By Emma Ujah, Abuja Bureau Chief, Ikechukwu Nnochiri, Omeiza Ajayi, John Alechenu & Luminous Jannamike, ABUJA
Protesters yesterday besieged the headquarters of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, and the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, AGF, over the interim order of the Supreme Court halting the deadline for use of old naira notes.
A seven-member panel of the apex court, led by Justice John Okoro, had also yesterday, temporarily restrained the Federal Government from restricting the use of the old naira notes after February 10.
The ex-parte application was filed by the governors of Kaduna, Kogi, and Zamfara states.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government has asked the apex court to dismiss the suit for want of jurisdiction.
Speaking with reporters in Abuja, Obed Agu, one of the leaders of the protesters from Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, said President Muhammadu Buhari should issue an executive order, maintaining February 10 as the deadline for the use of old naira notes.
Contrary to the request of the protesters, governors, yesterday begged President Buhari to extend the deadline for the use of the old notes.
Similarly, the International Monetary Fund, IMF, also advised the CBN to extend the deadline because of the difficulties of obtaining the new N200, N500 and N1,000 notes.
This came as the All Progressives Congress, APC, presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, hailed state governors for aligning with Nigerians over the new Naira and cashless policies and saving the country from anarchy.
But the Labour Party said it is not yet Uhuru for vote buyers, especially those celebrating the apex court interim order.
S-Court order not legal —Protesters
Speaking on behalf of the protesters, Agu said the apex court’s order was “not legal”, adding that with the injunction, the court will enable politicians to buy votes.
His words: “We call on President Buhari to issue an executive order for the February 10 deadline and prevent further extension. The Supreme Court wants to aid corrupt politicians to buy votes.
“The Supreme Court order on the ex parte application has no legal basis. We are rejecting it because it is a plot to open the bank vaults to enable vote buyers and holders of illicit wealth to have the cash to buy votes.
“We ask the CJN to hurriedly vacate the ex parte order in the overall interest of Nigeria’s election. We have suffered a lot at the hands of the Supreme Court in undermining any effort for a credible election. The Supreme Court voided the card reader which aided and increased official election result-rigging.”
Some of the placards had inscriptions such as ‘Justice Ariwoola, resist plot to use our Supreme Court to undermine democracy;” “Police, SSS don’t allow opponents of Naira redesign to burn banks and destroy public property;” “We stand with CBN;” “Old Notes: On February 10, 2023 deadline we stand.”
The demonstrators also passed votes of confidence on the CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele and the AGF, Abubakar Malami, for their handling of the recent naira redesign policy.
As a result of the protest, vehicles coming into the Central Business District in the nation’s capital, Abuja, through Tafawa Balewa Way, were forced to go through either Sani Abacha Way or Herbert Macauley Way for about half an hour.
The group urged Nigerians not to accept the old naira notes from February 10, in their own interests.
Vanguard gathered that hour after the Supreme Court order, the CBN governor met with President Muhammadu Buhari but details of what they discussed were not revealed to pressmen.
Why Supreme Court halted CBN’s Feb 10 deadline
By a unanimous decision, a seven-member panel of Justices of the Supreme Court had earlier yesterday, restrained the Federal Government from enforcing the February 10 deadline for the use of N200, N500 and N1,000 old Naira notes pending determination of a suit that was filed by three northern states.
The states, Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara, had through their Attorneys-General, invoked the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to intervene in the matter.
They told the court that residents in their respective states had suffered untold hardship, owing to scarcity of the redesigned naira notes.
According to the plaintiffs, unless the apex court intervenes, the situation can degenerate into chaos and anarchy.
They noted that the inadequacy of the new banknotes made it impossible for economic activities to thrive in their states.
Consequently, they begged the apex court to halt the full implementation of the monetary policy of the CBN regarding the deadline for use of the old Naira notes.
While granting the ex-parte application the states filed through their team of lawyers, led by Mr. AbdulHakeem Mustapha, SAN, the Supreme Court, headed by Justice Inyang Okoro, fixed February 15 to hear the substantive suit.
It ordered service of the relevant processes on the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, who was cited as the sole Respondent in the case.
Specifically, the Supreme Court issued an order of interlocutory injunction, “restraining the Federal Government, either by itself or acting through the Central Bank of Nigeria and/or the commercial banks; its agents; agencies; corporations; ministries; parastatals; organizations or through any person or persons (natural and artificial) howsoever, from suspending or determining or ending on the 10th of February 2023, the time frame within which the now older versions of the 200, 500 and 1000 denominations of the Naira may no longer be legal tender pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.”
The plaintiffs, in the main suit, are among other things, seeking a declaration that the Demonetization Policy of the Federation being currently carried out by the CBN under the directive of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is not in compliance with the extant provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), Central Bank of Nigeria Act, 2007 and actual laws on the subject.
They applied for, “A declaration that the three-month notice given by the Federal Government of Nigeria through the CBN under the directive of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the expiration of which will render the old banknotes inadmissible as legal tender, is in gross violation of the provisions of Section 20(3) of the Central Bank of Nigeria Act 2007 which specifies that Reasonable Notice must be given before such a policy.
Besides, the states urged the apex court to direct the immediate suspension of the demonetisation of the Federal Government of Nigeria through the CBN under the directive of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria until it complied with the relevant provisions of the law.
The plaintiffs told the apex court that since the CBN announced the new naira policy, there has been an acute shortage in the supply of the new naira notes in their respective states.
They lamented that residents in their states who complied with CBN’s directive and deposited their old naira notes have increasingly found it difficult to access new naira notes to conduct their daily businesses.
They maintained that the inadequacy of the new naira notes as well as the haphazard manner in the monetary policy was being implemented, has wrought serious hardship on residents in their states, stressing that the 10-day extension of the deadline would not be sufficient to address the challenges occasioned by the policy.
In an affidavit the plaintiffs filed in support of the suit, which was deposed to by the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice of Kaduna State, Aisha Dikko, they told the apex court that although the naira redesign policy was introduced to encourage FG’s cashless policy, they noted that not all transactions could, however, be conveniently carried out through electronic means.
Dikko averred that several transactions still require cash in exchange for goods and services hence the need for the Federal Government to have sufficient money available in circulation for the smooth running of the economy.
“That the majority of the indigenes of the Plaintiffs’ states who reside in the rural areas have been unable to exchange or deposit their old naira notes as there are no banks in the rural areas where the majority of the population of the states reside. Most people in rural areas of the Plaintiffs’ states do not have bank accounts and have so far been unable to deposit their life savings which are still in old naira notes.
“There is restiveness among the people in the various states because of the hardship being suffered by the people, and the situation will sooner than later degenerate into the breakdown of law and order.
“I know that if the Federal Government of Nigeria had given sufficient and reasonable time for the naira redesign policy, all the current hardship and loss being experienced by the Plaintiffs’ State Governments as well as people in the various states would have been avoided.
“I know that the 10-day extension by the Federal Government is still insufficient to address the challenges bedevilling the policy. I also understand that the Federal Government cannot bar Nigerians from redeeming their old naira notes at any time, even though the senior notes are no longer legal tender.
FG asks S’Court to dismiss state govs’ suit
Meanwhile, the AGF, Malami, yesterday, asked the Supreme Court to dismiss a suit by three state governments challenging the naira redesign policy of the CBN.
In a preliminary objection by the AGF through his lawyers, Mahmud Magaji and Tijanni Gazali, the Federal Government argued that the Supreme Court lacks jurisdiction to entertain the suit.
In court filings dated February 8, 2023, the AGF contends that “the plaintiffs have equally not shown the reasonable cause of action against the defendant.”
They are asking the court to strike out the suit for lack of jurisdiction.
Citing grounds in support of the objection, they argue that the state governments’ suit challenges the Federal Government through its agency, the CBN, to withdraw old banknotes from the financial system and introduce new ones.
With reference to Section 251 of the Constitution, the defence lawyers argue that the suit falls within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal High Court in matters of monetary policy of an agency of the Federal Government.
“The claims or reliefs are not against the federation, but the Federal Government and its Agency, the Central Bank of Nigeria.
“The Federal Government of Nigeria is distinct from the Federation or the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Plaintiffs have no grievance whatsoever against the Federation of Nigeria. “This suit has disclosed no dispute that invokes this (Supreme) court’s original jurisdiction as constitutionally defined,” the AGF added.
Tinubu hails govs for saving Nigeria from anarchy
Reacting to the apex court’s order, APC presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, praised the three state governors for aligning with Nigerians on cashless policies.
Tinubu in a statement by the Director, Media and Publicity of the APC Presidential Campaign Council, PCC, said the governors had saved Nigeria from a needless political and economic crisis.
According to Tinubu, the governors, especially the APC governors who instituted the suit against the CBN and Federal Government at the Supreme Court, acted well on behalf of hapless Nigerians who had been made to bear the brunt of the Naira redesign policy that has been poorly implemented
“The governors have saved the country from needless political and economic crises and miseries which have clearly become the unintended consequences of the monetary policy of the apex bank,” he said, noting that that the Supreme Court ruling coincided with the advisory of the International Monetary Fund, IMF, calling for an extension of the deadline for the swap of the old naira notes.
He said: “I want to salute the courage of our Governors and most especially the Progressives Governors in APC who acted to save our country from avoidable and dangerous political crises and social unrest which the Central Bank policy on new Naira notes has brought on our country.
“Our country was dangerously careering toward anarchy and political and economic shutdown. But with the Supreme Court interim ruling, our country has been pulled back from the precipice. We thank our Supreme Court Justices for ruling wisely on the side of the people who have been subjected to undue agony and pain since this policy was announced.
“The Federal Government and relevant stakeholders can now sit down and work out a better framework on how to proceed with the new policy without causing any social and economic disruption and inconvenience to our people. We have examples of other countries that have successfully and seamlessly changed their currencies to learn from.
“Those countries give a long time, at least 12 months to effect the currency change. They do not engage in CBN-like Fire Brigade approach.
“We have seen how a good policy can be poorly implemented to cause unintended problems for the people who should be the beneficiaries. While lessons have been learnt, we must now move on as a country and people with a Renewed Hope for a better tomorrow.”
Tinubu called on the CBN to ensure that the Supreme Court’s ruling is effectively executed by taking all necessary steps to ensure sufficient availability of naira notes (whether old or new) and to properly sensitize the public on the ruling and the consequent validity of old naira notes.
It’s not yet Uhuru for vote buyers — LP
Also reacting, the chief spokesperson of the Labour Party Presidential Campaign Council, Dr. Yunusa Tanko, said it was too early for those planning to deploy illicit funds to buy votes to celebrate the interim order granted by the Supreme Court with respect to the Naira redesign. Tanko said a decision of the Supreme Court is the highest court in the land must be respected by all.
He, however, said: “The interim order granted by our respected Supreme Court justices does not translate into a victory for those plotting to use illicit funds to influence the electoral process.
“As a party, we welcome measures that will ameliorate the sufferings of Nigerians who have been finding it difficult to access their legitimately earned funds.
“We are confident that Nigerians are now more than ever before wiser and will not be deceived into selling their votes to those responsible for their misery because the fund’s such politicians are plotting to use to buy votes were stolen from the people.
“We are ready for this election and by the grace of God it will hold as planned and our candidates Mr Peter Obi and his running mate, Dr. Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed will win to make Nigeria better.”
IMF advises CBN to extend the deadline, if…
Meanwhile, the IMF, in a statement yesterday, urged the CBN to extend the deadline for use of the old notes given the disruptions in trading activities occasioned by the scarcity of the new notes and especially, if the scarcity of the notes persists at the expiration of the February 10 deadline.
It said: “In light of hardships caused by disruptions to trade and payments due to the shortage of new banknotes available to the public, in spite of measures introduced by the CBN to mitigate the challenges in the banknote swap process, the IMF encourages the CBN to consider extending the deadline, should problems persist in the next few days leading up to the February 10, 2023 deadline.”
Extend old naira notes deadline, Govs beg Buhari
Also, the 36 governors in Nigeria have urged President Buhari to extend the deadline and revisit the CBN cashless policy.
The governors, under the aegis Nigeria Governors’ Forum,, made the demand in a letter addressed to the President, dated February 6, 2023, and signed by the Chairman of the Forum, Governor Aminu Tambuwal, of Sokoto State
The NGF, in its letter, said: “Even though the identified constraints are to be found in almost every state in the country, they are particularly evident in states like Borno in the North-East and Bayelsa in the South-South where one finds a pitiable number of banks located only in the State capital which would basically render the workability of the new policies impossible for now.
“The speed of implementation of the policy is a recipe for anarchy in the country and we urge a re-think of the policy. Regarding the reviewed cash withdrawal limit, we have found from synthesizing experiences across the country that the informal sector in the States, particularly in the Northern and Niger Delta States almost wholly depends on cash transactions because of the nature of their trade.
“It is our view, Sir, that an immediate limitation in the use of cash without robust engagement with stakeholders as well as the provision of accessible alternatives will deny such people legitimate sources of livelihood.
“We fear that the cumulative effect of these unintended but very profound and probable consequences of these policies would be a rise in the number of unemployed and unengaged persons who will inevitably resort to crime to make ends meet. This has a dangerous implication for the security of the country and the potential to derail Mr President’s security agenda.”
The governors urged the President to extend the span for implementation of the new naira policy and order the CBN to ensure the availability of the new notes.
They said: “We most respectfully pray, Mr President, to approve an expanded time frame for the implementation of the policy and direct the CBN to make the new notes available within the enlarged time frame.
“Direct a thorough assessment of the prevailing economic conditions related to the implementation of the currency change and cash withdrawal limit policies. Direct that States be involved in future discussions regarding the policies in order to have revised policies that would recognize and consider states’ peculiarities.
“Consider and approve the putting in place of necessary infrastructure and facilities within a reasonable time frame to facilitate the implementation of the policy, including introducing incentives to encourage the use of digital payment solutions. This will help reduce the pressure on physical cash and promote financial inclusion, investing in infrastructure to expand access to financial services.
“Direct that a robust enlightenment campaign be mounted to create sufficient awareness in the citizens of the thrust of the policy. This will help people better understand the implications of the naira redesign and cash withdrawal limits and how to use digital payments platforms.”
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