LAGOS, Nigeria -- Nigerians rushed Tuesday to deposit their money in banks for safekeeping until the government begins exchanging their old bills with the country's new currency in a move aimed at catching corrupt officials.
Nigeria's 4-month-old military government, which seized power last December with an aim to cure the nation's economic crisis and halt widespread official corruption, announced the introduction of the new currency late Monday.
Officials have charged that corrupt politicians of the Shagari regime hoarded millions of Naira they had skimmed off Nigeria's international business dealings. Much was sold on the black market in neighboring countries.
The government granted a two-week grace period for changing old notes, called the Naira, but the amount any individual can convert legally was strictly limited to about $7,000 at the official exchange rate.
Land borders were sealed and everyone leaving the country by sea or air was searched for old bills, as Nigerians lined up at banks to deposit their money until the official exchange for the new currency begins Wednesday.
Officials said adequate supplies of new notes were taken to bank vaults around the country of 90 million people. The new currency will keep the same name, but the colors of bills will be different, the officials said.
The Naira has an official exchange rate of $1.30, but on the black market it is worth only around 33 cents.
Chief of Staff Brig. Tunde Idiagbon said individuals and corporations exchanging in excess of the limit must explain the source of the money and receive government clearance.
Idiagbon is the No. 2 figure in the government of Maj. Gen. Mohammed Buhari, who seized power in a Dec. 31 coup with an aim of improving the economy and routing corruption in the ousted government of President Shehu Shagari.
Idiagbon said a major cause of the nation's economic problems 'is the deliberate sabotage of the Nigerian currency through large-scale illegal trafficking of the currency.'
The deposit of hoarded money in the banks was expected to ease a shortage of cash in circulation in black Africa's richest nation.
Nigeria, hit by a drastic decline in its oil exports, is suffering inflation of 60 to 90 percent and had a balance of payments deficit in 1983 of $3.7 billion.
Idiagbon said the borders would stay closed until the exchange period ends May 7 to prevent sabotage. Air and sea routes will stay open, but all passengers will be searched, he said.