Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor Godwin Emefiele should be jailed for contempt of the Supreme Court, an eminent professor of law, Itse Sagay (SAN), said yesterday.
He believes spending some time behind bars will make the CBN helmsman realise the enormity of the “merciless pain” the naira crisis has subjected Nigerians to.
Sagay, chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), urged affected parties to initiate contempt proceedings against Emefiele at the Supreme Court.
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He insisted that an order by the highest court in the land, rightly or wrongly made, must be obeyed by all until set aside.
Last Wednesday, the Supreme Court, in a case filed by Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara states, barred the Federal Government, acting through the 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” will subsist “pending the hearing and determination of the plaintiffs/applicants’ motion on notice for interlocutory injunction.”
But yesterday, Emefiele said there was no extension of the February 10 deadline for the old N1000, N500, and N200 banknotes to stop being legal tenders.
“There is no there is need to consider any shift from the deadline of February 10th,” he said when he met with members of the diplomatic community in Abuja.
The presidency said it would make its position known after today’s Supreme Court hearing.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, said in a statement: “We wish to state that it is not true that the Federal Government or the CBN have taken a preemptive action on the legality of currency as a legal tender in view of the pendency of the case before the Supreme Court.
“The position of the government and the CBN will be made known upon the determination of the suit coming up tomorrow (today).”
Prof Sagay believes Emefiele’s attitude towards the subsisting order was highly contemptuous. He was not alone.
Other Senior Advocates of Nigeria, who spoke with The Nation, including Chief Ajibola Aribisala, Mr Ahmed Raji and law teacher Wahab Shittu, as well as Femi Falana who spoke on Channels, said the Supreme Court order must be obeyed.
Three other SANs – Dr Olisa Agbakoba, Abiodun Owonikoko and Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, as well as Dr Fassy Yusuf, were hopeful the Supreme Court would help end the state of confusion.
Prof Sagay said: “The Supreme Court made its order. Whether you believe it has jurisdiction or not, you have to obey until the order is set aside. You are bound by the injunction.
“The Constitution specifically says the Supreme Court has even powers to enforce its judgments and that virtually all authorities in Nigeria are bound to enforce its orders, whether right or wrong.
“You can always apply to have an order set aside if you have a good reason.
“What is happening now, in my personal view, is that the CBN is committing contempt of court.
“I think the other parties to the case should now file proceedings for contempt against Emefiele so that he can be locked up for contempt.
“Maybe that will reduce his zeal and the wickedness and cruelty which he has been perpetuating with pleasure on Nigerians in the last few weeks.
“That will make him a bit more sober and appreciate the degree to which he has subjected us to merciless pain.”
Aribisala was categorical in condemning the rejection of the old naira notes by banks.
The learned silk urged the plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case to begin contempt proceedings.
Aribisala said: “There is no doubt about the contemptuous actions of the CBN especially.
“It is hoped that the three plaintiffs at the Supreme Court should take the proper action against the Federal Government and its agencies, including the governor of CBN.”
Raji urged the CBN not to be seen as lawless.
He said: “I believe the public is not sufficiently educated on the impact of the order of the Supreme Court.
“The banks should seek proper legal advice while the CBN should carefully study the orders made by the Supreme Court.
“The apex bank should not expose itself to the negative impression of being tagged a lawless body.
“The Supreme Court is the highest court of the land.”
Shittu believes the Supreme Court order is binding on the CBN, therefore, it is wrong for banks to refuse to accept old notes.
He said: “The actions of the commercial banks are in clear violation of the ex parte orders of the CBN.
“Legally speaking, the ex-parte order is binding on the CBN which is an agency of the Federal Government.”
Citing a Court of Appeal case of Jonathan vs FRN (2018), the SAN said effect of the decision is that the ex-parte orders of the Supreme Court must be obeyed until the application is heard on notice.
“Anything to the contrary amounts to contempt of court,” he said.
Shittu, a law teacher, added that the actions of the bank in not accepting the old naira notes amount to both indirect and criminal contempt.
“It invariably obstructs the administration of justice given the overall economic situation in the country and also brings the Supreme Court into disrepute.
“The order was rightfully made by the Supreme Court in order to forestall anarchy and ease the pressure and hardship occasioned by the new naira design policy on the citizens,” he said.
Falana slammed the CBN for ignoring the Supreme Court order.
He said the apex bank has a responsibility to direct banks to comply with the injunction.
The SAN said: “In a country where the rule of law operates, once the Supreme Court has determined a matter or given an order, it is expected that all and sundry – everybody – will comply with the order.
“In this instance, the government was not really ready to comply with the order.
“A statement was credited to the Central Bank that said since it was not a party to the case, it is not going to comply with the order.
“I thought that could only happen in a Banana Republic
“You would have expected the Central Bank to have issued a statement following the order of the Supreme Court.
“I think the plaintiffs will have to take it up in the court.”
Adegboruwa urged the Federal Government to obey the Supreme Court order.
Referencing Section 14 (2) (b) of the Constitution, which tasks the government with the security and welfare of the people, the SAN said: “No matter the rationale for the cashless policy by the CBN, or indeed the Federal Government, once the end result is agony, suffering and even death in certain cases, it should be reconsidered.”
He was of the view that the judiciary’s intervention should be implemented by the Federal Government in line with the rule of law.
Owonikoko thinks the order should be made more specific to the CBN.
He said: “Hopefully this experience will be brought up at the Supreme Court (today).
“It will take a formal mandatory order addressed to CBN to issue compliance guidance if the order is extended after the proceedings.”
Dr Agbokaba feels the Supreme Court order needed better clarity.
He said: “It’s not contempt at all that anyone will refuse to accept the old notes.
“The policy, whether executive or that of the CBN, in addition to the ruling of the Supreme Court, has left the matter extensively confusing.
“I cannot blame anyone who declines to accept the old banknotes and for that matter, even the new notes.”
Dr Yusuf was of the view that the blame lay with the CBN and Emefiele.
“You cannot blame the banks. You can only blame their supervisor, which in this case is CBN.
“It has not communicated the decision of the Supreme Court – the interim injunction on the Federal Government and by extension, the CBN – to them.
“The banks as you know are not agents of the Federal Government.
“The agent of the Federal Government is CBN and CBN ought to have communicated that to them.
“In the first instance, the Attorney-General of the Federation ought to have communicated that injunction to the CBN and the CBN in turn to the banks.
“So, there has been a lot of buck-passing and you can only blame the Attorney-General for not giving out that information because the buck stops there.
“The CBN would be giving excuses that it was not informed whereas it is an agent of the Federal Government.
“It is all a reflection of the rascality in the country.”