What has gradually become a norm in our country today is the reluctance to give ‘change’ by sellers to buyers of goods and services. It is an embarrassing situation that people have found themselves in almost on a daily basis. When a buyer purchases an item with a higher money denomination in anticipation of collecting ‘change’, what happens at the end of the day is that such money ends up in the pockets of sellers of the items. This problem, which I think is more of social or attitudinal, rather than economic or financial, has been with us for many years. The only difference now is that, it has assumed a magnitude that needs to be reversed, as much as possible.
Everyone is guilty; the market women, domestic servants, taxi drivers, recharge card sellers, food vendors and so on.
Denominations of N1, 50k, 25k, 10k and 1kobo were issued by the Central Bank of Nigeria in the 1990s, but the ill-fated Structural Adjustment Programme led to their extinction, as higher note denominations of N5, N10, N20, N50, were adopted to take care of the traditional roles associated with lower denomination coins. These notes became unattractive and dirty national symbols. Currently, Nigeria’s legal tenders include 50 kobo, N1 and N2 while note denominations are N5, N10, N20, N100, N200, N500 and N1,000. Although coins can last over 50 years of active usage unlike currency notes that depreciate fast, people still prefer to hold and spend currency notes. Why this spending pattern? To begin with, many Nigerians dislike coins because they are cumbersome to carry. As a result, the least currency denomination naturally takes the place of the coin with the highest monetary value in a country where it is impossible to find a product that is sold for N1.
Besides, the high inflationary level in the country has ‘pushed’ prices of commodities to a level that the need for coins is absolutely minimal. Why carry lots of coins when single notes can come in handy? Another factor is the social/community life of the people that involves the use of money at ceremonies. During these events, hardly do we see people spend coins. People would rather prefer to ‘spray’ notes to coins. Over time, people have become almost completely detached from the use of coins as a legal tender in Nigeria. Even beggars hardly accept coins from anybody, nowadays. It’s either you give notes or you keep your money. I’ve heard of beggars refusing to collect coins from generous givers; they simply tell them to either give notes or keep their coins.
In the real sense of it, do we really blame these persons? It is not only that too many coins become heavy burden to carry about, the incident of too many coins chasing few goods is a truism that people would not want to stress themselves up unnecessarily. The annoying thing about this awkward development is that, if you are the type that believes in doing things right, you are likely to incur the wrath of other people. When you give out a high naira denomination and expect people to give you ‘change’, you are simply inviting trouble for yourself. What you get are heaps of insults, disrespect, scorn and disdain. Not only that, the language and manner of the conversation would be so rude that makes it discouraging to even ask for ‘change’. What this means is that people are forced to pay more than necessary on a daily basis.
Recently, the Senate made moves to encourage the conversion of lower currency notes into coins to facilitate retail transactions in the country, in a bid to make the use of coins compulsory, as a means of exchange through cash transactions. To achieve this, the Senate asked the CBN to sanction any commercial bank that refuses to collect coins from customers, even as it urged the apex bank to redesign the nation’s currency to cater to what it described as “highly repetitive transactions” in the economy. Coins are fast going out of fashion and going into extinction because of the face value of the metal that is used in producing it, is lower than its intrinsic value because some people are allegedly taking those coins to goldsmiths to turn them into jewellry and other ornaments for sale.
What should interest those in authorities is how to strengthen the naira and reduce the high inflation in the land that could make basic commodities affordable. More importantly, we need to change the wrong and embarrassing attitude of not wanting to give ‘change’ to people during financial transactions. It should not be encouraged. This attitudinal change should begin with you and me.
Adewale Kupoluyi, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta [email protected]
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