"Biafra Dollar"

Date:  Sun 06/05/05 05:03 AM

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...It’s curious –LASU don recounts experience

Gbenga Osinaike

Director, Centre for Environment and Science Education, Lagos State University, (LASU) Prof. Martins Anetekhai, in this interview, recounts his experience during a trip to Ghana.

He disclosed that the Biafran dollar was generally regarded as a legal tender in parts of Togo, especially at their boarders.

Bellow are the excepts of the interview with Anetekhai:

How did you get to know about the use of the Biafran dollar as a legal tender in Togo and Ghana?

I took my students on a field trip to Ghana. When we were coming back, we passed through the immigration in Ghana and got to Togo. In Togo, we had to walk from the Togo border to Seme border. Just after we passed through the border, I overheard one boy selling yoghurt, shouting ‘Fan Yoghurt’, buy, Biafran pound, Cedi, Cefas.

At that spot, I was confused. I thoug! ht he was saying something else until he shouted again: ‘Buy Cefas, Biafran pound and yoghurt’. I didn't imagine that Biafran pound could still be in circulation. Initially, I thought it was being sold as a souvenir.

I asked the young man what he meant by what he was saying, he repeated it again and I asked that he should show me the pound. He brought out one pound and showed me.

I was shocked. I asked if it could be spent, he said, yes, and I bought the pound from him for N270. I moved away from there and bought yoghurt with the Biafran pound. I was shocked to the bones when it was accepted. I went ahead and moved over to Benin Republic slightly to the right, as if I was coming from Togo and bought another two Biafran pounds with naira and later went to a shop and bought a drink called ‘flag’. The woman collected the Biafran pound from me and went ahead to change it and gave me change in Cefas. I bought two Biafran pounds again and kept them as ev! idence. One of the pounds looked new, the other is dirty. I still have them with me. I took the money to some of my friends. I wondered why such money would be in circulation.

The community where I bought the pounds is like a street market. There are people crossing the border and selling things. When you cross Benin Republic and move to Togo, there are some boys who sell things by the road side. I was just a passerby when my attention caught the scene where the pound was being sold. I bought some pounds and made sure I spent the money to confirm that the money was really accepted in the community. It is really curious to find something like that in another country. The currency is being accepted by some people in the community as a legal tender.

There is something more to it. I think this will have a lot of economic and political implications.

I suspect that it is possible that some people, who had a left over of the currency during the war, are trying to p! ush it into the market. But it is hard to believe that it is a left over. That was why I bought and found out that some of the notes were new. About 14 of my students and six lecturers witnessed this. It is really curious.

The people that sold the currency were casual and normal about it. That was the first time I would travel to Ghana by road and that was my first experience. It was just because I was taking students on an ecological trip that I had to pass the place. I wanted my students to see what happens in another country.

How authentic is the currency?

I was around during the Biafran war and the currency I saw was what was spent during the war. I don't know if the Igbo will like to secede, but I have a feeling that some people are trying to make a statement by pushing the currency out. I know that some old currencies are spent in some communities even when the currency had been changed. In those days, some of our mothers used to collect cowrie! s as a means of exchange. But my concern is that the Biafran money is being spent and I don't think this should be. I used the pound and they collected it from me without raising any eye brow. Another poser is: Why is the currency stronger than the Nigerian naira? One pound goes for N270!

We went to the place during the political crisis in Togo and some people would have capitalized on the crisis to introduce the currency. What I found out is that the currency is restricted to a particular place. As a scientist, I cannot say this is the implication.

Sunday PUNCH June 5, 2005

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