Every progressive society is governed by known laws and rules. Society develops through the rule of law and its due process and the eradication of arbitrary and autocratic decision-making. The recent redesign of the national currency, the naira, the emerging policy and legal issues, the Supreme Court decision and the hardship that has attended the redesign all bring to the fore the challenge of governance and the rule of law. This discourse reviews key issues arising from the redesign with a plea to the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd) and the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, to obey the judgment of the Supreme Court.
The controversial currency redesign policy had ordered Nigerians to deposit their old N200, N500 and N1000 notes with the banks as they would cease to be legal tender by January 31, 2023. Due to public outcry, the deadline was shifted and the Supreme Court intervened on the application of the governors of Kaduna, Kogi, and Zamfara states who cited the hardship the scarcity of naira notes brought to their people. The president-elect, Bola Tinubu, who was then a presidential candidate and the ruling All Progressives Congress complained that the policy was targeted at demarketing them in the presidential election. The Supreme Court first gave an interim order which was disobeyed by the executive as Muhammadu Buhari had to personally wade in to give fresh directives which ran contrary to the court order for the maintenance of the status quo. The Supreme Court in its final judgment ordered that the old currencies, concurrently with the new, should still be legal tender until the end of the year 2023.
The judgment of the Supreme Court, being the highest court in the land, from which there is no appeal was expected to bring closure to the challenges, hardship, controversies and issues related to the naira redesign policy and its implementation. But about 10 days after the judgment, there are still long queues in banking halls and premises, both the new and the old naira are still not available to the public, money transfer facilities of banks and other digital payment platforms are still delaying financial transactions for days.
The president has yet to give any directive on the matter, the Attorney General, Abubakar Malami, is silent while the CBN has not given any directive to the banks. Essentially, the Supreme Court decision is being disobeyed and the executive is in contempt of the powers of the apex court contrary to its constitutional obligation to enforce its orders. The governors who initiated the application leading to the Supreme Court decision, who pleaded that their intervention was based on their love for the Nigerian masses have suddenly lost their voice while the president-elect and the ruling party no longer care about the hardship in the land. The cry was about winning the presidential election and now they have been declared winner, the people have been left to their fate.
What is the implication of the President and the CBN governor ignoring the decision of the Supreme Court? It is an invitation to anarchy, lawlessness and the height of executive rascality, impunity and impudence. Disobedience to court orders destroys the foundation of democracy and the rule of law. It ignores the constitutional separation of powers and is an affirmation that might is right, reminiscent of the old days of military dictatorship when soldiers arrogated the powers of life and death to themselves. After 23 of civil rule, this executive rascality is a mismatch to the dream of Nigerians who suffered and faced persecution to get the military out of power.
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Presidential and CBN disobedience to court order is an open call for Nigerians to rebel against tyranny, injustice and the duo’s continued violation of the fundamental rights of Nigerians. Clearly the right to property is a right recognised in all civilised nations including Nigeria. Money represents the value of individual property, the sweat, hard work, innovation and ingenuity of a people. It is kept in banks for safekeeping in the explicit understanding of the relationship of an utmost good faith trust between a bank and the depositor.
A bank is under a legal obligation to honour a depositor’s request to have access to his money. The current situation where the CBN has deployed subterfuge to deny Nigerians access to their money, first under a policy of doubtful legal validity and now under a policy which the Supreme Court had declared illegal is an attack of incalculable and unimaginable proportions on the rights and liberties of Nigerians. Depriving a lawful owner of a property of his right of use and access is clearly unlawful.
To the top hierarchy of law enforcement agents and state security officials who have access to the President, it is imperative that they advise him on the need to obey the Supreme Court order. Let no intelligence or law enforcement agency start the wild goose chase of looking for enemies of government and opposition figures as the cause of the revolt that is imminent. Nigerians have been pushed to the wall and there is no more ground for a retreat. The only available space is to push back against oppression, suppression and tyranny. It is common knowledge that poverty has been pervasive in Nigeria due to the failed economic policies of the Buhari administration and this has been confirmed by recent data from the National Bureau of Statistics in terms of rampaging multidimensional poverty. To further aggravate this precarious situation through acts of illegality will be the height of it all. Since the currency crisis, many more Nigerians have lost their means of livelihood, unemployment and misery have increased and the ability of private capital to generate goods and services and to add value has diminished.
For the avoidance of doubt, there is nothing wrong in the CBN redesigning the naira. The redesign and entire exercise would have been seamless if it was simply a monetary policy exercise. It would have been a walk in the park for Nigerians to pay in old notes and get new ones in exchange, while respecting the prudential limits of cash transactions as stated in the money laundering laws or any other valid extant subsidiary legislation. But there was an agenda of confusion that had nothing to do with monetary policy vis- to curb corruption and vote buying, to fight terrorism, etc. Then, the CBN had the more unsettling agenda of a cashless policy which it did not in any way take steps to ensure that the banking industry and Nigerians were prepared for.
The President has less than three months to the May 29 2023 terminal date of his administration and Nigerians wonder how he hopes to be remembered. Every individual and public official have the freedom of action and inaction, to perform or neglect duties, to obey the law or to hold it in contempt, etc. However, no individual writes his own history, nor imposes how he will be remembered on those he was supposed to serve or to generations yet unborn. History beckons and to our governors who initiated the Supreme Court proceedings, it is time to return to the court to start contempt proceedings because the judgment has been obeyed in the breach. ,
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