Wednesday, 7th June 2023

Again, S’Court defers ruling on naira redesign to after election

By Terhemba Daka, Ameh Ochojila and Sodiq Omolaoye (Abuja)
23 February 2023   |   4:55 am
The Supreme Court, yesterday, said it will deliver judgment in the suit challenging the naira redesign policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on March 3, effectively extending the stalemate to after Saturday’s presidential and National Assembly elections.

President Muhammadu Buhari (right); Chairperson of Commonwealth Election Observers, Thabo Mbeki; former Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta and Commonwealth Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland during the signing of Peace Accord for 2023 presidential election in Abuja…yesterday.<br />PHOTO: PHILIP OJISUA <br />

• Consolidates suits by 16 states, fixes March 3 for judgment 
• Await our decision, S’Court tells Abia, other states seeking to join suit
• We are overburdened, something must be done on Nigerian Constitution, judges lament • Nigerians left in the middle of the sea, Shehu Sani reacts
• Cash swap riots: We are investigating governors over inciting utterances, says IGP • EFCC moves against vote buyers, deploy operatives to states, FCT
• Security atmosphere right, elections good to go – Security Council 

The Supreme Court, yesterday, said it will deliver judgment in the suit challenging the naira redesign policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on March 3, effectively extending the stalemate to after Saturday’s presidential and National Assembly elections.

For the second time in a fortnight, all hopes of the apex court putting the controversies over the naira swap to rest were dashed when it failed to issue a definitive ruling.

Yesterday, when the case resumed, the Supreme Court consolidated the suits instituted by 10 state governments against the Federal Government challenging implementation of the naira redesign policy.

At its last sitting on February 15, seven states joined the three initial states as co-plaintiffs, while Edo and Bayelsa states joined the Federal Government as co-defendants.

A motion for the consolidation was argued by the counsel for Rivers State, Emmanuel Ukala (SAN). Moving the motion on notice, Ukala premised the consolidation request on the need for the suit to be heard without any hindrance since the matter borders on the same issue.

A seven-panel of justices, led by Justice John Okoro, granted the request and ordered consolidation of the 16 suits into one.

The plaintiffs in the suit are Attorneys General (AGs) of Kaduna, Kogi, Zamfara, Ondo, Ekiti, Katsina, Ogun, Cross River, Sokoto, Kano, Rivers, Niger, Nasarawa and Lagos states, while the defendants are the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN), as well as AGs of Bayelsa and Edo states.

Lagos State government applied for an order prohibiting the AGF from being granted an audience in the suit until the Federal Government complies with the order of the court of February 15, which is that the old N200, N500 and N1,000 notes remain legal tender, pending hearing of the motion on notice.

Lagos, through its AG, Moyosore Onigbanjo (SAN), said the relief is being sought for the state government and not residents of the state, arguing that the policy was “hampering the state from carrying out its governmental functions.”

Earlier, Zamfara State government, through its counsel, Abiodun Owonikoko (SAN), prayed for an order of the apex court seeking to set aside a directive of the President on February 16 that old N200 be accepted as legal tender, while the old N500 and N1,000 remain withdrawn. 

“We urge the court to set aside the directive of President Muhammadu Buhari limiting the Supreme Court’s directive to only the old N200 note. It is a disrespect to the authority of the court,” he said.

Kanu Agabi (SAN), on behalf of the Federal Government, said all those faulting the naira redesign policy, particularly Section 20(2) of the CBN Act, cannot commence their suit in the Supreme Court, but perhaps at the Federal High Court, because the apex court lacks jurisdiction to hear such as the action cannot commence with an Originating Summons. 

He wondered why the plaintiffs did not bring the CBN governor to court as a respondent, after making reference to him 32 times in their Originating Summons. Also, the apex bank is not a part of the case, adding also that seven of the reliefs sought concerns CBN.

He insisted that the President is not in violation of the Supreme Court order as under the Constitution, the President is empowered to veto any legislation, in this case, to reverse an earlier decision as it concerned the directive on the N200 and its recirculation as legal tender.

Counsel for Edo and Bayelsa, also agreed that the suit be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

Subsequently, the Supreme Court fixed March 3 for judgment on the matter, just as it shut its door to more states seeking to be joined as interested parties in the suit. The court, in a unanimous decision, asked all states interested in the matter to await its decision in the suit that was originally filed by three Northern states – Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara.

The panel took the decision after it rejected a joinder application that was filed by Abia State.

Rivers, Kano, Jigawa and Nasarawa states had maintained that their own case was different, stressing that their grouse was not only with the naira swap policy, but also with the cash withdrawal limits CBN allowed 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. It held that there was no need for more states to apply for permission to join the legal fireworks.

“We will no longer join any state in this matter. When we give our decision, whoever that is dissatisfied can file a fresh suit. There is still time.” the apex court held.

The Supreme Court also used yesterday’s sitting to complain against the workload of the court, which it attributed to gaps in the Nigeria Constitution.

The presiding justice of the seven-member panel, Justice Okoro, said the apex court was being burdened with cases that ought not to get there. He said the National Assembly did not pay attention to important areas in its amendment of the Constitution, except things that matter to them.

He said: “A wife slaps the husband, they will come to the Supreme Court, for what, something that the head of the family can sort out, you bring it to the Supreme Court.
“Landlord and tenant are quarrelling, it goes to the Supreme Court. Those who have the opportunity to influence our Constitution should do something.”

On her part, Justice Amina Augie said the rush to file matters at the Supreme Court was influenced by quest by lawyers to meet the requirement for the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).

Before adjourning the case until March 3, the Supreme Court stated that it would not be pressured to become a scapegoat in the country over the ongoing controversies surrounding the naira redesign and swap policy.

Reacting, Senator Shehu Sani, a former Kaduna Central lawmaker, said “the Supreme Court’s decision left two fighting couples in the middle of the sea.”

Ben Igbakpa, a member of the House of Representatives, representing Ethiope Federal Constituency, said: “The Supreme Court just offered an alternative justification in favour of the Federal Government, by assigning a similar probability to sustain the conviction of President Buhari and Godwin Emefiele. Chaotic consequences for the plaintiffs.”

Sanusi Dantata said: “We all are suffering for the sins of a few! It is obvious these overnight champions of the masses (APC governors) have lost this case. It is time for them to sit back and allow Nigerians make their choice, the days of vote buying is gone. Welcome to the era of integrity and competence.”

Meanwhile, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Usman Alkali, has revealed that the force is investigating individuals, including governors, whose utterances are considered to have incited citizens to riots over the naira redesign policy of the Federal Government.

Briefing correspondents alongside the AGF, Malami, after a meeting of the National Security Council presided over by President Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, he said despite the investigation, the police cannot prosecute the governors because they enjoy immunity.

Recall that many governors, led by the Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna, had openly denigrated the policy, asking their citizens not to comply with the expiration of the legality of the old N500 and N1,000 as pronounced by the Federal Government.

Asked why the governors had not been cautioned, the police boss stated: “We all know why unless you want to hear from the mouth of the Attorney General. We are investigating. Whoever does anything can be investigated.

“But for him to be investigated, some people have immunity. I think those are some of the reasons. But that will not stop us from cautioning, warning, or advising them, and we are doing so. That’s for the incitement by governors.”
AHEAD of Saturday’s elections, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has deployed its operatives to the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to combat vote buying.

Apart from the teams deployed across the country, the anti-graft agency has also released incidents reporting hotlines for the 36 states and the FCT.

EFCC Head of Media and Publicity, Wilson Uwujaren, who disclosed this in a statement, said the move was part of efforts to ensure the integrity of the February 25 poll.
Uwujaren said the Executive Chairman of the Commission, Abdulrasheed Bawa, charged the operatives to be conscious of the interest of the nation and exhibit a high sense of professionalism in the discharge of their duties.

The Commission also urged members of the public to report any case of vote buying or selling, or other evidence of financial malpractices designed to compromise the electoral outcome through the hotlines.

“Additionally, the public can reach the Commission through our social media handle, @officialefcc or by email,”, the statement added.

Rising from a security council meeting presided over by President Buhari, the National Security Council (NSC), yesterday, expressed satisfaction with the level of security across the country, insisting that the presidential and National Assembly elections will hold as scheduled. 

The Council’s verdict may have rested fears that the Federal Government might order a shift in dates scheduled for the elections.

However, reporting the outcome of the Council meeting to newsmen, the AGF said members expressed satisfaction with the situation and agreed that the elections are good to go.

According to the AGF, the Council was fully briefed by the Chief of Defence Staff, the three service chiefs, the IGP and heads of other security agencies, about their readiness to provide the necessary security back up for Saturday’s poll.

He said flowing from this, the Council gave a marching order that the February 25 election should hold as planned.

According to him, the Council’s meeting was a follow up to earlier meetings of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and the Council of States held last week to affirm the readiness of the electoral body, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the Police and security agencies to go ahead with the general elections in the country.

“Now out of desire to further consolidate and appraise the comprehensive and general preparation of the system, relating to the conduct of the election, this meeting, which is third in series of appraising and reviewing the state of preparedness is called upon by the President, which is the National Security Council meeting. 

“At the National Security Council meeting, briefings were made by security agencies generally and service chiefs. National Security Adviser made submission; Chief of Defence Staff made one; Chief of Army Staff made submission; Chief of Naval Staff made submission, Chief of Air Staff did; Inspector-General of Police, who incidentally is equally addressing you, made submission; Director-General, State Security Service did; and indeed DG NIA and CDI all made submissions. 

“The summary and conclusion of all submissions was to the effect that the system is wholeheartedly ready for the conduct of the election and arising there from, the position of the government, the position of the President is to the effect that the election is holding of the 25th day of February, 2023 and Mr. President and the National Security Council are happy with the preparations on the ground and wholehearted arrangements are put in place in that direction.”