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List of Currencies (Legal Tenders) in Existence in Nigeria before Naira

Nigeria’s monetary history is a rich tapestry interwoven with diverse currencies that have left indelible marks on its economic evolution and cultural heritage. In this blog post, we embark on a journey through the different currencies that once circulated in Nigeria, examining not only their significance and impact but also delving into the nuances of their exchange rates and the complexities they brought forth.

Historical Context

To fully understand Nigeria’s pre-Naira currency landscape, it’s essential to delve into the historical context in which these currencies operated. Nigeria’s colonial past, marked by British rule, significantly influenced its monetary system. The introduction of the British West African Pound during the colonial era facilitated trade and commerce within the region, laying the groundwork for Nigeria’s subsequent currency evolution. Following Nigeria’s independence in 1960, the transition to the Nigerian Pound symbolized the country’s sovereignty and economic autonomy. However, the Nigerian Civil War from 1967 to 1970 further complicated Nigeria’s monetary landscape, leading to the emergence of the Biafra Pound in the breakaway state of Biafra. Against this backdrop of political, social, and economic upheaval, Nigeria’s pre-Naira currencies played pivotal roles in shaping the country’s monetary trajectory.

British West African Pound

The British West African Pound, introduced during Nigeria’s colonial era, served as a stable and influential currency that underpinned trade and commerce in the region. Its exchange rates against other currencies dictated economic activities and investment patterns, laying a solid foundation for Nigeria’s monetary system.


  • Stability: Provided a reliable medium of exchange for commercial transactions, fostering economic stability.
  • Recognition: Widely accepted across the region, facilitating seamless commerce and financial transactions.
  • Convertibility: Easily exchangeable with other currencies, promoting international trade and investment.


  • Colonial Legacy: Symbolized Nigeria’s colonial past, perpetuating dependency on foreign control.
  • Limited Autonomy: Entrusted to a currency dictated by colonial authorities, constraining Nigeria’s economic sovereignty.
  • Unequal Distribution: Uneven distribution of wealth and resources, leading to disparities in economic development.

Nigerian Pound

During the pre-colonial era, various items like cowries, manilas, beads, bottles, and salt were used as means of exchange in Nigeria. The first major currency issue in Nigeria was introduced in 1880 under the colonial ordinance, establishing Shillings and Pence as legal tender. The West African Currency Board (WACB) issued the initial banknotes and coins in Nigeria from 1912 to 1959. In 1959, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) began issuing Nigerian currency banknotes, replacing the WACB-issued currency. The currency transitioned to reflect Nigeria’s republican status in 1962.

In January 1973, the Nigerian currency was decimalized, with one naira equivalent to ten shillings becoming the major unit and kobo as the minor unit. Subsequently, higher denomination banknotes like ₦20 were introduced in 1977. Over the years, new denominations such as ₦1, ₦5, ₦10, ₦100, ₦200, ₦500, and ₦1000 were introduced to accommodate economic growth.In 2007, polymer banknotes were introduced for ₦20, while lower denominations like ₦50, ₦10, and ₦5 were reissued with new designs. By 2009, these lower denomination banknotes were converted to polymer substrate. Commemorative banknotes were issued in 2010 and 2014 to mark significant national milestones


  • Sovereignty: Signified Nigeria’s newfound independence and economic self-reliance.
  • Cultural Identity: Designed with distinct denominations reflecting Nigeria’s rich heritage and identity.
  • National Pride: Fostering a sense of national pride and unity among citizens.


  • Economic Challenges: Faced economic volatility and inflationary pressures, posing challenges to stability.
  • Transition Costs: Adjusting to a new currency system incurred logistical complexities and transitional hurdles.
  • Speculative Trading: Vulnerability to speculative trading and currency manipulation, affecting market stability.

Nigerian Shilling

Accompanying the Nigerian Pound, the Nigerian Shilling played a complementary role with its own exchange rates impacting daily transactions and purchasing power. Accessible in lower denominations, it promoted financial inclusion and influenced domestic trade dynamics.


  • Accessibility: Lower denominations fostered financial inclusion, empowering diverse segments of society.
  • Transactional Efficiency: Facilitated seamless small-scale transactions and day-to-day purchases.
  • Local Empowerment: Encouraged local businesses and entrepreneurship, driving economic growth.


  • Value Fluctuations: Vulnerability to inflationary pressures resulted in fluctuating purchasing power.
  • Coexistence Challenges: Managing multiple currencies posed logistical hurdles and operational complexities.
  • Counterfeiting: Susceptibility to counterfeiting and fraudulent activities, undermining trust in the currency.

Biafra Pound

The tumultuous period of the Nigerian Civil War saw the emergence of the Biafra Pound as a regional currency, reflecting the economic and political landscape of the breakaway state. Its exchange rates, influenced by wartime conditions and geopolitical factors, dictated its limited circulation and recognition.


Symbol of Resistance: The Biafra Pound embodied the aspirations for self-determination amidst political turbulence, serving as a powerful symbol of defiance and independence.

Regional Identity: As the official currency of Biafra, it was emblematic of the region’s struggle for autonomy and sovereignty, fostering a sense of unity and identity among its people.

Community Support: The circulation of the Biafra Pound fostered community solidarity and resilience during challenging times, encouraging local economic activities and mutual support networks.


Limited Recognition: Outside the confines of Biafra, the Biafra Pound faced significant obstacles in acceptance and exchange, limiting its utility beyond the region’s borders.

Economic Instability: The currency was subject to fluctuating values due to the exigencies of war and geopolitical dynamics, leading to uncertainty and challenges in economic planning and stability.

Economic Isolation: The use of the Biafra Pound hindered economic integration and trade with the rest of Nigeria and the international community, contributing to economic isolation and limited access to external markets.

The legacy of the Biafra Pound serves as a poignant reminder of a turbulent period in Nigeria’s history, highlighting the complexities of currency dynamics during times of conflict and political upheaval. Its pros and cons offer valuable insights into the economic, social, and cultural implications of regional currencies in shaping historical narratives and collective memory.

Transition to the Naira and Currency Exchange Rates

The introduction of the Nigerian Naira in 1973 aimed to unify Nigeria’s fragmented currency landscape. This monumental transition necessitated the establishment of exchange rates, both fixed and floating, to convert pre-Naira currencies. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) played a pivotal role in managing exchange rates to ensure monetary stability and instill confidence in the nascent

Policy Implications

Analyzing the policy decisions and interventions made by Nigerian authorities to manage exchange rates and mitigate economic challenges associated with each currency provides valuable insights. The implementation of monetary policy tools, fiscal measures, and regulatory reforms helped stabilize exchange rates and foster economic development.

Legacy and Historical Reflection

The legacy of Nigeria’s pre-Naira currencies reverberates through their exchange rates, serving as poignant reminders of economic policies, market dynamics, and historical events. Understanding these intricacies offers profound insights into Nigeria’s economic resilience, cultural diversity, and the arduous journey towards a cohesive monetary framework.

Bottom line

Nigeria’s pre-Naira currency landscape not only reflects its economic history but also encapsulates the pivotal role of exchange rates in shaping financial interactions and national identity. By unraveling the exchange rates alongside the pros and cons of each pre-Naira currency, we gain profound insights into Nigeria’s past while illuminating a path towards a more enlightened perspective on its monetary heritage and future prosperity.

Izu Mgbaemena

I'm Izu Mgbaemena, a Nigerian-based writer for Naijadazz. I love sharing stories about Nigerian culture, food, music and more. As a frequent contributor to Naijadazz, I relish the opportunity to showcase the endlessly fascinating aspects of Nigerian culture to a global audience.