As Central Bank Governor (2004 – 2009), Professor Charles Soludo woke up one morning with a big dream. He wanted to mint coins for the use of Nigerians as legal tender. Those with better acquaintance with the psychological and cultural disposition of Nigerians told him pointedly that the policy was dead on arrival. They explained that given the behavioral pattern of Nigerians, the policy would be viewed by the majority as a needless burden.
But Soludo, who often appears and sounds as if every audience before him is a class of freshmen Economics students, dismissed with characteristic arrogance and cocksureness every contrary opinion.
He went to town marketing the great benefits of the coins, harping on their durability and how billions of naira will be saved from not having to frequently replace well-worn notes any more since the coins would last till almost eternity. Seeking to talk him out of the clearly unrealistic policy was like singing ballad to the deaf!
As usual, he sounded like an over-confident student reading straight from his favourite Economics textbook, which he considered the final authority on the subject. But the point stressed by those asking him to rethink the policy was very simple and easy to appreciate: no matter how sweet and tantalizing the idea sounded, if Nigerians ended up not using the coins, what would have been gained? Why cook a very delicious meal no person would be interested in eating?
But the professor could not be dissuaded. He insisted on going ahead with the policy. He was confident that Nigerians would happily embrace the coins as the best thing that happened to them since the discovery of Ponmo (cow skin); and everyone would be grateful to him afterwards.
At the Editorial Board of a national newspaper at that time, we looked at the policy and saw that while coins might still be acceptable in many Western and African countries (including nearby Ghana where they still use them), Nigerians would not agree to carry in their pockets any heavy objects that might encumber their characteristic swift movements. The coins would only be a burden they would hastily drop like a hot pot of sumptuous meal. That was why One, Five and Ten Kobos disappeared from circulation when traders stopped accepting them.
Well, eventually, the Ivory Tower idealist had his way. He went ahead and minted the coins and soon the shiny metals began to appear in several hands, obviously welling up a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment in the heart of their initiator.
I can’t really recall now if the Nigerian people were ever told how much it cost in billions of naira to mint those coins or whether anyone benefited from the juicy contracts that brought them into being.
But it was, indeed, easy to see that more billions were poured into the generous advertisement the coins enjoyed in the media. Countless full-page, colour adverts were bought in most newspapers and magazines marketing the benefits of the coins and how they “have made life easy and beautiful” for Nigerians. Very alluring primetime TV commercials were lavishly splashed to convince the people to embrace Soludo’s coins. Radio stations were not left out. Anyone could guess the humongous cost of such an elaborate effort.
But, predictably, despite all the billions sank in the printing and marketing of the coins, the whole Soludo’s Comedy of Errors soon fizzled into a nine days’ wonder! The coins vanished from the hands of Nigerians as quickly as they had entered.
But his unedifying exertion achieved at least one landmark: it brutally devalued the naira by abolishing 50k and One naira notes and making N5 Nigeria’s lowest currency! Nigerians, as usual, easily forgot that monumental and expensive blunder and returned to their normal, excruciating everyday lives, while Prof Don Quixote returned to his inner chambers to cook up fresh dreams and experiments to dazzle Nigerians with.