Nigerian Currency: The Naira Note Transition from Colony to Republic

If there is anything that has changed the most in Nigeria, it has to be our currency. Over the years, the currency has seen tremendous changes that have brought us from the days of the pound to today’s naira. This article presents the timeline of these changes.

According to stipulations, every currency should difficult to counterfeit, durable, easy to recognize and count. There are currently 11 denominations of the Nigerian currency with 10 naira notes (₦1000, ₦500, ₦200, ₦100, ₦50, ₦20, ₦10, and ₦5) and three coins (₦2, ₦1, and 50 kobo).

The following is a timeline of all the changes that the Nigerian currency has been through since the 1700s.

1700-1900s: Precolonial and Early Colonial Period

Trade-by-barter system using farm produce and livestock like goats, cows, sheep, were common as a system of currency. However, due to the advent of the slave trade and invasion of Europeans, Manillas, which are pieces of copper in horseshoe-shaped form, were introduced as a slave trade currency. According to African Bank Notes, 12-15 brass manillas purchased one slave at the time.

Cowries were used mainly for transactions long before notes and coins were created. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) records that about 40 Cowries formed a “String”. And 50 Strings constituted a “Head” and 10 heads formed a “Bag”. Also, as of 1865, a bag of about twenty thousand shells was exchanged for one or two English Pounds.

Early-Mid 1900s

Cowries were still in use by this time but their use had reduced greatly because of the formation of the British West African Currency Board in 1912. This board was formed specially to regulate and control the supply of currency across the British West African Colonies like Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Gambia, and Ghana. It was finally, in the 1920s that the new board introduced paper notes which served as a worthy competitor for cowries until paper notes became the norm.

It was not until 1916 that the West African Currency Board finally issued its 2, 10 and 20 shillings. However, currency supplies couldn’t reach Nigeria on time and Nigeria was forced to distribute its own currency in 1918.

It didn’t take long before Nigerians found the new notes very foreign and hard to accept. The notes were eventually withdrawn from the economy in 1923. It then took another 10 years from 1918 to introduce a newer, well designed and better quality notes.

This time around, things were actually different as Nigerians began to accept the new currency notes. In 1954, the five-pound note was introduced and ultimately became the highest value note in circulation.

1959 – 1968

Right on the brink of independence, the West African Currency Board had to pack up and the Central Bank of Nigeria was established in 1959. However, they still used the pound.

The Central Bank of Nigeria issued Nigerian currency notes in the denominations of Five (5) pounds, One (1) pound, Ten (10/-) Shillings, Five (5/-) shillings and coins in the denominations of Two (2/-) shillings, three (3p) Pence One (1p) Penny and One half (1/2p) Penny.

On 1st July 1959 the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) issued Nigerian currency banknotes, while the WACB-issued banknotes and coins were withdrawn. It was not until 1st July 1962 that the currency was changed to reflect the country’s republican status. The banknotes which bore the inscription, ’FEDERATION OF NIGERIA‘, now had, ‘FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA’, inscribed at the top. The notes were again changed in 1968 following the misuse of the currency banknotes during the civil war.

In 1965, the Legal tender was changed to reflect the country’s republican status. The denominations of Five pounds, One pound, Ten Shillings and Five shillings were reissued in different colors from those of 1959. The coins in use were still the ones issued in 1959. The notes all had the same pictures in the front but differed in the illustrations at the back. At this time, the currency notes were in denominations of Five (5) Pounds, One (1) Pound, Ten (10/-) Shillings, and Five (5/-) Shillings. The coins issued in 1959 remained the same.

1973 – 1978 Summary View

Sequel to the decision by the government to change from the metric to decimal, the name of the Nigerian currency was changed in January 1973. The major unit of currency which used to be £1 ceased to exist and the one naira which was equivalent to ten shillings became the major unit, while the minor unit was called the kobo; hundred of which made one naira.

On 11th February 1977, a new banknote with the value of twenty naira (₦20) was issued. It was the highest denomination introduced at the time as a result of the growth of the economy; the preference for cash transactions and the need for convenience.

The banknote was the first in Nigeria to bear the portrait of a prominent Nigerian citizen, the late Head of State, General Murtala Ramat Muhammed (1938-1976) who was the torchbearer of the Nigerian Revolution in July 1975. The note was issued on the 1st anniversary of his assassination as a fitting tribute to the most illustrious son of Nigeria. He was declared a national hero on 1st October 1978.

On 2nd July 1979, new currency banknotes of three denominations, namely ₦1, ₦5 and ₦10 were introduced. One (₦1) Naira was equivalent to Ten (10/-) Shillings. These notes were of the same size i.e. 151 X 78 mm as the ₦20 note issued on 11th February 1977. In order to facilitate identification, distinctive colors were used for the various denominations. The notes bore the portraits of three eminent Nigerians, who were declared national heroes on 1st October 1978. The engravings at the back of the notes began to reflect various cultural aspects of the country.

1973 – 1978 In-Depth View


In 1977, following the assassination of General Murtala Ramat Muhammed (1938-1976), the Twenty (₦20) Naira note was issued as the highest denomination and the first currency to bear the portrait of a Nigerian citizen, the late Head of State. The note was issued on the 1st anniversary of Gen. Muhammed’s assassination as a tribute. All the other currencies remained the same.


On 2nd July 1979, all the other notes of Ten Naira (₦10), Five Naira (₦5), One Naira (₦1) were introduced to reflect portraits of national heroes — Alvan Ikoku, Sir Tafawa Balewa, and Sir Herbert Macauley — as declared on October 1, 1978. In order to facilitate identification, distinctive colors that were similar to those of the existing banknotes of the various denominations were used. The engravings on the back of the notes reflected the cultural aspects of the country.

Read also: Why Was the Naira Note Featured In Money Heist?

1984 – 2005 In-depth View


In April 1984, all the notes were withdrawn and reissued in interchanged colors, except the 50 kobo note. This was done by the military administration which took over power in December 1983, to arrest the alarming rate of currency trafficking going on at the time. However, the coins remained the same.


In October 1991, Fifty Naira (₦50) note was introduced as the highest denomination and the One Naira (₦1) and Fifty kobo (50k) were withdrawn and coined. A completely new coin range was issued as part of a major reform of the nation’s currency structure. The coins were in the following denominations. One Naira (₦1), Fifty kobo (50k) Twenty-five kobo (25k), Ten kobo (10k) and One kobo (1k). Half kobo and five kobo were withdrawn this year.


The Hundred (₦100) Naira note was introduced on December 1, 1999, as one of the new generation notes of the Nigerian currency system. It included the most recent developments in security printing technology on paper and ink. The main feature on the front is the portrait of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, former Premier of Western Region. At the back is the picture of the Zuma Rock – a major landmark in Niger State in the Northern part of the Federation.


The Two-Hundred (₦200) Naira note was released on November 1, 2000, with the same security features as the Hundred Naira. Its front holds a picture of Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sarduana of Sokoto and the first Premier of Northern Nigeria.


The Five-Hundred (₦500) Naira note was released on April 4, 2001. On its front is a portrait of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. At the back of the note is the picture of an off-shore oil-rig.


The One-Thousand (₦1000) Naira note was released on October 12, 2005, with even more advanced security features. It is currently the highest denomination in circulation. On the front of the note are the portraits of Alhaji Aliyu Mai Bornu and Dr. Clement Isong — who were the first and second indigenous Governors of the Central Bank of Nigeria. At the back of the note is the picture of CBN’s Corporate Head Office in Abuja, Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria.

2007 – 2014

On 28th February 2007, as part of the economic reforms, ₦20 was issued for the first time in a polymer substrate, while the ₦50, ₦10 and ₦5 banknotes; as well as ₦1 and 50K coins were reissued in new designs, and the ₦2 coin was introduced.

On 30th September 2009 the redesigned ₦50, ₦10 and ₦5 banknotes were converted to polymer substrate following the successful performance of the ₦20 (polymer) banknote. Thus, all lower denomination banknotes were now printed in the polymer substrate.

Finally, the CBN, as part of its contribution towards the celebration of the nation’s 50th anniversary of Nigeria’s Independence and 100 years of its existence as a nation, issued the ₦50 Commemorative polymer banknote on 29th September 2010; and the ₦100 Commemorative banknote on 19th December 2014 respectively.

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