Naira’s Brinkmanship and the Number 500

Penny Wisdom

By Emeka Uzoatu

Have you heard the news? Against all the negative predictions of the naysayers, Nigeria’s national currency, the Naira, has survived a free fall at the black market. Like trended then, the currency that has become notable for its bounce at the international foreign exchange market wanted to cross 500:1 ratio to the US Dollar Rubicon.

You see, I’m actually allergic to news-breaking. You know, like you are never aware how what you are breaking will be received. Like happened when I joyfully announced the birth of a set of triplets to their lucky father. Only for the hapless ingrate to elope with a new bae!

Well, unlike then, I wouldn’t have been in any hesitation to broadcast this one. Yes, this one is a sure good news. Any patriot like myself should at least be pleased that all said and done, the Naira has returned to where it’s been running from. As I type, it has yet again exchanged with the US Dollar at a rate a little less than 500:1 benchmark!

To show how happy I am for the national currency, permit me to take you down memory lane. Created from birth a whipping boy for all the international currencies, it has at last come of its own. An achievement worthy of celebration even more than that blasted day we won reprieve from the stranglehold of British colonialism.

In fact, the only other day that may approach it in comparative importance is yet to dawn. And perhaps that may be the day our beloved national football team, the Super Eagles, would conquer the world. An achievement deferred since the 1994 Soccer World Cup in the United States of America. The soccer gold achieved at the Atlanta ’96 Olympics notwithstanding.

While we await the day, permit me to eulogize the Naira on its spectacular achievement this penultimate week. Indeed how the mighty would have been deemed to have fallen had the projected come to pass. Who, in fact, would have heard it without cringing. Like our foreheads when cascades of holy water off the priest’s sprinkler used to confront them upon a poem.

Like is well documented, with the promulgation of the Naira in 1973 its exchange rate was fixed at 2:1 to the British Pound. Imagine the affront. That had it stronger than the now-almighty Dollar. Indeed remembering the insult now puts me in a bellicose mood. Literally, it invited the chauvinism in me to kick something in reprieve from leading a battalion of our army to the Bakassi Peninsular.

A development well countermanded by the toppling of that half-baked military interregnum in charge then. To imagine that they also had the temerity to change the lane we drive on the road. And since then we have been driving on the right rather than the left. Unlike our more enlightened colonial masters and then-apartheid South Africa! Any wonder the latter have almost beaten us to the coveted title of ‘the giant of Africa’ but for the singular exploits of Burna Boy.

If I’m to say, I must quickly chip in that it’s how the wrath set in. Next came the aversion for the metric system. Rather than the good old scores, cubits and dozens we now counted in tens and twenties. Imagine the balderdash.

‘What’ll I ask for now if I wanted a quarter pounder’, a confounded American returnee had asked in desperation.

A widening divergence between offucial and parallel rates.

God bless the day that hapless military-mortar-wearing head-of-state traveled for an Organisation of African Unity (OAU) conference never to return. Any wonder they now accuse him of having embarked on the trip with a little more than half of our constitutional bank. Or perhaps that’s why he returned decades later a member of Nicodemus and the Prayers!

To speak the truth to whomsoever it may concern, methinks that the malaise could never have been abaited ever. Not even as the men in khaki decided to hand power back to its original owners – the people.

Ah that was in 1979! It was a watershed, to say the least. Like it turned out, the rout had been so much that even the civilian rulers could not do much. In fact, they were yet in a fit of somnambulism when a duo in better-starched fatigues took back their thing at the turn of a mere electoral cycle.

Perhaps, bitten by a different kind of tsetse, the helmsmen were yet dozing when the right general came along. Upon ascending the revered seat, the new man in charge swung into action with alacrity. Just a double-tier job on the Naira and the heavens joined the dance.

Rather over excited, for want of words, the Naira has ever since gone into a free fall. So much that even as the civilians returned once more in 1999, they couldn’t stem the ignited tide. Perhaps because the new man had only just shedded his khaki for agbada.

Anyway, it shouldn’t be all-blame for the ‘negative nabobs’ of Naira bashing. After all, when the currency was floated in 2016, it was a happy Naira that settled for a mere 197:1 ratio to the Dollar. Till came the ‘Messiah’ that pledged to make it 1:1.

But we are well consoled by the immortal words internalized in one of reggae star Bob Marley’s songs: ‘He who fights and runs away/Lives to fight again’.

Emeka Uzoatu, a seasoned journalist and writer, is the editor of He writes the occasional column, Penny Wisdom.