By Kayode Oyero
The controversy over the February 10 deadline for the validity of three old naira notes assumed another dimension on Wednesday as the Supreme Court of Nigeria restrained the Federal Government from implementing the February 10 deadline for the old 200, 500 and 1000 naira notes.
On the same day, Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami asked the apex court to dismiss the suit filed by three state governments challenging the naira redesign policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
The governments of Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara states are behind the suit.
Interestingly, all three states are controlled by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
In the motion ex-parte on February 3 filed by their lawyer, AbdulHakeem Mustapha (SAN), the three states prayed the apex court to halt the CBN naira redesign policy, just after five political parties took the matter to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court and secured an order barring the Federal Government and the apex bank from any extension of the deadline.
However, a seven-man panel of the Supreme Court led by Justice John Okoro, in a unanimous ruling on Wednesday, granted an interim injunction restraining the Federal Government, the CBN and commercial banks from implementing the February 10, deadline for the old 200, 500 and 1000 Naira notes to stop being a legal tender.
The court further held that the FG, CBN, commercial banks must not continue with the deadline pending the determination of a notice in respect of the issue on February 15.
‘Draconian, Insensitive Policy’
Governors Nasir El-Rufai (Kaduna), Bello Matawalle (Zamfara), and Yahaya Bello (Kogi) have already commended the Supreme Court order while a governor under of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Nyesom Wike also hailed the order and vowed to join the APC governors in the suit which will be determined on February 15.
In a statement by his spokesman, Adekeye, El-Rufai thanked the Supreme Court justices for their decision, describing the CBN policy as a ’’callous decision to deny people access to their deposited cash.’’
The governor described the policy as a “threat to public welfare and economic activities” that would have been condemned as “draconian and insensitive were it being pursued by an occupying power”.
‘’Like other elected APC state governments, we have advised that this should be based on a whole of government approach that pulls together all the necessary institutions of the federal and state governments, and recognizes global best practices and reasonable timeline for implementation,’’ he added.
Also, Matawalle said, “The decision of our wise and revered Supreme Court Judges on this matter is the best way to address the current problem and its impending consequences at the moment.
“At this critical time of our transition, it is only patriotic for all of us to put political considerations aside and address the challenges at hand so that together, we can cross the bridge ahead of us.”
After the ruling, the lawyer to the three state governments, Mustapha said Zamfara, Kogi and Kaduna dragged the Federal Government and the apex bank to the highest court because the policy is causing hardship on Nigerians, especially those in the rural areas.
He also averred that the Supreme Court was asked to intervene because the matter has become a dispute between state governments and the Federal Government.
“We invoke the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court when there is a dispute between the state government and the Federal Government. It is one of the few occasions where the Supreme Court act as the original jurisdiction. So, we invoked the powers of the Supreme Court to hear this application,” the senior advocate said.
Emefiele In Aso Rock After Supreme Court Order
After the apex court order, the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele was seen at the Aso Villa for a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari. The apex bank chief, however, kept mum after the closed-door meeting.
In a swift reaction, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, on behalf of the Federal Government implored the Supreme Court to throw out the suit by the three APC states.
In a preliminary objection filed by the AGF through his lawyers – Mahmud Magaji and Tijanni Gazali – the Federal Government argued that the Supreme Court lacks jurisdiction to entertain the suit.
In court filings dated February 8, 2023, the AGF contends that “the plaintiffs have equally not shown reasonable cause of action against the defendant.”
With reference to Section 251 of the Constitution, the defence lawyers argue that the suit falls within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal High Court in matters of monetary policy of an agency of the Federal Government.
“The claims or reliefs are not against the federation, but the Federal Government and its Agency, the Central Bank of Nigeria.
“The Federal Government of Nigeria is distinct from the Federation or the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Plaintiffs have no grievance whatsoever against the Federation of Nigeria.
“This suit has disclosed no dispute that invokes this (Supreme) Court’s original jurisdiction as constitutionally defined,” the AGF added.
A Surprise Move
The CBN had on October 26, 2022, announced its plan to redesign the three banknotes. President Muhammadu Buhari subsequently unveiled the redesigned N200, N500, and N1,000 notes on November 23, 2022, while the apex bank fixed a January 31 deadline for the validity of the old notes.
The CBN also pegged its weekly cash withdrawal limits to N500,000 for individuals and N5m for corporate firms.
With cries by many Nigerians, the apex bank extended the deadline from January 31 to February 10, saying it got the approval of the President.
The National Assembly asked for a six-month extension of the policy, amid scathing criticisms by governors, lawmakers and stalwarts of the ruling party including the flag bearer of the party, Bola Tinubu; former Edo State governor, Adams Oshiomhole; Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila; Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Alhassan Ado Doguwa; Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola; amongst others.
The APC chieftains argued that the scarcity of new naira notes will affect the conduct of the February 25 and March 11 polls but the main opposition party and its flag bearer, Atiku Abubakar support the CBN, saying the policy will curb vote buying by corrupt politicians.
Last Friday, Buhari, after a meeting with some APC governors asked for seven days to make a major decision on the policy. Nigerians are earnestly awaiting the next step of the apex court on the prayer of the AGF seeking to strike out the suit by the APC governors. Citizens are also awaiting the action of the President by Friday, February 10, 2023, even as uncertainty becloud the deadline date.
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