MONEY: THE HISTORY OF MEANS OF EXCHANGE IN IGBO LAND
The Naira (₦) is the official currency of ndị Igbo, but do you know that ndị Igbo and rest of Nigerians didn’t start using Naira until 13 years after independence?
Before the advent of the British in Nigeria and the introduction of their currencies: Pounds, Shillings and Pence which preceded Naira and Kobo, there were several forms of local currencies used by indigenous peoples of Nigeria.
During the pre-colonial period, for which we have few oral and written records, the currencies varied in the different areas of Igboland, being mostly cowries, manillas, brass-rods, iron currencies and copper wires.
In Igboland, Eastern part of Nigeria, there were various forms and values of local currency used for means of trade and exchange. However, the two major forms of the local currency are known as Okpogho/Ego Igwe and Ego Ayọrọ.
1. Okpogho/Ego Igwe (Manilla): Okpogho/Ego Igwe, otherwise known as Manilla is a form of commodity money made of iron, bronze and copper. They are also known as iron currency. In the precolonial days, iron was a metal of high value cherished among the Igbos and thus when smitten into elaborate bars was used as a medium of exchange. Since, the Portuguese and the Dutch were the earliest Europeans to visit Nigeria, Okpogho was used in the trade of various goods and items such as cloths, gins, tobacco heads, beads, salt, palm oil and dry fish. Okpogho comes in various sizes and shapes such as bars, rings, hoes, spears axes. The value is inherent in its weight, intricate designs and shapes. Till date, when someone is wealthy or rich, Igbos will say: "O nwere Okpogho" or "O nwere Ego Igwe" which translates to that the person is extremely rich. There is a town in Ezeagụ, Enugu State called Okpogho. The town is known for producing Okpogho currency. They served as the modern day CBN in Igboland
2. Ego Ayọrọ/Cowry: In precolonial Igboland, cowries were commonly used as a form of local currency. A cowry is a small, glossy olive-sized shell about a half inch long. In Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart," cowries were used by the Umuofia People as a means of exchange and a payment of bride price. It has both monetary value and spiritual significance. Cowry shell has a universal status as various civilizations of the world used it for various reasons. The shells were also believed to possess the power of fertility which signifies prosperity. In recent years, cowries have been integrated into pop culture and modern fashion. Cowries can be woven into African braided hairstyles and headpieces.
3. Paper Currency: The British introduced the first paper currency in Nigeria. During Britain’s colonisation of Nigeria, the concept of money was introduced. Nigerians used Pounds, Pence and Shillings. Ndi Igbo used Pound Sterling until 1968
The Bank of Biafra was created under Decree No. 3 of 1967 in order to ensure the normal functioning of the newly independent Biafran state. The first Biafra Pound banknote was introduced to the public on January 29, 1968, in denominations of 5 shillings and also 1 pound. From January 29, 1968 Biafra pound and shillings was rolled into the Biafra economy with bank noted and coins. The central bank of Biafra is in charge of distributing the Biafra pound.
Though the rest of the world didn’t recognize the Biafran pound as a currency. However, following the state’s surrendering to the Nigerian Federal Military Government, ndi Igbo Abandon Biafra pound to Nigeria pound.
In 1973, three years after the end of civil war, Naira was introduced on January 1, 1973, Ndị Igbo and other Nigerians started using their own new currency. It was named naira by Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
Naira and kobo was also rolled into the Nigerian economy with bank noted and coins. The central bank of Nigeria is in charge of distributing the Naira. It controls how much money flows into the economy. The official currency code for Naira in NGN.