The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), on October 26, 2022. announced the redesign of 200, 500 and 1,000 Naira notes, and declared an end to the use of the old notes by January 31, 2023, with a presidential fiat.
Godwin Emefiele, the CBN Governor, did not miss words by telling the whole world that he got approval of Muhammadu Buhari; President and Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And the President quickly concored, saying he indeed approved the venture for the CBN to carry out.
But acute scarcity of the new notes made the January 31, 2023, deadline unfeasible, and prompted the bank; with the approval of President Muhammadu Buhari, again, to extend the legal tender status of the old notes till February 10, 2023.
On February 3, 2023, three state governments – Kaduna, Kogi, and Zamfara – citing the hardships the continued scarcity of naira notes brought to their people, sued the federal government at the Supreme Court for a reversal of the policy. And this was after all the ruling political party [APC] governors in Nigeria met with the President, asking him to rescind the order as the effect of the redesigned policy having a destructive and devastative effect on the residents of their individual States.
Five days later, the court issued an interim order suspending the implementation of the deadline set by the federal government, directing the old and new notes to continue in circulate pending the resolution of the case.
Unmoved by the court’s order, the CBN insisted that the old notes had stopped being legal tender after the February 8, 2023, deadline while the scarcity of the new notes persisted.
In defiance to the Supreme Court’s interlocutory order, Mr Buhari on February 16, 2023, restored the validity of the old N200 notes, insisting that the N500 and N1000 notes had ceased to be legal tender.
The number of plaintiffs rose to 16 after six new States were added to the three initial plaintiffs during the hearing of the case on February 22, 2023, three days to the national elections held on 25 February.
The biting cash crunch featured as a major issue in the lead-up to the elections, with many fearing that it could derail the process.
The presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) then [now the President-elect, having won the election as declared by INEC] Bola Tinubu, said during his campaigns in Abeokuta, Ogun State, that the twin problems of cash crunch and the protracted fuel scarcity were targeted at him, “by powers that be”. He was understood to be referring to President Buhari then.
Many had expected that the Supreme Court would make a pronouncement on the disobedience to its order during the February 22. But the court adjourned its final judgement on the matter till March 3, 2023.
Let us try to follow a timeline of trajectory through those instruments of interrogation played up from introduction of the policy till the matter ended up at the Supreme Court of Nigeria, last week Friday, March 3, 2023.
It is only by embarking on this journey that Muhammadu Buhari; a man who once invaded the Nigerian democratic space in 1984, through coup-d’etat, and forcefully uprooted the democratically elected government of the time – under President Shehu Shagari, can be properly evaluated.
We need to know the man – President Buhari. We should endeavour to know him in, and what, he represents as a leader, at both times – Military Head of State – a venture through coups, and as a democratically elected President. Has he proved to be a blessing, or a liability, to Nigeria and Nigerians?
Let us take the Supreme Court’s judgement as a lead-template or perimeter of navigating this turbulent waters in arriving at where we can critically evaluate the topic of this exercise – captured above. Let me equally plead your total indulgence that the write-up of today should be seen as a preamble – a prelude to the main exercise of identifying what the eight years of Buhari’s tenure shall be leaving Nigeria and Nigerians with.
Members of the seven-member panel of the Supreme Court that delivered the historical judgement are:
*John Okoro (presiding)
Highlight of judgement as read out by Justice Emmanuel Agim
Justice Agim says the government of Nigeria is an agent of the federation to govern Nigeria to its benefit and well-being. The act of the President and government of Nigerian is an act of the federation. The government of the federation in implementing the policy should have held adequate consultation to avoid massive disruption of government operations and trades.
The dispute is between the states and the government of the Federation. The dispute is within the original jurisdiction of the court.
The argument that it is the CBN was the proper party to be sued is invalid. It is not the action of the CBN that is being challenged.
The suit challenges the validity of the decision of the President to redesign naira, release the new notes into circulation and withdraw the old notes without consultation with Nigerian through the Council of states and the National Economic Council without prior notice or giving reasonable notice to the public. The CBN only carried out the directive of the president.
It is glaring from the law that the CBN has no power to carry out the policy without the directive of the president. The policy is directed by the President. The CBN does not have to be joined as a party. This suit is not an action against the banks or the CBN.
The subject matter of this suit can be entertained under the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.
The constitution having issued unlimited subject matter jurisdiction, no court including this court has the power to exclude from the original jurisdiction of the court. All the preliminary objections are dismissed. “I hold that this court has jurisdiction to determine all the suits.”
It is obvious that the president did not consult with the Council of States, the National Economic Council and other stakeholders including the National Security Council.
The constitution does not expressly state that the president must hold such consultation. The duty is implicit in section 5 of the Constitution that makes the President an agent of the federation. Such duty is inherent in a democracy.
The first defendant belatedly realised that it needed to consult with the Council of States.
President acknowledged the widespread problems of the policy.
There is nothing to show either through newspapers and gazetted that reasonable notice was given to the public.
Notice was given only by a way of press remark by CBN governors on 26 October 2022. It is this press remark that that the president relied on to redesign naira notes and withdraw the old ones.
This press remark cannot constitute a reasonable notice to the public. It is what it is – mere press remark. The directive given by President is invalid.
Such directive is not just handed down after personal conversation with the governor of CBN.
In other countries, old and new currency notes are allowed to circulate simultaneously for not less than one year.
In the light of the above, I hold that no reasonable notice was given to the public in line with Section 20 of CBN Act 2007 before the president gave the directive of the redesign of new naira and the withdrawal of new notes.
Therefore, the directive is invalid and the implementing invalid.
It is not in doubt that the President refused to comply with the order of the court that the old 200, 500, and 1,000 naira notes should continue to be legal tender.
Interestingly, there is not even nothing to show that that the President’s directive for the release of N200 notes was implemented.
I agree that the first defendant ought not to be heard when the president has refused to obey the authority of this court.
Dipsogenic of order of court shows the country’ democracy a mere pretension and now replaced by autocracy. This suit is meritorious.
We are continuing this exercise tomorrow, by the grace of God, with Part 2.
Godwin Etakibuebu; a veteran Journalist, wrote from Lagos.
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