Like the ace novelist, late Chinua Achebe, aptly, but humorously, depicted in his immortal political satire, “Man of the People”, why major streets in the country, especially, in the then Nigerian capital, Lagos, are replete with names of corrupt politicians, slave dealers and war mongers, instead of historic dates and shared history. Similarly, national symbols, such as currency notes, are often used to convey the significance a society places on its past and present icons, either, as models worthy of emulation by subsequent generations or the despicable, renowned for their ineptitude, corruption and avarice.

In line with an almost universal trend, Nigeria has portraits of her historical personalities on her currency bills. As though the country lacks women of integrity and/ or achievement, whose portraits can grace our naira bill, only the faces of men, for the most part, are emblazoned on our naira notes: Obafemi Awolowo on the N100 note, Nnamdi Azikiwe on the N500, and Murtala Mohammed on the N20.  Does one need to be a man to be iconic or heroic?

Among the progressive nations of the world, portraits of female figures are featured on their currencies to commemorate the roles they played in history. Queen Elizabeth II graces the British pound, Evita Peron, the Argentine peso and Harriett Tubman, the American dollar. These are testaments to their contributions to the greatness of their different countries. In Nigeria, only one out of the nine denominations of the naira bears the portrait of a woman, Ladi Kwali, a renowned potter. Many Nigerians are dismayed by the rarity of female faces on the naira notes. They see it as a furtherance of the patriarchy hegemony prevalent in most African countries, and a powerful reflection of the gender inequality in a country, where many men still think that a woman’s place is ‘in the kitchen and the other room”.

In 1991, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) issued a new denomination of the naira note, fifty naira (N50.00). The new note was designed to inspire feelings of nationalism, rooted in the equality of the different Nigerian ethnic groups. Four culturally relevant portraits showing Nigeria’s diversity appear on the bill. The flip side of the banknote is a portrait showcasing one of Nigeria’s many industries – fishing – an economic activity predominant in riverine areas of the country. The banknote seems to be appealing to Nigerians to embrace their diversity and industry, as a means to peace and progress. Within months of its circulation, Nigerians dubbed the blue-hued banknote ‘Better Life’. The ‘Better Life’ tag has since stuck to the naira note. Although the CBN has issued four higher denominations of the naira, none of them has the metonymic of the fifty-naira banknote.

Unfortunately, the fifty naira note is equally symbolic of the entrenched patriarchy of the Nigerian society. Only one out of the seven individuals shown on the fifty naira is a female. Despite the contributions of women to the advancement of this country, they are underrepresented in state affairs, and discriminated against in many areas of our national life. For example, the roll call of past and present governors of CBN is predominantly male. Out of the twelve governors of the bank, since its establishment fifty eight years ago, only one is a woman, Sarah Alade. She only served for a short time in an acting capacity. Despite being a signatory to the Maputo Protocol, which guarantees comprehensive rights to women, including the right to social and political equality with men, Nigeria has only paid lip service to the rights of women. The creation of the Ministry of Woman Affairs has not advanced gender equality. It has neither empowered, nor improved the lives of, rural women, who for the most part, remain appendages of their husbands. Although they engage in farming, and produce food for the nation, they own less land than men. The contribution of women across the entire spectrum of our national life continues to be greatly underplayed.

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