Paper Money

Nigerian bank notes with Arabic script generate controversy

Some Nigerian bank notes have generated controversy for using Arabic script identifying the denomination.

Image courtesy of the Central Bank of Nigeria.

Another bank note, another controversy, but for once, it’s not even on a new issue.

This time it is Nigeria, where as reported by the BBC and The Economist, Malcolm Omirhobo, a human-rights lawyer in Lagos, is suing to force the Central Bank of Nigeria to remove the Arabic script identifying the denomination on some of the bank notes that make up the national currency. It does not appear on the 5-, 10-, 20-, 50-, and commemorative 100-naira notes, but does on the old 100-naira note, and the 200-, 500-, and 1,000-naira notes.

Proponents who argue that this is an attempt at Islamification ignore the fact that Arabic script is also used to write several African languages, called “Ajami,” and was in use long before European colonialists arrived to subvert the continent. Among the languages using Ajami are Swahili in East Africa, Tamashek, in North and West Africa, and five distinct Nigerian languages. One of them, Hausa, is the language used on the currency and is the one taught in schools in Nigeria’s north. Tens of millions of people are literate only in Hausa.

Ajami’s proponents also argue that even Israel uses Arabic script on its money for the benefit of the Arab population.

The Central Bank told the Federal High Court that “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.” It added that removing the Arabic inscriptions “would cost the tax-paying Nigerians and the federal government a colossal sum of money to discard the existing naira notes and print new ones in satisfaction of the plaintiff.”

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