Lawyers have expressed divergent views on Wednesday’s ruling of the interim order of the Supreme Court stopping the implementation of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)’s policy to end the use of old Naira notes on 10 February (Friday).
While some of them argued that the CBN had no choice other than to obey the ruling, others said the Supreme Court issued the order without jurisdiction to even entertain the case.
In the ruling which has sparked debate amongst lawyers and the public, a seven-member panel of the Supreme Court led by Inyang Okoro, ordered President Muhammadu Buhari, the CBN and commercial banks, to suspend the enforcement of the 10 February deadline when the old 200, 500 and 1000 denominations would cease being legal tenders.
The court gave the order on Wednesday, following an ex parte request filed by the Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara state governments against the federal government.
Due to the chaos triggered by the nationwide scarcity of the redesigned naira notes, the three state governments, governed by All Progressives Congress (APC), sued the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), lamenting immeasurable hardship unleashed on their citizens by the currency scarcity.
The plaintiffs in one of their filings contended that “there is no justifiable basis for the ongoing difficulties and suffering being meted out on the …good people of Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara States by the federal government.”
But the federal government, through the Attorney General of the Federation, has filed a preliminary objection to the suit, arguing that the court does not have jurisdiction to entertain the suit.
Arguing through a team of lawyers led by Mahmud Magaji and Tijanni Gazali, both Senior Advocates of Nigeria, the AGF said the jurisdiction to hear the case lies with the Federal High Court.
‘Why Supreme Court order must be obeyed’
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Femi Falana, argued on Thursday that the CBN must obey the Supreme Court order.
A Federal Capital Territory High Court had on Monday, ordered the central bank to stick to the 10 February deadline for the old banknotes.
Reacting to the Supreme Court judgement, Mr Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, said the CBN cannot claim not to be a party to the suit, and therefore would not comply with the order.
Citing a plethora of cases that were filed against the CBN and its governor, Godwin Emefiele, where they were not parties, but reaped the benefits of the outcomes of such suits.
“It is the height of arrogance of power for Mr Emefiele to treat the ex parte of the Supreme Court with provocative contempt,” Mr Falana said in a statement he issued on the ruling.
He noted that “the looming anarchy in the country”, calls for complete obedience to the orders of the court.
Mr Falana referenced the late Nigerian jurist, Niki Tobi’s popular legal thought that “In a society where the rule of law prevails, self-help is not available to the executive or any arm of government,” adding that acting otherwise could “breed anarchy and totalitarianism.
Agreeing with Mr Falana, another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Richard Ogunwole, advised the CBN to abide by the Supreme Court’s order.
Mr Ogunwole, who gave the advice in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Ibadan, said the Supreme Court’s decision remained final and must be followed by all, irrespective of status or position.
“There is nobody in Nigeria today who is not feeling the harsh economic policy of CBN.
“We lawyers even find it difficult going to court because we also need money to transport ourselves there. It is the same situation for people from other professions.
“My advice to CBN, the federal government and the commercial banks is to abide by the order or risk contempt of court,” Mr Ogunwole said.
Also, a Lagos-based constitutional lawyer, Kurtis Adigba, advised the CBN to “comply with the preservative order.”
Mr Adigba said the suit would be fully heard at the next adjourned date, 15 February, when the federal government would file necessary court documents.
Supreme Court lacks jurisdiction
Siding with the federal government, a human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, said the Supreme Court does not possess the jurisdiction to adjudicate on the suit.
In a series of tweets, Mr Effiong said the Federal High Court has the jurisdiction to entertain and determine the case.
He explained that the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court can only be invoked when “there…is a dispute between the three States and the Federation; not a dispute between the States and the Federal Government.”
“I agree with the objection filed by the AGF, Malami SAN, challenging the competence of the suit filed by Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara States on the new Naira notes. The Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction under Section 232 of the Constitution shouldn’t be invoked in this case.”
Mr Effiong noted that he was “unable to see how the redesign of the currency by the CBN has clothed the Supreme Court with the requisite original jurisdiction in this matter. This is a case for the Federal High Court.”
He warned political gladiators against the bastardisation of “the legal system due to political expediency.”
Also, a human rights lawyer, Femi Aborisade, said the Supreme Court had only allowed itself to be used by politicians by granting such an order.
Mr Aborisade told NAN that the critical problem was not the extension of the 10 February deadline for the old naira notes to cease to be legal tender, but the availability of new notes.
“The essence of the extension is to serve as a relief to the generality of Nigerians,” said the lawyer.
He similarly expressed doubts if the Supreme Court had jurisdiction over a matter like the naira redesign policy of the CBN.
Following in the same line of thoughts, Maxwell Okpara, an Abuja-based lawyer, wondered why the Supreme Court made an order in a suit it lacks jurisdiction to hear.
He expressed the impracticability of the enforcement of the order given that the CBN was not a party in the matter.
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