The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) yesterday directed banks to comply with the Supreme Court judgment of March 3 on the validity of old naira notes.
The instruction came hours after President Muhammadu Buhari rebuked CBN Governor Godwin Emefiele and Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) Abubakar Malami (SAN) for not obeying the order.
Soon after, the CBN issued a statement asking banks to comply with the judgment.
The statement, entitled “Old N200, N500, and N1,000 banknotes remain legal tender” was signed by Acting Director of Corporate Communications, Isa AbdulMumin.
It reads: “In compliance with the established tradition of obedience to court orders and sustenance of the rule of law principle that characterised the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, and by extension the operations of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), as a regulator, Deposit Money Banks operating in Nigeria have been directed to comply with the Supreme Court ruling of March 3, 2023.
“Accordingly, the CBN met with the Bankers’ Committee and has directed that the old N200, N500 and N1000 banknotes remain legal tender alongside the redesigned banknotes till December 31, 2023.
“Consequently, all concerned are directed to conform accordingly.”
Nigerians had been expecting President Buhari, Malami and Emefiele to issue clear directives to banks to comply with the order.
Their silence resulted in confusion and more hardship, with traders and businesses rejecting the old notes, while some banks that issued them refused to accept them as deposits.
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) said it would direct workers to stay home if the Federal Government fails to address the naira crisis within the next seven days.
It said workers could no longer afford to go to work due to a lack of cash.
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) had also urged President Buhari to immediately direct the CBN and banks to comply with the order.
More states, including Lagos and Anambra, warned against rejecting the old notes, saying there would be consequences for doing so.
Presidency absolves Buhari of blame
Reacting to accusations that President Buhari had no regard for the rule of law, the presidency said it behoved Malami and Emefiele to comply with the order without being directed to do so.
The statement reads: “The Presidency wishes to react to some public concerns that President Buhari did not react to the Supreme Court judgment on the issue of the N500 and N1,000 old currency notes, and states here plainly and clearly that at no time did he instruct the Attorney-General and the CBN governor to disobey any court orders involving the government and other parties.
“Since the President was sworn into office in 2015, he has never directed anybody to defy court orders, in the strong belief that we can’t practise democracy without the rule of law and the commitment of his administration to this principle has not changed.
“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.
“The President is not a micromanager and will not, therefore, stop the Attorney General and the CBN governor from performing the details of their duties in accordance with the law.
“In any case, 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 directive of the President, following the meeting of the Council of State, is that the bank must make available for circulation all the money that is needed and nothing has happened to change the position.
“It is an established fact that the President is an absolute respecter of the judicial process and the authority of the courts.
“He has done nothing in the last eight or so years to act in any way to obstruct the administration of justice, cause lack of confidence in the administration of justice, or otherwise interfere or corrupt the courts and there is no reason whatsoever that he should do so now when he is getting ready to leave office.
“The negative campaign and personalised attacks against the President by the opposition and all manner of commentators is unfair and unjust, as no court order at any level has been issued or directed at him.”
The Presidency said the CBN did not have to wait for directives to comply with a court order.
The statement added: “As for the cashless system the CBN is determined to put in place, it is a known fact that many of the country’s citizens who bear the brunt of the sufferings surprisingly support the policy as they believe that the action would cut corruption, fight terrorism, build an environment of honesty and reinforce the incorruptible leadership of the President.
“It is, therefore, wide off the mark to blame the President for the current controversy over the cash scarcity, despite the Supreme Court judgment.
“The CBN has no reason not to comply with court orders on the excuse of waiting for directives from the President.
“President Buhari has also rejected the impression that he lacks compassion.
“No government in our recent history has introduced policies to help economically marginalised and vulnerable groups like the present administration.”
NLC threatens sit-at-home
The NLC gave the government a seven-day ultimatum to end queues at banks by making cash available.
After a meeting of its Central Working Committee, Labour said it would direct workers to stay at home if the government failed to resolve the cash crunch at the expiration of the ultimatum.
NLC president, Joe Ajaero, told reporters: “On the issue of cash crunch, the NLC is giving the Federal Government and agencies of government, including the CBN and other banking institutions seven working days to address the issue of the cash crunch.
“If they fail to do this at the expiration of the seven days, Congress will direct all workers in the country to stay at home because it has become very difficult to access money to enter vehicles to their workplace.
“It is difficult to buy products from traders who don’t have bank accounts. This is the situation we have found ourselves in.
“The old currency is still valid, but even when the banks give them to you, the traders are not accepting it.
“Even when you take it to the same banks, they are not accepting it.
“We have been frustrated to a level that we can no longer keep quiet.”
On the scarcity of petroleum products, Ajaero said: “On the issue of fuel, the Congress wish to inform the Federal Government that we will no longer keep quiet to this issue of perennial fuel scarcity and arbitrary increases on petroleum.”
NBA demands compliance
NBA president Yakubu Maikyau (SAN), in a statement, said the needless pain and discomfort to which Nigerians have been subjected resulted from the manner the CBN went about implementing the policy with scant regard for citizens’ interests and feelings.
“The Supreme Court has, by this judgment, proven to be the Supreme Court of the people of Nigeria.
“The Supreme Court has issued directives to the Federal Government for the benefit of the people and there is no option other than to comply.
“The President is under constitutional obligation to comply and enforce the decision of the Supreme Court,” the association said.
Governors warn against old notes rejection
Before the CBN issued the statement, Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu had urged residents to transact with the old notes.
In a letter to residents, he emphasised that the Supreme Court had extended their validity till December 31.
He also said the Bankers’ Committee, during its Sunday meeting, had directed banks to comply with the Supreme Court.
The governor threatened that the government will sanction any business that refuses the old notes.
He warned that any bank branch which fails to collect the old notes will be shut down and reported to the CBN.
He urged residents to lodge complaints at the Lagos State Consumer Protection Agency (LASCOPA).
The statement reads: “My dear Lagosians, I have noted the difficulties you have been having over the naira redesign crisis. I feel your pain.
“I discussed with top officials in CBN who assured me that commercial banks were directed to accept the old N500 and N1,000 notes as deposits and pay them out for withdrawals.
“They informed me that commercial banks got the directive at a Bankers’ Committee meeting on March 12, 2023.
“I, therefore, urge you to go ahead and have transactions with the old notes. Lagosians should feel free to use the old notes for commercial purposes.
“Retailers, transporters, traders and all businesses must not reject them as they remain legal tender following the Supreme Court verdict, which extends the validity of the notes to December 31, 2023.
“Any business that fails to collect the notes will be heavily sanctioned.
“I, therefore, advise Lagos residents to freely accept and transact their businesses with the old currency notes (N200; N500; and N1,000) as well as the new notes.
“If any bank refuses to accept deposits of old notes, please lodge a complaint with the Lagos State Consumer Protection Agency (LASCOPA) via these numbers; 08124993895, 09064323154, 08092509777.
“The Lagos State government will report the bank to the CBN and immediately shut down the offending branch.
“I thank you so much and assure you that this too shall pass as the authorities are working to ensure the teething problems of the redesigning of our currency are resolved.”
Also, Anambra State Governor Chukwuma Soludo urged banks to dispense old currency and accept them as deposits as directed by the Bankers Committee
According to him, bank tellers were also directed to generate the codes for deposits.
Soludo said Emefiele gave the directive at the Bankers’ Committee meeting.
“Emefiele personally confirmed the above to me during a phone conversation on Sunday night.
“Residents of Anambra are, therefore, advised to freely accept and transact their businesses with the old currency notes (N200; N500 and N1,000) as well as the new notes.
“Residents should report any bank that refuses to accept deposits of the old notes.
“Anambra State Government will not only report such a bank to the CBN but will also immediately shut down the defaulting branch,” the statement adds.
Bayelsa State Governor Douye Diri said the lack of direction by the CBN has resulted in the old notes being rejected.
Pensioners lamented the impact of naira scarcity, saying the policy has reduced them to beggars.
The senior citizens said they were going through “hell” as a result.
In a statement by the National President, Godwin Abumisi and General Secretary, Elder Actor Zal, the pensioners under the umbrella of Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP) appealed to the Federal Government to pay them their pension in cash rather than through bank transfers.
They also pleaded to be accorded priority and preferential treatment at their banks and payment points to save them from the stress of queues.
Women worst hit by cash crunch
A gender activist and Founder of Voice for Less Privileged Organisation, Dr Ego-Queen Ezuma, said women were the worst hit by the cash scarcity.
She said some women traders, especially in the rural areas, are struggling to survive while others cannot afford to pay for food or drugs.
“We see death every day in the rural areas. Pharmacy shops insist on cash payment, and some of the women have resorted to herbal treatments.
“Some cannot buy bread because of no cash, and it is serious.”