The Arts

October 25, 2012

Nigeria’s indigenous Currencies

Nigeria’s indigenous Currencies

*Cowries shell


What we know today as Nigerian currencies did not just begin with naira and kobo. When looked back at history, one could vividly recollect that before the introduction of the British currencies: Pounds, Shillings and Pence (1959-1973) which preceded the introduction of naira and kobo on 1, January 1973, several local currencies were in use as means of trade and exchange.

Thus, it was after the introduction of naira and kobo on 1/1//1973, the new denomination of the Nigeria’s decimal currency notes the twenty naira (N20) bank note was introduced on 1/2/1977, being the highest denomination ever and first currency bank note to bear the portrait of a Nigerian citizen, the Late Head of State, General Murtala Mohammed.

On 2/7/1979, N1, N5, and N10 notes were introduced. The N5 note has the portrait of Late Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (First and only Prime Minister of Nigeria); while N10 note has the portrait of Late Alvan Ikoku (Educationist).

On 12/4/1984, the colour of naira was changed save 50kobo note. On 27/8/1999 N50 note was introduced with pictorial representations of three ethnic groups WAZOBIA. Both 50 kobo and N1 notes were coined.

On 1/12/1999, N100 note was introduced bearing the portrait of Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo (First Premier of Western Region). On 1/11/2000 N200 note was introduced bearing the portrait of Late Alhaji Ahmadu Bello (First and only Premier of Northern Region). On 1/4/2001, N500 note was introduced bearing the portrait of late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (First and only Governor General of Nigeria). And on 28/2/2007, the size and colour of N5, N10, and N20 notes were changed and N2 coin for the first time was introduced.

*Cowries shell

It is germane to say that in the beginning of 15th century when Nigeria first had contact with the outside world, trade was done by barter. The Portuguese and the Dutch who were the first Europeans to visit the Western African Coast traded in Pepper, Copper, Ivory, Cotton and slaves.

Various traded goods or items like cloth and gin, used as means of exchange in various areas of Nigerian territories were in much demand especially in the riverside areas like Calabar, Bonny and Brass for payment of rent.

Besides cloth and gin, barter trade was also carried out in various areas of Nigeria through the media of tobacco heads, beads, salt, palm oil and dry fish. But as trade increased in a geometrical progression, there came a demand for a standard currency.

Thus, the need for something that could be accepted as a medium of exchange brought the use of various forms of local currency in Nigeria as follows:

Iron Currency

In the olden days, iron was a material of high value for fashioning implements which maintained the use of the iron bars local currency in the coastal areas. Among the iron currency are bars, rings, hoes, spears and axes commonly used in as early as 11th century.

Different forms of iron currency item  were used in different areas, bearing different names, depending on their uses in those areas. For instance :Y-shaped iron currency, an  iron currency item popularly known as “Ogoja Penny” was found in the Ogoja area of Cross River State.

It is Y-shaped, and was equivalent to a penny used for payment of bride price in Ogoja. About forty pieces of the Y-shaped iron currency are paid as a bride price. The Y-shaped iron currency was also known by several names among peoples of various areas and communities of Cross River State. In Nkala or Nkum area of Cross River State, it was known as “Efugu” while in Akuji area 6 of Cross River State, it  was  called “Iyawa”.

There was also Ikika iron currency used among the Jukuns and. Kdhore Kpalange iron currency used among the Lala (Yugur) people of Old Adamawa Province as well as Ogu iron currency, a small hole iron item mostly used in cultivating yams, cocoyam and cassava in various areas of Igbo-land.

There were also other forms of currencies like bead currency, manila and cowries. Bead currencies were highly cherished, and in fact, demanded highly as a medium of trade because of its use as a measure of wealth and for body adornment as well as ritual sacrifices.

On the other hand, Manilla currency, a Portuguese name for the various metal bracelets and rings  was used mostly in the coastal trade. It was originally used as ornaments but later adopted as local trade currency item in the 16th century as exchange for ivory, pepper and palm oil by the Europeans in Nigeria.

Varieties of locally fashioned manilla are: Jaja Manilla, used in Opobo; Peri-akula, used in Bonny; Nkobkbo, used among the Efik and Ibibio; Ejemo, used by the Bende people. Other local fashioned manilas used in Niger Delta areas include: Okpoho (which is small horse-shoe manilla); Okombo; Okpochi; Aka; King Manilla; Queen Manilla; Prince Manilla.


In Nigeria, Cowry shell is believed to be the most-widely known pre-coinage currency. There are of course two species of Cowry shell that were used as currency, and their acceptability varied from one area of the country to another. A species of the large type called “Cypraea annulus” was preferred in the West of Niger whereas in the East of Niger the smaller type “Cypraea moneta” was in common use.

Cowrie is known by different names in Nigeria. In Igbo-land, the large Cowry shells are known among the people as “Mbudambu” or “Nwefe” or “Okpokpo” which cost one-third of the small ones known as “Ayola”. Besides the Igbo people, Cowry shell is also known by different names among people of other ethnic groups of Nigeria: Among the Fulani, it is known as Sedere ; owoeye in Yoruba; Igvo or Bosjes or “Bossies in  Bini.