Despite the ban on illegal trading in the nation’s legal tender, the Naira not only is the business going on, it is thriving in the Federal Capital along the Abuja-Madalla expressway.
They sit under the Dei-Dei bridge with sweltering ‘Super’ sacks filled with well-straight, crispy and mint Naira notes waiting for would-be customers. Their eyes scanning the entire perimeters like those of well-trained security agents on the protective detail of the president. Their ‘target’, members of the public who want crispy Naira notes for social functions.
The place for this ‘business’ ironically is Dei-Dei, arguably one of Abuja’s most dirtiest suburbs, and a melting pot for street urchins, thugs popularly call “Yan banga”, ram sellers, tipper garage, bus stop to all sorts of building materials and of course, mint Naira notes merchants and hawkers.
You look at them and wonder where they get these monies from, even after realising that the closest financial institution is several miles away from the point. The thought is abruptly interrupted when a ruggedly-dressed young man with a coarse voice, tainted largely due to the high intake of cigarette, flashes the notes at you with the hopes of patronage.
Whether driving from the city centre through Dei-Dei to Suleja in Niger State or just coming there for business, be sure you will encounter these hawkers of Naira notes who, at some point in the day, behave as if taken over by some force out of this world, simply slap their hands shouting “Changi” or “Change” with an accent signaling availability of these new notes in the event that you would want to change your higher denomination for smaller, crispier ones.
Few years ago, the Central Bank of Nigeria, the country’s apex financial institution, charged Nigerians especially those selling Naira mints in the streets to desist from doing so or face arrest and ultimate prosecution. Sadly, this illegal exchange is still thriving with impunity.
A case in point is N5, 000 notes, exchanged for smaller denominations of the same amount (N5, N10, N20, N50, etc.) exchanged for between N4, 400, N4,500 and at most N4,600 depending on your bargaining power. Conversely, most ATMs would often dispense dirty and mutilated notes, some people resort to these ‘merchants’ for ‘clean’ monies.
Keen observation shows members of the society adjudged to be in the disputed middle class daily besieging the spot in their cars for transactions. They pull-over, beckon and within seconds, boys roundup the cars, each promising to give the best discount. This set of customers exchange their notes for lower denominations.
One of the dealers who simply gave his name as Kura, walked up and said: “Oga sir, you me I want change? I get ‘am por changi”.
Able bodied men who were hitherto engaged in other viable sources of livelihoods like farming and trading mostly in the northern part of the country, eventually abandoned it for the promise this ‘lucrative business’ holds in Abuja.
Madam Mary who sells banana and groundnuts posited that it is better these days, clarifying that some years back, “these sellers were seen holding the notes in their hands and in the open chasing after every car that stops and beckons for patronage, irrespective of who they call”.
Apparently, things got “better” when they were warned and some possibly faced arrest over the years. They have simply matured and brought stealth into their modus operandi.
It was further discovered that these youth are mere errand boys of the ‘Ogas’ who are hidden behind the scene. These kingpins, sit in the comfort of their homes and or offices, “running things” as they say in local parlance.
Section 21 of the CBN Act 2007 prescribes jail term of not less than six months or a fine of not less than N50, 000 or both on a person found guilty of tampering with the currency note and coins issued by the apex bank. It is however not known how many have been brought to book.
It is even more surprising when one of the biggest police barracks, the M.D Abubakar Mopol barracks is located close to where this illegal sale of Naira thrives.
A man who refused to give his name however said he has built a small apartment both in Abuja and his country home somewhere in the south after over seven years in the ‘industry’.
A financial analyst who craved anonymity said “financial institutions have simply starved Nigerians of neat and lower currencies thereby making illegal sale of Naira to thrive in our towns and cities. There seems to be a conspiracy to rob the people of their hard-earned cash because ATMs in the country don’t dispense low denominations. The lowest a bank customer gets is N500 note”.
A good number of people when asked, expressed concerns over the unfortunate situation where banks reserve clean mint notes for the “highest bidders” and issue old mutilated notes to all other Nigerians. They wondered why the EFCC and other law enforcement agencies established for this purpose are not prosecuting those involved in this dirty deal.
At the moment, the illegal trade is still going on and this is just in one part of the federal capital. Reports say in most parts of various state capitals across the federation, this business is thriving and may keep on doing so if serious steps are not taken to mitigate this practice even as people canvass for better job opportunities that are churned out of higher institutions of learning yearly.