The Supreme Court on Wednesday fixed 3 March for judgement on the suits filed by some state governments challenging the federal government’s naira redesign policy.
“All the suits adjourned until 3 March for judgement,” the presiding justice of a seven -member panel of the Supreme Court, John Okoro, said.
Mr Okoro adjourned the suit for judgement after his panel heard arguments for and against it on Wednesday. The proceedings lasted for over three hours.
The date of judgement is about a week after Nigeria’s presidential election which holds Saturday (25 February), and a week ahead of state elections scheduled to come up on 11 March.
The controversial monetary policy, which has led to cash crunch across the country, bringing hardship to millions of Nigerians, has been a major issue in the lead-up to Saturday’s election.
The presidential candidate of the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu, had said he was the target of the policy that is defiantly backed by President Buhari, the leader of the party.
But with the postponement of the judgement on the matter till 3 March, it means there would be no judicial resolution of the monetary policy before Saturday’s election.
PREMIUM TIMES ran a live update of the court’s proceedings.
The suit, filed on 3 February by some state governments, seeks the reversal of the federal government’s naira redesign policy.
The policy, announced late last year by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) with the approval of President Muhammadu Buhari, had introduced newly redesigned N200, N500, and N1,000 notes. It sought to end the use of the old versions by 10 February.
On 8 February, two days before the deadline, a seven-member panel of the court granted an interim order suspending the deadline set for the ending of the validity of the old banknotes.
The court also ordered that the old N200, N500, and N1000 banknotes should conctinue to circulate alongside their newly redesigned versions pending further hearing in the case.
The court also ordered that the old N200, N500, and N1000 banknotes should circulate alongside their newly redesigned versions pending further hearing in the case.
But in direct affront to the Supreme Court, Mr Buhari, on 16 February, directed in a national broadcast that only the old N200 notes would remain valid, while the old N500 and N1,000 currency notes had ceased to be legal tender.
Number of plaintiffs jumps to 16
The number of plaintiffs rose to 16 after six new states were added to them at Wednesday’s proceedings.
The suit was originally filed by Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara states on 3 February to challenge the 10 February deadline set to end the validity of the old N200, N500, and N1,000 banknotes.
The plaintiffs’ number, however, rose to 10, with seven joining them at the previous sitting on 15 February.
The 16 states now on the list of plaintiffs include: the original plaintiffs – Kaduna, Kogi, Zamfara – and the seven that were joined on 15 February – Cross River, Sokoto, Lagos, Ogun, Katsina, Ondo, and Ekiti states.
The rest are the six others that were joined on Wednesday – Nasarawa, Niger, Kano, Jigawa, Rivers and Abia states.
Rivers and Abia states had filed separate suits that were consolidated with the main one.
The opponents of the suit are the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, representing the federal government alongside two other states that were joined as co-defendants, based on their requests, on 15February.
The two states are Edo and Bayelsa.
The plaintiffs, through their respective lawyers, toed the same lines of argument, urging the Supreme Court to grant their prayers on Wednesday.
In its argument against the federal government, the Kano State government, represented by Musa Sanusi, urged the Supreme Court to reverse the monetary policy.
Mr Sanusi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), told the court that “There are security reports that if the naira redesign policy is not reversed, there might be breakdown of law and order due to the hardship it has brought on the citizens.”
The Attorney-General of Lagos State, Moyosore Onigbanjo, a SAN, and Kaduna State’s lawyer, Abdulahakeem Mustapha, also a SAN, argued that Mr Buhari, by his 16 February broadcast, and the CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, had violated the court’s order.
But the federal government’s lawyer, Kanu Agabi, a SAN, said “the president only intervened in the (currency) crisis by asking Nigerians to deposit the old naira notes with the CBN.”
Mr Agabi, an erstwhile Attorney-General of the Federation, argued that Nigerians were already rejecting the N200, N500 and N1,000 old notes before Mr Buhari’s made his 16 February nationwide broadcast, directing the CBN to recirculate the old N200 notes.
The defence lawyer contended that it was not true that Mr Buhari was in contempt of the court.
After listening to all the lawyers to the parties in the case, the court adjourned the suit until 3 March for judgement.
‘We’ll do justice’
The Supreme Court earlier on Wednesday assured that it would do justice in the suit.
In an impassioned tone on Wednesday when the case came up, Mr Okoro, the presiding justice of the court’s seven-man panel, said “everybody is looking for a scapegoat.”
“This court will not continue to be a scapegoat,” the presiding justice told Lagos State Attorney-General, Moyosore Onigbanjo, when he drew the court’s attention to President Buhari’s violation of its order halting the monetary policy.
“We will hear this case and give our decision. The (Nigerian) public can then decide who should be the scapegoat,” Mr Okoro said, apparently referring to the atmosphere of disobedience to court decisions that pervades Nigeria.
Lending her voice to the necessity of hearing the case, a member of the court’s panel, Amina Augie, roared, “We will gear this case today,” in response to the obstinate Lagos Attorney-General who was insisting the federal government “has no right of audience before the court for being disobedient to its order” of 8 February.
“We seek an order prohibiting the defendants from being granted audience before this court until the defendants or their principal, President Muhammadu Buhari, in this matter until the comply the order made by this court on 8 February, directing that old 200,500 and 1000 banknotes remain legal tender pending the determination of this suit,” Mr Onigbanjo argued.
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