- Okays old N200, N500, N1000 notes as legal tenders till Dec 31
The Supreme Court, on Friday, came down hard on President Muhammadu Buhari for disobeying its order made on February 8, describing it as a sign of dictatorship. It then okayed the use of the old N200, N500 and N1000 banknotes as valid legal tenders in the country till December ending.
The apex court, in a unanimous decision by a seven-member panel of Justices, held that the old banknotes should remain in use until December 31.
It held that the old Naira notes should be used alongside the redesigned currencies, until the end of the year.
In its lead judgement that was prepared and delivered by Justice Emmanuel Agim, the apex court slammed FG for unilaterally introducing the demonetization policy, through the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, without consulting the Council of States, the Federal Executive Council, the National Security Council, the National Economic Council, Civil Society Organizations and other relevant stakeholders.
It also held that FG failed to give valid notice to all the federating units before it decided to withdraw the old banknotes from circulation and introduce new ones.
The Supreme Court maintained that evidence before it established that a purported notice on the monetary policy was through “mere press remarks” by the governor of the CBN, Godwin Emefiele.
It held that such remarks did not qualify as “reasonable notice” to the states as envisaged under section 20(3) of the CBN Act.
Besides, the court invalidated the directive President Muhammadu Buhari gave in the broadcast he made on February 16, which allowed only the old N200 note to remain a legal tender till April 10.
While accusing President Buhari of disobeying the interim order it made on February 8, which directed that the old banknotes should remain in use till the determination of the case before it, the apex court stressed that the President, by going ahead to ban the old banknotes, acted in a way that was inimical to democratic governance.
According to the court, having acted in disobedience to its order, FG, lost its right to be granted audience before it.
“I agree with the plaintiffs that the 1st Defendant ought not to have been heard by this court when he refused to respect the authority of this court and the authority of the law from which the authority of the President and government of Nigeria thrives.
“The rule of law upon which our democratic government is founded becomes illusion if the President of the country or any other authority or person refuses to obey the orders of court”.
“Disobedience of orders of court by the President is a sign of failure of the Constitution”, the apex court held, describing it as attempt to sacrifice democratic governance on the alter of autocracy.
Earlier, the court dismissed all the preliminary objections that FG raised against the consolidated suit that 16 states of the federation filed to challenge the Naira swap policy of the CBN.
It held that the suit qualified as a dispute between FG and the federating states, to which the Supreme Court has exclusive and original jurisdiction to determine.
The court held that the CBN, being an agency of FG, was not a necessary party that must be joined as a defendant before the legal dispute could be effectively resolved.
“In the light of the foregoing, I hold that all the preliminary objections lacked merit and they are accordingly dismissed”, the apex court added.
It will be recalled that the states had through their respective Attorneys-General, invoked the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to nullify FG’s ban the use of the old banknotes as valid legal tenders.
Though only three northern states- Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara- initially approached the apex court to halt planned full implementation of the Naira swap policy, however, more states later applied and were joined as interested parties in the legal dispute.
The states that were joined in the consolidated suit were; Lagos, Cross River, Ogun, Ekiti, Ondo, Sokoto, Jigawa, Kano, Rivers, Nasarawa, Niger, Abia, as well as President Muhammadu Buhari’s homestate, Katsina.
Likewise, though only the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, was initially sued as the sole defendant, both Edo and Bayelsa states subsequently persuaded the apex court to join as co-defendants in the matter.
The two state said they were fully in support of both FG and the CBN on the Naira swap policy.
Meanwhile, in the substantive suit marked: SC/CV/162/23, the plaintiffs prayed the apex court to declare that the demonetization policy of the federation being carried out by the CBN under the directive of President Buhari, was not in compliance with the extant provisions of the 1999, constitution, as amended, as well as the CBN Act, 2007.
They further sought a declaration that the three-month notice that was given by FG, through the CBN under the directive of President Buhari, “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”.
As well as, “A declaration that given the express provisions of Section 20(3) of the Central Bank of Nigeria Act 2007, the Federal Government of Nigeria, through the CBN, has no powers to issue a timeline for the acceptance and redeeming of banknotes issued by the Bank, except as limited by Section 22(1) of the CBN Act 2007. The Central Bank shall at all times redeem its bank notes”.
More so, the plaintiffs prayed for a declaration that President Buhari lacked the powers to unilaterally direct the CBN to withdraw the old banknotes and circulate redesigned currencies.
They urged the apex court to direct FG to immediately suspend the demonetisation policy until it complied with relevant provisions of the law.
The plaintiffs told the court that there has been an acute shortage in the supply of the redesigned naira notes in their respective states since the new monetary policy was introduced, adding that residents in their states that complied with CBN’s directive and deposited their old naira notes have increasingly found it difficult to access the new currency to conduct their daily businesses.
They contended that the inadequacy of the new naira notes as well as the haphazard manner in the monetary policy was being implemented, wrought serious hardship on residents in their states.
However, FG’s team of lawyers led by a former AGF, Kanu Agabi, SAN, and Tijjani Gazzali, SAN, prayed the court to dismiss all the issues that were raised by all the states that are opposed to the Naira redesign policy.
Agabi, SAN, equally prayed the court to dismiss the motion the states filed to void the directive President Buhari gave for only the old N200 note to remain a valid legal tender.
Contending that the Federal High Court was the appropriate place for the states to ventilate their grievance, Agabi, SAN, noted that though the states sought to commit the CBN Governor, Emefiele to prison for allegedly flouting the interim order, they, however, failed to join him or the apex bank as parties to the substantive suit.
The defendants argued that President Buhari’s decision to introduce the new monetary policy was to strengthen the financial system and check the rate of crime in the country.
While dismissing FG’s objections, the Supreme Court held that there was merit in the suit the aggrieved states brought before it.
It held that all the cases against the Naira swap policy would abide by the suit marked: SC/CV/162/23, which was filed by the initial plaintiffs.
The other suits the apex court consolidated and decided together, were marked: SC/CV/222/23, SC/CS/197/23, SC/CV/200/23, SC/CV/210/23, SC/CV/227/23, SC/CV/229/23 and SC/CV/303/23.
While Justice Inyang Okoro led the Apex court panel, other Justices that concurred with the lead judgement were Justices Amina Augie, Garba Lawal, Ibrahim Saulawa, Adamu Jauro and Tijjani Abubakar.