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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Bobrisky’s conviction: Between cultural practices and law enforcement

In February 2024, the mass media was awash with reports of the arrest of Bassey Idio by operatives of the Uyo Zonal Command of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). His offence: currency racketeering.

The 59-year-old ‘naira trader’ was apprehended following intelligence and surveillance revealing his illicit cash transactions involving both local and foreign currencies.

He was found selling N700,000 new Naira notes, comprising 12 bundles of N500 notes totaling N600,000; and a bundle of N1,000 notes amounting to N100,000. Idio later confessed to the crime and was convicted.

Before then, in a widely circulated video, Federal lawmaker Ibrahim Abuna, was seen distributing money to a crowd presumed to be his constituents. Abuna was representing Mafa, Dikwa and Konduga federal constituency of Borno State in the House of Representatives.

He demonstrated his generosity by tossing money from a balcony, disregarding the potential risk of a stampede as people clamored to catch the airborne naira notes. The recipients, totaling over 100 individuals, consisted of young men and women, as well as elderly persons. No arrest or conviction has been made since 2021 when the video was made.

On a daily basis, the Abuna scenario is repeated in different parts of the country as celebrities and politicians try to outdo one another as they engage in money spraying at social events and even at political gatherings.

Recently, there was a dramatic twist in this otherwise normal behavior among Nigerians as a Federal High Court in Lagos sentenced Idris Okuneye ‘Bobrisky’, a popular crossdresser, to six months in prison for naira abuse.

Bobrisky, who was prosecuted by the EFCC, was jailed as a deterrence to those involved in naira abuse. The trial judge, Justice Abimbola Awogboro, also said Bobrisky should use his influence to teach people about legal money practices.

He said Bobrisky’s offence was contrary to and punishable under Section 21(1) of the Central Bank Act 2007.

Naira abuse has been illegal in Nigeria for a long time, but spraying naira notes or throwing its bundles during social events has been a tradition in Nigeria for decades, as many have not been brought to book under the Act. In essence, this law hasn’t been strictly enforced in the past.

The Act recognises naira abuse to include actions such as throwing, stamping, engraving, selling, and mutilating the currency. They carry a penalty of a ₦50,000 fine or six months in prison. According to the Act, tampering includes impairing, diminishing, or lightening coins or notes, as well as defacing them through stamping, engraving, mutilating, or other forms of deliberate abuse.

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It notes that spraying, dancing, or stepping on the naira during social occasions or otherwise is considered an abuse and defacing of the currency, punishable under this Act.

A financial expert, Mr. Rilwan Afolabi, says the Act aims to protect the integrity and value of Nigeria’s currency by imposing strict penalties on those who tamper with or abuse it. According to him, by defining various forms of tampering and abuse, including common practices such as spraying or dancing on the naira during social events, the Act seeks to deter such behaviors and promote respect for the currency.

“The inclusion of penalties for hawking, selling, or trading in Naira notes further reinforces the seriousness with which the law treats any actions that could undermine the currency’s stability and legitimacy. “Overall, the Act reflects the CBN’s commitment to maintaining the integrity of Nigeria’s monetary system and ensuring public confidence in the national currency”, he said.

However, many people think the punishment meted to Bobrisky was too harsh and want leniency; while others suggest community service for non-violent crimes like this.

Social activist, Aisha Yesufu, has criticised Bobrisky for admitting guilt to the charge of naira mutilation. In a tweet on X [formerly Twitter], Aisha questions: “Who advised him to plead guilty?” She raised concerns about how spraying money could be equated to mutilating money and why the law is selectively enforced.

She added: “Yes, I would have. Worst case scenario, I would advise him to plead ‘No Contest.’

Yesufu further questioned, “If spraying money is considered mutilation, then what about politicians throwing money at people? Mutilation and spraying money — how are they the same? Did Bobrisky pick a scissors and started shredding the NAIRA?

“We just have a jungle where anything goes because some people’s morality is offended. If Bobrisky has crimes he has committed, prosecute him on those and not this selective prosecutions.”

Also reacting, Deji Adeyanju, a lawyer and social activist, expressed concern over the six-month sentence handed to Bobrisky. The sentence, delivered without the option of a fine, has raised questions about the severity of punishment for what some perceive as a cultural practice.

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While acknowledging the importance of upholding the law, Adeyanju highlighted Bobrisky’s status as a first-time offender and his pledge to utilise his platform to raise awareness against Naira mutilation. He urged the courts to consider the cultural context surrounding such offenses and emphasised the need for extensive public sensitisation before prosecution.

The issue of selective enforcement was also raised, as Adeyanju questioned why Bobrisky was singled out for prosecution when others were reportedly engaged in similar acts during the event in question. He cautioned against the perception of bias in law enforcement and called for a fair and impartial approach to justice.

In the light of these concerns, Adeyanju proposed an alternative approach to handling such crimes as Naira mutilation, advocating community service as an appropriate form of punishment. He reaffirmed his commitment to upholding the rule of law and protecting human rights, while urging security agencies to consider alternative measures for addressing such offenses.

Adeyanju said ongoing debates surrounding Bobrisky’s sentence underscore broader discussions about cultural practices, law enforcement, and the balance between tradition and legal compliance in Nigerian society.

As stakeholders continue to weigh in on the matter, it remains to be seen how authorities will address the complexities surrounding Naira mutilation and similar offenses in the future.

Also, they call for comprehensive campaigns to educate the public on the importance of preserving the integrity of naira. Such initiatives, they say could instill a culture of respect for the currency and discourage behaviors that undermine its value. (NANFeatures)

Tosin Kolade
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