The Naira’s Roller-Coaster Downhill



Prior to the establishment of the West African Currency Board, Nigerians, like indeed all other people in sub-Saharan Africa, had used various forms of money, including cowries, manilas, bottles, beads and salt, for exchange and for trade.

Following the colonial ordinance of 1880, the first major currency issue was undertaken in Nigeria, which introduced the shillings and pence as legal tender currency in the whole of British West Africa, with the units of coins managed by the Bank of England. The units of coins then were one shilling, one penny, half penny and one-tenth of a penny, which were distributed by a private bank, the bank for British West Africa.

Cowrie Shells

THE 10 KOBO COIN: gulped by inflation.

But between 1912 and 1959, the West African Currency Board (WACB) became responsible for issuing currency notes and coins in Nigeria, as well as in Ghana, Sierra Leone and the Gambia. The highest denomination of banknotes and coins they issued were the one pound and the one shilling coin.

While the 1st of July, 1959, saw the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) issue the country’s first ever currency banknotes, as WACB’s own banknotes and coins were withdrawn, it was not until the 1st of July, 1962, that the country’s republican status was made to reflect on the newly-issued currency notes, with the words, ‘Federal Republic of Nigeria’, inscribed at the top.

BROAD STREET, LAGOS: Once housed Nigeria’s Central Bank.

Subsequently, the notes have undergone several changes, as follows:

  • 1968, following the need to regulate  its use, as a result of the civil war.
  • January 1st, 1973, sequel to the decimalisation of the currency by the administration of General Yakubu Gowon, the currency became known as the Naira. The pound was replaced by the Naira, whose value was the equivalent of ten shillings. Thus, two naira, (made up of 100 kobo, per naira) became the equivalent of one pound and the pound ceased to exist, forthwith.
  • February 11th 1977, introduction of N20 notes as the highest denomination of currency, the naira bearing, for the first time, the portrait of a Nigerian individual, in the person of late General Murtala Mohammed.
  • July 2nd 1979, Issuance of new banknotes in three denominations of N1, N5, and N10, all measuring same size (151mm x 78mm) as the previously issued N20 note. They also bore portraits of prominent Nigerians.
  • April 1984, except for the 50 kobo banknote, all the colours of the currencies in circulation were changed around, to beat the menace of the currency traffickers of the time. Seven years later, in 1991, inflation caught up with, and gulped both the N1 and 50 kobo banknotes and they were minted and issued as coins.
  • December 1999, November 2000, April 2001 and October 2005: introduction of the N100, N200, N500 and N1,000 banknotes, respectively.
  • February 28th, 2007, the N20 note was issued in polymer substrate, essentially to checkmate abuse from rough-handling. Meanwhile, inflation had also caught up with, and devastated more banknotes, following which N1 and 50k coins, were redesigned and re-issued, with the introduction of the N2 coin, as well. N50, N10 and N5 were also repackaged and re-issued.
  • September 30th, 2009, the foraging effects of inflation, also meant that all lower denominations of currency, began to take, more and more, the place of mass circulating coins. N50, N10 and N5 notes, fell victims and were now printed in polymer substrate.
  • September 29th, 2010 and December 19th, 2014, issuance of N50 commemorative polymer banknotes and N100 Commemorative banknotes, respectively.

The Udoji Awards

General Yakubu Gowon

In September 1974, General Yakubu Gowon, (Nigeria’s Military Head of State, 1967 – 1975) accepted the Chief Jerome Udoji report, recommending salary increases for civil servants.

Although the report meant well and its recommendations were implemented, subsequently, in 1976, not a few critics insist that, that exercise, popularly known as the Udoji Awards, kick-started the spiraling inflation that was to follow and dog Nigeria’s economy ever since.

General Gowon, himself, had occasion to defend the exercise, several decades after its implementation, describing it as a reward to workers for their support and dedication during the war.

Chief Jerome Udoji

On the other hand, some others think the persisting inflation had quite little to do with the Udoji Award, citing sheer mismanagement of the economy during the oil boom years, by a largely profligate and inexperienced succession of military regimes that took decisions rather arbitrarily and scored low on long-term plans, lavishing resources on white elephant projects and recurrent, rather than capital expenditure.

This scenario was aptly captured in an incisive and brutally frank speech, once delivered by a departing official of the British Council, in the very early 1980s. He described the Nigeria he saw and was leaving behind, as “a country of soldiery, wasting building and thoughtless acts”.

History Of Naira To The Dollar Exchange Rate

1972 $1 = N0.658

1973 $1 = N0.658

1974 $1 = N0.63

1975 $1 = N0.616

1976 $1 = N0.62

1977 $1 = N0.647

1978 $1 = N0.606

1979 $1 = N0.596

1980 $1 = N0.550 (0.900 Black Market Rate)

1981 $1 = N0.61

1982 $1 = N0.673

1983 $1 = N0.724

1984 $1 = N0.765

1985 $1 = N0.894 (N1.70 Black Market Rate)

1986 $1 = N2.02 (N3.90 Black Market Rate)

1987 $1 = N4.02 (N5.90 Black Market Rate)

1988 $1 = N4.54 (N6.70 Black Market Rate)

1989 $1 = N7.39 (N10.70 Black Market Rate)

1990 $1 = N7.39 (N10.70 Black Market Rate)

1991 $1 = N8.04 (N9.30 Black Market Rate)

1992 $1 = N9.91

1993 $1 = N17.30 (N21.90 Black Market Rate)

1994 $1 = N22.33 (N56.80 Black Market Rate)

1995 $1 = N21.89 (N71.70 Black Market Rate)

1996 $1 = N21.89 (N84.58 Black Market Rate)

1997 $1 = N21.89 (N84.58 Black Market Rate)

1998 $1 = N21.89 (N84.70 Black Market Rate)

1999 $1 = N21.89 (N88-N90 Black Market Rate)

2000 $1 = N85.98 (N105.00 Black Market Rate)

2001 $1 = N99-N106 (N104-N122 Black Market Rate)

2002 $1 = N109-N113 (N122-N140 Black Market Rate)

2003 $1 = N114-N127 (N135-N137 Black Market Rate)

2004 $1 = N127-N130 (N137-N144 Black Market Rate)

2005 $1 = N132-N136

2006 $1 = N128.50-N131.80

2007 $1 = N120-N125

2008 $1 = N115.50-N120

2009 $1 = N145-N171

2010 $1 = N148.21-N154.8

2011 $1 = N151.05-N165.1

2012 $1 = N155.09-N161.5

2013 $1 = N153.21-N162.9

2014 $1 = N170-N199

2015 $1 = N199-N300

2016 $1 = N300-N320 (N310-N370 Black Market Rate)

2017 $1 = N360

  • The rates still hover around the N360 to the dollar mark, from 2017, through 2018, to date (2019).

Central Bank of Nigeria, Abuja.


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