Central Bank of Nigeria

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) rejected a request seeking to erase the Ajami (Arabic) inscriptions on the naira notes.

It told the Federal High Court that it would cost the country a “colossal amount of money” to discard existing notes and to print new ones without Ajami.

The CBN argued that Ajami is not a sign or emblem of Islam, but an inscription to help non-English speakers who are literate in and use Ajami for trade.

The apex bank brought an action filed by Chief Malcolm Omirhobo, a lawyer based in Lagos, before Justice Mohammed Liman in a counter-affidavit.

Omirhobo argued that the Arabic inscriptions on the naira notes depict Nigeria as an Islamic state, contrary to the country’s constitutional status as a multi-religious state.

He maintained that this violates sections 10 and 55 of the Constitution, which makes the country a multi-religious entity.

Section 10 reads: “The government of the Federation or of a state shall not adopt any religion as state religion.”

Omirhobo prayed the court to restrain the Central Bank of Nigeria from “further approving, printing and issuing naira notes with Arabic inscriptions, bearing in mind that Nigeria is a secular state”.

He also prayed the court to order the Central Bank of Nigeria to replace the Arabic inscriptions with either English language, which is the country’s official language, or any of Nigeria’s three main indigenous languages – Hausa, Yoruba or Igbo.

But in its counter-affidavit deposed to by Abiola Lawal, the CBN argued that “the Ajami inscriptions on some of the country’s currencies do not connote any religious statements or Arabian alignment”.

The apex bank maintained that contrary to Omirhobo’s claim, the Arabic inscriptions were not a threat to Nigeria’s multi-religious status.

It said: “The inscriptions on the country’s currencies do not and at no time have they threatened the secular statehood of the nation, nor have they violated the Constitution of Nigeria, as every design and inscription was finalised with the approval of the relevant government bodies.”

The apex bank explained that the “Ajami inscriptions” on the naira notes date back to the colonial era “and they do not imply that Arabic is an official language in Nigeria”.

It added: “The naira notes retained the inscriptions with Ajami since 1973 when the name of the Nigerian currency was changed to naira from pounds.

“The Ajami was inscribed on the country’s currency by the colonialists to aid those without Western education in certain parts of the country, who, back then, constituted a larger part of the populace.

“The Ajami is not a symbol or mark of Islam but an inscription to aid the populace uneducated in Western education in ease of trade.”

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