Nigerians are hardworking people who also create time to unwind; this they do by hanging out with friends and families at joints after work, and family parties, popularly called Owambe every other weekend.
Despite the diversity of cultures in Nigeria, it doesn’t take long to note the common element of flamboyance interwoven in every culture, unmistakable anywhere in the world and in nowhere is this trait more obvious than in a special act reserved for Nigerian ceremonies and functions.
There is a certain set of people who attend these Owambes most times without invitations from the hosts/hostesses; however, the services rendered by these men and women are as important as the parties themselves. They are always noticeable at gates of parties, and event centres, gaily dressed and most times with small black bags clutched against their waists, while trying to gain the attention of their potential customers. These people are neither photographers nor party crashers.
Currencies of countries across the globe are symbols of national unity and are, as such, treated with respect. Sadly, the Nigerian culture has over the years promoted the poor handling of our Naira notes. More worrisome is the fact that this act has now left the shores of the country with Nigerians in diaspora doing same with currencies of other countries.
Welcome to the business of money hawking — an illegal but thriving business at Nigerian parties.
A thriving business that dates back years
Meet Baba Kazeem, a tall, dark middle-aged man with three kids. He has been in this business for the past 20 years. He is also a popular face at an event centre visited by Nairametrics on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Ikeja. After posing as a customer, Baba Kazeem reluctantly shed some light on the lucrative weekend hustle.
According to him, the spraying of money is as old as throwing parties and no government law or decree can stop it.
“I have been in this business for 20 years now and it is the only business that I do.”
Considering the amount of money spent weekly at parties, one would come to appreciate that these men and women hawking mint Naira notes form an integral part of making parties glamorous. Party-loving Nigerians patronise them gladly because they have filled the void caused by lack of access to mint Naira notes used for showing off at parties.
No doubt, there is more than meets the eye when it comes to how these hawkers come across mint Naira notes despite their increasing scarcity. The situation is further worsened by these cartels of currency hawkers who sell new notes to willing buyers ready to buy them at varying rates based on denomination.
According to Baba Kazeem, the demand for lower denominations like 50, 100 and 200 Naira notes is always very high, especially for 100 Naira notes, considering its scarcity in the market. When asked to change N1,000 notes of N10,000 into N100 denomination, after some haggling, he agreed to a cut of N300 for each one thousand Naira and later gave me pieces of freshly minted, serially numbered N100 notes.
Altogether, he made a profit of 3,000 changing my N10,000 (N1,000 notes) to lower denomination of N100, though he agreed to charge less for other denominations. After striking a deal with him, he pleaded with me to pay him via his POS which he brought out of his black sling bag. According to him, the use of POS was a new strategy which some of them had just adopted to ease the stress of carrying cash around.
“We carry lots of cash and because the notes are new, you cannot know the huge amount of cash we carry. The use of POS not only makes the transaction easy for us, it also shields us from incessant arrests by policemen. Soon, you will not see any of us displaying new notes again at event centres or at bus stops, as we would have perfected how to deliver the money to customers.”
The amount charged on each Naira note depends on the volume of demand and the scarcity of such denomination in the market. He, however, refused to disclose how he and his fellow hawkers got the supply.
“We have an association even though we are not registered. We know ourselves and you have to join us before you can even meet our agent. I cannot just give you his number like that. He doesn’t know you and only those of us who get goods (new notes) from him call him on the phone for any business deal.”
Efforts by Government to stop this act
The Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, recently established mobile courts in partnership with law enforcement agencies and the judiciary, with the intention of combating the rising incidents of Naira hawking and other forms of crimes against Nigeria’s legal tender.
Section 21 of the CBN Act 2007 prescribes a jail term of not less than six months or a fine of not less than N50,000 or both for a person found guilty of tampering with the currencies (note and coins) issued by the apex bank. However, it is not known how many have been brought to book.
A senior bank worker in one of the commercial banks, who spoke with Nairametrics, said that Naira hawking was a big business. The bank staff said that his experience in the banking sector showed that there are cartels in some of the banks reaping bountifully from illegal alliances with these Naira merchants. He also revealed that some customers usually approach their account officers or those known to them in the banks to request new notes whenever the need arose.
On his part, a Financial Expert, Mr. Benjamin Uduak said that the first thing to note was that people would be willing to pay for anything that was of use to them. He further noted that people would also be ready to pay for any scarce item with a price tag.
According to him:
“Nobody is comfortable with dirty notes, either for spending or holding. Also, the use of new notes at parties is a cultural thing. You will not eradicate that. We live in a society where we hold parties and celebrate people.”
He noted that the CBN would need to sustain the culture of withdrawing old notes in circulation and replacing them with new ones.
According to him, it is wrong to accuse Naira hawkers of being responsible for the scarcity of new notes since such notes are essentially in short supply.
He stated, “They don’t print new notes. That is why whenever you go to the bank for new notes, they will say they don’t have. If they do, of what importance will it be for them to keep them?”
If the fight against money hawkers is to be won anytime soon, the CBN must double down on withdrawing dirty Naira notes from circulation and also liaise with the National Orientation Agency on the need to handle the Naira notes with care and dignity.