Mixed reactions have trailed the failure of the Central Bank of Nigeria and security agencies to enforce the country’s anti-spraying law and prosecute Naira abusers, especially at the recent lavish funeral of the mother of the Chairman of Cubana Group, Obi Iyiegbu, popularly known as Obi Cubana.
This is just as the apex bank said security agencies were responsible for the arrest and the prosecution of Naira abusers while the Nigeria Police Force and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission remained mute on the matter.
According to Section 21 of the CBN Act, 2007, a person who tampers with a coin or note issued by the apex bank risks imprisonment for a term not less than six months or a fine not less than N50,000 or to both.
For days, Obi Cubana has been a social media sensation and the rave of the moment, especially with the ‘naira rain’ at the event in Oba, a town in the Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State. Several videos went viral that show celebrities, business people and politicians spray money indiscriminately during a concert held after the interment of the deceased.
In one of the videos, Obi Cubana was seen displaying his football skills while one of the personalities threw a wad of cash at him. The 46-year-old literally turned bales of naira to round leather as he kicked and chested it. Veteran actor, Kanayo O. Kanayo, amongst scores of celebrities were also seen spraying mint notes on Obi Cubana who relished the tuneful rhythm seeping from the background.
The ostentatious display of wealth by those who graced the event has dominated social discourse since last Thursday, July 15, 2021, when the funeral started with a service of songs and Christian wake, followed by the burial and reception the next day at St Paul’s Anglican Church, Oba Anambra.
The chain of events ended with a thanksgiving service on Sunday, July 18, 2021, at the Good Shepherd Anglican Church, also in Oba. People who could not attend the event physically also had the opportunity of watching it online, as it was live-streamed on the Internet.
Celebrities who were physically present at the funeral included musicians D’Banj and Phyno, among others. Popstar, Davido, Kenneth Okonkwo (Kcee), Emeka Okonkwo (E-Money), Poco Lee and Ubi Franklin. Nollywood actors Williams Uchemba and Alexx Ekubo were also at the event. A member of the House of Representatives and Club Quillox’s proprietor, Shina Peller, amongst other politicians were also not excluded.
At various times, the CBN has stressed that abusers of the naira would be punished in line with the CBN Act 2007. For instance, on October 5, 2018, the then CBN spokesman, Isaac Okorafor, said mobile courts would be deployed nationwide to enforce the law.
He also said that the police and officials of the Federal Ministry of Justice would be involved in the monitoring and enforcement of the law.
“If a celebrant is dancing and you spray him/her, you may go to jail from the party venue, because the law enforcement agents will be there, waiting to arrest you.
“It is the duty of the law enforcement agencies to catch offenders and take them to court. Our (CBN) collaboration with the police will intensify as we move to implement the mobile court for offenders,” Okorafor reportedly said in a statement published by the News Agency of Nigeria.
Also, recently, on June 10, 2021, an Assistant Director at the Currency Operations Department of the apex bank, Aladeen Badajo, warned at a two-day sensitisation fair held in Abeokuta that abusers of naira risk six-month jail term, according to the CBN Act 2007.
Section 21 of the CBN Act 2007 states thus: “(1) A person who tampers with a coin or note issued by the Bank is guilty of an offence and shall on notes and coins imprisonment for a term not less than six months or to a fine not less than N50,000 or to both such fine and imprisonment.
“(3) For the avoidance of doubt, spraying of, dancing or matching on the Naira or any note issued by the Bank during social occasions or otherwise howsoever shall constitute an abuse and defacing of the Naira or such note and shall be punishable under Sub-section (1) of this section.”
Sub-section 5 of Section 21 of the Act clarified, “(i) ‘Matching’ includes spreading scattering or littering of any surface with any Naira notes or coins and stepping thereon, regardless of the value, volume, occasion or intent.
“(ii) ‘Spraying’ includes adorning, decorating or spraying anything or any person or any part of any person or the person of another with Naira notes or coins or sprinkling or sticking of the Naira notes or coins in a similar manner regardless of the amount, occasion or the intent.”
Yet, little or no prosecution of naira abusers has been recorded either by the apex bank or law enforcement agencies as the culture of spraying money at parties seems to be ingrained in the social fabrics of party-loving Nigerians who troop out mostly on weekends in common attire symbolically known as ‘Owambe’ uniform.
When contacted, CBN Acting Director, Corporate Communications Department, Osita Nwanisobi, diplomatically pushed the prosecution of naira abusers to law enforcement agents.
When specifically asked whether the CBN would prosecute naira abusers at Obi Cubana’s party, the spokesman replied with a question. “Who arrest and who does the prosecution?” he retorted in a telephone conversation.
After a long but awkward silence, our correspondent reminded him that the CBN had in several statements said it partnered security agencies to effect arrest and prosecution of naira abusers.
Meanwhile, the Anambra State Police Command has kept mum on whether or not it would arrest and prosecute naira abusers at Obi Cubana’s funeral last weekend.
Meanwhile, the Police Public Relations Officer in Anambra State, Ikenga Tochukwu, yet to respond to the issues.”
Similarly, spokesman for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Wilson Uwujaren, said the anti-graft agency won’t reveal its plans on the matter.
When asked in a telephone interview whether the EFCC would go after naira abusers at Obi Cubana’s funeral, Uwujaren said, “We do not give out the plans of the commission.”
Many Nigerians are, however, divided on the spraying of Nigeria, its acceptability and otherwise. Chief Executive Officer of Economic Associates, Ayo Teriba, dismissed the matter as unimportant, adding that it was difficult to regulate what people own.
He said, “People own their money, your money is yours whether it is naira or dollar or euro or pound sterling. So, the government’s power to tell people what to do with what they own is very limited.
Maybe you should talk to CBN if it wants to sue them (Obi Cubana and associates) or jail them but if you make the naira too cheap that the highest denomination of naira note is two pounds or two dollars, for example, the highest denomination of dollar note is $100, so the propensity to spray 100 dollars or to spray 50 pounds is lower.
“I have seen people spray $100 and $50 but the money is theirs, the American government has not sued them – it is their (people’s) money, you don’t give them the money for free, they exchanged value to the government before they cashed the money. They could have used the money to buy gold and start spraying gold or used the money to buy roses and march on roses. If they were spreading roses or velvet for the celebrant to walk upon, you won’t be annoyed because it is considered a red carpet but if they spread naira, you will be annoyed. The naira is so cheap, it is cheaper than trampling on roses and it is cheaper than stepping on velvet.
“The face value of the naira is less than the intrinsic value and the cost of printing it is more than the face value. The dollar is called the greenback, it has only one colour but the Nigerian currency has multiple colours, that is more ink and that makes it more expensive to print.”
Technology and financial expert, Adamu Garba, however, disagreed with Teriba. Garba said that there was the need for the apex bank to increase advocacy and sensitisation through its Clean Notes Policy.
In a bid to improve the physical appearance and lifespan of the banknotes in circulation through public awareness campaign on naira abuse and handling, the apex bank had instituted the CBN Clean Notes Policy.
The media campaign especially focuses on socialites, politicians and leaders who abuse the naira at rallies and social events. One of the objectives of the policy is to discourage the abuse of the naira and improve its lifespan beyond 24 months.
Commenting, Garba said, “In as much as we wish the late mother of Obi Cubana a blissful paradise rest, it is important for us to also value our currency because as much as you try to throw currency all over by marching it, you are showing less value for the currency.
There is a civil way of giving out money in celebration and the best way to do that is to hand over money in a very tidy way so as to value the currency that is also running the value of your country’s economy.
“We should look at the mood. Trying to point finger at Obi Cubana as the person the CBN should hold responsible might not be justified.
Why? Because he doesn’t control the crowd that was there; some of the people there were visibly and happily drunk and were spraying money and you cannot control them.
Except if CBN is going to look at the videos, pinpoint them and make them accountable individually but I think the CBN should spend more money enlightening the people on the value of the naira than using a prosecutorial tone.”
Also, civic advocacy group, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, in a statement by its National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko, on Monday, said the spraying of naira at Obi Cubana’s event should not constitute a major talking point, adding that there have been countless of high societal functions where the naira was also abused.
“The fact that friends and well-wishers who attended the event decided to show appreciation to Mr Obi Cubana, we in the Human Rights Writers Association Of Nigeria, think it should not become the talking point.
“The Central Bank of Nigeria under the current dispensation should rather be tasked by the media to confront the much more disturbing issue of how terrorism is funded and how armed kidnappers made up of Fulani militia in the North carry out their terrorism-related activities.”
Activist Deji Adeyanju stressed that the display of wealth by Obi Cubana and his guests were capable of luring young people to committing crimes.
He said, “I do not know what they do and I do not question the legitimacy or otherwise of their income. However, societally, what they did is capable of instigating young people into crime because no matter how we look at it, we must do things within societal norms.”
Efforts to get the comments of Obi Cubana proved abortive as he neither took his calls nor responded to a text message sent to his line by our correspondent on Monday evening.