Supreme Court order on naira redesign: After Buhari’s blast, NLC, governors’ threat, Emefiele surrenders

Buhari with Emefiele

The Presidency Monday said President Muhammadu Buhari never directed Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami, SAN, and Governor  Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Godwin Emefiele to defy the order of the Supreme Court that the old N1000, N500 and N200 banknotes remain legal tender till December 31, 2023.

The clarification followed the hues and cries generated by the CBN’s noncompliance with the apex court order given some 11 days ago.

Emefiele surrenders

And no sooner had the Presidency spoken; the CBN announced that the old N200, N500 and N1000 notes remain legal tender until December 31, 2023.

A statement Monday night by CBN’s spokesman, Isa Abdulmumin, said: “In compliance with the established tradition of obedience to court orders and sustenance of the Rule of Law Principle that characterized the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, and by extension, the operations of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), as a regulator, Deposit Money Banks operating in Nigeria have been directed to comply with the Supreme Court ruling of March 3, 2023.”

“Accordingly, the CBN met with the Bankers’ Committee and has directed that the old N200, N500 and N1000 banknotes remain legal tender alongside the redesigned banknotes till December 31, 2023,” it added.

The trio of Kaduna, Zamfara and Kogi state governments had approached the Supreme Court over the scarcity of naira occasioned by the CBN redesign policy.

Specifically, they urged the apex court to grant them an interim injunction stopping the federal government and the CBN from ending the validity of the old notes February 10, 2023 as earlier announced by the apex bank.

Of course, the court granted their prayers for an interim injunction as it pronounced that the status quo remains, but this was not obeyed as consumers and business owners remained at war over the validity or otherwise of the old naira notes.

While the interim injunction subsisted, President Buhari, in a national broadcast, announced N200 as the only legal tender of the three denominations ordered by the Supreme Court, citing his administration’s anti-corruption fight as reason.  

With cash crunch, business activities suffered as the CBN and deposit banks were working at cross-purpose over compliance with the court order.

Presidency clarifies   

However, 11 days after the ruling, the logjam reached a crescendo Monday when the Presidency clarified that Buhari never had a hand in the noncompliance with the Supreme Court order by both Malami and Emefiele.

Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity Garba Shehu said this in a statement issued in Abuja.

He said at no time did the President instruct the Attorney General of the Federation and the CBN Governor to disobey any court orders involving the government and other parties.

The statement reads: “The Presidency wishes to react to some public concerns that President Muhammadu Buhari did not react to the Supreme Court judgement on the issue of the N500 and N1,000 old currency notes, and states here plainly and clearly that at no time did he instruct the Attorney General and the CBN Governor to disobey any court orders involving the government and other parties.

“Since the President was sworn into office in 2015, he has never directed anybody to defy court orders, in the strong belief that we can’t practise democracy without the rule of law and the commitment of his administration to this principle has not changed. 

“Following the ongoing intense debate about the compliance concerning the legality of the old currency notes, the Presidency therefore wishes to state clearly that President Buhari has not done anything knowingly and deliberately to interfere with or obstruct the administration of justice. 

“The President is not a micromanager and will not, therefore, stop the Attorney General and the CBN Governor from performing the details of their duties in accordance with the law. In any case, it is debatable at this time if there is proof of willful denial by the two of them on the orders of the apex court.

“The directive of the President, following the meeting of the Council of State is that the Bank must make available for circulation all the money that is needed and nothing has happened to change the position. 

“It is an established fact that the President is an absolute respecter of judicial process and the authority of the courts. He has done nothing in the last eight or so years to act in any way to obstruct the administration of justice, cause lack of confidence in the administration of justice, or otherwise interfere or corrupt the courts and there is no reason whatsoever that he should do so now when he is getting ready to leave office. 

“The negative campaign and personalised attacks against the President by the opposition and all manner of commentators is unfair and unjust, as no court order at any level has been issued or directed at him.

“As for the cashless system the CBN is determined to put in place, it is a known fact that many of the country’s citizens, who bear the brunt of the sufferings, surprisingly support the policy as they believe that the action would cut corruption, fight terrorism, build an environment of honesty and reinforce the incorruptible leadership of the President. 

“It is therefore wide off the mark to blame the President for the current controversy over the cash scarcity, despite the Supreme Court judgement. The CBN has no reason not to comply with court orders on the excuse of waiting for directives from the President. 

“President Buhari has also rejected the impression that he lacks compassion, saying that ‘no government in our recent history has introduced policies to help economically marginalised and vulnerable groups like the present administration.”

Govs threaten

In a related development, the Kaduna, Zamfara and Kogi state governments may drag Malami and Emefiele to court for contempt of court if they failed to comply Tuesday (today).

Counsel for Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara states, Abdulhakeem Usman Mustapha, SAN, said Malami was served with the enrolled order and the Certified True Copy (CTC) of the judgment.

“The Attorney-General of the Federation has been served now and we will take it up from there; if there is no compliance now, we will commence committal proceedings against the attorney-general and the CBN governor,” Mustapha said.

But giving an update on the move to enforce compliance with the order of the apex court on Sunday, the Zamfara State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Junaidu Aminu, revealed that since the federal government had refused to implement the judgment, the plaintiffs in the suit would approach the court again to ensure compliance with the court’s order.

Also speaking in that regard, Junaidu Aminu, said: “We have just served the Attorney General of the Federation with the Certified True Copy of the Enrolled Order of the Supreme Court last Friday. We are waiting for them to respect the court’s decision on the naira notes and comply with the decision. If they fail to comply on Monday, we are filing our case on Tuesday.’’

He said the CBN boss must address Nigerians on the naira notes issued on or before Monday (today), noting that “that is what Nigerians are waiting for.”

“If he fails to do so, we will go back to court again to sue him and the Federal Government on contempt charges,’’ he warned.

NLC issues ultimatum  

Also, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has issued a seven-day ultimatum to the federal government to urgently address the cash scarcity or face industrial action.

Speaking shortly after the National Administrative Council (NAC) and the Central Working Committee (CWC) meeting, NLC President Comrade Joe Ajaero directed workers to remain at home at the expiration of the ultimatum. 

“The Congress wishes to inform the federal government that we will no longer keep quiet to this issue of perennial fuel scarcity and arbitrary increase of petroleum products prices. 

“The issue of cash crunch, the NLC is giving the federal government of Nigeria, the agencies of government including the Central Bank of Nigeria, and top banking institutions, seven working days to address the issue of the cash crunch. 

“If they failed to do this at the expiration of the seven days, the Congress is directing all workers in the country to stay at home because it has become very difficult to even assess one naira to enter vehicles to your workplace. 

“It is difficult for even to buy products, especially from traders who don’t have bank accounts. This is the situation we have found ourselves”.

On the old notes, Ajaero said: “The federal government came out with the policy that even the old currency notes are still valid. What we have discovered is that even when the banks give you those old currencies, the traders are not accepting it. 

“And even when you take it to the same banks, the banks are not accepting it either. We are being frustrated to a level that we can no longer keep quiet.”

On the political situation in the country, the NLC President said “We are urging all gladiators to remember that the interest of this country is paramount to all of us and they should do everything reasonably possible to make sure that the system is maintained. The courts are there where they will take their matters to and we urge the courts to do justice to the issues brought to them.”

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