Legal fireworks expected on Wednesday in the Supreme Court, in the case filed by Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara States against the Federal Government, on the terminal date of the use of the old naira notes, are in abeyance, as the matter was further adjourned till the 22nd of February. But the court seems to have affirmed its earlier ruling on the old currency notes as remaining as legal tender. This followed a complaint by the counsel to the three states that the order had flagrantly been observed in the breach. It is no ode to this regime with its notoriety of executive lawlessness and disregard for the rule of law. Nigeria is a democracy, not a banana republic, and it should be seen to be truly so.
With official diffidence and aversion to do what is right, fit and proper with the redesign and circulation of the new naira notes, most Nigerians will gasp for breath for a longer time in the unending vortex of confusion and extreme hardship. This monetary policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), as sanctioned by the Federal Government, is a project gone bonkers! Sadly, there is no other way to put it. Mopping up N2.7 trillion from circulation, and returning only a measly N300 billion to the economic space, with an additional N200 billion planned injection as tension mounts, will not work. At best, it would barely scratch the surface of national cash needs.
In extreme cases, deaths of members have occurred where families could not have access to their money in banks to buy drugs or pay hospital bills. Surreal videos of disconsolate male and female in full nakedness in bank halls, in expression of their frustration of not having access to their money have gone viral in social media. More states, comprising Lagos, Bayelsa, Edo, Ondo, Sokoto, Cross Rivers and Ekiti, have joined in the suit for a consolidated hearing on the afore-said date, which underscores the seriousness of the matter.
On 8 February, the Supreme Court, in an ex parte application brought before it by the three states, voided the 10th of February deadline for the use of the old denominations of N200, N500 and N1000, as legal tender, which the CBN had set. The legal imprimatur ought to have put paid to all controversies regarding the use of the old currency notes, pending the determination of the substantive suit before the Supreme Court. This was not for President Muhammadu Buhari, as the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice filed a preliminary objection, stressing that the case of the governors should be dismissed as the court purportedly lacked jurisdiction to hear the case.
However, that apex court order had offered a short-lived relief to all citizens. But to our consternation, the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, flagrantly disobeyed the order. At a meeting with members of the diplomatic corps on Tuesday, he insisted that the 10th of February deadline was inviolable. PREMIUM TIMES believes that this is a slap in the face of the rule of law and order in the country, which should not be allowed to stand. In a democracy, the Supreme Court is a constitutional court whose pronouncement is, decidedly, the law. Everybody, including the President is bound by it.
President Buhari attempted to calm frayed nerves and make amends yesterday, in a morning broadcast in which he directed the CBN to re-circulate the old N200 denomination only for 60 days, to ease cash shortages. This reprieve of sorts will end on 10 April. But this will not resolve the cash crunch, with Emefiele’s obduracy. He has not kept to his earlier words on the amount of money that customers are allowed to withdraw. From Edo, Delta, Kwara to Rivers, Ondo and Oyo States, there have been protests, some of them quite violent, leading a bank ATM to be set ablaze in Delta State.
Instructively, the rule of law is the foundation of a just and equitable society. To disregard it under any guise is an open invitation to anarchy. It is a famished path that Emefiele has chosen to thread. He should be stopped now. Following the CBN stance, traders, commercial drivers and service providers have stopped accepting the old naira notes, just as banks have been spurning customers’ deposits of it.
The sticking point in the President’s speech is his accustomed indecisiveness or vacillation and living the arrogance of Louis XIV, the King of France 17th century, who had declared with aplomb that: “I am the state.” The apex court ruling is that the status quo ante should remain, and it implies the continued use of the old N500 and N1000 bank notes as legal tender. Reports across the country point vividly to the closure of banks, even in Abuja and Lagos, due to the scarcity of the new naira notes. Some banks have been attacked, while their workers have jumped barbwire fences to escape violent attacks by frustrated customers seeking their money.
What is happening across the country is an unimaginable paradox of government inciting its citizens against itself. Earlier this month, the Governor of Kano State, Umar Ganduje, halted the President’s state visit as intelligence to him warned of a planned security breach by youths to show their angst against the naira chaos.
Emefiele and the CBN should stop hiding behind a finger with the claim that they were not joined in the suit before the Supreme Court. It is their policy. Emefiele cannot pick and choose the court ruling to obey. Under the refuge of a High Court ruling in Abuja on the 29th of December, which barred the State Security Service (SSS) from arresting, harassing and intimidating him, cocooned abroad then, Emefiele returned home without being ruffled. It was a case filed by Incorporated Trustees of the Forum of Accountability and Good Leadership to stave off the planned arrest of the CBN Governor by state operatives over alleged treason and corruption charges. He was not joined in the civil society suit but it gave him a breather.
The scarcity of naira notes has become a gut issue threatening the daily lives of Nigerians. The recent avowal of Emefiele that the crisis has substantially reduced due to over-the-counter access of the naira notes by the public in banks is both specious and dubious. From N100,000, later increased to N500,000, which he said a bank customer can withdraw weekly, people have been queuing for entire days just to withdraw paltry sums like N2,000 or N3,000.
There should be a limit to jumping into economic paradigms of the Western world, which they took decades of research and capital investment to develop to perfection. It beggars belief how a country whose population of about 200 million people, out of which only about 34% have bank accounts, would seemingly be bludgeoned to transit to a cashless economy. This is unrealistic, if not impossible. Many digital transactions carried out by customers, even in bank halls, have been increasingly failing. This speaks volumes – that the technology infrastructure required for this system and transition to work optimally is simply not there.
Governor Ganduje, one of the masterminds of the case at the Supreme Court, reportedly said 24 Local Government Areas in Kano State, out of its 44 councils, have no banks. In Yobe State, four local councils have no bank, out 17; while an APC apparatchik, Salihu Lukman, who is a national vice-chairman of the party in the North-West, says 300 Local Government Areas in the entire north have no banks. How will people in these areas cope?
Buhari and Emefiele should eat the humble pie and admit the bizarre outcome of this policy. This experiment is akin to jumping from the First Industrial Revolution – involving the use of hoes and cutlasses for agriculture and steam engines in factories, without any mastery of these here – to the Fourth Revolution of artificial intelligence, quantum computing, genetic engineering, Internet of things etc., not underpinned by a sound education system for it to thrive.
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