Nigeria nicknamed the “Giant of Africa,” is a force of economic and cultural strength on the continent. Not only does Nigeria have the largest economy in all of Africa, but it has also given birth to Nollywood (whose revenue overtook that of Hollywood in 2009), Afrobeats music, and famous authors like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. With the growing financial strength and global positioning of Nigeria, there is no better time to introduce to you the country’s currency — the naira.
What Is the Nigerian Naira?
The Nigerian naira (NGN, currency symbol ₦) can be broken into 100 kobo (k), which are smaller coin denominations. The coins in circulation today include 50k, 1 naira, and 2 nairas, while the banknotes run from 5 to 1000 naira. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), based in Abuja, issues the banknotes and coins.
The naira banknotes display various prominent figures from Nigeria’s history, much like the U.S. dollar. Some of these prominent figures include:
- The first prime minister on the 5 naira banknote.
- The first president of Nigeria on the 500 naira note.
- The first and second indigenous governors of the CBN on the most recently released 1,000 naira note.
While the banknotes vary in color from yellow and orange to green, and blue between various denominations, the coins are also made of different materials. The coins in circulation are made of the following metals:
- 2 naira coin – copper plated steel.
- 1 naira coin – brass plated steel.
- 50 kobo – nickel
Brief History of Nigerian Currency
The first major currency used in Nigeria consisted of shillings and pence introduced into British West Africa in the colonial ordinance of 1880. In 1912, the first banknotes were introduced.
It wasn’t until 1973 that the Nigerian government changed the currency metric to decimals (from pounds), named the new Nigerian currency “naira,” and with it, immediately replaced the inherited British currency. From then on, the naira became the major monetary unit and the kobo the minor unit.
Over the following years, additional naira banknotes were issued as needed because of economic growth and inflation, and some smaller kobo coins were withdrawn from circulation.
Five Surprising Facts About Nigeria’s Money
The Nigerian naira has a rich and unique history.
1. It’s an abbreviation of the country’s name.
The name “naira” was coined by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who was the Federal Commissioner of Finance at the time. It is commonly understood that it represents a condensed, collapsed version of “Nigeria.”
2. Not all Kobo coins are round.
While the 1 and 2 naira coins are smooth, round circles, keep an eye out for the 50 kobo coin. While it may look round from afar, it is actually a 12-sided polygon. The front of the 50 kobo has maize cobs, on it while the back displays the Nigerian coat of arms.
3. The 50 Naira banknote is for the people.
We mentioned above, several naira banknotes feature prominent political and historical figures. However, the 50 naira banknote differs from what you might expect and is certainly unique among the other naira banknotes. The note itself features local fishermen and their catch on the back and displays geometric motifs and ornamental patterns to “ensure beauty, distinctiveness, and clear identification.” This is meant to celebrate the Nigerian people.
4. You can scan the ₦100 to read Nigeria’s history.
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Nigeria’s independence, the president issued a commemorative 100 naira note on December 19, 2014. It had a special QR code on the back that, when scanned, linked to the centenary story of Nigeria’s existence.
5. Dancing on Naira is forbidden.
In 2007, the CBN updated the Clean Notes Policy to include a rule against abuse of the naira, including statements saying that it is against the law to spray, write on, staple, tear, soil (which includes dancing upon), sell, or otherwise mutilate naira notes.
This is especially interesting, as one popular tradition at Nigerian weddings is to rain money down on the newlywed couple as they dance!
Understanding Naira Currency Exchange Rates
As of writing, the exchange rate for the following currencies to naira (NGN) are:
- 1 USD to 412 NGN
- 1 EUR to 490 NGN
- 1 GBP to 570 NGN
- 1 CNY to 64 NGN
The NGN exchange rate can vary every day; changing oil prices can affect the country’s economy a great deal.
You can check the Nigerian CBN site for up-to-date NGN exchange rates with U.S. dollars, euros, British pound sterling, Canadian dollar, and other foreign currencies. A quick online search also reveals many free currency converter tools.
Sending Money to Nigeria
Though the naira is the national currency in Nigeria, those who send money to the country from overseas must send in U.S. dollars. For instance, at the time of this writing, when you send with Remitly to Nigeria, your recipients get the transfers in USD.
Remitly makes international money transfers faster, easier, more transparent, and more affordable. Our reliable and easy-to-use mobile app is trusted by over 5 million people around the world.