Following the redesign of the Nigerian Naira currency, Nigerians have been plunged into excruciating pain and untold hardship due to the failure of the internet banking platforms & cash scarcity/shortages. The implication was that the average person could not quickly pay for goods and services in cash or electronically. This crumbled the economy, forcing certain workers to sit at home. Most firms had no option but to resort to a hybrid mode of operation. The scarcity of cash brought about untold hardship on citizens, which in turn, occasioned violent demonstrations which included protests, damage of public properties, arson, and a host of other vices, all in a bid to express the displeasure and frustrations on the mode of implementation of the said government policy[i].
The Supreme Court, in a suit, recently passed judgment on March 3, 2023, ordering CBN to make the N200, N500, and N1000 valid as legal tender till December 31, 2023. This article seeks to examine the decision and the enforceability of the same.
POWERS AND FUNCTIONS OF THE CENTRAL BANK OF NIGERIA
The international best practice which has found its way across the globe is that there is a need for an economy to redesign its currency every 5-8 years. This is primarily considered to be a hallmark of a working Central Bank. For example, the last time Nigeria had a redesign of its currency was in 2014[ii].
The Central Bank of Nigeria is established by the Central Bank of Nigeria Act 2oo7. Section 2 of the CBN Act of 2007 provides that:
“The principal objects of the bank shall be to-
- Ensure monetary and price stability
- Issue legal tender currency in Nigeria
- Maintain external reserves to safeguard the international value of the legal tender currency
- Promote a sound financial system in Nigeria
- Act as a banker and provide economic and financial advice to the Federal Government[iii].
On October 26, 2022, the CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, said that the old banknotes were to be redesigned due to a request from the Federal Government. He disclosed that the new notes would begin circulation in December 2022, while the old banknotes would remain legal tender and circulate together until January 31, 2023[iv].
POWERS OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA
The CBN Act 2007, particularly Section 20 of the said Act, provides as follows:
“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[v].”
It is apposite to state at this point that under the system of government practiced in Nigeria, the powers of government are separated into judicial, legislative, and executive.
Succinctly, the President of the Federal Republic is the head of the Executive arm of government at the Federal level and is fundamentally saddled with the responsibility of implementation, execution, and enforcement of laws and policies made by the Legislative arm of the government. The office of the President is created by the Constitution [vi].
Given the above-referenced provisions of the CBN Act, it is clear that there can only be an attempt to redesign or an actual redesign of the currency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria upon the direction of the President.
POWERS OF THE SUPREME COURT
The judicial arm of the government is created by Section 6 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended in 2011). The Supreme Court is the apex court of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Created by the Constitution [vii], the Supreme Court is saddled with the original jurisdiction of resolving disputes between the Federation and States or between states. The Supreme Court also has appellate jurisdiction in hearing appeals from the Court of Appeal.
“The Supreme Court shall, to the exclusion of any other court, have original jurisdiction in any dispute between the Federation and a state or between states if and in so far as that dispute involves any question (whether of law or fact) on which the existence or extent of a legal right depends. (2) In addition to the jurisdiction conferred upon it by subsection (1) of this section, the Supreme Court shall have such original jurisdiction as may be conferred upon it by any Act of the National Assembly and provided that no original jurisdiction shall be conferred upon the Supreme Court concerning any criminal matter[viii].
The Constitution is Supreme and above any and every individual[ix]. Section 287(1) of the Constitution 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”.
JUDGMENTS OF COURT AND ENFORCEMENT
Generally, a judgment refers to a court’s decision regarding the rights and liabilities of parties in a legal action or proceeding[x]. After carefully listening to all the parties in a suit, the courts make decisions and pronouncements considering relevant parameters, including but not limited to evidence, the law, and the facts as put forward by each party.
In STATE v. SOLOMON[xi], the Supreme Court held thus:
“It is the law that a decision of a Court of competent jurisdiction, no matter that it seems palpably null and void, unattractive or insupportable, remains good law and uncompromisingly binding until set aside by a superior Court of competent jurisdiction
On March 3, 2023, the Supreme Court, in the suit involving several states and the Federal Government, delivered its judgment, declaring, amongst other things, that the old N200, N500, and N1000 notes remain valid as legal tenders in the Nigerian economy until the 31st day of December 2023, and further stated that the directive of President Muhammadu Buhari for the redesign of the new notes and withdrawal of the old notes without due consultation is invalid.
The judgment of the Court further condemned the broadcast made by President.
President Muhammadu Buhari on February 16, 2023. The Court noted that the President’s directive that only N200 notes should remain legal tender made Nigeria’s democracy look like a mere pretension as the message appeared more autocratic than democratic.
In ABACHA V. FAWEHINMI[xii], the Supreme Court held that:
“A Court order must be obeyed and even if it is a nullity, it has to be set aside on appeal against it”.[xiii]
Going by the above mandate of the Court, it goes without saying that the judgment of March 3, 2023, is valid and subsisting, and the same is to be obeyed. Failure to do so would amount to criminal contempt of Court. There is, however, an immunity clause that covers public officials. Conclusively, all judgments of courts are meant to be obeyed to prevent a loss of confidence in the adjudicatory process and the judiciary, which is often seen to be the last hope of the ordinary person.
[iii] Section 2 of the Central Bank of Nigeria Act 2007
[v] Section 20 of the CBN Act 2007.
[vi] Section 130 of the 1999 Constitution.
[vii] Section 230 of the 1999 Constitution.
[viii] Section 232 of the 1999 Constitution.
[ix] Section 1(3) of the 1999 Constitution
[xi] (2020) LPELR-55598(SC)
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