Skip to main content

Money is an indispensable commodity in every person’s life. The possession of money is itself a resource and the usage of it can help to acquire resources.

In addition to its primary function as a medium of exchange, money also serves as a unit of account; a store of value; and, sometimes, a standard of deferred payment.

All the things we use in our lives have monetary value, whether directly or indirectly.

In Nigeria, the current official currency is the naira & Kobo – a symbol of Nigeria’s identity and value.

However, before the advent of modern currency, several items have been used as a form of exchange for goods & services.

In this article, we will look at the history of all recorded forms of monies used in Nigeria till date.

NOTE: Currency is a system of money (monetary units) in common use, especially in a nation. The two words will be used interchangeably in this article.


The pre-coinage currencies can be divided into two

  1. Local or Indigenous currency items.
  2. Imported or Non indigenous currency items.


These are used for internal trade, they include iron, animals, salt, feathers, red berries seed, farm products, textiles, beads, and stick tally.

1. Iron Currency: In ancient times, iron was a material of very high value. The use of iron as a form of currency was common in the early 11th century. Different types of iron with different shapes were used in different parts of Nigeria. They include:

(i)  The ‘Y‘shaped iron bar: This was regarded as an equivalent to the penny used for payment of bride price in Ogoja. About forty pieces of the Y-shaped iron currency were usually paid as a bride price.

The Y-shaped iron currency was also known by several names among peoples of various areas and communities of Cross River State. In Nkum area of Cross River State, it was known as “Efugu” while in Akuji area of Cross River State, it was called “Iyawa”. The Tiv of Benue State called theirs Yakaro while at Afikpo (Ebonyi State) it is called erichia.

Y- shaped iron bar - Ready NG

Source: Y-Shaped Iron Bar – British Museum

(ii) Hoe: Hoes were not only used as a farming tool, they were used as a form of currency in some parts of the country. The Jukuns in Taraba State called it “akika” .The Angas and Afo people of Plateau State, andthe Yugur people in Adamawa province also used hoes for payment of bride price.

iron hoe - Nigerian currency

Source: Iron Hoe Currency- Angas & Afo People – Nigeria

Source: Iron Hoe Currency – Yoruba, Hausa & Chamba Peoples – Nigeria

2. Animals Currency: Cattle were a common form of currency among the Fulani’s. A man’s wealth is usually determined by the numbers of heads of cattle he owns.

3. Salt: The indigenous type of salt and the imported type which was brought into Southern Nigeria were used side by side as currency. They were commonly used in Borno State and Bonny or Ubani in River State.

The salt comes in cones shape and the value was determined by the distance of the market to the source of the salt or salt factory.

In Aboh Enugu State in 1856, 10 – 12 bags of salt could buy a stout male slave while 8 – 10 would buy a young female.

4. Feather Currency: The feather of the plantain eater (Muso phaga Violacea) was used among the people of Wamba Division in Gongola (now Adamawa State). Five of these feathers were worth a chicken or one penny towards the end of the 1930s.

5. Red Abrus Seeds: These seeds used to be in demand in Nigeria. They were considered as important as cowries because they were more decorative. Red Abrus seed were exchange at the rate of 100 to a penny, in the 19th century. The Igala people used them in decorating their wooden helmet mask called oju egu used in the royal ancestral cult.


6. Farm Product: Varieties of farm products were used in trade by barter but some were used as currencies.

Among the Wukari, some 50 years ago a Calabash full of corn (Agi) was worth one large manila. Yams were used as currency among the Umon people of Ogoja in Cross River State.

In 1841, 10 tubers of yams were worth a child along River Niger (Captain Allen) Equally palm oil and kernels were very popular as currency in the Delta area towards the end of the 19th century. Dried fish in Delta area were used as currency in 1920 (Talbiot).

7. Textile and mats: Before the advent of imported textiles, local textiles including locally woven mats were used as money.

The Kabadir and the toko weave made by the Kaltungo men of Bauchi were used in the payment of bride price. One Kabadir was equal to five hoes. In Benin (Edo State), Loin wrapper (also known as pawn or pagne) was worth three pence in 1789. In Gwato (Ughoton) Edo State, a male slave cost about 100 pawns while a female 90. It later became a standard of value.

The most popular of the imported textile was the Manchester cloth prints which came in 10yards. A bundle was worth six shillings in Calabar. The Madras and George cloth were used as currencies among the Kalabari (Rivers State). George is still valued by the Ibos and Ijaws. It is today incomplete for a woman not to have the material among the collections of clothes in her wardrobe.

The Madras and George cloth were used as currencies among the Kalabari (Rivers State). George is still valued by the Ibos and Ijaws.

Mats were also important, especially the large Bornu mats. Among the Yako in 1951, raffia bundles was a constituent of bride price payable until 1930s.

8. Beads: Local beads were used before the introduction of imported beads called trade beads. The local beads include Segi beads from Ife in Osun State, glass beads from Kano State and Niger State respectively while the Vere of Adamawa province was noted for their brass beads.

They were used as currencies, although largely as ornaments until their importance were reduced as a result of massive importation of trade beads.

9. Stick Tally: This was common among the Mumuye of the former Gongola province. Several sticks of shorts length were tied together to form a unit which could buy a goat while sticks were also woven together in the manner of mat and used in payment for a bride.


These are cowries shells, manilas, copper bars or brass rods and wires, iron bar, gin and tobacco.

1. Cowry Shells: This is the most widely known pre-coinage currencies. They are found in the waters of the India and Pacific Ocean. The larger cowries called “Cypraea annulus” were preferred in the west of the Niger while the smaller type called “Cypraea moneta” was in vogue in east of the Niger.

Cowrie among the Fulani is called sedere, the Yoruba, Owoeyo, while the Igbos called the smaller one Ayolo and the large one Okpokpo or Nwefe.

Among the Fulanis, a slave could be bought with 100,000 cowries while a horse was worth between 50,000 and 1,200,000 cowries. In Plateau among Biroms a leather cup called wareng filled with cowries could obtain a wife or a slave.

As late as 1940, sixty shell was equal to half a penny while 120 shells was worth a penny. It was also used for settlement of bride price, payment of import duties on salt, and kolanuts.

In 1861, King Dosumu ceded the sovereignty of Lagos to the British government for 1,200 bags of cowries.

In 1923, cowrie shell importation was banned, although it was still in use up to 1940.

2. Manillas: It was first introduced into Benin from where it spread to old and new Calabar. It was manufactured in Birmingham, England, solely for West Africa trade. Nine different kinds of manilas existed with different names according to the area of usage. For example the Jaja Manillas used in Opobo in Rivers State, and Ejema among the Bende in Abia State.

There was also the king, queen and prince Manillas which were mostly used as a status symbol rather than being used as a currency. A king’s Manillas was worth about 100 normal manillas. The queen’s manillas was worth 75 normal manillas while Prince manilas was worth 50 normal manillas

By 1911, they ceased to be a legal tender but were used alongside coins. In 1948, the Eastern regions House of Assembly outlawed the use of manillas and a campaign was launched to redeem all existing Manillas.

3. Copper bars/brass Rods and wires: copper bars/brass rod are also called Calabar bars. They usually have a round cross section. They are cut into three equal parts and then twisted/plaited together to form an arm ring. These bars & rods were used as a form of currency. In 1856, a copper bar was worth one shilling in old Calabar.

4. Iron Bars: The imported iron bar was not a common currency but an acceptable standard unit of value for all products and manufactured goods. It’s value fluctuated through the years. In 1790 a bar was worth 40 manillas while in the 19th century one iron bar could buy a goat.

5. GIN: was also used as currency. It could easily be divided into smaller units. A case contained twelve bottles and each bottle was worth a shilling. Its importation was restricted and the yearly increase in the custom duties made the value of gin to appreciate regularly. Bottles of gin would pass through several hands without being opened as it was used as a store of value.

In 1905 a crate of gin was worth 40 coppers rod or (12 shillings) in Cross River. It was an essential items needed in the payment of bride price. The square faced bottles being the most popular.

6. Tobacco: The usage of tobacco as currency was not extensive probably because it was easily consumable. However it was used as currency among the Kagoro people of Southern Zaria and Gombe division.

In Eastern Nigeria, it was used for payment of bride price among the people of Owerri in present day Imo State as late as 1937.

Although pre-coinage currencies are no longer used as a means of exchange, it is of importance to note that they are being kept in the museums for posterity and also in the Banks, cowries shells are still found in museum as a reminder of one of the most popular means of exchange during the pre-coinage era.

The use pre-coinage currencies were limited to a particular area, which lack the distinctive characteristic of currency. These lead to the introduction of colonial currency by the European traders.


In order for a more uniform and acceptable means of exchange the Central Bank of Nigeria was created by the Bank Act of 1958. This Act provided that only Central Bank of Nigeria and neither Federal Government nor State Government nor any other person shall issue currency notes, bank notes or coins or any documents which are likely to pass as legal tender in Nigeria.

Until 1958, Nigeria used the British West African pound, after which it issued its own currency, the Nigerian pound The pound was subdivided into 20 shillings, each worth 12 pence.

On July 1st 1959, the Central Bank of Nigeria issued the Nigerian Currency 5Pound (Blue/Purple), 1Pound (Red), 10Shillings (Green), 5Shillings (Purple) in notes.

In 1973 The Nigerian pound was replaced with the introduction of the decimal naira at a rate of 1 pound = 2 naira. This made Nigeria the last country to abandon the £sd currency system.

[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”1″ gal_title=”Nigeria Currency Notes”]


Coins was issued in 1959 in denominations of half a pence, one pence, 3 pence, 6 pence, 1shilling and 2 shillings. The ½ and 1 penny coins were bronze and holed. The 3 pence coin, minted in nickel-brass, was a smaller version of the distinctive twelve sided three penny bits that were used in the UK, Fiji, and Jersey. The higher denominations were struck in cupro-nickel.

[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”2″ gal_title=”Nigeria Coins”]



On January 1st 1973, the new decimal currency Naira and Kobo were introduced with the denomination notes consisting of 50k, NI, N5,N10 and five denomination of coins of 50k; 1k, and 25k.

Major Changes

  • In 1989, the 5k and 10k coins were withdrawn
  • July 2nd 1979, new N1 note was introduced
  • On February 11th, 1977, a new banknote N20 denomination was issued in addition to the 1973 currencies. Thus the N20 note was the highest denomination.
[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”3″ gal_title=”Nigeria New Decimal Currency”]


Changes were made in the colours of the existed currencies in 1984. Yellow N20 note was changed to green colour, while Green N5 was changed to deep pink colour. N10 note changed from pink to red while the Red N1 note was changed to yellow.



In 1991 N50 note was introduced while 50K and N1 notes were changed to coins.

  • 50 Naira Note
  • 50k note changed to coin
  • N1 note changed to coin

Modern Day Currency

Another change occurred in Nigerian currency system, N100 note was introduced in December 1999, the N200 note in November 2000, the N500 note in April 2001 and the N1000 in October 2005.

[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”4″ gal_title=”Nigeria Modern Day Currency”]



Another change came in May, 2007 in the size, colour and particulars of the N5, NI0, N20, and N50 notes. In September 2009, all denominations were printed in polymer with all features intact.

The new coins

N2 was introduced and new N1 and 50k coins was reintroduced. All redesigned notes are smaller than the old ones.

[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”5″ gal_title=”Nigeria Polymer Notes & New Coins”]


November 12, 2014, new N100 note was designed to commemorate Nigeria’s 100 years of amalgamation. Please note that this did not replace the N100 note. Rather, both the normal and the centenary N100 notes are used side by sideh

People no longer buy anything tangible with coin because they are really heavy in quantities, and cannot be carried about or spray at party. Most Nigerians considered coin as “poor man’s money”.

Sources: The Nation NewspaperBrief Naija HistoryNotes Collector, CBN

Leave a Reply

Easy Video Reviews

{{trans(`You have no camera installed on your device or the device is currently being used by other application`)}}
{{trans(`Please try visiting this page with a valid SSL certificate`)}}
{{trans(`You can record up to %s minutes, don't worry you will review your video before sending`, time(preference.max_video_length))}}
{{trans(`You can record up to %s minutes, don't worry you will review your video before sending`, time(preference.limits))}}
{{trans('Uploading video...')}}

{{trans('Upload video')}}

{{trans('Drag your files here or click in this area')}}
{{uploader.file}} {{uploader.size}} x