How CBN Introduced Naira 50 Years Ago — N10 Was Highest Denomination

By our Reporter

Going back memory lane, on January 1, 1973, Nigeria birthed a new legal tender and its name was called naira.

This era marked the severing of ties with the pounds, as the country launched a new currency which would still hold five decades later.

With some sleight of hindsight, the Nigerian naira, like other currencies, has evolved from ‘prime’ to ‘redesigning’, severally.

Typically, the launch of the renamed currency followed the decision by the government to change from the metric to the decimal, according to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), at that time.

Interestingly, the CBN said the decision was also borne out of a need to adopt a truly national currency and to replace the imperial system which was inherited from the British colonial administration.

Bye to Pounds and Shillings

Thereby, the pounds and shillings were changed to naira and kobo and four denominations of notes were issued, comprising 50 kobo, N1, N5, and N10.
As a result, the major unit of currency which used to be £1 ceased to exist and the N1 — which was equivalent to ten shillings — became the major unit.

Again, the minor unit was called the kobo — a hundred of which made N1.

Naira: coined by Obafemi Awolowo

According to media report, the term ‘naira’ was coined by Obafemi Awolowo, during the military regime. Awolowo was the federal commissioner for finance (now called minister of finance) from 1967 to 1971.

And speaking at an interview, Tokunbo, one of Awolowo’s children, said: “He just took the name of Nigeria and collapsed it to naira. That’s what he told us and that was how he arrived at the name ‘naira’ and that was when he was the federal commissioner for finance.”

However, the naira was mainly introduced under the administration of Yakubu Gowon, Nigeria’s former head of state.

More banknotes introduced

As released by the CBN, N20 note was introduced on February 11, 1977, as the highest denomination at the time as a result of the growth of the economy, the preference for cash transactions, and the need for convenience.

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Thus, this banknote was the first in Nigeria to bear the portrait of a prominent Nigerian citizen, Murtala Muhammed, former head of state.

The CBN said, “The note was issued on the first anniversary of his assassination as a fitting tribute to a most illustrious son of Nigeria.”

Of course, the N50 note denomination was added in 1991.

Going further, in response to the expansion in economic activities and to facilitate an efficient payment system, the N100, N200, N500 and N1,000 banknotes were introduced in December 1999, November 2000, April 2001, and October 2005, respectively.

Evolution of Naira redesign

Precisely, on July 2, 1979, new currency banknotes of three denominations — N1, N5 and N10 — were introduced.

According to the CBN, “These notes were of the same size i.e. 151 X 78 mm as the ₦20 note issued on 11th February, 1977.”

This was specifically, “In order to facilitate identification, distinctive colours were used for the various denominations.”

Then in April 1984, the colours of all the banknotes in circulation were changed — with the exception of the 50 kobo banknote — to arrest the currency trafficking prevalent at the time.

Also, in 1991, the 50 kobo and N1 were redesigned into coins.

As of necessity, on February 28, 2007, and as part of the economic reforms, N20 was issued for the first time in polymer substrate, while the N50, N10 and N5 banknotes — as well as N1 and 50 kobo coins — were reissued in new designs, and the N2 coin was introduced.

But on September 30, 2009 the redesigned N50, N10 and N5 banknotes were converted to polymer substrate following the successful performance of the N20 (polymer) banknote. Therefore, all lower denomination banknotes were now printed in the polymer substrate.

Thereafter, the CBN, as part of its contribution towards the celebration of the nation’s 50th anniversary of Nigeria’s Independence and 100 years of its existence as a nation, issued the N50 commemorative polymer banknote on September 29, 2010; and the N100 commemorative banknote on December 19, 2014, respectively.

Now, 50 years later, the naira has a new design.

Significantly, on October 26, 2022, Godwin Emefiele, CBN governor, announced the plan to redesign the naira to control money supply and aid security agencies in tackling illicit financial flows.

By November 23, the new notes ‐- N200, N500 and N1000 — were launched.

Widespread reaction to the currency redesign was not unexpected and without backlash.
Meanwhile, banks began to dispense the redesigned notes on December 15, 2022.

Godwin Emefiele, CBN governor, had said that from December 8, banks would have received the new notes and “it would go round”, but news media had reported that some commercial banks had a limited supply of the new notes.

And that is exactly where peculiar issues surrounding the evolution, redesign and reissue of nairanotes stands currently.


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