Heart of Arts

Spray the Naira and Go to Jail

Toyin Falola

            Nigerian Owanbe is probably one of the most sophisticated parties in the world: glamorous, colorful, and full of crowds. I love the side talks and wonderful gossip about those who sit across from your table. Mama Iyabo is wearing a borrowed gold necklace again! “See that Chief, he is yet to repay the loan he took from me. Onigbese!” “Bose, that useless Oloso, is also here.”

A lot of spending: pre-party, in-party, and post-party. You even receive gifts for attending if you are part of the aso ebi crew. I have attended so many, and I have enough data to write a book on the subject. None beats the one I once attended in Houston: as the drinks flow like the River Nile, the celebrant, a fifty-year-old lady whose original skin color was black, entered the hall on a horse, looking like a white woman. The color of the horse matched that of the amazingly colorful dress and jeweler. The entourage was dressed in elegant colors—the gele is ewedu green, the jewelry is Pharaonic gold, the top buba is Ikoyi blue, the wrapper is in Uganda grew, and the shoes in royal purple.

Flowing more than beer is money. While dancing to the songs of fuji, juju, or apala live band, you would be killing the ariya without a stack of naira notes to spray on the celebrant or any individuals whose turn it is for the musicians’ eulogies. Spraying the naira at a party is just as important as adding seasoning to make stews. Call it vainglorious; it is fun and classy for my people. It is either to appreciate the celebrant or the musicians’ brilliance that has met your core. The level of how touched you are will determine how your fingers will fiddle through your pocket to bring just the right note that goes with the flow.

Dance now!

Bend low low

What are the hips for?

Shake the body

And as you shake the body, money drops on your foreheads and chests.

Well, do not let us be distracted by the glamour from the details of the parties of my people. The subject of conversation is discourses that have elicited from the spraying and use of Nigerian Naira at these parties in recent times. The recent chain of events in the country has called for intellectual discussions about these expressions of fun and solidarity. Well, far be it to say that Nigerians do not know that the law prohibits the spraying and mutilation of the naira note on any occasion, as recent incidences have shown the continuous clash between law enforcement agencies and the people on this issue. However, where one claims ignorance, it is unfortunate that the ignorance of the law does not excuse ignorantia legis non excusat.

Section 21 of the Central Bank of Nigeria Act of 2007 categorically prohibits abuse of the Naira, including selling, writing, stapling, tearing, soiling, spraying, and dancing on the naira note. The law further provides that the consequences of such an offense could be six months imprisonment or the option of a fine of not less than N50,000, and where the offense is sterner, both punishments. However, juxtaposing the social characters of the people and their inclination to spray or show affluence at the party, one would ask to what extent these provisions can be upheld.

Nigeria is not the only nation that prohibits misuse or disrespect of its currency. Misusing the currency of countries like the United States, among others, constitutes serious federal offenses that carry stiff penalties. Not only has the United States of America passed legislation prohibiting money abuse, but several other nations have the same jurisprudential disposition. China, India, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and others find the abuse of their respective currencies as an abuse to the image of the nation, and almost similar punishment follows such acts. However, these nations appear to have higher compliance rates than Nigeria.

A nation’s currency is its image, and this principle is so basic that it goes to the root of the integrity of such a nation. Every citizen must respect this principle, and such standards must be upheld. Nigerians should be aware of the importance of the Naira and the imperatives of defending it. As a legal tender, it is not just the emblem of the financial freedom of the nation, but a reverberation of the sovereignty of the country, and disrespect of such is an offense against the nation.

Unfortunately, it seems that the nation has not come to the realization of these imperatives as hawkers, drivers, vendors, cashiers, money hawkers, and partygoers, among many others, do not seem to subscribe to the conception of the dignity of the Nigerian currency and the implication on the nation. Despite the years of sensitization and warnings from law enforcement agents, it seems that the people have refused to come to such a realization. In all honesty, the recent effort of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the proactiveness of the judiciary must be commended, as these are necessary to guarantee the highest level of adherence to this law.

The turn of the Nigerian judiciary to reeling out more severe punishments to persons caught in the abuse of Naira is justifiable. One of the purposes of punitive declarations in criminal processes is to ensure deterrence, but the case of Naira abuse and mutilation seems to be an exception. Despite the fines and reprimands that the nation has been giving to offenders, they seem not to be enough to bring the attention of society to the issues. The law gives the judiciary discretion to either proclaim custodial sentences or monetary sentences. It has been the habit of the judiciary to do the latter, and unfortunately, it does not seem to be stern enough to deter the people.

While the efforts of the law enforcement agents have been apparent for a long time, the country’s stakeholders and statemen have refused to be worthy examples in this regard. Unfortunately, they have always escaped the consequences of their actions and further encourage such disrespect by average Nigerians. The infallibility of these people of status has brought about the recent societal opposition to the actions of the EFCC. There have been references to the videos of governors, ministers, and other well-meaning Nigerians who have been caught spraying money with no consequences.

One of the many examples is the act of the Governor of Niger State, Umaru Bago, involved in a similar act of abusing the Nigerian currency. The likes of Hannatu Musawa of the Minister of Arts, Culture and Creative Economy, a Nigerian Lawmaker Ibrahim Abuna, Aremo Sowemimo, the Olu of Owode-Egba, and other influential individuals. Several weddings and events of children and relatives of influential Nigerians and their functions have been scenes of crimes that would remain uninvestigated.

While the efforts of the EFCC and the judiciary are commendable, one must ask if the sword of justice is one-sided or where the pendulum of justice only swings heavily on the average citizens of no financial repute. This is the sentiment that society shares; while it is no justification in any way, it begs the question of the intentions of law enforcement agents. Are these efforts only meant for a class of society? Are some people more Nigerian than others? Can society trust the commission of unbiased actions and enforcement procedures?

Many of those who have been made scapegoats are either average citizens or celebrities who have not been in the high-profile cadre of citizenship. In 2022, it was reported that a Chinese was sentenced to 24 months imprisonment for tearing the Naira notes. Also, one Miss Oluwadarasimi Omoseyin, a Nigerian celebrity, and actress, faced the wrath of the law, having been found guilty of spraying the Naira notes at an event and was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment with an option for a fine of #300,000 (Three hundred thousand Naira). Well, the law could be seen to take its course, but the issue is the cherry-picking of offenders. Arguments have also ensued that the EFCC has only tried to get a few celebrities that have lesser influence to bring the needed attention. On this note, the case of Bobrisky, Okuneye Idris, comes to bear.

Bobrisky is a male-born, controversial Nigerian Cross-dresser who has often identified as a woman on social media and other functions. “Her” image has been an issue of controversy, bearing in mind the social bias the nation has against the LGBTQI+ society. Being in such light with the society, an action against Bobrisky could be calculated to give the attention the EFCC had wanted. When Bobrisky was arrested for abuse and mutilation of the Naira, “she” also thought that the court would, as usual, give monetary punishment. Hence, “she” pleaded guilty and prayed for considerable sentencing. Unfortunately, the judge took a different turn and sentenced “her” to 6 months imprisonment.

This act has been the subject of great controversy, bearing in mind the personality of the offender. It then begs the question of whether the Commission is truly interested in upholding the law or merely witch-hunting right profiles for deterrent. To prosecute for the mutilation and abuse of the Nigerian currency is commendable, but to do so with the primary reason of making scapegoats of individuals could be costly for democracy and the repository of public trust. To make matters worse, the turn of events of the prosecution of Pascal Okechukwu, popularly known as Cubana Chief Priest, and his subsequent expensive bail mystifies the situation.

Do not get me wrong; I am not derailing from the position of protecting the integrity of the Naira note, but one must ensure that such a thing does not turn into another charade of witch-hunting, as seen in the prosecution of corrupt government officials. The commission must ensure that everyone is treated equally, as far as there is no constitutional immunity. More so, the commission must embark on a series of sensitization programs that would bring society’s attention to the dignity of the currency and save the nation from further embarrassment.

On a final note, it is important to urge the people to ensure adherence to the position of law on the usage of the Nigerian currency. It must be noted that no one can truly predict the consequences of an offense, and as such, abstinence from it is always the best compliance. But we should leave alone those spending money on ritual murder. Blood money can go around. We should exempt women who hide money in their bras. Let us encourage organic banks! We should encourage politicians who have stolen our money to spray so that I can collect my share. And the EFCC should allow us to spend fake currencies!



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