On October 26, 2022, the Central Bank of Nigeria announced the introduction of redesigned N200, N500, and N1,000 notes into the financial system.
But since the notes were unveiled, Nigerians across different parts of the country have had a hard time accessing them from commercial banks and ATM points.
Amid the chaos caused by the scarcity of the new notes, the CBN was forced to extend the deadline for the phasing out of the old notes from its initial January 31, 2023 deadline to February 10, 2023. Despite the extension, many Nigerians working in the informal sector of the economy have had to scramble for the new notes while others lamented their inability to withdraw their hard-earned money from their bank accounts.
There were allegations of hoarding on the part of the commercial banks, while some mobile cash point vendors have been exploiting the situation by dispensing new notes to customers at skyrocketed prices.
“IF NIGERIA AND NIGERIANS CANNOT OBEY COURT ORDERS, HOW DO THE COUNTRY AND HER CITIZENS INSTILL CONFIDENCE IN THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY TO COME INTO THE COUNTRY TO MAKE INVESTMENTS?”
At one point, the Governor of the CBN, Godwin Emefiele, asked Nigerians to be “patient and join the bank queues” to access their money.
In the middle of the cash squeeze quagmire, President Muhammadu Buhari during a meeting with the Progressive Governors’ Forum also urged citizens to give him seven days to resolve the cash crunch that had stifled productive engagements across the country.
As Nigerians besieged commercial banks nationwide to access cash, several videos surfaced online showing frustrated customers vandalising bank properties due to their inability to get cash from banks’ ATMs.
In the midst of the melee, anti-graft agencies and the Department of State Security equally arrested a number of citizens caught hawking the naira notes. Despite the government’s best efforts thus far, the chaos has worsened the hardship being faced by Nigerians in major cities and rural communities.
The CBN had extended the deadline for the swap of old N200, N500, and N1,000 from January 31 to February 10 following complaints by many Nigerians but the Supreme Court held that the Federal Government, the CBN, commercial banks must not continue with the deadline pending the determination of a notice in respect of the issue.
A seven-member panel of Justices of the apex court led by Justice John Okoro ordered the suspension of the policy while ruling on an ex parte motion filed by some state governors. On Wednesday, February 15, the Supreme Court adjourned the suit to February 22 and ruled that the old notes should remain legal tender until the determination of the suit.
But President Buhari, in a nationwide address on Thursday, announced that the old N500 and N1, 000 bills are no longer recognized as legal tender. In a nationwide broadcast, President Buhari directed the CBN to allow the new notes available to all citizens.
President Buhari also directed the CBN to release old N200 notes into circulation to co-exist with new N200, N500, and N1,000 banknotes for 60 days.
He, however, said old N500 and N1,000 banknotes are no longer legal tender in Nigeria. From the legal perspective, the national broadcast by President Buhari on the naira redesign is seen as contempt of court. It is our opinion that the president cannot overrule the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
We recall that 10 state governors, Kaduna, Kogi, Zamfara, Katsina, Lagos, Cross River, Ogun, Ekiti, Ondo and Sokoto, have dragged the Federal Government to the Supreme Court over the naira redesign policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria CBN, which introduced new N200, N500 and N1, 000 banknotes and directed the old notes ceased to be legal tender from February 10, 2023.
The Supreme Court however adjourned the suit till February 22, 2023. With his February 16, 2023 broadcast, President Buhari flouted the principle of the separation of powers, because there is a separation of powers in a democracy. Under section 235 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the Supreme Court is the final authority in legal pronouncements in Nigeria.
Under section 287(1) of the Constitution (as amended), the President is statutorily obliged to obey, enforce and give effect to the decision of the Supreme Court. Section 287(1) of the 1999 Constitution: says that (1) 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.”
We see President Buhari’s broadcast as sad for our democracy. Since the President admitted in his national broadcast that the matter is subjudice, he should not have proceeded to vary the order of the Supreme Court.
The president and indeed the executive should not give the impression that citizens can brazenly disregard lawful orders of any court, as that will only encourage anarchy and lawlessness. The presidential broadcast amounts to an executive rascality and brazen disregard and contempt of the Supreme Court, for the President to separate the denomination of the old notes for legality.
It is not open to the President to choose which portion of the order of the Supreme Court that will be obeyed. The President has not set a good precedent because the international community is watching and won’t have confidence in the country’s democracy and judicial process. If Nigeria and Nigerians cannot obey court orders, how do the country and her citizens instill confidence in the international community to come into the country to make investments? President Buhari should have allowed the Supreme Court to settle the matter rather than intervening early in the process. The Supreme Court should overrule the President’s directive on February 22 when the case comes up.