By Chioma Obinna
Wikipedia describes money as any item or verifiable record that is generally accepted as payment for goods and services and repayment of debts in a particular country or socio-economic context. But one critical thing about money is that everyone wants it, works for it and thinks about it. Sadly, in the last one year, Nigerians have been confronted with dirty Naira notes; it is common to see torn, squeezed or soiled notes patched with cello tape of different colours and shapes.
Every day, at the motor parks or bus stops, you see people fighting over mutilated Naira notes. The abuse is so obvious that, even in banks and Automated Teller Machines, ATM, these notes, in their ignominious forms, keep exchanging hands. Amid the unsightly currency in circulation, many Nigerians wonder where rich people get those new naira notes they spray during parties. Unconfirmed reports say some commercial banks, in a bid to sell new notes to those who can afford them, refuse to give them to the general public.
Meanwhile, health experts warn that dirty notes are a source of bacteria and viruses. According to them, the notes are highly contaminated with microbes and the contamination may play a role in the transmission of antibiotic resistant or potentially harmful organisms. Sunday Vanguard reports:
On Tuesday, along Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, passengers and the conductor of a ‘Yellow Bus’, enroute to Mile 2, caused a stir after a female passenger, who had alighted at Cele Bus Stop, rejected a mutilated N100 note given to her by the conductor as her balance.
Trouble started when the lady alighted and the conductor insisted she must collect the squeezed Naira note. While the argument between the lady and conductor was still on, the driver of the bus moved. This sparked commotion in the bus. It took the intervention of a police man who sat at the front passenger seat of the bus to calm the passengers.
Another case of dirty Naira note involved a commercial motorcyclist and his female passenger. The incident turned bloody as irate youth beat the motorcyclist to coma.
Sunday Vanguard gathered that the cyclist, identified as Okon Akpan, had conveyed the passenger, simply called Titilope, from Okokomaiko to Iyana-Iba Market, Lagos for a fare of N200.
Trouble started when Titilope gave the cyclist N500 and when Akpan gave his passenger her N300 balance, made up of N200 and N100 notes, the lady returned the N100 and requested for replacement on the grounds that it was “too dirty”.
Like the case of the Oshodi –Mile 2 bus conductor, a heated argument ensued as the cyclist insisted he did not have a neat note to replace the ‘smelly’ one as demanded by his passenger.
As Akpan tried to leave without meeting his enraged passenger’s demand, the lady slapped him and he started beating her.
Unknown to the cyclist, the lady was popular among street urchins around, who reacted by beating him to unconsciousness. He was rushed to an undisclosed hospital.
Scenes tearing Nigerians apart on the grounds of tattered Naira notes are commonplace, especially in Lagos. In the meantime, health experts say that, apart from physical combats, infections could be spreading as a result of the dirty notes in circulation.
According to studies, dirty currency notes have been found to contain pathogenic parasites and bacteria, which are major sources of infection, because they serve as potential vectors of transmissible diseases. Diseases such as nosocomial infections, staphylococcus aures, Human Influenza Virus, Hepatitis A virus, among others, have been found on some of these dirty notes.
Specifically, in a study published in the World Scientific Research titled: “Evaluation of Micro-Pathogens Associated with Nigerian currency, researchers found that some Naira notes in circulation were contaminated with microbial agents and said that handlers of the notes, especially those who put them in brassieres or other areas where there is intimate contact with the skin, dirty bags and pockets, local pots, under rug and carpets, should exercise caution, as there was the risk of infection from microbial residents on the notes.
The researchers also warned that the habit of wetting fingers with saliva while counting currency notes should be avoided, as organism on the notes could be transferred to the mouth by the action.
They counselled, “Dirty and mutilated notes should be withdrawn from circulation from time to time. The CBN should put in place a retrieval system, which ensures that notes do not remain in circulation for too long. Money handlers should generally improve on their habits and ensure that the notes are not abused or mishandled.”
In another study published in Science Alert on ‘Microbial Contamination of Naira Notes in Circulation’, researchers noted that tattered naira notes had a high level of contamination than new notes. They argued that smaller notes appeared to be more highly contaminated than larger unit notes such as N1, 000 notes, probably because the smaller unit notes are most frequently handled in petty and daily monetary transactions while old tattered and dirty notes were more contaminated than new notes and thus supports the finding that damaged or soiled notes, especially those held together with bits of sticky tape, are particularly dangerous.
Corroborating these findings on the health implication of the circulation of dirty Naira notes, the President of the Nigeria Medical Association, NMA, Dr Francis Faduyile, who is also a Consultant Pathologist, such dirty notes, passed from hand to hand, are likely to be contaminated with disease-causing microorganisms and a risk to public health since communicable diseases can be spread through contact with fomites.
Faduyili, who regretted that microbes are associated with dirty Naira notes, said that, apart from the transmission of infections and other diseases, especially if handled with unclean hands or kept in dirty surroundings, explained that offensive odour associated with tattered Naira notes could trigger asthmatic attacks and in those that have atopic diseases, frequent running nose and catarrh reactions.
“For those who put these Naira notes in their arm pits and bras, this action can cause infections. Some money handling habits such as keeping Naira notes in brassiere, socks, pockets, under the carpets or rugs and squeezing in the hand, frequently, introduce microbes”, he argued.
Faduyile explained that due to individuals handling the notes from hand to hand, this same way our dirty palms will spread the microorganisms among handlers.
“The notes can be contaminated by droplets during coughing, sneezing, the saliva often used when counting the notes, dust, soil, water, wounds, micro-flora of the body of handlers , touching with previously contaminated hands or other materials and placement on dirty surfaces. Some put under the bras and we have a lot of dirt there”, the pathologist said.
He condemned government decision to allow dirty currency notes to circulate for a long time, stressing that there was need for government to mop up the mutilated notes to save Nigerians from infections.
“It is safer for people to use clean Naira notes and more hygienic for the people,” he stated.
However, to minimize the hazards that may arise from the use of dirty and contaminated notes, studies suggested that Naira notes should be disinfected while paper money is quarantined for 24 hours before being re-circulated.
“The importance of basic hygiene in terms of frequent and thorough hand washing with soap and water, especially before and after eating, after using the toilet, after handling paper money, before and after handling food and before and after visiting hospitals should be emphasized”, one of the studies said.
“Cross contamination between money and food should be avoided by not handling money when working with food or when dressing wounds and skin lesions”.
Meanwhile, health analysts believed that beyond poor handling culture of the currency is the failure of commercial banks to strictly adhere to the policy of shared responsibility in the cost of currency processing which was introduced in 1997 to handle circulation of dirty notes. According to them, commercial banks have serially defaulted on this, as they have refused to sort out dirty notes but keep recycling them instead. They wondered if the Central Bank no longer exercises its supervisory role over money banks, recommending that erring banks should be sanctioned.