Nigerians have been reeling from the bad economy, fuel scarcity, unemployment, inflation and poor power supply that has amplified the discomfort of fuel scarcity in a country where a significant portion of the power supply comes from privately owned fuel-powered generators. As if that were not enough, they now deal with a currency scarcity that has POS operators charging as much as ₦2000 for every ₦10,000 withdrawn, which has impacted negatively on business and trade.
As Nigeria’s current cash scarcity issues may seem to be, they are not exactly new. In 1984, the New York Times released an article with the headline, “Nigeria Plans New Currency.” Another news article by Obafemi Oredein was published, in which he wrote: “Nigerians rushed Tuesday to deposit their money in banks for safekeeping until the government begins exchanging their old bills with the country’s new currency in a move aimed at catching corrupt officials.”
In the article, officials were said to have taken adequate supplies of new notes to bank vaults around the country. The officials said that the new currency would keep the same name, but the colours of bills would be different. It is striking that these articles were not published in 2023, but on 24 April 1984. This was 40 years ago four months after a coup had led to the removal of the democratically-elected President Shehu Shagari and brought in Muhammadu Buhari as a military ruler. At the time, the Naira had an official exchange rate of $1.30 and a black market rate of 33 cents. The reason given for the change was that corrupt politicians of the time had millions of illegally acquired Naira stashed away which had to be taken away or rendered worthless by changing the entire currency stock of a country that had 90 million people at the time.
40 years later, Buhari has once again been spectacularly misled by the image of Nigerian politicians sitting on their riches at home like Scrooge McDuck and has once again chosen to change the currency of the entire country over his misgivings with a few politicians and the results have been horrible. We don’t have to think too deeply to see if this stacking of burdens could lead to unrest that could provide an excuse for the elections to be postponed. The Covid era has a recent enough example. It is easy to forget that the EndsSARS protests and the accompanying riots were part of a worldwide wave of protests that were triggered by the frustration of millions of people suffering the effects of Covid lockdowns. The protests and riots happened in many countries across the globe and took the form of whatever was top of the mind in the particular societies. It was the BLM protests in the US and it was EndsSARS in Nigeria but the foundational trigger came from the emotional and financial frustrations caused by the impact of Covid19.
So as Nigerians get more frustrated, they are going to be increasingly reaching out for a cause to channel the frustration through and it’s not outlandish to see a suspension of elections if things really get out of hand. Hopefully, if protests do happen, then one wishes that they don’t create an excuse for the military to consider taking over. The unrest around the outcome of the 1983 election did help leave people open to the military takeover that brought Buhari in as a Nigerian ruler in the first place.