When you visit some banks, it is common to see mutilated and defaced counterfeit Naira notes pasted at the teller point. When the bank discovers that a customer has in his/her possession counterfeit bank notes, the counterfeit money is usually collected and mutilated and the customer cautioned. The bank does this when the customer has one or a few counterfeit notes in his possession without realising that the notes are counterfeit.

Many do not realise that this step taken by the banks is merely a slap on the wrist when compared to the penalty prescribed for possession of counterfeit notes under the law. A young lady was recently apprehended while trying to deposit counterfeit notes of up to two hundred thousand Naira at a point of sale (POS) facility.  A POS is often used in Nigeria to provide financial services, such as the withdrawal and deposit of money in areas where automated teller machines or banks are not available.

What is a Counterfeit Bank Note?

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is the only agency in Nigeria authorised by law to issue the Naira, which is the legal tender in Nigeria (that is, the legally accepted means of payment). Where anybody without authorisation by the CBN makes his or her own Naira notes or coins and attempts to use them as legal tender, then the person is said to have counterfeit bank notes. A counterfeit note or coin is therefore a bank note or coin issued or made by a person other than, or by the authority of the CBN.

There are a number of acts, which if done in relation to the Naira will be deemed to be an offence committed in relation to the currency. It is an offence to counterfeit or falsely make any bank notes, issued by the CBN. It is also an offence to be in possession of counterfeit bank notes.

The Central Bank of Nigeria (Establishment) Act, (CBN Act), which is the law that establishes the Central Bank of Nigeria, criminalises the counterfeiting of banks notes. This act is also criminalised by the Counterfeit Currency (Special Provisions) Act. The punishment for counterfeiting bank notes under the Counterfeit Currency (Special Provisions) Act is more stringent than under the CBN Act. Under the latter, counterfeiting a bank note or coin issued by the CBN is punishable by an imprisonment term of not less than five years. Whereas under the Counterfeit Currency (Special Provisions) Act, the punishment is life imprisonment. The severe punishment prescribed under the law indicates that counterfeiting is a grave offence.

Uttering and possession of counterfeit bank notes are also distinct offences. Uttering of counterfeit bank notes means putting counterfeit bank notes in circulation either by using them to make purchases, payments or depositing them in the bank, as if they are genuine legal tender. A person is deemed to be in possession of counterfeit bank notes when he has them under his control, such as when it is in one’s house, pocket, wallet, car etc.

Uttering and possession of counterfeit bank notes are punishable with an imprisonment term not exceeding twenty-one (21) years. Where a person is in possession of bank notes not exceeding fifty (50) notes, the punishment is imprisonment not exceeding ten (10) years. Where a person is however found to be in possession of counterfeit bank notes, exceeding fifty (50) notes, the punishment will be an imprisonment term not exceeding twenty-one (21) years.

A person may only be convicted for uttering or possession of counterfeit bank notes if it is established that such a person knew the bank notes were counterfeit. Knowledge is therefore an essential element that must be established before a person can be convicted. The court is at liberty to presume that a person had knowledge that the bank notes in his or her possession were counterfeits if the person is in possession of more than fifty (50) counterfeit bank notes. This presumption is however rebuttable by credible evidence which shows that the person in whose possession counterfeit bank notes were found, truly had no knowledge that they were counterfeits.

Being arrested or tried for possession or uttering of counterfeit bank notes could be an unpleasant and distressing experience. It is therefore imperative that everyone exercises caution in the exchange of money. A more prudent course would be utilising the cashless policy and eliminating or reducing to the barest minimum the use of bank notes in financial transactions as much as is practicable. When you are unsure if the money in your possession is counterfeit, you can walk into any bank and ask the teller or customer care service personnel to help you check if the bank notes in your possession are genuine, irrespective of the currency.