Buhari Faces Backlash Over Naira Notes Directives

Buhari Faces Backlash Over Naira Notes Directives | Daily Report Nigeria

Senior lawyers and civil society organizations have slammed President Muhammadu Buhari for spurning the injunction of the Supreme Court in his Thursday broadcast.

The President came under fire for flouting the Supreme Court order on the validity of N1,000, N500 and N200 as legal tenders.

They insisted the President showed utter disregard for the separation of powers by overruling the highest court in the land.

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Buhari had announced that only the old N200 note will remain in circulation until April 10.

He had said:

To further ease the supply pressures, particularly to our citizens, I have given approval to the CBN that the old N200 bank notes be released back into circulation and that it should also be allowed to circulate as legal tender with the new N200, N500, and N1000 banknotes for 60 days from February 10, 2023, to April 10, 2023, when the old N200 notes cease to be legal tender.”

The pronouncement was contrary to the Supreme Court order that N1,000 and N500 notes remain legal tender.

Also, civil society group, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), described the directive as a breach of democratic norms.

Last Wednesday, the Supreme Court, in a case by Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara states, barred the Federal Government, acting through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) or any other agent, from enforcing the February 10 deadline for the use of old naira notes.

In a unanimous ruling by a seven-member panel, led by Justice John Okoro, it held that the “interim injunction” stopping the phaseout of N1,000, N500 and N200 will subsist “pending the hearing and determination of the plaintiffs/applicants’ motion on notice for interlocutory injunction.”

On Wednesday, the court held the injunction remained in force.

Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) Babatunde Fashanu, Femi Falana and Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa said the President’s pronouncement was contemptuous.

Furthermore, the Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association Section on Public Interest and Development Law (NBA-SPIDEL), Dr Monday Ubani and a lawyer, Jesutega Onokpasa said the President showed utter disregard for the separation of powers by overruling the Supreme Court.

However, an Abia lawyer, Emperor Ogbonna, viewed that the President acted in national interest.

Fashanu said:

The President’s address that N500 and N1,000 notes are no more legal tender is in utter violation and disregard of the Supreme Court order to the contrary.

“The pronouncement is ill-timed and is not only in contempt of the Supreme Court, but it is also in total violation of the constitutional provisions on separation of powers between the executive, legislature and the judiciary.

“It is an affront to the independence of the judiciary.

“Here, the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court, makes an order and the president openly flouts it. It digs at the very essence of democracy.

“It is also a bad example for the populace because even the common man may draw strength from it that it is alright to disobey court orders.

“In a democracy, the President is not above the law and the Supreme Court is the law when it comes to who has the last say in respect of any law, be it the Constitution or any statute like the CBN Act in issue.”

Falana, Chair of Alliance on Surviving Covid-19 and Beyond (ASCAB), said President Buhari ruled out old N500 and N1,000 notes as legal tender “contrary to the clear and unambiguous order of the Supreme Court.”

He again said:

With respect, the decision of the President to exclude old N500 and N1000 notes from the legal tender of Nigeria is of no legal effect.

“It constitutes a contravention of Section 287(1) of the Constitution which provides that ‘the decisions of the Supreme court shall be enforced in any part of the Federation by all authorities and persons, and by courts with subordinate jurisdiction to that of the Supreme court.”

Falana recalled that in 1983, the Supreme Court had faulted President Buhari for suspending a public officer while his case was pending.

In setting aside the purported dismissal, the Supreme Court berated the Buhari-led military junta in the case of Garba vs. Federal Civil Service Commission (1998) 1 NWLR (PT 71) 449 at 453 – 454.

Justice Kayode Eso said:

Such action (dismissing the appellant from office during the pendency of the action) is contemptuous of the judiciary…”

Falana added: “In view of the foregoing, we urge the Federal Government to comply with the order of the Supreme Court without any further delay.

“After all, President Buhari says loudly that he has since become a converted democrat.”

Falana also urged the government to address the naira crisis by “issuing the old currency notes to the banks to issue to the public in a matter of days.

Unless firm action is taken, this crisis will get worse in the days to come,” the SAN said.

For Adegboruwa, President Buhari is in contempt of the Supreme Court by his national broadcast.

He argued that by purporting to vary the highest court’s order that all the old notes should continue to be legal tender, the President committed “executive rascality.”

The SAN slammed President Buhari for attempting to “overrule the Supreme Court of Nigeria.”

He noted that despite claiming his administration’s “respect” for the rule of law and admitting in his speech that “the subject matter is before the courts and some pronouncements have been made”, the President still disregarded the order in part.

Adegboruwa said:

The President cannot overrule the Supreme Court of Nigeria. There is a separation of powers in a democracy.

“Under Section 235 of the 1999 Constitution, the Supreme Court is the final authority in legal pronouncements in Nigeria.

“Under Section 287(1) of the Constitution, the President is statutorily obliged to obey, enforce and give effect to the decision of the Supreme Court.”

The senior lawyer said the President’s broadcast “is sad for our democracy.”

He added:

Since he already admitted that the matter is sub-judice, the President should not have proceeded to vary the order of the Supreme Court.

“The President and indeed the executive should not give the impression that citizens can brazenly disregard lawful orders of any court, as that will only encourage anarchy and lawlessness.

“It amounts to executive rascality and brazen disregard and contempt of the Supreme Court for the President to separate the denomination of the old notes for legality.

“It is not open to the President to choose which portion of the order of the Supreme Court that will be obeyed.”

Adegboruwa advised President Buhari to retrace his steps.

He added:

The President should reverse his directive and add the N500 and N1000 old notes, failing which the Supreme Court should overrule the directive of the President on February 22 when the case comes up.”

Dr Ubani, a former Ikeja Branch Chairman of the NBA, said the President’s pronouncement “is in clear contempt of the Supreme Court’s earlier order.”

According to him, the President should have allowed the judicial process to run through.

“His intervention, though well-intended as posited by some economists, sends a dangerous signal in our democracy.

“The international community is watching, seeing how much we mess our system up. It is ill-advised…

“The President erred in law to have subtly overruled the Supreme Court’s express order. It is contemptuous of the Supreme Court order simplicita.

“Let us not be carried away that he grudgingly permitted old 200 naira notes to continue to be circulated till sometime in April this year.

“He has breached the Supreme Court order by that announcement. For me as a lawyer, it portends grave danger in our legal system.”

Ubani said the old 200 note and the new currencies “should as matter of urgency be made surplus in the system to stem unrest and the prevent chaos being experienced all over the country.”

Onokpasa argued that the President cannot sit “as a court above the Supreme Court.”

He said:

The Supreme Court’s order restored things to the status quo ante, therefore absolutely all denominations remain legal tender till the court says otherwise.

“What President Buhari has done in his truly weird and most unbelievable national broadcast is to seek to sit on appeal over a Supreme Court order!

“It is not up to him or the CBN to pick and choose which denominations are legal tender – the Supreme Court says all are legal tender.

“It is not up to the government or anyone else, for that matter, to pick and choose what parts of a court order to obey.

“By insisting only the ‘old’ 200 naira notes, and not its 500 and 1000 naira counterparts, are legal tender, our President is most rascally attempting to exercise extrajudicial review over a pronouncement of the Supreme Court.

“That is as brazenly illegal as it gets and it is now our very President, himself, performing unconstitutionality and machinating anarchy in our country! This is just too irretrievably shameful.

“Truth is, regardless of Mr. President’s patently illegal dictats, the position of the law, as it stands, is that absolutely all denominations are legal tender.

“It is the constitutional obligation of Mr President to enforce the law, as such, or he is violating his oath of office.”

The CDD, established in the United Kingdom in 1997 as an independent, not-for-profit organisation, in a statement by its Director, Idayat Hassan, urged President Buhari to reverse the directive.

The statement reads:

The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) closely followed the Thursday morning broadcast by President Buhari on the crisis caused by the implementation of the Naira redesign and cash swap policy.

“The high point of the broadcast was the President’s approval of the recirculation of only the old N200 bank notes, alongside the redesigned notes till April 10, 2023.

“We note, with grave concern, the President’s decision to, unfortunately, take steps contrary to the position of the Supreme Court on a case concerning the policy; this is sub-judice.

“The apex court’s ruling on the implementation of the redesign policy is that the old notes remain legal tender until the court gives a final verdict.

“It, therefore, amounts to a flagrant disobedience and violation of the orders of the highest court in the land for the President to carry on as if the ruling of the Supreme Court is of no effect.

“CDD is convinced that this is an egregious affront to the rule of law and the principle of separation of powers.

“In a constitutional democracy, which is anchored on the rule of law and separation of powers, the President’s action amounts to an unconstitutional power grab, which degrades our democracy.

“President Buhari’s decision has dire consequences for the 2023 general elections, which are less than 10 days away.

“Observers from all over the world are in Nigeria to witness the elections and report on the growth of the Nigerian democracy.

This flagrant side-stepping of the Supreme Court’s decision does no good for our nation, the elections and the democracy we have collectively nurtured over the last 23 years.

“The President has no authority whatsoever to override any court in the land, talk less of the Supreme Court.

“CDD, therefore, calls on President Buhari to immediately purge himself of his unconstitutional overarch and align himself with the ruling of the apex court.

“For a government with a history of routinely disobeying court orders, this goes beyond the fine details of policy preferences.

“It is about respect for the courts as critical institutions, which stand as pillars of our democracy, whether their verdicts sit well with the government or not.

“With less than 120 days to the end of the President’s second and final term in office, we believe this is a clear opportunity for President Buhari to loudly show his support for the rule of law, and live up to the promise he made to the Nigerian people to be a reformed democrat.”

However, Ogbonna held that the President rather saved Nigeria from impending anarchy.

The lawyer said:

What the President did was necessary to save the anarchy that the country was going into.

“CBN cannot be bound by that order upon which it was not joined as a party. CBN knows that you cannot initiate contempt proceeding against it when it was not given a fair hearing and not a party to the suit.

“Filing a suit without joining the CBN is creating anarchy.

“The President as the Commander and Chief has a duty to make a pronouncement, even though it is the CBN that makes pronouncements on the fiscal policy of the country.

“It is now for the CBN to save the country from anarchy by validating what the President said, that only the old N200 note is legal tender because it is only the CBN that determines what is legal tender.

“What the President just did was to cure the problem created by the suit.

“President Buhari cannot commit contempt of court because he has immunity.

“Although you can say that the President is the head of government, his office is different from the Federal Government of Nigeria.

“What the President did is different from what the suit before the Supreme Court is all about.

“The suit is for February 10, while the President extended the validity of the N200 note till April.

“The President has a duty to govern. He cannot fold his hands and see the country degenerating into anarchy because of the policy of the Federal Government or the CBN.”

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