The February 10 deadline for the currency swap announced by the Central Bank of Nigeria has pitted Governors Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna, Yahaya Bello (Kogi) and Bello Matawalle (Zamfara) against 14 political parties which threatened to boycott the February 25 election, should the CBN extend the time limit.
This is as a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory has restrained the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), CBN, its Governor Godwin Emefiele and 27 commercial banks from suspending, stopping, extending or interfering with the currency swap terminal date.
The order was handed down on Monday by Justice E. Enenche following an application by four political parties.
That said, the three governors, who dragged the CBN and the Federal Government to the Supreme Court, were seeking a halt to the full implementation of the naira redesign policy initiated by the apex bank.
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit which is coming four days after the governors elected on the platform of the All Progressives Congress met with the President where they complained about the hardship occasioned by the currency policy.
Buhari had asked them to give him seven days to address their complaints, but apparently unimpressed by the President’s pledge, the governors on Monday headed for the Supreme Court to stop the policy.
The applicants in the suit were the Attorneys-General and Commissioners of Justice of Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara, while the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, was the sole respondent in the matter.
At a briefing held in Lagos earlier on, the CBN governor had maintained that the apex bank would not extend the deadline for swapping old naira notes with the newly redesigned ones, stating that the CBN and other stakeholders were already addressing areas where there were pressures.
Some prominent Nigerians, including Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki, the Peoples Democratic Party presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, and his Labour Party counterpart, Peter Obi, Senator Ben Bruce and Accord Party Chairman, Mohammed Nalado supported the CBN policy.
Obaseki endorsed the policy in a post on his official Twitter handle on Monday while Atiku and Obi had argued in separate statements and a Twitter post that the merits of the new naira policy far outweighed the inconveniences Nigerians were experiencing.
But on Sunday, the Governor of Yobe State, Mai Mala Buni, lamented that people in the rural areas in the state were finding it difficult to get the new naira notes
In a Facebook post, he said, “I have ordered the opening of branches of the state-owned microfinance bank in the 17 local government areas of the state to enable the citizens to have access to financial services. As a government, it is our responsibility to look into all possible solutions to help our citizens access financial services. To achieve this, I have directed that the state-owned Yobe Microfinance Bank opens branches in each of the state’s 17 local governments.”
Fashola faults CBN
Speaking as a guest on the Channels Television programme ‘Politics Today’ on Monday, the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola empathised with Nigerians over the hardship being experienced in obtaining the new naira notes across the country.
According to him, those who initiated the policy should reflect on it and ask themselves whether that was the intent of the policy to cause people pain, advising that the policy should be readjusted.
However, while asserting the rights of the citizens to reasonable notice, the three governors averred that the 10-day extension by the FG was largely insufficient to address the challenges occasioned by the policy adding that “there is no justifiable basis for the ongoing difficulties.”
The three northern states in a motion ex-parte filed on their behalf by their lawyer, Abdul-Hakeem Mustapha, SAN, urged the apex court to grant “an order of interim injunction restraining the Federal Government of Nigeria, either by itself or acting through the Central Bank Nigeria and/ or the commercial banks; its agents; agencies; corporations; ministries; parastatals; organizations or through any person or persons (natural and artificial) howsoever, from suspending or determining or ending on the 10th of February 2023 the timeframe within which the now older versions of the 200, 500 and 1000 denominations of the naira may no longer be legal tender pending the hearing and determination of the plaintiffs/Applicants’ Motion on Notice for interlocutory injunction.”
The plaintiffs also filed a motion on notice to abridge the time within which the respondent may file and serve his counter-affidavit to the suit and an order for an accelerated hearing of the matter.
Specifically, the states were praying for a declaration that the Demonetization Policy of the Federation being currently carried out by the CBN under the directive of the President was not in compliance with the extant provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), CBN Act, 2007 and actual laws on the subject.
They were also asking the court to declare that the three-month notice regarding the expiration of the old notes was in gross violation of the provisions of section 20(3) of the CBN Act, 2007, which specifies that reasonable notice must be given before such a policy.
Given the provisions of section 20(3) of the CBN Act, the governors contended that CBN had no powers to issue a timeline for the acceptance and redeeming of banknotes issued by the apex bank except as limited by section 22(1) of the Act 2007 which stipulates that ‘’the Central Bank shall at all times redeem its bank notes.’’
The applicants prayed the court direct the immediate suspension of the demonetisation policy of the CBN in compliance with the relevant provisions of the law.
The Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of Kaduna State, Aisha Dikko in an affidavit deposed, in support of the suit stated that most transactions still required cash in exchange for goods and services.
She maintained that the Federal Government should make sufficient money available in circulation for the smooth running of the economy.
It read in part, “That the majority of the indigenes of the plaintiffs’ states who reside in the rural areas have been unable to exchange or deposit their old naira notes as there are no banks in the rural areas where the majority of the population of the states reside.
“Most people in rural areas of the plaintiffs’ states do not have bank accounts and have so far been unable to deposit their life savings which are still in the old naira notes.
“There is restiveness amongst the people in the various states because of the hardship being suffered by the people, and the situation will sooner than later degenerate into the breakdown of law and order.
“The plaintiff state governments cannot stand by as they are duty-bound to protect citizens in their states and prevent the breakdown of law and order.
“I know that if the Federal Government of Nigeria had given sufficient and reasonable time for the naira redesign policy, all the current hardship and loss being experienced by the plaintiffs’ state governments as well as people in the various states would have been avoided.
“I know that the 10-day extension by the Federal Government is still insufficient to address the challenges bedevilling the policy. I also understand that the Federal Government cannot bar Nigerians from redeeming their old naira notes at any time, even though the senior notes are no longer legal tender.”
Among other reasons, the applicants claimed that the new notes were not made available by the government and that many citizens from the three northern states have not set their eyes on the redesigned notes.
They further argued that there had been an acute shortage of the redesigned notes in Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara States which has affected commercial activities in the states.
“Despite the assurance of the Federal Government of Nigeria that the new naira notes would be in circulation by mid-December 2022, the new notes were not made available by the government to Nigerians.
“Many citizens of Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara states have to date not seen the newly redesigned notes let alone exchanged their old notes for the new notes.”
“Since the announcement of the new naira note policy, there has been an acute shortage in the supply of the new naira notes in Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara states. Citizens who have duly deposited their old naira notes have increasingly found it difficult and sometimes next to impossible to access new naira notes in order to go about their daily activities”.
“This inadequacy of the notice coupled with the haphazard, cack-handed manner the exercise is being carried out and the attendant hardship same is wreaking havoc on Nigerians has not been well acknowledged even by the Federal Government of Nigeria itself”.
“The naira, whether old or new, is scarce. Economic activities are furiously grinding to a halt. The vast quantity of official work time is spent looking for scarce notes and hunger stalks the entire landscape of Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara states. The states are on the verge of anarchy,’’ the governors submitted.
But opposing the moves to extend the deadline for the currency swap, 14 political parties under the aegis of Forum of Chairmen of Nigerian Political Parties and Candidates of the 2023 General Election, said they would back out of the general election if the CBN further extends the February 10 time limit.
The members of the group include governorship, senatorial and House of Representatives as well as House of Assembly candidates.
The Spokesperson for the FCNPPC and chairman of Action Alliance, Kenneth Udeze, who addressed a news conference in Abuja on Monday said both the February 10 deadline for the currency swap and February 25 date for the presidential election remained sacrosanct.
He also alleged that an unidentified group sought the association’s support for a subversive plot to derail the election.
Those who attended the press conference included the National Chairman of the National Rescue Movement, Chief Isaac Udeh; Mohammed Nalado (Accord Party); Alhaji Yusuf Dantalle (Allied Peoples Movement) and Chief Uchenna Nnadi of Action Peoples Party.
Udeze said, “We hereby announce our resolution that at least 14 of the 18 political parties in Nigeria will not be interested in the 2023 general election and indeed we shall withdraw all our participation from the electoral process if the new naira policy is suspended or cancelled or if the deadline is further shifted.
“Having stated our views clearly, we now bring to the notice of the nation and particularly the security agencies that we have intercepted very credible intelligence of a well-financed plot to instigate violent disturbances, incite and provoke civil unrest aimed at undermining the President and causing a shift in the election date or causing his administration to come to an abrupt end.
“We were approached to lend our support, generous promises were made but we believe that Nigeria comes first before any other mundane consideration.
“Painfully, we must state that this voice of dissent is coming from within the political party of the President. Elements of the party that should have been the first to embrace these policies are the party championing the opposition against it.”
He recalled that in the past few days, there have been a lot of interactions among the political party chairmen and the candidates, particularly the presidential candidates on the issues of the new naira notes and cash withdrawal policy of the CBN.
Udeze further stated, “You must have seen some of them issue personal statements and state their personal views. We have all heard the position of the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Waziri Atiku Abubakar and also that of Peter Obi of the Labour Party and it is obvious from their positions that both men see the positives in the policy and have also called for action to ameliorate the current suffering of the Nigerian people visited upon them by some unscrupulous elements in the sector.
“After robust engagements amongst ourselves, we are nearing a consensus and it is my pleasure to announce to you all that the political parties in Nigeria and candidates for election in the 2023 general election support the naira redesign and cash withdrawal limit policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria.
“Except for one major political party which has not given cogent reasons why it insists that the policy must be stopped, a majority of Nigerian political parties and candidates see the immense benefits of the policy.’’
Parties tackle govs
Udeze told The PUNCH that his association would join the suit filed by the three governors.
He said, “Yes, we will join as defendants. We are going to join because we are interested and it affects political parties in Nigeria. We have gotten an order from the court.
‘’It has to do with our intention to stop any authorities from stopping the policy of the CBN on the directive of Mr President. The court granted the motion ex parte.’’
In consolidation of its support for the CBN policy, the Action Alliance, Action Peoples Party, Allied Peoples Movement and the National Rescue Movement have obtained an order restraining the FG, Emefiele, the CBN and 21 commercial banks from halting the policy or extending the February 10 deadline.
In a motion ex parte filed by five political parties, Justice Enenche also granted an order directing the Chief Executives of the banks and their alter egos ‘’to show cause why they should not be arrested and prosecuted for the economic and financial sabotage of the country by their hoarding, withholding, not paying or disbursing the new N200 N500 and N1000 bank notes despite the supply of such notes by the CBN.’’
In the 27 grounds filed by the applicants, they claimed that politicians in possession of illicit funds were the ones who wanted the policies suspended.
Commenting on the case filed by the governors, the Senate spokesperson, Ajibola Basiru said the red chamber was not aware of the matter.
He said, “If the case is already in court, there is nothing we can do and since we are not a party in the case, it is out of our purview.
“We are not even aware of the case until now that you’re informing us. And since we are not joined as a party, it is not our business.”
Basiru implored the executive to prevail on the CBN to release sufficient naira notes to address the hardship caused by the currency scarcity.
“There is no need to take the case to court; the president should do the needful and ensure that the CBN does not truncate the economic life of our people,’’ he pleaded.
In their respective reactions to the litigation, the Presidential Campaign Councils of the PDP and LP said they had yet to meet to discuss the suit filed by the governors.
The spokesman for the Atiku/Okowa Presidential Campaign Organization, Kola Ologbondiyan told one of our correspondents that the council was likely to issue a statement after its meeting.
Reacting to the governors’ action, Minister of State for Labour and Chief Spokesman for Tinubu-Shettima Presidential Campaign Council, Festus Keyamo, stated, ‘’It is not the first time that state governors are dragging the FG to court. They had done it on a number of occasions like in the case of the judiciary autonomy, state House of Assembly issues, economy and other areas.
“It is not left for me to say whether it is justified. But it is part of the democratic culture we promote within our party. The president won’t be offended by it at all. He likes people to head to court to resolve issues.”
The APC Director of Publicity, Bala Ibrahim, noted litigation was an acceptable way to resolve issues.
On his part, the Director-General of the LP Presidential Campaign Council, Akin Oshuntokun noted that the suit was yet to be debated either at the party level or the campaign council.
Meanwhile, the Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom on Monday lent his support to the suit initiated by his colleagues.
The governor who spoke through his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Terver Akase, said, “He (Ortom) is in support of the move (litigation). He said it is the right of every Nigerian to seek the intervention of the court in such a situation.
“So , he is in support of the three governors that have gone to court and added that if they had sought his consent, he would have asked to be joined.”
In a related development, the Ondo State Government said it was still studying whether to sue the CBN governor over the scarcity of new naira notes.
The state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr Charles Titiloye said there was nothing wrong with the state governors challenging the action of the CBN over the currency matter, saying the state government would study the matter and take action.
Titiloye said, “ We are looking at the brief various options, then we became aware that some states have gone to court. We will avail the various options but we’ll get back to you after we have taken decisions on what to do.’’
Speaking in the same tone, the Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, to the Cross River governor, Christian Ita, disclosed that Governor Ben Ayade was not happy with the way the currency redesign policy was being handled.
He stated that Ayade was appalled by the suffering Nigerians were being subjected to.
But the Kano State Governor, Umar Ganduje, said the implementation of the naira swap policy was carried out by the CBN governor in retaliation for his failure to clinch the APC presidential ticket.
Ganduje made the disclosure at a campaign rally, held at Tsanyawa, on Sunday, where he presented the APC governorship candidate and his deputy, alongside Senatorial and other candidates to the people.
According to a statement, issued by the Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Abba Anwar, the governor emphasized that: “The CBN governor is only doing this to cause confusion in the forthcoming elections over unjustifiable reason.”
Ganduje categorically stated that the Kano state government and the APC in the state were totally against the action of the CBN governor.
In Oyo State, the APC postponed the presidential rally earlier scheduled to hold today (Tuesday) at Mapo Hall in Ibadan, the state capital because of fuel and new naira notes crises.