Introduction

Nigerians are known for their flamboyance and spraying money on celebrants in parties as one of the ways of showing off their opulence. With Nigerians situated all over Africa and other parts of the world, this practice has become a norm and has gained a great deal of popularity. While people love to spray money as grease on their ego, party guests and celebrants look forward to this “money-spraying” moment of the party with anticipation. For most, the money comes in really handy, but far from that, the feeling of being special enough for people to empty their wallets for your sake is enough to widen the smiles on the faces of celebrants. In spite of the flamboyance and the display of wealth, this practice is widely accepted not merely on the basis of fun, but because of what it signified – financial support to the celebrants.

However, until last month, many Nigerians probably never imagined that a person could serve jail time, especially for as long as 6 months, for spraying money. Even those who were already familiar with the law prohibiting money spraying perhaps never thought that anyone could really be punished for it. It was thought of as one of those dead laws but little do they know that a law may be sleeping but it is never dead. It appears that the EFCC wanted to make a point to stop the abuse of Naira and this they have done by prosecuting Bobrisky and the Cubana Chief Priest.

In this article, an attempt is made to understand the position of the law as regards money spraying and the place of sentiments in law.

Bobrisky

Okuneye Idris Olanrewaju aka Bobrisky, a controversial cross-dresser and popular social media influencer was arrested and detained by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Wednesday, April 3, 2024 for the offence of abusing the naira. According to the EFCC, Bobrisky was invited due to a video report of spraying new Naira notes at the premiere of Eniola Ajao’s movie titled, ‘Ajakaju’, which was held at FilmOne Circle Mall, Lekki, Lagos on March 24, 2024.[1]

The charge against Bobrisky marked FHC/L/244c/2024 comprised four counts of naira abuse and two counts of suspected money laundering. The counts (counts five and six), which bordered on money laundering were struck out by the judge, leaving counts one to four. In the first count, Bobrisky was alleged to have tampered with N400,000 by spraying the same while dancing at a social event at the IMAX Circle Mall, Lekki, Lagos on 24 March 2024. The offence is contrary to and punishable under Section 21(1) of the Central Bank Act 2007. In count two, Bobrisky, between July and August 2023 at Aja Junction, Ikorodu, is said to have tampered with another sum of N50,000 by spraying the same at a social event while dancing. In count three, Bobrisky, in December 2023 at White Steve Event Hall, Ikeja also sprayed and tampered with another sum of N20,000 while dancing.[2]

Bobrisky pleaded guilty to the four count charge of Naira abuse. He however asked to be pardoned, adding that he was not aware of the laws prohibiting the Naira abuse and vowed to educate his fans on social media about it. However, he was convicted and sentenced to six months imprisonment as a deterrence to others who abuses the law.[3]

Cubana Chief Priest

In a war to combat the offence of money sprayng, when EFCC was done with Bobrisky, they went for a Nigerian socialite and businessman Cubana Chief Priest, real name Pascal Okechukwu. Currently, he is facing charges of abusing banknotes after allegedly throwing money into the air at social events. Count one reads: That you, Okechukwu Pascal, on 13th February, 2024, at Eko Hotel Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, while dancing during a social  event , tampered with funds in the denomination of N500 (Five Hundred Naira) issued by the Central Bank of Nigeria by spraying, thereby committed an offence contrary to and punishable under Section 21(1) of the Central Bank Act, 2007.” Count two reads: “ That you, Okechukwu Pascal, sometime in 2020,  in Lagos, within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, during a social event tampered with funds in the denomination of N500( Five Hundred Naira) issued by the Central Bank of Nigeria by spraying same for two hours and you thereby committed an offence contrary to and punishable under Section Section 21(1) of the Central Bank Act, 2007.”

He pleaded not guilty to three counts during a court appearance on Wednesday. He was granted bail in the sum of 10 million naira ($8,600; £6,970), with two responsible sureties.
The sureties must be gainfully employed within the Federal or State Government Parastatal and must not be less than Grade Level 16 officers. They must possess landed properties and the documents verified by the prosecution. The Judge also ordered the defendant to submit his passport with the court and all addresses verified by the prosecution. The bail condition is to be perfected within seven days upon an undertaking by the defence counsel to produce him.

The case was adjourned till May 2, 2024 for hearing of the application.

Illegality of Money Spraying in Nigeria

Money Spraying is an offence under Section 21 of the Central Bank Nigeria (Establishment) Act 2007. The section expressly prohibits the spraying of the Naira notes or coins as it connotes a ‘disrespect’ to the Nigerian currency. The Section states that:

“21(1) a person who tampers with a coin or note issued by the Bank is guilty of an offence and shall on conviction be liable to imprisonment for a term not less than six months or to a fine not less than N50,000 or both such fine and imprisonment…

(2) A coin or note shall be deemed to have been tampered with if the coin or note has been impaired, diminished or lightened otherwise than by fair wear and tear or has been defaced by stumping, engraving, mutilating piercing, stapling, writing, tearing, soiling squeezing or any other form of deliberate and willful abuse whether the coin or note has or has not been thereby diminished or lightened.

(3) For the avoidance of doubt, spraying of, dancing or matching on the Naira or any note issued by the Bank during social occasions or otherwise howsoever shall constitute an abuse and defacing of the Naira or such note…”

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) determines the legal tender of Nigeria. Naira and Kobo are the official currency of Nigeria.[4] When one earns or gets Naira and Kobo, the person decides how to spend his money. The spender can decide to buy properties, make gifts, keep savings and even give loans, books, tomatoes, art, works and cars, like many other properties, can be used as their owners wish.[5]

Dead letter laws are laws that are formally in effect, but which is not usually enforced. Such laws are usually ignored by law enforcement, and therefore there are no practical consequences for breaching them. For instance, bigamy– the offence of marrying more than one wife. It’s hard to say if anyone has truly been convicted for bigamy in Nigeria. Other dead laws in Nigeria are Treatment of animals in transit, Respect for the flag, Inscription on baby formulas, amongst others.

Same thing applies to this money spraying law, no one really expects law enforcement agencies to go around monitoring parties to make sure no one sprays money. This is perhaps why many people has cried about the foul process surrounding Bobrisky case.

There are certain issues in the judgment and the law that needs to be x-rayed for better appreciation of the law and the crime. They are:

  1. Selective enforcement
  2. Sentencing of Bobrisky and Discretion by the Court
  3. Prosecutorial powers of the EFCC

Selective Enforcement

Selective enforcement is when law enforcement officers have the power to choose when and where to enforce certain laws. It refers to when law enforcement officers handpick the people that they choose to prosecute for an offence. For instance, a police officer who is accosted by a rude and obnoxious citizen may find an obsolete charge with which to charge the person to teach him or her a lesson. The charge is usually something minor which the police officer may not have enforced in the past.

Oftentimes, it is an enforcement tactic employed to deter people from committing an offence because usually, when one person is penalized for an offence, it serves as a warning to others. And if a million people are breaking the law and law enforcement agencies are unable to arrest all of them, they could arrest one of them who has the eyes of a million on him/her.

As it pertains to the money spraying law, it’s quite obvious that if diligently enforced, it will have the EFCC arresting hundreds of Nigerians every weekend. Hence the argument that it makes sense to penalize a few people as a warning to others. This will probably send a warning message to violators of the law to desist from such illegal act.

Sentencing of Bobrisky and Discretion by the Court

The Black’s Law Dictionary on page 1486 defines sentencing as: “The judicial determination of the penalty for a crime.”[6] Bobrisky was given a custodial sentence for the offence he committed and well, many thought that for a first-time offender, it was a bit harsh.

Yes – it probably is a harsh sentence for a first-time offender, however judges exercise discretion in determining the term of sentence to impose on an offender.  They are to exercise this discretion within the bounds of the law, meaning that since the law says a maximum of 6 months imprisonment, the judge cannot impose anything more than 6 months… it is still within the judge’s discretion and technically not illegal for the judge to impose the maximum punishment (i.e 6 months). 

Bobrisky’s plea of guilty placed the maximum power on the court without looking at or searching for any other consideration(s) to determine his fate and sanction him accordingly in line with the provisions of the law. The court in Lawal v FRN[7] defined the term “discretion” to include a public official’s power or right to act in certain circumstances according to personal judgment and conscience. A court saddled with the responsibility of exercising discretion is required to arrive at its decision in every case or situations based on the facts placed before it in the very case and apply the applicable law. Its discretion is therefore, likely to vary from one case to another case since the circumstances in each case may vary. In Akinyemi v Odua Investment Co. Ltd,[8] the court stated that the general meaning of the word “discretion” includes analysis, appraisal, assessment, choice, consideration, designation, determination, discrimination, distinction, election, evaluation, examination, free decision, free will, freedom of choice, liberty of choosing, review, selection, self-determination, suffrage etc.

A cursory look at the provisions of section 21 of the CBN Act 2007 will definitely leave no one in doubt that the Act gives the court the discretion to impose any of the three options stated under the punishment section on anyone found guilty of the offence stated therein.[9] The options are: Imprisonment for a term not less than six months or  a fine of not less than N50,000.00 or both fine and imprisonment. The court, Hon. Justice Abimbola Awogboro of the Federal High Court, Lagos in his considered discretion settled and opted for the imprisonment for a term not less than six months without an option of fine.[10]

Had the court not sentenced Bobrisky to the six-month term imprisonment, many Nigerians who commits this offence will go scot-free because of the connection such person may have. Some who are wealthy might go for the option of fine because they have enough money to serve the punishment. Considering the high rate of this crime, the court was more merciful by sentencing the minimum punishment. The punishment says imprisonment for a term not less than six months. This means that it can be more than six months. However, one thing is clear, the court has sufficiently sent strong signal to the public and to the next offenders that it would no longer be business as usual. Some persons have started deleting their videos from the internet which would not have been so assuming the court did not rightly exercise its discretion in this case.

Prosecutorial Powers of the EFCC

EFCC falls under the class of persons who can commence and prosecute criminal offences. The statute creating an offence may specify who may prosecute such offence. The word “special prosecutor” normally refers to any person be he a lawyer or not whose ordinary job is not public prosecution.[11] The term is used to show that his role in that instant is a special assignment. There is no hard and fast rule on who a special prosecutor is. What is important is that the statute creating the offence may designate a particular person or officer as the appropriate person to initiate proceedings.[12] Such a special prosecutor’s power is subject to the powers of the Attorney General of the Federation or the State, as the case may be.

The Supreme Court in the case of Nwobike v FRN[13] held that the effect of the combined provisions of sections 6(b), 7(1)(a) & (2)(f) and 13(2) of the EFCC (Establishment) Act, leaves no doubt that the EFCC has the power to investigate, enforce and prosecute offenders for any offence, whether under the Act or any other statute, in so far as the offence relates to commission of economic and financial crimes. The Court further held that the test for ascertaining if a criminal conduct can be regarded as an economic and financial crime is such that it must be a non-violent criminal and illicit activity committed with the objective of earning wealth.

Following the decision of the Supreme court in that case, one could argue that the abuse of the Naira, does not seem to fall within the definition of “economic and financial crimes”, as it is not a “criminal or illicit activity committed with the objective of earning wealth.”

Perhaps if the issue of lack of the prosecutorial powers of the EFCC was raised by Bobrisky’s lawyer, it might have been considered and determined by the Court. Given that this argument is yet to be canvassed in Court or decided upon, the EFCC seems to be already exercising powers in this regard. 

Conclusion

It is a trite principle of law that Ignorantia juris non excusat (Ignorance of the law is not an excuse). Therefore, one cannot lay claim to the fact that he or she is not aware of a crime to commit such crime. However, there are instances whereby the State Houses of Assembly enact laws that are unknown to the general public at large,. In such instance, mere enactment of the law is not enough. It is the duty of proper agencies established under such law to educate people on certain aspects of the law. Also, Nigerians should be good citizens and try to obey the law. The fact that many people are committing an offence and no one is prosecuting them does not make the said act lawful.

Best Regards.


[1] Oghenovo Egodo-Michael and Onozure Dania, ‘Court sentences Bobrisky April 9, convict returns to EFCC Custody’ (6 April 2024) <https://punchng.com/court-sentences-bobrisky-april-9-convict-returns-to-efcc-custody/?amp= accessed 10 March 2024.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Onyekachi Umar, ‘Is it Illegal to Spray or Dance on Naira Notes (Money) in Nigeria?’ Decemb er 21 2018 https://sabilaw.org/is-it-illegal-to-spray-or-dance-on-naira-notes-money-in-nigeria/ accessed 10 May 2024.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Alabi v National Assembly (2014) JELR 57853 (HC).

[7] (2012) JELR 50889 (CA).

[8] (2001) JELR 55273 (CA).

[9] Balogun (n 4).

[10] Ibid.

[11] JA Agaba, Practical Approach to Criminal Litigation in Nigeria (4th den, Lagos: Renaissance Law Publishers Ltd 2022) 437.

[12] Ibid.

[13] (2021) JELR 111716 (SC)

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