•Summons bank chiefs over alleged economic sabotage
•Kaduna, Kogi, Zamfara drag FG, apex bank to supreme court, want old notes to remain in circulation
•14 political parties’ candidates, chairmen threaten to boycott polls if CBN suspends policy
•Allege plans by top politicians to organise violent protests against apex bank
•EFCC arrests bank manager over refusal to upload N29m new notes
•Obaseki backs CBN
•Abiodun engages central bank’s officials over naira scarcity
Alex Enumah, Kingsley Nwezeh, Sunday Aborisade in Abuja and Adibe Emenyonu in Benin City
A High Court of the Federal Capital Territory yesterday issued a restraining order on President Muhammadu Buhari, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Godwin Emefiele and 27 commercial banks from suspending the demonetisation policy of the federal government.
Justice Eneojo Eneche, made the order while ruling in an ex parte application brought by four political parties against the government and 27 commercial banks in the country.
This emerged just as three states from the northern part of Nigeria – Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara – have approached the apex court to stop the federal government from going ahead with its plan to phase out the old N200, N500 and N1,000 banknotes from February 10, 2023, due to what they termed as the unbearable hardship the policy was said to be bringing upon people in the affected states.
Also, the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) chairmen and candidates for the elections slated for February 25, have rejected alleged plans by some people to force the central bank to suspend the naira redesign policy.
However, in spite of criticisms and naira scarcity, Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, yesterday, insisted that the CBN’s drive towards a cashless economy was the right for the nation.
Also yesterday, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) yesterday arrested an operations manager of a leading commercial bank in the Central Area of Abuja.
The four political parties in the suit marked: FCT/HC/CV/2234/2023 were the Action Alliance, Action People’s Party, Allied People’s Movement and National Rescue Movement, while the defendants included Buhari, CBN, Emefiele and 27 commercial banks.
The CBN had announced a currency redesign and a cash withdrawal limit of N100,000 weekly for individuals; with an implementation date of January 31, 2023.
However due to pressure from both public and private sector, the government and CBN increased the withdrawal limit to N500,000 weekly and extended the deadline date by another 10 days terminating at February 10, 2023.
However, delivering ruling in a motion ex parte dated and filed February 6, 2023, Justice Eneojo Eneche restrained the respondents from, “stopping, extending or interfering with the currency redesign terminal date of February 10 or issue any directive contrary to the February 10 date.”
Besides ordering the defendants to comply with the naira redesign policy, the court also summoned the Chief Executive Officers and Managing Directors of commercial banks in the country and their alter egos to show cause why they should not be arrested and prosecuted for the economic and financial sabotage of the country by their illegal hoarding, withholding, not paying or disbursing the new N200 N500 and N1000 bank notes despite supply of such notes by the Central Bank, thereby leading to the present scarcity of currency in circulation.
While holding that the order of the court was for the period of seven days, the court adjourned to February 14, for hearing.
Kaduna, Kogi, Zamfara Drag FG, CBN to Supreme Court
In a related development, three states from the northern part of Nigeria have approached the apex court to stop the federal government from going ahead with effecting the deadline.
The three states of Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara specifically applied for an order of Interim Injunction restraining, “the federal government through the CBN or the commercial banks from suspending or determining or ending on February 10, 2023, the time frame with which the now older version of the 200, 500 and 1,000 denomination of the naira may no longer be legal tender pending the hearing and determination of their motion on notice for interlocutory injunction.”
While the Attorneys-General and Commissioners of Justice of the three states were the plaintiffs, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami was the only respondent in the suit filed by AbdulHakeem Mustapha.
In the suit marked: SC/CV/162/2023 and filed on February 3, plaintiffs sought a declaration that the demonetisation policy of the federation being currently carried out by the CBN under the directive of the president was not in compliance with the extant provisions of the Constitution and CBN Act, 2007 and actual laws on the subject.
Besides, plaintiffs wanted a declaration that the three-month notice given by the federal government through the CBN under the directive of the president, the expiration of which would 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.
Similarly, the plaintiffs urged the court to declare that given the express provisions of Section 20(3) of the CBN Act 2007, the federal government through the CBN had 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.
The plaintiffs claimed that since the announcement of the policy, there had been an acute shortage in the supply of the new naira notes in Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara states, adding that citizens who had dutifully deposited their old naira notes have increasingly found it difficult and sometimes next to impossible to access new naira notes to go about their daily activities.
Plaintiffs in addition cited the inadequacy of the notice coupled with the haphazard manner in which the exercise was being carried out and the attendant hardship same was wrecking on Nigerians, which has been well acknowledged even by the government itself.
The plaintiffs further maintained that the 10-day extension by the federal government was not sufficient to address the challenges bedeviling the policy.
They therefore sought an order of court directing the federal government to immediately suspend the policy until it complies with the relevant provisions of the law.
In an affidavit in support of its own originating summons, the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Kaduna State, Aisha Dikko, who observed that the need to encourage cashless policy was behind the introduction of the naira redesign, stated that not all transactions are however convenient through electronic means.
According to her, several transactions still required cash in exchange for goods and services and as such the government have to allow sufficient money in circulation for the smooth running of the economy.
Besides, the deponent claimed that the federal government has embarked on the policy within a narrow and unworkable time frame, adding that this had adversely affected Nigerian citizens within Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara States as well as their Governments, especially as the newly redesigned naira notes are not available for use by the people as well as the State Governments.
“That the majority of the indigenes of the plaintiffs’ states who reside in the rural areas have been unable to exchange or deposit their old naira notes as there are no banks in the rural areas where the majority of the population of the states reside.
“Most people in rural areas of the Plaintiffs’ states do not have bank accounts and have so far been unable to deposit their life savings which are still in the old naira notes.
“There is restiveness amongst the people in the various states because of the hardship being suffered by the people, and the situation will sooner than later degenerate into the breakdown of law and order.
“The plaintiff State Governments cannot stand by as they are duty-bound to protect citizens in their states and prevent the breakdown of law and order”, she averred.
While stating that all the current hardship and loss being experienced by the Plaintiffs’ state governments as well as people in the various states would have been avoided if there is sufficient time frame for implementation of the policy, Dikko submitted “that the 10-day extension by the federal government is still insufficient to address the challenges bedeviling the policy.”
EFCC Arrests Bank Manager over Refusal to Upload N29m New Naira Notes
The EFCC yesterday arrested an operations manager of a leading commercial bank in the Central Area of Abuja.
A statement issued by the commission and signed by its spokesman, Wilson Uwujaren, said the banker was arrested by its operatives for refusing to load the ATMs of the bank despite having N29 million of the redesigned naira notes in the branch’s vaults.
“Before he was whisked away for further questioning, the operatives ordered the loading of all the ATMs and the payment of the stipulated amount across the counter to the delight of the distraught customers who had spent hours on queues without getting the new notes,” it said.
“This discovery, which indicates a sabotage of the government’s monetary policy by some banks, was made by the EFCC in continuation of the ongoing surveillance and visit to banks across the country to access their vaults and verify whether they were deliberately refusing to dispense the redesigned naira notes,” it said.
The anti-graft agency said more than five bank branches were covered by the operatives in Abuja yesterday, while noting that similar exercises were ongoing in zonal commands across the country.
It said the operations would continue until normalcy was restored to the banking system.
“Nigerians finding it difficult to access their funds at any bank and suspects foul play should contact the commission, for immediate intervention”, it said.
14 Political Parties’ Candidates, Chairmen Threaten to Boycott Polls If CBN Suspends Policy
In a related development, the CNPP’s chairmen and candidates for the election have rejected alleged plans by some people to force the CBN to suspend the ongoing naira redesign policy.
The political parties’ chairmen and their candidates stated this in Abuja, yesterday, at a joint news conference addressed by their spokesperson, Kenneth Udeze, who is also the Chairman of Action Alliance.
They threatened to pull out of the election if the apex bank was forced to succumb to pressure and blackmail and suspend the policy.
They claimed to be in possession of credible security reports which indicated that there was a plot to instigate violent disturbances to provoke civil unrest aimed at forcing the CBN to postpone the policy
Udeze said, ‘We hereby announce our resolution that at least 14 of the 18 political parties in Nigeria will not be interested in the 2023 general election and indeed we shall withdraw all our participation from the electoral process if these currency policies are suspended or cancelled or if the deadline is further shifted.
“Having stated our views clearly, we now bring to the notice of the nation and particularly the security agencies that we have intercepted very credible intelligence of a well-financed plot to instigate violent disturbances, incite and provoke civil unrest aimed at undermining the president and causing a shift in the election date or causing his administration to come to an abrupt end.
“We were approached to lend our support; generous promises were made but we believe that Nigeria comes first before any other mundane consideration.
“Painfully, we must state that this voice of dissent is coming from within the political party of the president.
“Elements of the party that should have been the first to embrace these policies is the party championing the opposition against it.”
They alleged that the charge was being led by the Governors of Kaduna and Kano States, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai and Dr. Abdullahi Ganduje.
They also claimed that Governor Hope Uzodimma of Imo State, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers state and Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State were part of the alleged plot.
The political parties said they were backing the policy because it would improve the credibility of the elections.
According to Udeze, “It is only election riggers, vote buyers, bandits, corruption merchants and their accomplices that are against these policies.”
He said, “The Nigerian people are in support and are currently waging war against these identified groups of unpatriotic Nigerians who are deliberately sabotaging the policies so that the federal government and the central bank will succumb to their plot and cancel or reverse the policies.
“We hereby call on the Department of State Services to put these governors on the watch list as they are seriously mobilising miscreants to begin as quickly as possible protests which will no commence from naira scarcity protests and graduate quickly to ‘Buhari Must Go’ protests which is the ultimate aim where the president refuses to bulge.
“In all these, we asked ourselves, what is the offence of President Muhammadu Buhari? Even though President Buhari is not our friend and ally, we have observed that his only offence is his insistence to leave a legacy and conduct free, fair and credible election.
“This insistence has made these few governors of his party to begin to speak ill of the president. It is shocking that it is the same President that Mallam Nasir El-Rufai eulogizes and worships that he now disparages and ridicules.
“These planned violent protests are billed to commence on Thursday. They plan to deploy the people who they have already recruited to heighten drama at the banks including going naked, fighting, making statements that will sway emotions in their favour and all such other acts.
“They believe that if such acts are sustained for three days, they would have gotten enough sympathy and evoked enough emotions to launch the violent protests on Thursday.
“They plan to torch some banks and other public infrastructure attack individual bank staff and bring mayhem upon the country of unimaginable proportion as they termed it. Again, we call on all security agencies to be on the lookout from today when they start.
“While these actions are going on, their media warriors will also be massively deployed to various Television and radio stations to send the message in one direction that the action of the governors is based on their love for the suffering poor people of Nigeria.
“They agree that the foundation already laid by Governor El-Rufai and Chief Femi Fani Kayode is solid enough for others to build on.
“On this we ask, when did Nigerian governors begin to so love the suffering masses of Nigerians that they could have mobilised to want to pressure and mislead the President on the true state of affairs about these policies of the CBN.”
Speaking further, he said: “Most of these governors had not reckoned with President Buhari insisting on fulfilling his promise of free and fair election and had relied on buying votes and all of a sudden President Buhari has taken a decision that has scattered their plans, hence these plots and claiming it is for the people.
“We say it is not for the people that they are fighting. The governors are one of the last group of people who have not taken their monies to the bank because they believe they will stop these policies.
“We remind them again, to take all the money stashed in the basements and attics of the various government houses back to the bank or the money will turn to paper in their hands.
“Mr. President, please listen to us. We know that there are hitches in the process, Nigerians are asking that you direct the CBN to concentrate of ameliorating the sufferings quickly and rule out cancellation or suspension of the policy.
“Mr. President, if you fall to their gimmicks and tamper with this policy, it will only mean you cannot leave your legacy and you cannot fulfill your promise.
“They are mobilising and paying miscreants to protest who will claim to be civil society organisations, they are who they are, hired touts.
“We call on the CBN, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the NFIU, ICPC, DSS, and the Police to all put out their dragnet and ensure that all illicit funds are mopped up and to be ready to arrest those who may also dare to use electronic means to buy votes.”
Also present on the occasion were the National Chairman of the National Rescue Movement (NRM) Chief Isaac Udeh; National Chairman of Accord, Mohammed Lawal Nalado; National Chairman of Action Alliance (AA); National Chairman of Allied Peoples Movement (APM) Alhaji Yusuf Mamman Dantalle and the National Chairman of Action Peoples Party (APP) Chief Uchenna Nnadi.
Some presidential candidates, governorship, Senatorial, House of Representatives and House of Assembly candidates were also present.
Obaseki Backs CBN Monetary Policies
Also, Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki has insisted that the CBN drive towards a cashless economy was the best for the economy.
However, he called for more enlightenment and patience on the path of Nigerians while urging the apex bank to ensure the availability of naira notes for citizenry whom he said were going through pains in getting money to spend.
Obaseki who spoke shortly after he summoned a meeting with senior officials of the CBN and senior management staff of banks in Government House, Benin City on the difficulties the people were experiencing in accessing cash, also appealed to the people to take advantage of ATMs, PoS and bank wallets for transactions.
He said, “I had to invite the central bank and senior management of all the banks in Edo state to come and meet with me in the Government House because government I am very much concerned about the plight and suffering of our people who are worried over the inability to get cash from the banking system in Edo state.
“Having discussed extensively with the CBN and the bankers that the policy of moving the Nigeria economy to one of a cashless system should be encouraged. It is the best thing for our banking system so the Edo State Government has no problem with the policy of the federal government to move our economy to a cashless one.
“However, we want to ensure we do this as painlessly as possible; we have to improve on the communication with our people to reduce their fear. When people go to banks to collect cash because they want to spend it on something, we want to help to inform them that they don’t need to collect cash to spend cash.
“We actually have other means to spend cash without going to the bank to collect cash. From phones, payment can be made to whoever. For those who don’t have sophisticated phones, with USSD codes you can pay for things as small as N500 without spending cash. So, when you go to PoS terminals, don’t ask for cash, let them do for you what you want to use the cash for via transfer.”
On his part, the Director, Risk Management, CBN, Blaise Ijebor, said: “We are also here to encourage people to use alternative means to make their payment. If you are able to use your card, app or USSD to pay, you can even go to an ATM that doesn’t have cash to do your transfer from them.
“We are aware a number of ATMs are not paying. We are going to make sure that there is supply in a day or two, we have supply available through your bank branches to give some cash to use.”
Dapo Abiodun Engages CBN Officials
Ogun State Governor, Dapo Abiodun, yesterday paid an unscheduled visit to the Abeokuta branch of the CBN to seek relief on the amounts citizens could withdraw in exchange for deposits made in commercial banks.
The governor also offered to lend members of his cabinet to monitor cash distribution to banks to ensure that no commercial bank or their agents hoard the new naira notes in the state.
The governor stated these when he visited the management of the apex bank led by the Branch Controller, Wahab Oseni, in Abeokuta.
Abiodun, who later met with Bankers’ Forum, made up of managers of commercial banks in the state, also extracted a commitment from both the CBN and commercial banks to make cash available to bank customers from Tuesday.
According to the governor, it was disappointing to see long queues of residents at Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), waiting to cash money from the system with so much stress and some not getting enough to meet their immediate needs.
He added that it was humiliating that those who were attended to were paid not more than N2,000 per transaction.
Abiodun, however, urged the CBN to ensure the availability of new notes at commercial banks for people to withdraw their money.
The governor explained that he was compelled to visit the state branch of the CBN as the, “landlord to find out how we can collaborate to ensure that success of the CBN policy on the new notes and currency swap.”
“I’ve met with the President and CBN governor. It is within the right of the CBN by law and as enshrined in the Constitution.
“Our people went out in their numbers but our people who deposited money and felt they would have as much money as they had deposited or need for their daily needs and welfare and wellbeing.
“We’ve had to suspend our campaigns. I met with people over the weekend who said to me that they have not eaten for days, especially, those from the informal sector.
“As a governor, whose primary function is the welfare and security of our people, I need to find out how we can interact with you to see how we can improve on the current level of distribution of the currency in order to diffuse tension”, Abiodun submitted.
The governor who appealed to the youths in the state not to embark on any civil unrest, noted that such actions would only shut down the economy of the state and make things much more difficult.