‘It changes nothing.’ Nigerians unimpressed with redesigned banknotes

By Nimi Princewill, CNN

Abuja, Nigeria CNN Business  —  Nigerians have criticized the “redesigning” of the country’s local currency proposed by its central bank to rein in counterfeiting and hoarding of large sums outside the banking system.

President Muhammadu Buhari unveiled the redesigned 200-, 500-, and 1,000-naira notes on Wednesday, saying “the new Naira banknotes have been fortified with security features that make them difficult to counterfeit.”

The new notes look very similar to those currently in circulation. The design of the highest-value 1,000-naira note, which includes the national coat-of-arms and the headquarters of the Central Bank of Nigeria, is largely unchanged. The only significant difference is the color — it’s gone from a largely brown underprint to blue.

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) says that the redesigned notes will replace notes currently in circulation by Jan. 2023.

But many locals are not impressed, describing the supposedly redesigned banknotes as a mere color revamp, given their similarities to the old notes.

“Snapchat filter, waste of time and resources, so a whole CBN cannot employ experts to redesign the naira notes. This is a revamp not a redesign,” one Nigerian tweeted.

“What a waste of time and resources … what is the difference?” another questioned.

CNN has asked the CBN for comment.

Leading economist Bismarck Rewane tells CNN that changing the currency’s look adds nothing to its value and is insignificant in curbing counterfeiting.

The government says new security features were added to the new notes, but Rewane says the changes to the currency are not significant enough to curb counterfeiting.

The value of the Nigerian naira has been in a decline in recent years, falling to a record low on the black market where it traded at nearly 800 to the US dollar as of Friday.

“It doesn’t change anything,” Rewane says of the redesigning of the naira. “It doesn’t increase the value,” he also says, adding: “There was no redesign. The color of the currency changed that’s all. The change is not significant enough to stop counterfeiting.”

Nigeria’s 1000- and 500-naira denominations are the most counterfeited, according to the CBN’s annual report last year.

News of redesigning the naira — first announced last month — generated mixed feelings among Nigerians, some of whom questioned the cost of printing new banknotes at a time the country is grappling with dwindling oil revenues, its main source of income.

Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele expects the introduction of the new banknotes to help control inflation, which recently rose to its highest level in 17 years, and also fight corruption.

These goals, Rewane says, may not be achieved.

“It’s just a change in color. I cannot see the correlation between the color of the currency and the desired goals. If the goal is to reduce inflation, it will not achieve that. [Changing the look of the currency] has no macroeconomic impact whatsoever,” he tells CNN.

‘Overdue for a new look’

At the unveiling of the new notes on Wednesday President Buhari said it had been nearly 20 years since the country did a major redesign of its banknotes.

The Nigerian leader added that replacing the current currency with the redesigned notes will help to combat the hoarding of funds outside of the banking system.

“It is on this basis that I gave my approval for the redesign of the 200, ‎500, and 1,000 banknotes,” he said.

Old naira notes will be completely phased away by the end of January next year, the CBN says, as locals scramble to deposit their old notes at commercial banks.

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