Nicknamed the “Giant of Africa,” Nigeria is a force of economic and cultural strength on the African continent. Not only does Nigeria have the largest economy in all of Africa, but it also gave birth to Nollywood (which earned more revenue than 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. Learn all about Nigerian currency from its history to foreign exchange rates.
What is the Nigerian naira?
Nigeria abbreviates the naira as NGN and uses the currency symbol ₦. Similar to the U.S. dollar and cents, Nigeria breaks the naira into 100 kobos (k), which are smaller coin denominations.
Based out of the city of Abuja, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) issues banknotes and coins. Nigeria circulates coins in 50 kobos, 1 naira, and 2 nairas. It issues banknotes for 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, and 1000 nairas. Nigerian money is famous for its vibrant colors and comes in yellow, orange, green, and blue.
Much like the U.S. dollar and other international currencies, the naira banknotes display prominent figures from Nigeria’s history. This includes:
- The first prime minister of Nigeria, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, on the 5 naira banknote
- The first president of Nigeria, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, on the 500 naira note
- The first and second indigenous governors of the CBN, Clement Isong and Mallam Aliyu Mai-Bornu, on the most recently released version of the 1000 naira note
Although Nigeria’s banknotes are known for their colors, Nigeria’s coins have less ornate designs.The CBN circulates coins are made of different metals:
- 2 naira coin: Copper plated steel
- 1 naira coin: Brass plated steel
- 50 kobo coin: Nickel
In 2009, Nigeria started using a polymer substrate for lower denomination banknotes, while higher denominations use a unique paper substrate. This not only increases the lifespan of the banknotes, but also protects Nigerian money against counterfeiting.
A brief history of Nigerian currency
Before British colonization, Nigerian communities used different forms of currency. Depending on the area, people traded salt, beads, and other precious goods.
It wasn’t until British colonizers introduced shillings and pence in 1880 that Nigeria received its first major national currency. As part of British West Africa, Nigeria introduced banknotes for the first time in 1912.
It wasn’t until 1973 that the Nigerian government changed the currency away from pounds and introduced a decimal system. The government named this new Nigerian money the “naira,” and with it, immediately replaced the country’s inherited British currency. From then on, the naira became the major monetary unit of Nigeria.
As Nigeria experienced economic growth and inflation over the following years, the CBN issued additional naira banknotes. It even withdrew smaller denominations of kobo coins from circulation.
The CBN celebrated fifty years of Nigerian independence in 1964 with a commemorative ₦50 banknote. In 2014, it issued a commemorative ₦100 banknote to celebrate Nigeria’s 100-year anniversary as a nation.
5 surprising facts about Nigerian money
Although Nigerian currency is still relatively new, the naira has a rich and unique history. Here are five interesting facts about the Nigerian naira.
1. It’s an abbreviation of the country’s name.
Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who served as Nigeria’s Federal Commissioner of Finance, first coined the term “naira.” In honor of Nigeria’s freedom, Awolowo condensed the country’s name into the term for its new currency.
2. Not all kobo coins are round.
While the 1 and 2 naira coins are smooth, round circles, you should keep an eye out for the 50 kobo coin. It may look round from afar, but it’s actually a 12-sided polygon. The front of the 50 kobo coin features cobs of maize, while the back of the coin displays the Nigerian coat of arms.
3. The 50 Naira banknote is for the people.
Several naira banknotes feature prominent political and historical figures from Nigerian history.
However, the 50 naira banknote is different. The back of the banknote features local fishermen and their catch, while the other side features geometric motifs and ornamental patterns adapted from traditional Nigerian art. While Nigerian currency honors significant people in the country’s history, the 50 naira note celebrates everyday Nigerian people.
4. You can scan the ₦100 to read Nigeria’s history.
The president issued a commemorative 100 naira note on December 19, 2014 to commemorate Nigeria’s 100th anniversary. It has a special QR code on the back that, when scanned, links to the centenary story of Nigerian history.
5. It’s forbidden to dance on Nigerian money.
In 2007, the CBN updated its Clean Notes Policy to include a rule against abuse of the naira. The new laws made it illegal to spray, write on, staple, tear, soil (which includes dancing upon), sell, or otherwise mutilate naira banknotes.
This is especially interesting, as one popular tradition at Nigerian weddings is to rain money down on the newlywed couple as they dance.
Understanding Nigerian naira exchange rates
Foreign exchange rates for Nigerian currency will fluctuate depending on the strength of the naira and the performance of the global economy. In other words, how much USD, EUR, GBP, or CNY you get for your naira will vary.
The NGN exchange rate is heavily affected by oil prices, also, since oil contributes to 9% of Nigeria’s GDP.
You can check the Nigerian CBN site for up-to-date NGN exchange rates with U.S. dollars, euros, British pound sterling, Australian dollars, Canadian dollars, and other foreign currencies. A quick online search also reveals many free currency converter tools.
Getting the best deal on Nigerian naira rates
Are you traveling to Nigeria? The country allows travelers to bring $10,000 (or its equivalent in another currency) into the country as long as they declare it upon entry. Once in Nigeria, you can exchange this currency for NGN at the airport or any bank.
Alternatively, while you’re in Nigeria, you can withdraw funds at an ATM. The safest options are located inside a hotel or bank. Check with your bank to learn about any foreign transaction fees you may incur.
If you send money to Nigeria from overseas, you’re most likely to get a good exchange rate with a money transfer app.
At this time, however, the Nigerian government has placed restrictions on how money is sent to the nation. So, though the naira is the national currency in Nigeria, those who send money to the country from overseas must send funds in U.S. dollars. For instance, when you send with Remitly to Nigeria, your recipients get the transfers in USD.
Sending money to Nigeria
Nigerian money is relatively new, but Nigeria’s proud heritage is apparent on the face of its coins and banknotes. Nigerian currency may have had its start in British colonialism, but the naira is a modern currency that supports the lives of millions of Nigerians and their loved ones.
If you need to support loved ones in Nigeria, Remitly makes international money transfers easier, safer, and more affordable. Download the Remitly app to get started.
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