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Thursday, November 30, 2023

Naira Crunch: Supreme Court shifts judgement to March 3

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday fixed March 3, 2023, for its judgment in 10 governors’ suit against the Federal Government and the Central Bank of Nigeria over the new naira note deadline.

The shifting of the judgment date dashed the hope of millions of Nigerians who had hoped the apex court would end the case ahead of the presidential election slated for Saturday.

Meanwhile, the crisis caused by the CBN’s naira swap policy worsened with many Nigerians finding it difficult to purchase basic needs.

This came as the Independent National Electoral Commission said it was gearing up for Saturday’s polls.

The Supreme Court on February 8, while ruling on a suit filed by Zamfara, Kaduna, and Kogi states against the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, SAN, ordered the Federal Government not to implement the February 10 deadline for swapping old naira notes for new ones.

But in complete disregard for the February 8 court order, President Muhammadu Buhari in a national broadcast, extended the validity of the old N200 notes while insisting that the old N500 and N1,000 remained illegal.

He further directed that the old N200 note would be legal tender till April 10, 2023, while urging Nigerians to deposit their old N500 and 1000 notes with the Central Bank.

With this development, the apex court has further delayed the resolution of the biting naira scarcity crisis which three state governors alleged was targeted at scuttling the Saturday polls.

The Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, last Thursday described the current scarcity of naira notes as part of an alleged plot to disrupt the elections to ensure an interim government takes over.

The governor in a state broadcast alleged that the debacle was meant to ensure that the All Progressives Congress flag bearer, Bola Tinubu, and other candidates of the party lose.

He claimed that those who lost out in the party’s primaries were behind the plot.

Speaking while hosting the Forum of Former Parliamentarians, North-West zone, in Kano penultimate Wednesday, the Kano State Governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, similarly lashed at the policy, which he said was aimed at truncating the nation’s democracy.

Likewise, the Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, rubbished the policy, saying it was unpopular, fruitless, and counter-productive, stressing that the gale of violence spawned by the policy portends serious danger to the current democratic governance.

However, at the start of Wednesday’s proceeding, the motion for the consolidation of the different suits was raised and argued by the counsel for Rivers State, Emmanuel Ukala, SAN, before the Supreme Court panel.

The panel members headed by Justice John Okoro include Justices Amina Augie, Lawal Garba, I. Saulawa, Adamu Jauro, Tijjani Abubakar, and Emmanuel Agim.

Ukala while moving the motion on notice premised the consolidation request on the need for the suit to be heard without any impediment since the matter borders on the same issue.

Following a series of requests and objections, counsel for Lagos State, Moyosore Onibanjo, prayed the court to bar the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, SAN, from defending the respondents while acting in contempt of the February 8 court order restraining the Federal Government from ending the cash swap policy on February 10.

He stated that “the issue of contempt supersedes the issue of jurisdiction.”

Onibanjo was making reference to the violation of the Supreme Court’s order by Buhari in his state broadcast.

In complete disregard for the court order, Buhari extended the validity of the old N200 notes while insisting that the old N500 and N1,000 remained illegal.

He further directed that the old N200 note would be legal tender till April 10, 2023, while urging Nigerians to deposit their old N500 and 1000 notes with the Central Bank.

But responding to Onigbanjo, Justice Okoro declared, “You are not a stranger to this country. We are going to hear this matter today because we don’t want a situation where the judiciary will be made a scapegoat.

“With the way this matter is going, they want to make the judiciary a scapegoat but we can’t allow that. We are going to hear everything and make our decision. If you have a contempt proceeding, we will also hear it today.”

Though the court initially said it would no longer allow any state to join the case as an interested party, upon its resumed proceedings after a 10-minute break, it allowed Abia State to join the other plaintiffs.

Counsel to Abia State, Mrs. Udochi Iheanacho told the court that her client had an application it filed on Tuesday and applied to be allowed to consolidate its position with other states challenging the new monetary policy by the CBN.

Though Plateau State attempted to also join in the suit, the apex court declined. It asked all other states to await its decision on the matter.

Now, the plaintiffs in the suit are the Attorneys-General of Kaduna, Kogi, Zamfara, Ondo, Ekiti, Katsina, Ogun, Cross River, Sokoto, Lagos, and Abia states.

The defendants are the AGF, Edo, and Bayelsa states which applied to be joined as co-respondents and co-defendants with the Federal Government

They emphasised that their complaint was not only with the naira redesign policy but also with the cash withdrawal limits the CBN stipulated for corporate entities and individuals, respectively.

While consolidating all the cases, the Supreme Court noted that the issue in dispute revolves around section 20(3) of the CBN Act.

At the resumed hearing after the break, the counsel to the Federal Government, Kanu Agabi, SAN, argued that the apex court had no jurisdiction to hear the suit as the action cannot commence with an originating summon.

He stated that there is a clear distinction between the president and the federation and that the powers being vested in the President don’t make Buhari the federation.

Responding, Justice Okoro asked him, “Who then is the nation?” to which Agabi declined to respond and jokingly alluded to a chapter in the book of Ezekiel where Ezekiel responded to a question and said, “Lord thou knowest.”

He also contended that the plaintiffs did not deem it fit to bring the CBN to court as a respondent despite making reference to the apex bank 32 times in their originating summons and the fact that seven of the reliefs sought involved the apex bank.

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