President Goodluck Jonathan
Chuks Okocha and Onwuka Nzeshi
Barely 24 hours after the National Assembly vowed to move against the proposed currency restructuring exercise and the introduction of N5,000 banknote by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), there are indications that the project may be shelved.
Investigations showed that President Goodluck Jonathan met behind closed doors with the leadership of the National Assembly on Tuesday night where the two arms of government reviewed the project and agreed in principle to explore the possibility of shelving it.
Both chambers of the National Assembly, after debates at their plenary sessions on Tuesday, had adopted motions rejecting the project.
In separate motions, the parliamentarians unanimously voted against the currency restructuring exercise and urged Jonathan to direct the CBN Governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, to halt it.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Information and Media, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, who addressed journalists after the plenary, said the Senate considered the matter as very urgent because of the likely impact of the currency restructuring exercise on the populace.
He said the resolution of the Senate is that the proposed action of the CBN was illegal because it directly contravenes Section 4(2) of the constitution which states: “The National Assembly shall have power to make laws, order good governance of the federation or any part thereof on any matter included in the exclusive legislative list set out in Part 1 of the Second Schedule of this Constitution.”
However, the House directed its Committee on Banking and Currency to conduct an investigation into the planned restructuring of the currency and report back in four weeks.
While the investigation lasts, the House said the CBN must suspend all plans and processes towards the actualisation of the project.
Although there was no formal briefing on what transpired at the secret meeting between Jonathan and the National Assembly leadership, sources confirmed that the presidency was persuaded to drop the project because of the perceived negative impact it will have on the economy.
Jonathan was also said to be getting weary of swimming against the tide of public opinion and the rage of the parliament.
THISDAY learnt that one of the reasons behind the plan to shelve the introduction of the N5,000 banknote was because the president, notwithstanding the fact that he had approved the project, is having a rethink based on the strong opposition to the exercise.
The House of Representatives yesterday held a prolonged executive session where, it was learnt, lawmakers were briefed on the latest development on the issue.
Speaker of the House, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, briefed his colleagues on a wide-range of issues, including the currency project, finances of the House and the legislative agenda of the lower chamber.
According to one of the sources, Tambuwal, during the meeting, calmed frayed nerves over the House’s finances and refocused attention on the legislative agenda launched about a year ago.
Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Zakari Mohammed, could neither deny nor confirm the secret meeting.
All he said was that the likelihood of the project being shelved following the legislative intervention was high.
However, the growing discontent with the proposed introduction of the N5,000 banknote by the CBN and its plan to restructure the currency may have played into the hands of the Senate, which has resolved to exhume the amendment to the CBN Act that could rid it of its autonomy.
THISDAY learnt that the Senate intends to retable the issue of CBN’s autonomy today during its plenary and tie it to the banking system regulator’s decision to restructure the currency as the perfect reason why the central bank should be stripped of its autonomy and made answerable to the National Assembly.
The amendment to the CBN Act suffered a blow four months ago when during the public hearing on the amendment bill, sponsored by Senator Ita Enang, it was defeated 27 – 0 following public opposition to the bill.
However, the Senate, THISDAY gathered, has decided to capitalise on the current disenchantment with the CBN over the proposed restructuring of the currency and introduction of the N5,000 banknote to re-introduce the amendment to the Act.
But reacting to the development last night, financial sector analysts criticised the move by the Senate, saying the currency restructuring exercise should not be mixed up with the central bank’s autonomy.
One analyst, who spoke on the subject but preferred to remain unnamed, said that they are two different issues which the Senate is trying to bring up after its failed attempt to rid the central bank of its autonomy a few months ago.
“This matter was laid to rest in May, so for the Senate to try to use the currency restructuring exercise as an excuse to amend the CBN Act and rid it of its autonomy would be most unfortunate.
“What the Senate does not realise is that CBN does not just manage the nation’s currency but its monetary system and policies and needs to be responsive and act decisively without recourse to anyone when prompt decisions have to be taken.
“Moreover, foreign investors have enjoyed a measure of confidence in the Nigerian economy due to the CBN’s autonomy, so the last thing the Senate or National Assembly should do is mix up issues that are not related and tamper with the central bank’s independence,” he said.
Despite the possible suspension of the currency restructuring exercise, the Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, yesterday said that the decision of the National Assembly on the currency restructuring and the planned introduction of the N5,000 banknote was not binding on the president.
Responding to questions at the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), People’s Forum late Tuesday night, the minister said legislative resolutions do not carry the weight of the law as they are merely advisory.
Maku added that all the heated debate and opinions being expressed on the introduction of N5,000 notes were unnecessary as the CBN is entrusted by law to manage the country’s monetary policies.
“I believe we should allow CBN to have leadership on this issue. This is not an opinion poll debate but a technical matter and the heated debate will not help in the management of our economy,” he said.
According to him, while the Federal Government has not foreclosed all avenues for dialogue with the federal lawmakers, it should not be misconstrued that the government was under obligation to obey the resolution of the National Assembly.
“The National Assembly has oversight functions and the executive takes the resolutions of the National Assembly seriously but the resolutions are not Acts of parliament.
“We can discuss, debate resolutions, take them seriously and factor them but they are not Acts of the National Assembly,” he explained.
On the clamour for the Federal Government to return to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for a review of its judgment on the Bakassi Peninsula, which was ceded to Cameroun, Maku said the Federal Government has put the issue behind it.
“Nigeria does not have a new position. Nigeria’s position is in conformity with the judgment of the International Court of Justice,” he said.