A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mike Ozekhome, has said that President Muhammadu Buhari unlawfully varied the Supreme Court’s order in his February 16 national broadcast on the naira redesign policy.
The legal luminary/activist said the President’s act was “a direct assault” on the authority of the apex court, the head of the Judiciary and the third arm of government.
He warned that Buhari’s order had invited chaos, anarchy and national upheaval, because, in his view, the Federal Government was using the naira redesign policy to “oppress and torment its citizens.
Last Wednesday, the Supreme Court, in a case filed by Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara States, barred the Federal Government, acting through the Central Bank of Nigeria or any other agent, from enforcing the February 10 deadline for the use of old naira notes.
In a unanimous ruling by a seven-member panel, led by Justice John Okoro, it held that the “interim injunction” will subsist “pending the hearing and determination of the plaintiffs/applicants’ motion on notice for interlocutory injunction.”
On Wednesday, the court said its February 8 order barring the Federal Government and its agencies from enforcing the February 10 deadline for the use of old N200, N500 and N1000 notes subsists.
But, despite touting his administration’s “respect” for the rule of law and admitting in his speech that “the subject matter is before the courts and some pronouncements have been made”, the President still disregarded the apex court’s order in part.
Buhari said: “To further ease the supply pressures particularly to our citizens, I have given approval to the CBN that the old N200 bank notes be released back into circulation and that it should also be allowed to circulate as legal tender with the new N200, N500, and N1000 banknotes for 60 days from February 10, 2023 to April 10 2023 when the old N200 notes ceases to be legal tender.”
But Ozekhome, in a statement on Friday morning, lampooned the President noting that due to no fault of theirs, Nigerians have now bought their own money with their own money at exorbitant exchange rates.
He said: “President Muhammadu Buhari unilaterally varied the apex court’s extant order of maintenance of status quo, by directing the CBN Governor to the effect that “the old N200 banknotes be released back into circulation…to circulate as legal tender with the new N200, N500 and N1000 bank notes for 60 days.
“The President then issued a dicta, more in the form of a military Decree, that, “in line with section 20 (3) of the CBN Act, 2007, all existing old N1000 and N500 notes remain redeemable at the CBN and designated prints.
“This order is a clear violation of and disobedience to the existing order of the apex court which had already maintained the status quo ante bellum of all parties involved in the Naira re-design dispute.”
The senior lawyer said following the adjournment of the state’s suit against the Federal Government till February 22, for full hearing, “Every Nigerian had expected that the Federal Government would respect the apex court’s position.
“But President Buhari demurred. He made himself Supreme Leader; an Emperor; Potentate, Mikado and Overlord.
“Buhari’s broadcast to the nation therefore literally overruled the Supreme Court of the land, in a way and manner only a military tyrant could ever contemplate.
“Buhari’s action is a reminder of the apocryphal saying of autocratic and despotic Emperor Louis XIV, who, on 13th April, 1655, stood in front of Parliament and imperiously declared, ‘L’Etat C’est Moi (I am the State).”
He reasoned that for the President to have “whimsically and capriciously” varied the apex court’s order is the same as picking and choosing what order to obey or disobey.
According to him, this breaches the supremacy of the 1999 Constitution provided for in section 1(1) and also “frontally assaults” section 287(1) of the Constitution which provides that “the decisions of the Supreme Court shall be enforced in any part of the Federation by all authorities and persons, and by courts with subordinate jurisdiction to that of the Supreme Court.”
The lawyer explained that once given, an order of the court is binding on all.
Ozekhome urged the court to punish the Federal Government for contempt.
He said: “This is one instance where the apex court should bare its teeth and bite. This is more so because President Buhari had himself acknowledged in his speech, the pendency of the matter before the Supreme Court. Surely, no one is above the law; not even President Muhammadu Buhari himself.
“Buhari’s broadcast rather than be re-assuring and balming the frayed nerves of a traumatized citizenry and a beleaguered nation, was the exact opposite; a complete anti-climax. It was a clarion call for total disenchantment, disillusionment, despair and desolation.
“The speech was not only highly unpresidential; but was vividly insensate and insensitive to the suffering of Nigerian citizens, who, due to no fault of theirs, can neither now use the old currency, nor access the new one.
“Banks claim not to have the new currency in their vaults.
“What manner of government would consciously and deliberately throw its country into a spin, and its citizens under the bus, in a policy that could have been handled with better planning and more decency, efficiency and human face?
“This is the first time in my life I watched Nigerians buy money with money – buying Naira with Naira – at exorbitant exchange rates.”
Three persons reportedly died last Wednesday in Benin, Edo State after a protest at the entrance of the state branch of the Central Bank of Nigeria turned violent.
There have also been violent protests in Edo, Oyo, Delta, Kwara, Ondo, Benue and Akwa Ibom over the matter.
The lawyer noted that other countries, such the United Kingdom in September 2022, redesigned their currencies “There were no violent protests or any upheavals because the citizens immediately bought into the historic and laudable project, as it afforded them enough time to put their house in order.
“We have seen the ugly scenes of frustrated Nigerians fighting at ATMs; or going completely nude; students and soldiers fighting each other; some POS holders being burnt alive; while Police shot and killed unarmed Nigerians.
“Are we a cursed nation, that an otherwise beautiful policy whose fiscal, monetary, economic, and development advantages are unquantifiable should be so mishandled and so grossly messed up as to lead to widespread national protests; burning of banks; destruction; mayhem and killings. Just what is wrong with us as a Nation? I do not know; or do you?”
He also noted similar currency redesigns by Russia and China with any chaos.
Ozekhome said: “Chinese currency comes by two names – the Chinese Yuan (CNY) and the People’s Renminbi (RMB). The distinction is subtle: because while the Renminbi is the official currency of China, the Yuan is the principal unit of account for that currency.
“Today, the Renminbi is one of the top-five most-used currencies in the world, in addition to the U.S. Dollar, Euro, Yen, and the British Pound.
“Yet, the Naira which is not even recognised as a legal tender in any part of the world is being used by the government to oppress and torment its citizens.”
He added that in December, 2019, eight West African countries agreed to change the name of their common currencies to ECO without any problems.
“Yet, some Nigerians, for political exigencies or correctness, are shamelessly celebrating a bare-faced assault on the common man and woman and the authority of the Supreme Court.”
According to him, “this was the same way despotic Hitler of Germany was celebrated, applauded and deified during the third Reich, until it became irredeemably too late to retreat.”
Ozekhome added: “Though having a cashless economy appears quite inviting, appealing, titillating and tantalizing, it must be appreciated that advanced countries such as the UK, US and the EU that have full complement of infrastructure, still use coins.
“A cent in the US, or a penny in the UK are still valued and in wide circulation. When last did you see one Kobo, five Kobo or ten Kobo coins in Nigeria? I have not seen any for years. Or have you?”