By Rotimi Fasan
IN the last few weeks since what I here call Central Bank of the Few under Lamido Sanusi announced its intention to introduce N5,000 bill into the economy, Nigerians have variously cajoled, begged, pleaded with and even threatened the Bank and its management against the planned introduction.
There are many reasons for this popular opposition to the new bill- reasons which include the point that it contradicts the recent policy of the Bank towards creating a so-called cashless economy.
But the main reason many have been alarmed by the proposed policy which would also involve turning the lower denominations of 5, 10 and 20 Naira bills into coins- the fear of many Nigerians is that such a policy would consign the lower bills into desuetude as transactions are not done in coins in Nigeria.
We do know that Nigeria is not a country of statistics and where statistics are available they are more often than not very unreliable. Given this fact, it may be very difficult if not impossible to know the percentage of Nigerians, among the literate few, either opposed to or in support of the proposed policy.
Yet a random appraisal of the majority of opinions in the media and on the streets makes it clear that the vast majority of Nigerians don’t like to hear of this plan- you might say over 95 per cent of those you hear/read don’t like the policy.
They, among whom I number myself, are viscerally opposed to it which is not to say that we are right. But does this prove that President Goodluck Jonathan, Sanusi and others already sold on this idea are right? I don’t think so.
If for no other reason than that the vast majority of people don’t like this plan- I say if only in recognition of this fact alone, you would expect a more respectable response from a bank whose staff salaries come from Nigerian tax payers.
But Sanusi and his ilk obviously see these Nigerians as stark economic illiterates who don’t deserve to be heard at all. Sanusi at a conference of bankers last week said the N5,000 bill was meant but for a few Nigerians handling huge cash.
This for me proves the foolishness of his intention for we would be right to wonder if the Central Bank, rather than serving the majority of Nigerians by whose name it is called, is indeed a bank meant to serve the interest of a few.
In case Sanusi doesn’t know- and he could in his increasingly arrogant manner call this the ranting of drunken illiterates- in case he hasn’t heard it said before him, many Nigerians believe that the planned introduction of the 5,000 bill could have been informed by no higher sentiments or goals than the desire to make the few Nigerians with the right clout and in the right corridor of power to easily carry around huge cash they can launder or dispense for various purposes, from bribing electorates and electoral officers in the coming elections to financing all sorts of criminal violence including the kind of terrorist siege that has taken over certain parts of the country.
Given this picture, you would understand why I refer to the bank Sanusi heads as the Central Bank of the Few and not of Nigeria. Since they came up with their zany idea of a new 5,000 bill and reissuance of lower bills as coins, it is instructive that Sanusi’s supporters have been that tiny minuscule of government contractors misnamed business moguls, those President Jonathan sees fit to cover in national honours for no other reason than that they have more than enough stolen wealth to throw around and support do-nothing politicians in and out of office- it’s this group of Nigerians and fellow bankers like him that support Sanusi’s plan.
At the annual conference of the Chartered Institute of Bankers where Sanusi spoke last week, he displayed the same arrogance that is the usual way of Nigerian public servants.
From the manner he spoke one would be excused to think he is the employer of Nigerians rather than Nigerians being the people paying his salary. Rather than trying to make Nigerians more favourably disposed to his policy by reaching out to them more, Sanusi has been surrounding himself with people who think like him, are in the same profession and who are most likely to turn situations like Sanusi is planning into their own use for their personal gains.
Mr. Sanusi must understand that in regard to his proposed plan, bankers are the least credible or trustworthy people to consult. They brought us where we are today by their criminally-minded policies and activities.
Sanusi himself went after many of them who are today guests in prisons where they are not living in unearned retirement at the expense of Nigerians. If Nigerians complain they don’t like a fiscal policy, bankers should be careful how they try to convince them because they don’t have the credibility they pretend to possess.
Their image has been battered in the last five years the world over, living off other peoples’ earnings as they do and proposing criminal policies that are dangerous to the economic wellbeing of all. But our bankers can’t think outside the box: whatever Laski or Keynes didn’t say does not exist for them. Of course, there are no text books to explain why the introduction of higher currency bills or turning some into coins could spawn inflation but that is our peculiar experience in Nigeria.
After the 1970s, once a denomination becomes a coin it ceases to have any economic value in Nigeria. Even banks don’t accept them. The moment N20 becomes a coin you can be sure you’ll no longer get anything for less than N50- from biscuits, sweets to packed water. You won’t read this in any text books on economics or commerce.
You won’t hear it said at Harvard Business School or London School of Economics but you’ll know it if you are a Nigerian. These are indeed lessons they don’t teach in business schools which our text-bound bankers must understand about us economic illiterates.
Sanusi told Nigerians at his bankers’ gathering that Nigeria’s 1970s N20 which exchanged for $30 is the equivalent of the N5,000 he proposes and yet insists there is no inflation.
But for the fact that Sanusi knows he’s got Jonathan wrapped around his little finger he won’t be bragging around in the manner he is doing. Jonathan, no doubt, has already given his support to Sanusi even before he had thought about its implication. The same way he announced a name change in a university without bothering to consult those that would be directly affected by his decision. Sometimes one wonders what hostage this president has become to his appointees.