As part of efforts to deliberately stall the Supreme Court ruling on a suit by three state governments against the move by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to phase out the use of the old N200, N500 and N1,000, which comes up for hearing on Wednesday, governors of some states in the country have chosen to continue to file for joinder in the matter.
The suit which was originally filed by Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara states have been joined by Ondo, Kano and Ekiti states, with Rivers state also indicating its preparedness to do same.
Sources at the Federal Ministry of Justice that disclosed this to THISDAY on Sunday, also revealed that as of close of business on Friday, the ministry was yet to receive the certified true copy of the Supreme Court ruling on the currency issue.
The sources stressed that the design of the state governors, who were joining the Supreme Court suit was to delay the judgement and have the old currency run till after the election.
One of the sources, who pleaded to remain anonymous, said, “It is the design of the governors, who are adding many joinder suits, to delay the judgement and try to keep the state of affairs whereby the old currency would continue to be in use, while they lobby Supreme Court justices so that they cannot reach a judgement, and to push the Supreme Court decision on this matter until after the presidential election.
“They want to use the cash for the presidential election. So, they are adding more joinder suits to delay the outcome of the judgement so that the two currencies can work together. So, what we see is that the vote-buyers are fighting back.”
The revelation came just as governors of the 36 states of the federation rose from a meeting at the weekend in Abuja with a resolution to direct their Attorneys General to review the suit with a view to consolidating the legal reliefs pursued by the states.
The 36 governors also asked the federal government and the CBN to respect the rule of law and halt the currency restrictions, which they argued were causing an economic crisis.
The governors made the assertions in a communiqué issued at the end of a meeting of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), which was signed by the forum’s chairman, Rt. Hon. Aminu Tambuwal.
The Supreme Court had in a ruling on February 8 suspended the CBN’s February 10 deadline to stop the use of old currency notes. The bank had ordered citizens to swap out old N1, 000, N500, and N200 banknotes for a redesigned currency by the deadline. But the apex court, ruling in an ex parte application by three states – Zamfara, Kogi and Kaduna – stopped the CBN from banning the old notes pending the hearing and determination of the case. It fixed February 15 for hearing.
The move to ban the old banknotes had caused cash shortages, remonstrations and attacks on banks in some places.
Also, yesterday, Ekiti State Government applied to be joined as a co-plaintiff in the suit against the federal government at the Supreme Court on the CBN’s currency redesign.
However, the central bank told the Federal High Court, in Akure, that extending the expiry date for the old naira notes would jeopardise the fight against fraud, corruption and criminal activities in the country.
Meanwhile, ahead of the February 25, 2023 presidential election, the Catholic Bishops under the auspices of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) has charged Nigerians to resist the dubious practice of vote buying.
The 36 state governors urged the federal government and the CBN to listen to the voice of reason expressed by Nigerians and several other stakeholders, including the Council of State, before the damage to the economy became too great to fix by the next administration.
The state chief executives accused the apex bank of pursuing a currency confiscation programme and not the currency exchange policy envisaged under Section 20 (3) of the CBN Act, 2007.
The governors stated that although the Attorney General of the Federation promised that the federal government would comply with the ruling of the Supreme Court halting the CBN’s plan to end the use of the old currency notes, they were yet to observe changes in the financial system.
The communiqué stated, “We, members of the NGF, at our meeting today discussed critical issues of national interest and resolved as follows:
“First, we express our sympathies and support with Nigerians who are experiencing great difficulties under the current CBN naira re-design and cash withdrawal restrictions policy. We feel your pain and we are determined to employ all legitimate channels to ease the situation.
“It has become necessary to make a distinction between the CBN naira redesign policy backed by Section 20 (3) of the CBN Act, 2007, and the aspirational policy of going cashless, both of which are mutually exclusive at this time.
“It is our considered view that what the CBN is at present pursuing is a currency confiscation programme, not the currency exchange policy envisaged under S20 (3) of the CBN Act, 2007.”
The communique explained that currency confiscation involved a situation whereby the liquidity provided to the general public was grossly insufficient due to the restrictions placed on the amount that could be withdrawn, regardless of the amount deposited.
The governors’ forum noted that the current approach of the CBN raised concerns about the respect for the civil liberties and rights of Nigerians as it relates to their freedom to use legitimately earned income as they so wish.
The communique continued, “The forum believes that to deploy a cashless policy and deepen digital transactions, the best practice around the world is to create a suite of incentives to attract customers; rather than a draconian approach, as we have witnessed in the last three months.
“The argument by the CBN for what it describes as the astronomical increase in the currency in circulation as the basis for this policy is not supported by its own data. According to the CBN, the currency in circulation increased from N1.4 trillion in 2015, to N3.23 trillion in October 2022. The bank appears not to have taken into consideration the increase in the size of the country’s nominal GDP over this period, the doubling of consumer prices, rising population, and the impact of the humongous Ways and Means advances to the federal government by the Central Bank of Nigeria over this period.
“In the circumstances, it is safe to draw either of two conclusions – the CBN data may be incomplete or in fact, Nigerians may have done exceptionally well in the transition to a cashless economy.
“In addition, considering the sizeable informal sector in the nation, the amount of banknotes created in exchange so far by the CBN implies it vastly underestimated the economy’s actual cash needs.”
The governors said the inability to use the new notes had engendered far-reaching economic effects, “Leading to the emergence of the naira black market, severe food inflation, variable commodities prices based on the method of exchange, and long queues as well as crowds around Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) and banking halls across the country, with individuals hoping to get a fraction of their money in new notes to meet their daily livelihood.”
According to the state governors, the country runs the risk of a CBN-induced recession.
The governors said in the communique, “Consequently, we call on the federal government and the CBN to respect the rule of law and listen to the voice of reason expressed by Nigerians and several other stakeholders, including the Council of State, before the damage to our economy becomes too great to fix by the next administration.
“Members rose from the meeting agreeing to direct their Attorneys General to review the suit at the Supreme Court with a view to consolidating the legal reliefs pursued by states.”
Ekiti Joins Suit against Retirement of Old Banknotes
Ekiti State Government applied to be joined as a co-plaintiff in a suit against the federal government at the Supreme Court against the deadline issued by the CBN for phasing out old N200, N500 and N1, 000 banknotes.
The application for joinder was filed last Friday at the Supreme Court by Ekiti State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Dayo Apata, seeking three reliefs.
The suit, with the number SC/CV/162/2023, had Attorneys General of Kaduna State, Kogi State and Zamfara State as plaintiffs, with Attorney General of the Federation as the defendant.
The three reliefs being sought by Attorney General of Ekiti State were: “Leave of this Honourable Court to join the applicants as a co-plaintiff in this suit; an order of this court joining Attorney General of Ekiti State as a co-plaintiff in this suit; and for such order or further order that this honourable court may seem fit to make in this circumstance of this suit.”
Some of the grounds upon which the application was premised included acute shortage in the supply of naira notes in the state since the announcement of the policy by the federal government through the CBN.
The applicant, Ekiti State Government, averred that the directive of the federal government had affected livelihoods and inflicted excruciating pain and hardship on all Nigerians, including citizens of Ekiti State.
The state government equally averred that the directive of the federal government had adversely affected the revenue, levies and taxes accruable to the coffers of Ekiti State Government, as economic activities in the state were now completely paralysed.
Apata further averred that the directive of the federal government on the naira redesign had also created palpable anxiety among the citizens of Ekiti State.
Another ground upon which the application was premised was the fact that Ekiti was a federating state of Nigeria and, therefore, had interest in the determination of the originating summons in the suit earlier filed by the three states in the federation.
Ekiti State Government averred that having common interest as other plaintiffs and also in the outcome of the suit sought the leave of the court to be joined as a co-plaintiff in order to be bound by the outcome of the suit.
It stated that no injustice or embarrassment would be occasioned to any of the parties on record if joined as co-plaintiff to ventilate the grievances of Ekiti State.
The sole issue formulated for determination was “whether the applicant has made a case for the honourable court to favourably consider the application.”
This was supported by an argument that the court had always been of the position that anyone whose presence was crucial and fundamental to a suit must be made a party to the proceedings, citing the authorities of Green v Green (1987) 3 NWLR (PT 61) 480; Peenok Inv. Ltd v Hotel Presidential (1983) 4 NCLR 122; and LSBPC v Purification Tech (Nig) Ltd (2013) 7 NWLR (PT 1352) 82@ 107.
Retaining Old Naira Notes Will Jeopardise Fight against Fraud, Corruption
The CBN told the Federal High Court in Akure that extending the expiry date for the old naira notes would jeopardise the fight against corruption and fraud. The apex bank, in a counter-affidavit to a suit filed against it by a group, the Social Rehabilitation Grace and Supportive Initiative (SRG), justified its reluctance to extend the expiry date for the old naira notes, and said it was to save Nigeria’s democracy.
The Social Rehabilitation Grace and Supportive Initiative had dragged the CBN before the Federal High Court, asking the court to compel the apex bank to extend the expiry date of the old naira notes by six months.
The group is convened by a Nigeria-born United States medical doctor, Dr. Marindoti Oludare.
The applicants in the suit were Dr. Marindoti Oludare, the Social Rehabilitation Grace and Supportive Initiative, and Omoyele Ishola.
They were praying the court to extend by six months the February 10 previously fixed by the banking sector regulator for the expiration of the old naira notes.
However, the Supreme Court had last week ruled that the central bank should not enforce the deadline until hearing of a suit filed by three states, which comes up on Wednesday.
Reacting to the group’s suit before the court, the apex bank, in a counter-affidavit filed by its counsel, Oyetola Atoyebi (SAN), urged the court to dismiss the suit, averring that the plaintiffs have no justifiable reason for filing it.
Atoyebi argued that the extension of expiry date for old naira notes of N200, N500 and N1000 would give room for vote-buying and undermine the forthcoming election.
He argued, “The extension of the timeline will jeopardise the fight against fraud, corruption and criminal activities perpetrated with the use of the old currencies.”
The CBN specifically cited the festering kidnapping crime, claiming a change in currency notes will end it.
On the reference to currency change in India in 2016 in which the group said the Indians were given enough time to replace old Indian rupees, the CBN submitted, “The government of India announced the change of their legal tender on November 8, 2016. The entire citizens of India of about 1.417 billion adhered to the timeliness strictly, which has led to positive improvement of the Indian economy.
“The applicants were seeking, among others, an interim injunction restraining, “the respondent, agent, or servants from enforcing the deadline date of 10th February 2023, wherein the old N200, N500, and N1000 currency notes cease to be legal tender, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice”.
The applicants added that the court should give “an order compelling the respondent to extend the submission of old N200, N500 and N2000 currency notes by a minimum of six months before same are finally called in and cease to be a legal tender, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.”
In a 26-paragraph Supporting Affidavit deposed to by the 3rd Applicant, Omoyele Ishola, he stated that the respondent did not give adequate notice to the public and failed to print enough new N200, N500 and N1000 notes to ensure efficient supply and circulation.
He added that the undeniable scarcity of the new N200, N500 and N1000 notes had caused untold hardship on the applicants and the general public. He averred that the respondent had also insisted that the members of the public would not be able to deposit the old N200, N500 and N1000 notes in their possession after the expiration of the 17th February, 2023 deadline.
The deponent stated, “I know as a fact that the respondent disclosed this in an interview with Arise News that upon failure to submit the old notes before the expiration of the deadline, the money would lose its legal tender value.
“That I also know as a fact that while the 2nd Respondent has the power to demonetise the currency, it has no right to erase the value acquired by individuals.
“That the Respondent has not complied with or acted in accordance with the provisions of the CBN Act, 2007.”
He stated that when the First Applicant visited Nigeria from the United States of America on December 29, 2022, he withdrew old naira notes from an ATM operated by First Bank of Nigeria Plc, and after completing his assignment in Nigeria, he returned to the United States with the old naira notes.
He stated that the respondent did not have the power to prescribe a deadline for submitting the old N200, N500 and N1000 currency notes, and had failed to provide a means whereby Nigerians resident abroad could exchange their old N200, N500, N1000 notes.
He added that the failure of the respondent to make the new naira notes available had caused untold hardships on the applicants, many Nigerians, both at home and abroad.
Ishola added that the group (2nd applicant) found it very difficult to make proper arrangements for its inauguration coming up on February 11, 2023, and could not access cash to pay for commodities, due to the extremely long queues at the ATMs, and the limited amounts of cash available for withdrawal over the counter and being dispensed by the machines.
He stated that the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan administration also redesigned the N20 and N50 currency notes, following which the old and the new Naira notes were both legal tender for over two years before the old notes went out of circulation.
Consequently, the applicants sought the following reliefs, “An Order of Interim injunction restraining the Respondent and her Privies, agents or servants from enforcing the deadline date of 10th February 2023 wherein the old N200, N500 and N1000 currency notes cease to be a legal tender, pending the hearing and determination of the Motion on notice.
“An Order compelling the Respondent to extend the submission of old N200, N500 and N1000 currency notes by a minimum of six months before same are finally called in and cease to be legal tender, pending the hearing and determination of the Motion on notice.”
In the alternative, the group asked the court for “an Order of Interim Injunction restraining the Respondent from setting a deadline for submitting old N200, N500 and N1000 currency notes, such deadline being alien to the provisions of the Central Bank of Nigeria Act, 2007, pending the hearing and determination of the Motion on notice.”
Resist Politicians’ Vote-buying Antics, Catholic Bishops Tell Nigerians
However, the CBCN has charged Nigerians to resist the dubious practice of vote buying.
The bishops urged the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) not to toy with the confidence and trust Nigerians placed on them by ensuring that the processes involved in the forthcoming elections are bereft of all forms ambiguity capable of offending the collective sensibility of Nigerians.
In his Pastoral Letter delivered on Sunday, at the opening of the conference, CBCN President, Archbishop of Owerri, Most Rev. Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, urged the electorate to resolve to vote according to their conscience and convictions.
While condemning vote-buying, Ugorji said the practice of inducing the poor and vulnerable voters to cast their votes for a particular candidate in exchange for some financial reward seeks to deny such citizens their real voice and choice in the electoral process.
“More to the point, such brazen use of wealth offends the dignity of the poor and vulnerable while making it increasingly difficult for good but poor candidates to contest and win elections.
“Therefore, we urge Nigerians to stoutly resist the odious practice and resolve to vote according to one’s conscience and convictions,” he said.
Ugorji while cautioning politicians to be mindful of the tone of their campaign messages, also reminded the leadership of the country’s judiciary not to engage in abuse judicial power and office.
He expressed regret that, “judicial corruption has risen as politicians seek to importune judges with unprintable sums of money to overturn the will of the people in fair elections.”
Speaking, the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) said the association had provided guidelines to all Christians, urging them to use factors like character, capacity and competence in choosing the preferred presidential candidate.
He said CAN had also concluded the training of total of 1200 observers who would be deployed at national and local levels to monitor the 2023 general elections.
The Archbishop used the occasion to condemn the attack on supporters of the Labour Party presidential candidate, Mr. Peter Obi, by thugs during their rally in Lagos, describing it as worrisome.
In his goodwill message, the Dean of the Church in Nigeria, Anglican Communion, Most Rev. Buns Lamido, who represented the Prelate, enjoined Nigerians to participate actively in the process of governance.
He explained that participation was a key element of good governance system which provides citizens the opportunity to monitor and influence public decision, processes and actions.