- Says ‘I didn’t tell CBN, AGF to disobey court orders’
- CBN bows to pressure, declares old banknotes legal tender till Dec 2023
- NLC gives FG seven-day ultimatum to address cash crunch
BY TIMOTHY AGBOR, BAMIDELE FAMOFOO, BENEDICT NWACHUKWU, FESTUS OKOROMADU AND MAYOWA SAMUEL
In a shocking volte-face that jolted the entire country on Monday, President Muhammadu Buhari, in what apparently amounted to blaming the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele and the Attorney General and Minister for Justice, Abubakar Malami, for the inexplicable delay in obeying the March 3 Supreme Court ruling on the naira redesign policy, said the CBN had no reason not to comply with the ruling of the apex court.
Not knowing who to blame for the curious continued delay in complying with the court order after 11 days, the President distanced himself from the long silence which has subjected most Nigerians to untold hardship.
In a press statement released by the President’s Senior Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, Buhari stated unequivocally that he did not instruct Emefiele and Malami to disobey “any court orders involving the government and other parties.”
The statement was an obvious reaction to public concerns that Buhari had not responded to the Supreme Court ruling of March 3 which ordered that the old N200, N500 and N1, 000 notes should continue to circulate alongside their redesigned counterparts as legal tender until December 31, 2023.
“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,” the statement said.
Shehu stated that the President had never “directed anybody to defy court orders, in the strong belief that we can’t practice democracy without the rule of law and the commitment of his administration to this principle has not changed.”
The statement, absolving Buhari of any wrongdoing with regard to compliance with the apex court order on the legality of the old naira notes, said, “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.”
According to Shehu, however, “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.”
Shehu added that Buhari’s directive following the meeting of the Council of State was that the apex bank should make available for circulation all the money that was needed “and nothing has happened to change the position.”
Stating that Buhari has been “an absolute respecter of judicial process and the authority of the courts” since his assumption of office about eight years ago, Shehu maintained that, “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,” the statement added.
Shehu further stated that it was “off the mark” to blame “President for the current controversy over the cash scarcity, despite the Supreme Court judgement,” insisting that “the CBN has no reason not to comply with court orders on the excuse of waiting for directives from the President.”
The statement added that Buhari 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.”
A seven-member panel of the Supreme Court led by Justice John Okoro had directed on March 3 that the old notes should remain in circulation as legal tender until December 31, 2023.
The court had ruled that Buhari’s directive in a February 16 nationwide broadcast that only the old N200 notes were to remain valid and in circulation with the new notes until April 10 while outlawing the old N500 and N1,000 notes, was “without due consultation.”
The panel, in a judgement read by Emmanuel Agim, condemned Buhari’s decision to go against the court’s order of February 8 which held that the old N200, N500 and N1, 000 notes should continue to circulate alongside the new ones pending the hearing and determination of a suit before it.
CBN BOWS TO PRESSURE, SAYS OLD BANKNOTES REMAIN LEGAL TENDER TILL DEC 2023
On its part, the CBN said the old N200, N500 and N1000 Naira notes must now be spent in the country until December 31, 2023.
This declaration was made by the CBN through a statement signed by its Acting Director of Corporate Communications, Isa AbdulMumin on Monday.
According to the CBN, “The decision is 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 as a regulator.”
Furthermore, the CBN said it has directed all Deposit Money Banks (Commercial Banks) operating in the country to comply with the Supreme Court ruling of March 3, 2023.
The CBN disclosed that it has met with the Bankers’ Committee and directed the Chief Executive Officers of banks to comply with the directive that the old N200, N500 and N1,000 banknotes remain legal tender alongside the redesigned banknotes till December 31, 2023.
COLLECT OLD NOTES OR BE SHUT DOWN, SANWO-OLU THREATENS BANKS, TRADERS
Meanwhile, Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, has directed residents of the State to go ahead and have transactions with the old Naira notes, saying Lagosians should feel free to use the old notes for commercial purposes.
Governor Sanwo-Olu gave the directive in a letter he wrote and addressed to Lagosians on Monday.
The Governor said his directive on collection of the old Naira note is based on the Supreme Court verdict, which extended the validity of the notes to December 31, 2023, and the Bankers Committee’s directive to the commercial banks during its meeting on Sunday, March 12, 2023.
Governor Sanwo-Olu, who expressed his displeasure at the difficulties and pains Lagosians are currently facing over the Naira redesign issues, said Lagos State Government will sanction any business that fails to collect the old notes, warning that any bank branch that failed to collect would be shut down immediately and reported to the CBN.
He told Lagos residents to lodge complaints against any bank that refuses to accept deposits of old notes to the Lagos State Consumer Protection Agency.
The statement reads in part: “My dear Lagosians, I have noted the difficulties you have been having over the naira redesign crisis. I feel your pain.
“I discussed with top officials in CBN who assured me that commercial banks were directed to accept the old N500 and N1, 000 notes as deposits and pay them out for withdrawals. They informed me that commercial banks got the directive at a Bankers Committee meeting on Sunday, March 12, 2023.
“I, therefore, urge you to go ahead and have transactions with the old notes. Lagosians should feel free to use the old notes for commercial purposes. Retailers, transporters, traders and all businesses must not reject them, as they remain legal tender, following the Supreme Court verdict, which extends the validity of the notes to December 31, 2023.”
Governor Sanwo-Olu warned that: “Any business that fails to collect the notes will be heavily sanctioned. I, therefore, advise Lagos residents to freely accept and transact their businesses with the old currency notes (N200; N500; and N1, 000) as well as the new notes.
“If any bank refuses to accept deposits of old notes, please lodge a complaint with the Lagos State Consumer Protection Agency (LASCOPA) via these numbers; 08124993895, 09064323154, 08092509777.
“The Lagos State Government will report the bank to the CBN and immediately shut down the offending branch.
“I thank you so much and assure you that all this too shall pass as the authorities are working to ensure that the teething problems of the redesigning of our currency are resolved.”
DISOBEDIENCE OF COURT RULE, IMPEACHABLE OFFENCE – EXPERTS
Also, a legal expert, Liborous Oshoma, has said the refusal of any government personnel to obey court ruling is an impeachable offence.
“This is an impeachable offense ordinarily, the disobedience to court order by any government who has sworn to uphold the rule of law, there’s no need to call on anybody. By now, the National Assembly should have activated the instrumentality of the law to call on the president to come defend himself why he’s so vehemently disobeying the court order and refusing to abide by the same law he swore to abide and uphold. Like I said, we are ruled not by law but by the rule of knights, everybody will beg the president to inform the CBN governor to obey the rule of law.
“If the CBN governor on his own decided not to, by now, the president would have asked him to proceed on leave or go on suspension for disobedience to court order or committal proceedings but he’s not a party to the matter. By now, the Attorney General of the Federation would have initiated committal proceedings against him. Unfortunately, since we are governed by the rule of knights, I think the governors also will arm twist the Federal Government to ensure that they comply with the court order. That’s the unfortunate part we found ourselves in. We wanted to catch a rabbit but we set the whole place on fire, at the end of the day, the rabbit used the bush you set on fire to navigate through, and at the end of the day, it came out unscratched. The people now whose rooms have been set on fire are the ones suffering and bearing the brunt.”
Muda Yusuf, Director/CEO, Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise, disclosed that the protracted acute cash scarcity has not only crippled economic activities in the country, it is now a major risk to the livelihoods of most Nigerians.
Yusuf, a former Director General of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry also claimed that millions of citizens have slipped into penury and destitution as a result of the disruptions and tribulations perpetrated by the currency redesign policy, especially the mopping up of over 70 percent of cash in the economy.
“Nigerians have not been this traumatised in recent history. The economy is gradually grinding to a halt because of the collapse of payment systems across all platforms. Digital platforms are performing sub-optimally because of congestion; physical cash is unavailable because the CBN has sucked away over 70% of cash in the economy; and the expected relief from the Supreme Court judgment has not materialised. The citizens are consequently left in a quandary,” he lamented.
The CPPE boss noted that retail transactions across sectors have become nerve-wracking and distressing as payment system challenges persist. Since the onset of the cash crisis, the Nigerian economy has lost an estimated N20 trillion. These losses arose from the deceleration of economic activities, the crippling of trading activities, the stifling of the informal economy, contraction in the agricultural sector and the paralysis of the rural economy. There are also corresponding job losses in the hundreds of thousands.
He also noted with dismay that President Buhari did not seem to appreciate the gravity and enormity of the suffering and pain that Nigerians have been experiencing since the onset of the currency redesign policy.
“We again plead with the President to immediately intervene to put an end to the devastating and traumatic outcomes of a repressive, poorly conceptualized and badly implemented currency redesign policy,” he said.
A Civil Society Organisation, Better Governance for Nigeria, described the reaction of President Muhammadu Buhari as an afterthought portraying him as a ruler who does not have the well-being of the citizens at heart.
Coordinator of the group, Alheri Abdallah, said the country has by the effect of the policy been drawn miles backwards leading to hopelessness of the citizens.
Abdallah further stated that Nigerians were waiting for the President to make pronouncement after the Supreme Court Orders but his reaction never came till some hours ago through a statement from his media aide.
“It’s really unfortunate that we found ourselves in this untold hardship orchestrated by a hasty policy that was not adequately deliberated by those concerned before it was thrown up.
“How can our president claim to have our welfare and well-being at heart when he felt unconcerned about our suffering. He was busy traveling leaving us at the mercy of the CBN Governor, Emefiele. Some of us know that Emefiele was a mere errand boy as far as this matter was concerned but they used him as a shield. It’s unfortunate.”
The BGN coordinator argued that though Nigerians were ready to assimilate the cashless policy but as it unfolded the proof that it was not meant to improve the economy of the country was exposed otherwise, there would not have been any reason committing the blunders that now ensures that the phased out naira denominations now runs side by side with the redesigned naira.
“I want to say that those who came up with the policy almost stole our hearts. We welcomed it and even started to flow with it, but we later found out that there was no sincerity on the part of the government and those propagating the policy. Has it happened anywhere in the country that the redesign of currency experienced back and forth? No. It can only be in Nigeria because those at the helm of affairs do not care about what happens to the common man. This is the reason our sufferings do not touch them.”
NLC GIVES FG SEVEN-DAY ULTIMATUM TO ADDRESS CASH CRUNCH
Also, the Nigeria Labour Congress is planning to order workers to sit at home if in seven days the Federal Government fails to address the current cash crunch.
Its President, Joe Ajaero, made the declaration on Monday in Abuja at the end of an emergency meeting of the Central Working Committee of the NLC.
He noted that Nigerians had suffered enough from the cashless policy of the CBN.
“The NLC is giving the Federal Government and agencies under it, including the CBN and other banking institutions seven working days to address the cash crunch.
“If they fail to do so at the expiration of the seven working days, the Congress is directing all workers in the country to stay at home.
“This is because it has become very difficult to access even one naira, especially by traders who do not have bank accounts.
“We have also discovered that even when banks give out old currencies, they cannot be spent. Even when you take them back to the same banks, they do not accept them.
“We have been frustrated to a level that we can no longer keep quiet,” Ajaero said.
The NLC president also lamented difficulties being experienced at petrol stations.
“At fuel stations where there is petrol, it sells for as much as N350 a litre in some parts of the country.
“We will no longer be quiet about this issue of perennial fuel scarcity and arbitrary increase in prices,’’ he said.