BY PROF. MIKE A. A. OZEKHOME, SAN, CON, OFR, FCIArb, LL.M, Ph.D, LL.D, D.Litt.
Buhari in his broadcast on Thursday, February 16, 2023, unilaterally varied the apex court’s extant order of maintenance of status quo, by directing the CBN Governor to the effect that “the old N200 banknotes be released back into circulation…to circulate as legal tender with the new N200, N500 and N1000 bank notes for 60 days…”. The President then issued a dicta, more in the form of a military Decree, that, “in line with section 20 (3) of the CBN Act, 2007, all existing old N1000 and N500 notes remain redeemable at the CBN and designated prints”. This order is a clear violation of and disobedience to the existing order of the apex court which had already maintained the status quo ante bellum of all parties involved in the Naira re-design dispute.
The Supreme Court had on Wednesday, 15th February, 2023, after the first interim order, adjourned the suit originally filed by the Attorneys-General of Kano, Kogi and Zamfara States (other interested parties were later joined) to the 22nd of February, to enable it hear the entire matter holistically. Without saying so in many words, every person very well knew that this adjournment was a further elongation of its earlier interim order granted against the CBN and the Federal Government, represented by the Attorney-General of the Federation; restraining it from carrying out its directives that the old naira notes would cease to be legal tender by 10th of February, 2023. The order was to have lasted till 15th February, 2023. During the proceedings of that day, the matter was again adjourned to 22nd February, for full hearing. Every Nigerian had expected that the Federal Government would respect this apex court’s position. But President Buhari demurred. He made himself Supreme Leader; an Emperor; Potentate, Mikado and Overlord.
Buhari’s broadcast to the Nation therefore literally overruled the Supreme Court of the land, in a way and manner only a military tyrant could ever contemplate. Buhari’s action is a reminder of the apocryphal saying of autocratic and despotic Emperor Louis XIV, who, on 13th April, 1655, stood in front of Parliament and imperiously declared, “L’Etat C’est Moi (I am the State)”. This was to underline the fact that he and he alone, had absolute power over his Nation. His father had abdicated the throne due to mass protests. Louis XIV himself met the same fate. His reign over France and Navarre was short lived. It only lasted for 20 minutes, after which he too abdicated the throne.
Buhari’s imperious order was a frontal call to chaos, anarchy and national upheaval. It was a direct assault on the authority of the Supreme Court, the highest court of the land; and also the head of the entire Judiciary, the 3rd arm of government under the doctrine of separation of powers, most ably popularized in 1748 by Baron de Montesque, a great French Philosopher.
To have whimsically and capriciously varied the order of the Supreme Court was to pick and choose what order to obey or disobey. This breaches the supremacy of the 1999 Constitution provided for in section 1(1) thereof. It also frontally assaults the provisions of section 287(1) of the Constitution which 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”.
Once given, an order of the court is binding on all. The Apex Court in ROSSEK V. ACB LTD (1993) 8 NWLR (Pt. 312) 382 at 434 re-stated the law to the effect that:
“A judgment remains binding until it is set aside by a competent Court… To hold otherwise is to clothe a party against whom a judgment has been obtained with the discretion to decide, in his wisdom that the judgment is invalid and not binding on him. This to my mind, is an invitation to anarchy. I do not understand the law to be so.” – per Ogundare, JSC.
Also, in STATE v. SOLOMON (2020) LPELR-55598(SC), the Supreme Court held thus:
“It is the law that a decision of a Court of competent jurisdiction, no matter that it is seems palpably null and void, unattractive or insupportable, remains good law and uncompromisingly binding until set aside by a superior Court of competent jurisdiction.”
The Supreme Court, in the case of ABACHA V. FAWEHINMI (2000) 6 NWLR (Pt. 660) 228 at page 317 E-F, held as follows:-
“A Court order must be obeyed and even if it is a nullity, it has to be set aside on appeal against it”. Per NWALI SYLVESTER NGWUTA, JSC (Pp 25 – 25 Paras D – E).
See also the locus classicus of GOVERNOR OF LAGOS STATE VS. OJUKWU (1986) 1 NWLR PT. 18, PG. 621.
This is one instance where the apex court should bare its teeth and bite. This is more so because President Buhari had himself acknowledged in his speech, the pendency of the matter before the Supreme Court. Surely, no one is above the law; not even President Muhammadu Buhari himself.
Buhari’s broadcast rather than be re-assuring and balming the frayed nerves of a traumatized citizenry and a beleaguered nation, was the exact opposite; a complete anti-climax. It was a clarion call for total disenchantment, disillusionment, despair and desolation. The speech was not only highly unpresidential; but was vividly insensate and insensitive to the suffering of Nigerian citizens, who, due to no fault of theirs, can neither now use the old currency, nor access the new one. Banks claim not to have the new currency in their vaults. What manner of government would consciously and deliberately throw its country into a spin, and its citizens under the bus, in a policy that could have been handled with better planning and more decency, efficiency and human face? This is the first time in my life I watch Nigerians buy money with money – buying Naira with Naira – at exorbitant exchange rates.
When Queen Elizabeth II died in September, 2022, the British government set about changing its governance template to reflect the realities of the moment. It decided to change the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II on the British Pound Sterling to that of King Charles III, her son who had succeeded her. The effective take-off date of the new Pound Sterling was fixed for middle of 2024; nearly two years from the announcement of the change. There were no violent protests or any upheavals because the citizens immediately bought into the historic and laudable project, as it afforded them enough time to put their house in order.
How many Nigerians know that Queen’s Counsel (QC)(the equivalent of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) has since been changed to King’s Counsel (KC); and that Queen’s English is now King’s English? We have seen the ugly scenes of frustrated Nigerians fighting at ATMs; or going completely nude; students and soldiers fighting each other; some POS holders being burnt alive; while Police shot and killed unarmed Nigerians. Are we a cursed Nation, that an otherwise beautiful policy whose fiscal, monetary, economic, and development advantages are unquantifiable should be so mishandled and so grossly messed up as to lead to widespread national protests; burning of banks; destruction; mayhem and killings. Just what is wrong with us as a Nation? I do not know; or do you?
The Russian Ruble which had been used since the 14th Century is the second-oldest currency in the world, next only to the British Sterling. Following the dissolution and fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Soviet Ruble remained the currency of the Russian Federation until 1992, when in 1993; a new set of coins was issued with a new set of banknotes in the name of the Bank of Russia. There were no killings and mayhem.
Chinese currency comes by two names – the Chinese Yuan (CNY) and the People’s Renminbi (RMB). The distinction is subtle: because while the Renminbi is the official currency of China, the Yuan is the principal unit of account for that currency.
Today, the Renminbi is one of the top-five most-used currencies in the world, in addition to the U.S. Dollar, Euro, Yen, and the British Pound. Yet, the Naira which is not even recognised as a legal tender in any part of the world is being used by the government to oppress and torment its citizens.
The Euro is the new ‘single currency’ of the European Monetary Union. Adopted on January 1, 1999, by 11 Member States. Greece became the 12th Member state to adopt the Euro on January 1, 2001. On January 1, 2002, these 12 countries officially introduced the Euro banknotes and coins as legal tender. Slovenia became the 13th member state to adopt the Euro on January 1, 2007.
Venezuela debuted with a new currency in 2018, a currency that featured six fewer zeros. This was a response to years of spirally inflation.
In December, 2019, eight West African countries agreed to change the name of their common currencies to ECO. This effectively severed these countries from the CFA Franc; and therefore, their former colonial masters. The countries are Benin, Burkina – Faso, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Togo.
On January 1, 2023, Croatia joined the Euro Zone, replacing its Kuna with the Euro.
When these independent countries changed from their original currency to the new Euro, there was no ruckus; no brouhaha; no wahala, donnybrook or rhubarb.
Yet, some Nigerians, for political exigencies or correctness, are shamelessly celebrating a bare-faced assault on the common man and woman and the authority of the Supreme Court. This was the same way despotic Hitler of Germany was celebrated, applauded and deified during the third Reich, until it became irredeemably too late to retreat. Read the immortal words of Martin Niemoller (1892 – 1984), a German theologian and Lutheran Pastor who bemoaned Hitler’s atrocities and their debilitating effect on millions of Jews.
Though having a cashless economy appears quite inviting, appealing, titillating and tantalizing, it must be appreciated that advanced countries such as the UK, US and the EU that have full complement of infrastructure, still use coins. A cent in the US, or penny in the UK are still valued and in wide circulation. When last did you see one Kobo, five Kobo or ten Kobo coins in Nigeria? I have not seen any for years. Or have you?