that suggested that the CBN spent N58.6 billion for printing currency notes. Such response is natural at a time when the average person is beginning to sign up to the clamor for streamlining the cost of running the Nigerian state. But one would discover the response is misplaced upon reading through the accompanying story and realizing that the N58.6 billion, relative to the N1.063 trillion or the 2.518 pieces of currency notes, is actually a downward trend in the amount the CBN spend for printing the naira.

Research would have shown that Nigeria is not in any way different from other countries when it comes to the cost of printing currency. The CBN, like its contemporaries, has to factor in the size of the notes, the number of denominations, embedded security features that are included in the notes, the existing currency stock, and the type of currency being ordered – paper or polymer.

There is equally the population ration to consider in addition to the attitude towards the handling of naira notes, which people routinely subject to abuse with the attendant consequent that more have to be printed.

The headline(s) looked away from these variables and played up the cost of printing in a manner that gave a negative spin to an otherwise sterling achievement. One is thus constrained to ponder what other angles this/these headline(s) could have exploited. Let us not forget that the apex bank did not attempt to conceal this cost that it transparently published on its website as its 2020 Currency Report.

There is nothing wrong with highlighting the decrease in the bank’s expenditure on currency printing, which at N58.6 billion in year 2020 is a reduction from N75. 523 billion, in 2019 and N64. 040 billion, in 2018. Nothing would have been lost by playing up the local handling of the printing or using the reported cost as a basis for urging Nigerians to increase their adoption of cashless banking in order to slash the amount the country expends on providing physical naira notes.

While at it, we should find a place to put in some commendation for the CBN Governor and the bank for staying true to the Federal Government’s commitment to building local capacity and strengthening the economy based on the report that the notes were printed in-country by the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Plc (NSPM Plc). This in itself is a confirmation that things were done in a manner that saved the country some money.

Not to be left out is the realization that the cashless policy has in its own way reduced the volume of physical cash once required to cater to the need of the population. Things may not be picture perfect yet but the movement despite the antithetic outcome that “report indicated, however, that Currency-in-Circulation (CIC) increased by 19.06 per cent from N2.441 trillion at end December, 2019 to N2 .907 trillion at end-December 2020.”

The lesson here is for us as Nigerians to orientate ourselves to the tyranny of the news headline, which can get us to react negatively without realizing that rather than being calamitous what we have just read is a piece of good news. When we also report monetary issues like the printing of currency, we must bear in mind that sending the wrong signal to the world can hurt the economy in matter of hours. There are folks with sadistic bent of mind who will rush to brandish these headlines as their smoking guns on why global anti-corruption bodies should unleash more woes on the country through damaging ratings while their currency speculating associates will find in such the leverage to further underprice the naira.

Other than pouring accolades on the cost saving decision on the printing of the currency, a desirous response from anyone that finds the cost shocking is to encourage Nigerians to improve on their handling of the naira. We throw our notes around at parties, step on them, write on them, expose them to moisture and do the unthinkable to the naira, which makes our currency wear out quicker than it happens to other currencies – one needs to see the utmost care the same abusers of the naira take of the money from other countries.

If we treat our notes right then the amount the CBN will spend printing subsequent batches will decrease even further. If we embrace the cashless policy, as we should, then the volume of physical currency to be printed will reduce even more and free vital resources for use where they are sorely needed.

Agbese is a UK trained human rights activist and public affairs commentator based in London.

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