ADELANI ADEPEGBA writes on the reluctance of the Muhammadu Buhari regime to obey the Supreme Court order on the legal tender status of the old naira notes and how it finally succumbed to public pressure
Ten days after the Supreme Court extended the legal tender status of the old N200, N500, and N1,000 notes until December 31, the Central Bank of Nigeria reluctantly announced its compliance with the judgment in a late Monday night statement.
It added that the decision was taken during a bankers’ committee meeting in compliance with ‘the established tradition of obedience to court orders and sustenance of the rule of law.’ The directive signalled the end of the untold hardship faced by Nigerians for the past three months.
But the arrogant defiance of the order of the apex court, and insensitivity to the hardship occasioned by the thoughtless and poorly implemented naira redesign policy marked a terrible denouement to the eight years of the Muhammadu Buhari regime.
Apparently taking a cue from the President who has over the years displayed utter disregard for court orders despite pretensions to the rule of law, the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, withstood public pressure, ignored appeals and also scorned threats of a contempt charge in open resistance to reason and the law. The CBN’s delayed action on the apex court judgment is the icing on Buhari’s disrespect for judicial orders.
In the three months, the battle against the CBN policy lasted, there was acute scarcity of cash across the country which resulted in riots, the destruction of businesses and property and the death of many citizens.
The commercial banks failed to cope with the exigency of the crisis. An increase in failed payment transactions in February caused a 4.83 per cent decrease in the value of cashless transactions to N37.67tn from the N39.58tn that was recorded in January 2023.
This came as the usage of e-payment gateways recorded a 41.29 per cent month-on-month increase according to new data from Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System. Claims that the economy was ready for the cashless policy turned out to be false as the banking system failed the stress test as demonstrated by the alarming increase in the number of failed transactions.
Before the barbarism provoked by the CBN policy played out, the governments of Kaduna, Zamfara and Kogi States had on February 3 dragged the Federal Government to the Supreme Court to challenge the policy. On February 8, the court in its wisdom restrained the FG from ending the legal status of the old naira notes on February 10 as announced by the CBN.
Justice John Okoro issued an order of interim injunction “restraining the Federal Government through the Central Bank of Nigeria or the commercial banks from suspending or determining or ending on 10 February, the time frame with which the now older version of the 200, 500 and 1,000 denominations of the naira may no longer be legal tender pending the hearing and determination of their motion on notice for interlocutory injunction.”
The application, being ex parte, was not served on the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, SAN, who was sued in the case as the representative of the Federal Government. Only the applicants’ lawyer, Abdulrakeem Mustapha, SAN, was heard by the court.
Okoro, after listening to the applicants’ lawyer granted the application as prayed, a decision he said his panel took after “a careful consideration.” The court, after issuing the order, adjourned until February 15 for a hearing of the main suit.
On the next adjourned date, the court joined the Attorneys-General of Katsina, Lagos, Ondo, Ogun, Ekiti and Sokoto States as co-plaintiffs. The AGs of Edo and Bayelsa states were joined as co-respondents while the matter was extended by one week till February 22.
Thinking himself to be the state and above the law, Buhari in a broadcast on February 16 directed that only the N200 note will remain legal tender for the next 60 days. In flagrant violation of the restraining order made by the apex court, he said the old N500 and N1,000 notes had ceased to be legal tender and should be returned to the CBN. The order generated widespread anger and strengthened the notion that the President has scant regard for the courts.
Governors who are naturally deferential to Buhari came short of calling him a tyrant. Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai asked the residents of his state to discountenance the President’s directive.
In a counter-state broadcast, the governor said, “The address by the President earlier this morning limiting the legal tender status of old notes to only N200 amounts to total disregard and disobedience of the ruling of February 8 which was extended further yesterday by the Supreme Court.
“The misguided action of the Attorney-General to mislead the President into engaging in this public violation of the order of the highest court of the land shows how desperate the policy architects are to cause national chaos, by showing open contempt for the judiciary.”
The authorities in Kano, Sokoto, Katsina, Bayelsa, Zamfara, Ogun, Lagos and Kwara States also directed residents to continue spending the old notes, insisting that the Supreme Court order remained valid.
However, the growing anger over the cash crisis soon boiled over as protesting customers torched banks and destroyed Automated Teller Machines in Edo and Delta states. The violence, which paralysed social and economic activities in the two states, also claimed three lives while many others were injured during the riot.
The protests equally spread to Ogun, Oyo, Ondo, Benue and Kwara states. Residents vented their anger over the scarcity of cash which had made life unbearable for many Nigerians. Traders in border communities were forced to accept CFAs due to the scarcity of naira notes.
While the citizens who have been largely impoverished by the economic policies of the All Progressives Congress regime lamented the ill-conceived naira redesign initiative which had further compounded their existential challenges, the AGF and the CBN governor were aloof and unconcerned.
On March 3, a seven-man panel of the Supreme Court led by Justice Okoro delivered its much-awaited judgment. The verdict which was described as a victory for the people held that the old notes will remain legal tender till December 31. The court said the President breached the constitution in the manner he issued directives for the redesigning of the naira.
On the disobedience of the Supreme Court’s earlier order on the new notes, Justice Emmanuel Agim said Buhari’s broadcast that only the N200 note should remain legal tender made the country’s democracy look like a mere pretension.
Berating the retired general for his hypocritical pretensions, Agim stated, “The rule of law upon which our democratic governance is founded becomes illusory if the President of the country or any authority or person refuses to obey the orders of courts.
“The disobedience of orders of courts by the President in a constitutional democracy as ours is a sign of the failure of the constitution and that democratic governance has become a mere pretension and is now replaced by autocracy or dictatorship.”
Characteristic of the Katsina man in the Presidential Villa, there was no reaction from the Presidency for 10 days after the reprimand from the temple of justice. Media inquiries about compliance with the judicial order were equally rebuffed by Buhari’s aides.
Dismayed by the lack of respect for the court order, the Nigerian Bar Association demanded immediate obedience to the judgment, insisting that Nigerians can no longer tolerate any form of dictatorship in a democratic government exemplified by the disobedience to the judgment by the President and his AGF.
“We cannot under any guise or pretence accept or tolerate any appearance of autocracy or dictatorship. Our system of democratic governance has come to stay, it must not only be respected by all and sundry but must also be jealously guarded and protected,’’ the NBA President, Yakubu Maikyau, SAN, insisted.
Roused from its slumber by the summer heat of pressure from angry Nigerians, the Presidency said at no time did Buhari instruct the AGF and CBN governor to disobey any court orders involving the government and other parties.
Washing his hands off the debacle in his usual manner, Buhari in a farcical statement by his media aide, Garba Shehu stated, “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.’’
Instances, however, abound of Buhari’s disobedience to court orders. His regime’s disregard for court orders in cases involving former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki; Islamic Movement in Nigeria leader, Ibrahim El-ZakZaky, Aluminium Smelter Company of Nigeria was well documented.
A legal adviser to Amnesty International, Dr Kolawole Olaniyan, posited that since assuming office in 2015, the President has shown “stunning disregard for the rule of law and human rights, ignoring Nigerian judges on at least 40 occasions.”
The London-based lawyer, who accused the President of treating judges with disdain, also questioned the sincerity of his anti-corruption fight. Olaniyan made the claims in a piece titled, ‘Buhari is ignoring Nigerian judges – We must not let him get away with it.’
As the economy returns to normalcy and the nation transitions to another administration, Nigerians are not likely to forget the naira redesign imbroglio and the characters responsible for its calamitous aftermath. Perhaps, their day of reckoning may come sooner or later.