BY ADEMOLA OYETUNJI
Now that the CBN has spoken and has directed Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) in the country to forthwith start dispensing and accepting old N200, N500 and N1,000 banknotes side by side the newly redesigned banknotes, the feverish temperature in the economy may have tempered. The Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, had no option but to heed to the dictates of the Supreme Court judgement delivered on March 3, 2023. President, Muhammadu Buhari, who gave the CBN the approval to redesign the banknotes of N200, N500 and N1,000 has distanced himself after a long silence and disobedience to the apex court order.
The Presidency on Monday, March 13, 2023 in a press statement by one of its media aides, Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity amid chaos with the new Naira notes implementation procedures and the verdict of the Supreme Court said “the President never told the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele to disobey any court orders involving the government and other parties”.
The statement read in part, “Following the ongoing intense debate about the compliance concerning the legality of the old currency notes, the Presidency therefore wishes to state clearly that President Buhari has not done anything knowingly and deliberately to interfere with or obstruct the administration of justice.” It continued, “the President is not a micromanager and will not, therefore, stop the Attorney General and the CBN Governor from performing their duties in accordance with the law. It is debatable at this time if there is proof of willful denial by the two of them on the orders of the apex court,” the Presidency stated.
Garba Shehu in the statement noted that “President Buhari is an absolute respecter of the rule of law and that the negative campaign and personalized attacks against the President by the opposition and all manner of commentators is unfair and unjust.” He said “it is therefore wide off the mark to blame the President for the current controversy over the cash scarcity, despite the Supreme Court judgement. The CBN has no reason not to comply with court orders on the excuse of waiting for directives from the President.”
The highest court in the land had on March 3, 2023, ordered that old N200, N500, and N1,000 notes remain legal till December 31, 2023. This was as three State Governors of Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara later joined by thirteen other States had sought relief from the apex court to void and set aside the policy on the premise that it was inflicting hardship on Nigerians.
The Supreme Court justices in their ruling said the President’s disobedience of its February 8, 2023, order was a sign of dictatorship, adding that President Buhari violated the constitution of the Federal Republic in the way he issued directives for the redesigning of the Naira by the CBN.
It could be recall that shortly after the February 8, 2023, ruling, ordering the FGN and the CBN to maintain status quo, the President on February 16, 2023 in a broadcast to the Nation empathized with Nigerians and promised to address their concerns within days. When he did, he approved the old N200 to continue to be legal tender till April 10, 2023, while N500 and N1,000 banknotes cease to be legal tender. This was in flagrant disobedience to the apex court’s order. Yet, as Garba Shehu said, the President is an absolute respecter of the rule of law!
The hawks have finally gotten themselves a victim in Godwin Emefiele, the CBN Governor, blaming him for shoddy implementation and woes experienced by the people. There were also saboteurs, not pleased with the policy. Principal among them are chieftains of the Deposit Money Banks who in no small measure frustrated the CBN. They hoarded the new banknotes, disbursing to preferred highest bidder and their owners. Newly redesigned banknotes were being hawked on the street and sprayed at social events, yet they are not available in the banks. The downturn and epileptic IT support pledged to make the policy a success was suspect. Above all were the political elites who have sworn to frustrate Emefiele for his audacity.
Was Emefiele expected to implement the orders of the court without the express approval of his principal, the President? More so that, the CBN was not joined in the suit file by the State Governors. The CBN Governor reports to the President. Thus, if the President as claimed, is a respecter of the rule of law, rather than approving the continuous usage of the old N200 banknote as a legal tender, he should have heeded the apex court’s ruling. If Godwin Emefiele had gone ahead to implement the court order, would it not have amounted to insubordination? We also know of several court judgements President Buhari has ignored or disobeyed. Why call a dog a bad name just to hang it?
The Federal Government was taken to court and not the CBN. The CBN remotely got involved as the supervisory monetary authority and issuer of legal tenders, and an agency of government that takes its powers from the President, and Commander-in-Chief, despite its independence as prescribed by the constitution and the CBN Act. Mr. President approved the design and reprint of new banknotes, therefore, if there is any controversy/litigation in this respect, it behooves on him to call his agent, in this case, the CBN Governor, to apply the brake and obey the court. Rather, our President was silent, aloof, and left the CBN in a quandary.
The CBN was indeed in a quandary. The Bank that does not have the prerogative of redesigning or printing of banknotes at will without the permission of the President cannot without the nod of the President conduct an order of a court it was not a party to. By the implication of its reproachment and castigation of the Attorney General and the CBN Governor, it is apparent that the Central Bank of Nigeria may have been mischievously coerced by the political hawks and vampires in government to redesign the Naira on the eve of 2023 general elections for political hatchet and emasculation as alleged in some quarters of which the CBN and its Governor have now become the sacrificial lamb. The President as a military jackboot did same in 1984 ]and the scars are still visible.
Why is the government making a villain out of Godwin Emefiele? This administration ought to show gratitude for the support it received in almost eight years from the Central Bank. This administration came into power amidst global economic turbulence when international price of crude oil nose-dived to a miserable $16/20pb. The economy at the time was also yet to recover from post electoral expenses and its attendant effect, economic recession. Emefiele’s CBN rose to the occasion dishing out policies and deploying ingenious monetary measures to aid and grow the economy out of recession, particularly its Anchor Borrowers’ Programme. It intervened in every critical sector of the economy to create jobs and wealth.
One should also not forget the critical role played by the Bank during COVID-19. How Godwin Emefiele rallied the private sector to support government. What are the sins of Godwin Emefiele now? If the Attorney General could not advise the President as the Nation’s Chief Legal Officer to obey court orders, is it Emefiele that will? We know how stubborn and stoic our President is. He orchestrated everything, and someone must be his fall-guy if opposition to the policy becomes a national crisis. There were presumptions that the Naira redesign was crafted to scuttle the 2023 general election or stop a particular person from becoming the president, but the CBN severally refuted this, reiterating its apolitical posture.
President Buhari’s disposition to the outcome of the legal tussle leaves much to be desired. Nigerians were outraged against Godwin Emefiele and vociferously called for his head. The media goons and some State Governors who were once crutching, caps in hand begging for support from the CBN and shouting ‘Hosannah, Hosannah’ to Emefiele are today calling for his head. Emefiele suddenly became a pariah. How are we like this? Yet, people were not angry with our taciturn President and his co-travelers.
Despite the short-lived Naira Redesign Policy, it was obvious the policy was well crafted and potent to achieve the set objectives. Curbing extravagant electoral spending, vote buying, counterfeiting, reduce/obliterate kidnapping and ransom paying/taking and check inflation et al. And importantly, stepping up its game in financial inclusion drive target as one of the best financial systems in the world.
Admirably, within the past two months, its potency was visible despite glitches. Feasible concocted obstacles mounted by agents and cronies of the political class, the vulturous characters who saw the policy as a weapon to incapacitate them grouped together to scuttle it.
Annoyingly, the backer of Emefiele also suddenly left him and made him vulnerable to the political hyenas, vampires, and vultures to devour, but history will adjudge him as one Nigeria Central Bank Governor who left a shoe too big for anyone to wear.
Ademola Oyetunji writes from Ibadan.