By Vincent Ujumadu
AWKA- THE business of exchanging Naira mint during the Christmas and New Year celebrations had been on over the years, especially in Anambra State where people usually show off with such mints by spraying the celebrants at ceremonies. In the past, commercial banks used to supply such mints to their customers during this time of the year, but somehow, the mints disappeared from the banks.
Rather, the mints which could not be found in the banks became readily available at the various markets in the major cities of the state. The business became so lucrative that some traders left their former businesses to go into the sale of mints.
Places where the mints are openly exchanged include the Emeka Ofor Plaza in Onitsha, the Abuja line in the Onitsha Main Market, the Ochanja Market, the Head Bridge Market, the Electronics Market, the Eke Awka Market, the Nnewi Main Market, among many other places. Sometimes the hawkers take the business to venues of ceremonies where the commission is higher
At the various places where the business thrives, N10000 mint is exchanged for N12000 of used currency and it had been on for years. The question that had agitated the minds of the people was the source of the mint exchanged by the hawkers. Since individuals do not have access to the CBN, but to the commercial banks, the belief is that it is the commercial banks that supply the mints to the hawkers. However, some staff of commercial banks say the CBN no longer supplies the mints to them.
Last week, seven persons who were hawking the mint naira notes in Onitsha were arrested by the Anambra State police command in collaboration with the Department of State Security, DSS, following complaint by officials of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN.
The suspects, made up of six males and a female, were arrested at the drugs and building material’s markets in the city, where they were caught with over N4 million, most of which were mint. Some other people doing the business fled when they sighted security agents and the police say they would soon be arrested.
Since the raid at Onitsha, the hawkers had gone underground with the result that the commission has increased for those who still want to spray mint at ceremonies. For instance, rather than sell at the designated places, the hawkers have resorted to operating from their homes. One significant thing is that the business is still thriving even with the arrest of some dealers.
Efforts by South East Voice to know the sources of the mint proved abortive as the seven people arrested in Onitsha vehemently refused to disclose the sources of supply.
Rather, they claimed they usually bought the money from people at the Emeka Ofor Plaza close to the Onitsha Main Market, insisting that they never knew that it was an offense to exchange mint with old notes, with little profit. One of the suspects, who gave his name as Ezeike, said he joined the business in 2015 and had not encountered any problem since then. He said he raised the capital for the business by borrowing from friends and relations. He declined to name those who supply the mint to them. Officials of the CBN who took part during the raid at the booming mint market also pressured the suspects to disclose the sources of their supply to no avail as they kept mum.
Anambra State Police Commissioner, Mr. Garba Umar, who paraded them in Awka warned that the command would no longer tolerate the abuse of the Naira in any part of the state. The CP said: “The clamp-down on the suspects is hinged on the Central Bank of Nigeria(CBN) Act section 20 and 21 thereof.
“Section 20 sub section 4,makes it an offence punishable by a term of imprisonment not less than five years for any person to falsify, make or counterfeit any bank notes or coin issued by the Bank, whereas section 21 sub section 1 makes it an offence punishable by a term of imprisonment of not less than six months or a fine not less than N50,000 or both for any person to hawk, sell or otherwise trade in the Naira notes, coins or any other notes issued by the bank”
“The command wants to use this opportunity to warn the public to desist from abusing the naira as it is one of the symbols of our national identity.
“We wish to also remind the general public that the acts of spraying naira notes at occasions, soiling and writing on it, squeezing it are abuse of the naira and are punishable as appropriate.”
The CP said though the business had been thriving in the past, his command would no longer tolerate the abuse of the country’s currency.
In the meantime, the police said the seven suspects would continue to be detained until they reveal their suppliers. There were fears that staff of some commercial banks might ultimately be fingered.