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These filthy Naira notes

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By Rotimi Fasan
MANY times you wonder as a Nigerian if anything good can ever come out of this country. You despair over the possibility of those in positions of authority ever seeing the need to do something without an eye for some form of personal gain.

Prebendal politics has more or less assumed the status of state policy and no government official does anything except they are sure it could help in erecting some personal egg nest.

This seems now to be the case with the recently introduced polymer notes that have become part of our national currency. The polymer note was first introduced in February 2007 when the Central Bank under Chukwuma Soludo made major changes to Nigeria’s currency.

Then only the N20  denomination was produced with polymer sheets in what was supposed to be an experiment. There were arguments for and against this innovation:

While many Nigerians thought the N20 denomination was the most aesthetically pleasing of the new notes, many also believed it was the worst of the various denominations.

There was no clear consensus then as there was none until two weeks ago when the polymer technology was extended to the other lower denominations- N5, N10 and N50.

On September 30, more than two and half years since the CBN last made changes to the country’s currency, the apex bank launched the new polymer notes. President Yar’Adua was on hand to present the new notes.

Following the extension of polymer technology to more Naira denominations, the CBN through media adverts began to tell Nigerians that the polymer notes were perhaps the best thing to happen to Nigerian currency.

The polymer was given a new lease of life and advertised as very durable with the additional hint that it is better than the paper notes.

From this stage on, it was only a short step before we were being told that polymer technology might be extended to even the larger Naira denominations (N100, N200, N500 and N1000), so that in no time at all Nigerian Naira notes would come only in one form: polymer.

What the CBN did not and has not told Nigerians is that the promotion of the polymer notes in Nigeria was a business deal between some of its officials and an Australian company, Securency International Pty Limited which might also be involved in making materials for the production of e-passport for Nigerians.

Apparently because the initial introduction of polymer notes brought much gain to its promoters, they have decided to go for the kill by extending their profit-making by making sure more denominations of the Naira come in polymer.

This seems to be the import of the news from far away Australia whose Federal Police are investigating Securency which got the patent to produce polymer notes in 1988.

According to the Australian police, Securency paid some N750 million in bribes to some officials of the CBN between 2006 and 2008 in order to secure the contract to make polymer notes for Nigeria.

The company channelled the bribes, as reported by Next quoting the Age newspaper of Australia, through Benoy Berry and Michael Harvey, two British businessmen.

So far virtually nothing has been said by either the CBN, the Nigerian Police or, indeed, the EFCC. Nor has the Justice or Information ministries deemed it fit to respond to the allegations.

It has been a resounding silence from the Nigerian end. But whatever the government or its agencies may choose to say or not say, Nigerians do know now there was more to all that talk about the Naira notes being dirty, filthy and carelessly handled by ordinary Nigerians, thereby necessitating the introduction of polymer.

In talking like this, the CBN had sought to portray Nigerians as totally incorrigible, a people whose ways are different from other peoples and who must be treated differently.

So while many countries of the world are content with the traditional paper notes, Nigerians, as the CBN would have us believe, must use currencies made with very tough materials.

Perhaps, somebody from the CBN would soon take up the promotion of sandpaper or animal hide as possible materials to make currency sheets for Nigerians.

Indeed, the Naira notes are filthy and dirty but not only in physical terms but also metaphorically when the greed logic behind the introduction of the polymer notes are considered.

At every point in time public officials create instability in the formulation of public policies and each new official wants to make new policies of their own all for personal gains without consideration to the disruptions they are bringing into the lives of others and indeed the polity.

Securency, according to reports from the Australia media, has an uncommon knack for doing business in corrupt regions of the world, mostly in so-called developing world. Its polymer technology which is being praised to high heavens here obviously carries little weight within Australia itself.

The most aggravating of all is that when the corrupt thinking and activities behind the formulation and execution of certain government policies are exposed, relevant security agencies turn a blind eye to it all.

Is it not intriguing that it is the Australian Police that is investigating an Australian firm for corrupt activities in Nigeria while the Nigerian government plays the fool? But we have seen this before. Every major exposure of corruption in high places in Nigeria have come from outside.

We saw this with the Siemens and Halliburton scandals among others. It is either the Nigerian government pretends not to see what is happening or it refuses, as Michael Aondoakaa is notorious for, to cooperate with the foreign agencies.

Yet tomorrow the same government will wake up to make noises about a re-branding programme that seeks to remake Nigerians and Nigeria with mere words of mouth as ‘Good People, Great Nation’. Who is deceived?

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