Nigeria’s Supreme Court has temporarily suspended the deadline to stop using old naira banknotes amid the currency redesign crisis.
The court ordered the Central Bank of Nigeria not to end the use of old naira notes on February 10, 2023.
A seven-member panel of the court, led by John Okoro, gave the order of interim injunction amid acute scarcity of newly redesigned N200, N500, and N1,000 currency notes.
The court gave the order based on an ex parte application filed by three northern states being controlled by the All Progressives Congress (APC). The three applicant states are Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara.
The Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai, has been one of the most vocal critics of the naira redesign policy.
The Presidential candidate of the APC, Bola Tinubu, had also publicly criticized the policy during a campaign stop.
Their stance contradicts that of President Muhammadu Buhari, the leader of their party, who had repeatedly defended the policy.
The applicants, on February 3, filed their application at the Supreme Court praying for an order to restrain the Central bank from ending the use of the old currency notes on February 10 as threatened by the bank.
They cited the sufferings the scarcity of the new bank notes had brought upon many Nigerians.
They said “many citizens have to date not seen the newly redesigned naira notes let alone exchanged their old notes for the new notes,” despite assurances by the government to make the currency available.
There have been fights at ATMs, protests and mob attacks on commercial banks. The chaos led to concern that it could affect this month’s elections, as many Nigerians do not have bank accounts.
The head of the election commission said some election service providers will need to be paid in cash, and that could prove to be difficult.
John Okoro, after listening to the applicants’ lawyer on Wednesday, February 8, 2023 morning, granted the application “as prayed”, a decision he said his panel took after “a careful consideration”.
Okoro issued an order of interim injunction “restraining the federal government through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) or the commercial banks from suspending or determining or ending on 10 February, the time frame with which the now older version of the 200, 500 and 1,000 denominations of the naira may no longer be legal tender pending the hearing and determination of their motion on notice for interlocutory injunction”.
Last October, the Central Bank of Nigeria announced that it was redesigning the N200, N500 and N1,000 banknotes. Initially, Godwin Emefiele, the CBN governor, announced January 31, 2023 as the deadline for the expiration of the old banknotes.
However, due to public outcry due to currency scarcity, Emefiele extended the deadline till February 10, 2023. Despite the deadline extension, the scarcity of new notes has persisted.
Earlier on Wednesday, the applicants’ lawyer, Abdulrakeem Mustapha, argued that the policy of the government had led to an “excruciating situation that is almost leading to anarchy in the land “.
While he referred to a Central Bank of Nigeria’s statistics which put the number of people who do not have bank accounts at over 60 per cent, Mustapha lamented that the few Nigerians with bank accounts cannot even access their money from the bank as a result of the policy.
The senior lawyer further argued that unless the Supreme Court intervenes, the situation will lead to anarchy because most banks are already closing operations.
They contended that the “inadequacy of the notice (of naira redesign) coupled with the haphazard, back-handed manner the exercise is being carried out and the attendant hardship… has been well acknowledged even by the Federal Government of Nigeria.”
The plaintiffs argued that “there is no justifiable basis for the ongoing difficulties and suffering being meted out on the good people of Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara States by the Federal Government.”
The case has been adjourned to February 15, 2023.
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