I went to buy ingredients for soup at Relief market. Among the naira notes I had were ten pieces of very smelly, dirty N100 notes. None of them was acceptable to the sellers. I had spent all the other clean notes in one thousand naira denomination. It remained to buy gari, and condiments, and pay for transportation home.
The gari seller had put the gari in the sack for me and I brought out six single naira notes from my wallet to pay.
'Madam', said the seller stopping me in my tracks, 'I can't take that your money o'.
'It is too dirty, madam.'
'Did I make it?'
'Return it to those who gave it you, madam. I can't give my gari to you and take that money.'
'It means I am in trouble. I have no other money here. My family is going to starve today. I can't even go home because keke people will probably not accept the money,' I lamented.
The gari-seller was not listening to what I was saying. He was only interested in and intent on recovering his gari already in my sack and handed over to me. I was embarrassed and humiliated. I was ashamed that I couldn't pay for what I had already bought, while other poorer women were.
I didn't know what to do. I had to be bailed out. It meant calling my family at home to bring me money.
'Madam', beckoned the gari seller, 'that your money may contain germs o, and be spreading diseases. You have to wash your hands very well after handling it, before putting any thing in the mouth. That wallet of yours will have to be cleansed. Why can't you educated people realize the risk you are taking in these things? God forbid.' HE waved his right hand around his head. He snapped his fingers and threw out spittle.
He was exceeding bounds. This now is bad njakiri! Is this what I am here to take from this stupid trader, ordinary gari seller for that matter, who is not up to a servant in my house! If the money were clean would I be having this ordeal? In a way the federal government, not this innocent, hapless trader is causing me this discomfiture. I should be able to know where to place this blame. I should take the guys decision not to take the money in good faith and cooperate with him.
By then he had taken back his gari and poured it out into the basin from where he took it out to sell to me. His attitude and what he was saying were getting me on edge all the same. I was getting really annoyed with him. I should get a modicum of respect from him. Did I look scrappy perhaps as a woman? I didn't think so.
'My friend, don't insult me', I said to him. 'Mind your words.
I am not the federal government which put these rags out as money into circulation. Go and talk to them. I won't take any nonsense from you. My husband will soon arrive with money and I won't buy from you again. You don't deserve my clean money, or even my dirty money. With this attitude, I wish you luck as a trader. You could have collected this dirty money and gone to the bank to exchange it.'
'Na so, where do I have all that time to go and waste in the bank? You think banks have clean money? Take the ones with you to exchange in the bank and come and tell me your experience.' The ones they'll give you there are worse. We were gearing up to physical combat when my husband called to know where I was. After directing him, I faced the gari man again to make him regret his action and utterances. He was unrepentant. Rather than talk about the dirty currency notes, he turned to Nigeria – how 'useless' the country has become.
'Don't talk to me about Nigeria. Don't just mention this country to me', I snapped. By this time I was livid with anger for the time I have wasted with him. I told him to go to hell with his Nigeria. He sounded like one of those Biafrans. He was also getting nasty the way he was addressing me as a woman. I felt I always deserved some respect as every woman does which he was not willing to give me. He was touching on my dignity not only as a woman but also as a madam. My husband was around and would fight if such a nincompoop should dare to show disrespect to his adorable wife in the public, to anybody's hearing.
To avoid that and restrain him, Martha accepted to dwell on the softer, general subject of what Nigeria has become. He arrived and handed over the money to me and requested that we left the scene immediately. He thought I would just pay and follow him. But when I went over to another seller, he asked what was happening. I told him the man had taken back his gari because the money was dirty. My husband allowed me time to pick the other few things.
If he was the only seller in the market we would rather go hungry than buy from him. He agreed with me, but said that the man was right to reject the money. If Nigeria is not prepared to be a country with decent currency notes it should tell us. It is annoying. Why can't it do one respectable thing for which we can be proud? If I were to be selling anything, I would be the last to accept the Nigerian N100 notes. Let everybody stop accepting this note everywhere. I'll support that. It's a disgrace. I don't know why this country has no shame.
He reasoned: This is an economy in recession and there is no medium of exchange to trade? It took so much time to do a transaction; so much bickering. How many such recriminations are going on in a country of 200 million? Imagine what would happen, if no-one was around to come and rescue my wife from this, all caused by the country? What is the economic cost? What will it take to change the dirty notes? Who should take the decision? Who will take the action?
The quality of money in circulation in Nigeria is enough to topple a government elsewhere. The bank cashiers who count the money in bulk have a more woeful tale to tell. They are always having health issues on that - cough, stuffy nose etc. The churches where the nasty currency notes are dumped as thanksgiving are more to be pitied. Are the notes dropped in protest or to give them away since it is not any longer being accepted anywhere? Can 'a cheerful giver' give dead currency in the church?
The circulation of dead currencies won't happen if there was a government, effective or not. Alas the president is in hospital. The one deputizing for him cannot yet see small things like decayed N100 currency notes that people suspect are germ-infested and may be contaminating them with diseases, causing deaths.
People are fighting and going into hostility and enmity among themselves while doing the normal business of buying and selling that should give them sheer joy, amity and fellowship. What people say is that the national currency is a solid symbol of national pride that Nigeria must have, or allow people to try something else. This is one of the things that make them think of withdrawal from the country. Oh yes, it is. There is no way the federal government will neglect to do its bit and expect people not to get angry, which of course they will show and are showing in many ways.
(c) Christian voice newspaper