Supreme Court: old naira notes remain legal tender

The Supreme Court yesterday said its order barring the Federal Government from phasing out the old naira notes on February 10 remains in force.

In effect, the old 200, 500 and 1000 banknotes remain legal tenders in line with the February 8 order.

The court made the clarification following a complaint by the plaintiffs’ counsel, Abdulhakeem Mustapha (SAN).

He said the Federal Government and its agencies have failed to comply with the order, with most banks refusing to accept deposits of old notes.

Mustapha said the plaintiffs (Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara states) filed a notice of non-compliance with the order.

He urged the court to protect its dignity by taking action against the respondent.

The SAN added: “The order has been flouted by the government.

“We are talking of executive lawlessness here. We have filed an affidavit to that effect.

“We want the court to renew the order for parties to be properly guided.”

Justice John Okoro, who presided over a seven-member panel, asked Mustapha to file a proper application to enable the respondent to respond.

The Justice said there was no need to renew the order.

He noted that since the order was made pending the determination of the motion for an injunction, it remained in force since the application was not yet heard.

The court had, in the February 8 ruling, held: “After careful consideration of this ex-parte application and the grounds in support of same, this court finds that there is a real urgency for this court to intervene by the grant of this application.

“Accordingly, this application is hereby granted as prayed.

“That is to say, an order of interim injunction restraining the Federal Government of Nigeria, either by itself or acting through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and/or the commercial banks, its agents, agencies, corporations, ministries, parastatals, organisations or through any person or persons (natural and artificial) howsoever, from suspending or determining or ending on the 10th of February 2023 the timeframe within which the now older versions of the 200, 500 and 1000 denominations of the naira may no longer be legal tender, pending the hearing and determination of the plaintiffs/applicants’ motion on notice for interlocutory injunction.”

The Supreme Court fixed February 22 for the hearing.

The court chose the date after joining the Attorneys-General of Katsina, Lagos, Cross River, Ondo, Ogun, Ekiti and Sokoto states as co-plaintiffs.

The court also joined the Attorneys-General of Edo and Bayelsa states as co-respondents.

Both states joined forces with the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), the sole respondent.

The court ordered that the suits filed by Nasarawa, Rivers and Kano states on the same issue be consolidated with the one by Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara.

It ordered parties to file all necessary documents before the Wednesday hearing.

Justice Okoro, before adjourning, told the AGF’s lawyer, Kanu Agabi (SAN), to advise his client to ensure the currency availability.

He said: “Tell your client to let people have money. If they go to the ATM and get money, I believe the plaintiffs will come and withdraw the case. Make money available to the poor masses.

“We hear of ATMs being attacked; bank staff jumping fence. You should know that a hungry man is an angry man. I say no more,” he said.

Responding, Agabi said Nigerians were only blaming the government for their poverty.

“Many people don’t have money. They blame it on the Federal Government and the AGF. I don’t have money too.

“Things have been bad for long. It is not today that the problems started,” Agabi said.

Governors Nasir El-Rufai and Yahaya Bello of Kaduna and Kogi states witnessed the proceedings.

Bello told reporters that the states were not at war with the Federal Government over the cashless policy.

He said they were only concerned about its negative impact on citizens who have been denied access to their savings.

Bello said: “We are in court because Nigerians are suffering as a result of this CBN muddled-up cashless versus currency redesign policy.

“the order made by these honourable Justices still subsists. We want to urge all Nigerians, yes we are all suffering, but let’s maintain peace, law and order. It is just a temporary setback for us in this country.

“We are not condemning this particular policy of President Muhammadu Buhari.

“It is going to be the way to go, but its implementation is what we are questioning, to ensure that Nigerians have life.

“Nobody should compel anyone to open an account if you don’t want. You may choose to keep your wealth the way you want it.”

In the suit marked SC/CV/162/2023, the states are praying the Supreme Court to make the following declarations:

•That the demonetisation policy being currently carried out by the CBN under the directive of the President is not in compliance with the extant provisions of the Constitution, CBN Act 2007 and extant laws on the subject.

•That the three-month notice given by the Federal Government through the CBN, under the directive of the President, the expiration of which will render the old banknotes inadmissible as legal tender, is in gross violation of the provisions of Section 20(3) of the CBN Act 2007 which specifies that reasonable notice must be given before such a policy.

•That in view of the express provisions of Section 20(3) of the CBN Act, the Federal Government, through the CBN, has no powers to issue a timeline for the acceptance and redeeming of banknotes issued by the Bank, except as limited by Section 22(1) of the CBN Act 2007, and the Central Bank shall at all times redeem its banknotes.

Also yesterday, Abia Governor Okezie Ikpeazu directed the Attorney-General, Chief Uche Ihediwa (SAN), to apply to join the state in the suit.

Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Eze Chikamnayo, said in a statement: “The decision to have Abia State joined as one of the states challenging this anti-people policy in the ongoing legal action at the Supreme Court is as a result of the untold hardship being experienced by Abia citizens due to the unavailabliabilty and or poor distribution of the newly redesigned notes.

“Today in Abia, the cash crunch occasioned by the haphazard implementation of the CBN naira swap policy is leading to endless queues at ATM centres and all manner of exploitation of citizens at Point of Sale (POS) centres.

“The persistent scarcity of our legal tender has become not just an economic problem but an imminent security threat given the palpable tension it has created amongst the people.

“Governor Ikpeazu is asking the CBN to immediately find solutions to this issue as no responsible leader will fold his hands and allow his people, both in the urban and rural areas, to continue to suffer the agony of this anti-people policy.”

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