By Femi Falana SAN
The Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, had on October 26, 2022, announced the decision of the Central Bank to redesign, produce, and circulate new series of the N200, N500, and N1, 000 denominations. Mr. Emefiele had said that the move would help to manage money supply, tackle currency counterfeiting and terrorism, among others. In endorsing the policy, President Muhammadu Buhari said that it is designed to stop the monetisation of the 2023 elections. The people of Nigeria hailed the policy but demanded for adequate time to replace the old currency notes with new ones.
Instead of preparing for the printing of new Naira notes and distribution to the banks Mr. Emefiele traveled out of the country. While he was away the State Security Service declared him wanted for terrorism financing. In the absence of Mr. Emefiele the members of the Board of the Central Bank had no information on the quantity of the new currency notes that had been printed. However, Mr. Emefiele returned to the country after a month and was alleged to have been shielded from arrest by some senior military officers. Mr. Emefiele, who claimed that he was on his annual vacation, has been battling to make the new currency notes available to members of the public.
In 1984, the Buhari military junta changed the colour of the Naira. In a country of 81 million people, Bank customers and other citizens were given only two weeks to deposit old notes and replace them with new ones. The poor implementation of the policy caused untold hardships including loss of lives in many parts of the country. Having not studied the poor implementation of the 1984 policy, the CBN has given a period less than 100 days for bank customers in a country of 223 million people to deposit the old Naira notes and collect the redesigned notes.
Upon realising that enough currency notes have not been printed, the Central Bank of Nigeria has directed millions of customers to deposit their old notes in the Banks and collect the new notes from the Automatic Teller Machine (ATM). But the ATMs have no new notes to dispense to customers. Hence, the long queues in the banks. The situation is worse in the rural areas where majority of people have no bank accounts. The crisis has engendered mass anger in all the states of the Federation and Federal Capital Territory.
Having confirmed the mass anger in the land caused by the poor implementation of the new currency policy and based on security reports the Banks are reported to have beefed up security against possible customers’ attacks. The President witnessed the anger of the people in Katsina State last week. Hence the Kano State Government has cancelled the visit of the President to the State to commission projects due to the hardship “caused by the limited time given for halting the use of old Naira notes by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), and for security reasons.”
It is laughable that members of the National Assembly have passed pious resolutions which have been ignored by the Central Bank. This is not unexpected since the legislators have failed woefully to stop the incessant breach of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 by the Management of the Central Bank. In Dr. Uzor Ikebudu v Central Bank of Nigeria (Suit No FHC/L/CS/343/2013) the Federal High Court granted a perpetual injunction restraining the Central Bank from failing or refusing to submit its budget to the National Assembly for appropriation on a yearly basis.
But in defiance of the judgment of the Federal High Court the Central Bank has been spending trillions of Naira without appropriation by the National Assembly. Or is the huge fund spent on printing of the new currency notes captured in the 2022 budget of the Central Bank? Are the National Assembly members not aware that even the President lacks the power to spend money without appropriation? Where then has the head of an agency of the Federal Government derived the power to spend trillions of public fund without appropriation? Instead of requesting the President to comply with section 59 of the Constitution by submitting a supplementary money bill to authorise the billions of Naira illegally approved for the printing of the new currency notes by the Board of the Central Bank the National Assembly has been passing meaningless resolutions and issuing empty threats.
The Independent National Electoral Commission has extended the deadline for the collection of the Permanent Voter Cards by registered voters. The Central Bank should follow the commendable example of INEC by extending the January 31, 2023. But in view of the recalcitrant attitude and arrogant posture of the Central President, Buhari should extend the January 31 deadline in exercise of his powers under section 20 (3) of the Central Bank Act which provides that “notwithstanding sub-sections (1) and (2) of this section, the Bank shall have power, if directed to do so by the President and after giving reasonable notice in that behalf, to call in any of its notes or coins on payment of the face value thereof and any note or coin with respect to which a notice has been given under this Sub-section, shall, on the expiration of the notice, cease to be legal tender, but, subject to section 22 of this Act, shall be redeemed by the Bank upon demand”.
Yesterday, President Muhammadu Buhari was reported to have assured that the Federal Government would ensure that citizens were unharmed in their businesses and no disruption is caused to the entire supply chain arising from the currency swap due to end shortly. Contrary to the assurance, citizens have been harmed already while their businesses have been disrupted. The President should stop the long queues of people waiting for hours for their turn to deposit old notes and get new ones by directing the Central Bank to extend the deadline.
Finally, it is germane to state that by virtue of section 22 of the Central Bank Act people with old notes due to no fault of theirs are entitled to have them replaced with the new redesigned notes. Therefore, if the deadline of January 31 is not extended by the Central Bank Management and the President we call on all patriots and organisations to sustain the pressures on the CBN to compel banks to receive the old currency notes and replace them with new ones. No Nigerian should lose his or her hard earned money on account of the incompetence of the Management of the Central Bank.
Femi Falana SAN,
Alliance on Surviving Covid 19 and Beyond (ASCAB)
January 29, 2023
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