•Deploys full contingent of operatives, technology to tackle vote-buying
•Supreme Court to deliver judgement on suit against banning N500, N1000 March 3
•Tinubu’s presidency will reverse policy, says lawmaker
Alex Enumah in Abuja and Laleye Dipo in Minna
The Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. AbudulRasheed Bawa, yesterday disclosed that over N500 billion of the old N500 and N1,000 banknotes were yet to be returned to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in line with the apex bank’s directive following the naira redesign project.
Also, the controversy over the naira redesign policy of the federal government would finally be rested on March 3, when the apex court would be expected to deliver judgment in the matter. A seven-man panel of the apex court presided by Justice John Okoro announced the date for judgment shortly after taking all arguments for and against the policy.
The CBN as part of its demonitisation policy had redesigned the N200, N500 and N1,000 denominations of the nation’s banknotes.
A timeframe of three months was given to Nigerians to deposit the old bank notes of the affected denominations with a January 31, deadline for the recall of the old notes.
Besides the economic benefits of the naira redesign policy, it was expected that the policy would curtail incidents of vote buying as well as address issues of kidnapping for ransom amongst other insecurity challenges.
Since the introduction of the policy last October, nearly N2 trillion had been returned to the CBN according to the apex bank.
However, speaking during a programme monitored on Channels Television yesterday, on the level of preparedness of the anti-graft agency for the 2023 general elections, the commission’s chairman disclosed that, “over N500 billion is yet to be returned to the CBN.”
Bawa further disclosed that a large chunk of the N500 billion of the new N200, N500 and N1,000 banknotes in circulation were been hoarded allegedly for vote-buying in the general elections which commences this Saturday with the presidential and National Assembly polls.
He, however, warned that all machineries have been put in place to drastically reduce the influence of vote buying in the election.
Bawa expressed confidence that the agency would record more success compared to the recent Ekiti and Osun governorship polls because of the naira redesign policy.
“As you know we have new currency in circulation, it is easier to track this new currency by their numbers, the CBN knows the serial numbers of these currencies as they distributed them across the country.
“So we even have another added responsibility because all the funds that we will eventually recover out there in the field that would be used for buying of votes; we can actually check and see whether they are genuine currencies that are gotten from ATMs and across the counter or somebody somewhere gave them in bulk and gave politicians the money,” he said.
According to Bawa some bankers had been suspected of sabotaging the equitable distribution of the new notes.
While stating that no arrest had been made since October, when the policy started because the federal government does not want to create chaos and raise tension, the commission chairman, assured that after the elections a lot of people who had deposited very huge sums would certainly have answers to provide to the agency.
He assured that the EFCC would do everything to ensure that “dirty money does not find its way into the electoral process,” by stopping all those who wants to buy votes from doing so.
Bawa said although the commission’s operatives are not many but, all of them would be deployed to the field to prevent vote buying.
He called on all Nigerians to buy into the fight if the country must get rid of corruption which is the cause of the insecurity and economic woes facing the country.
He specifically charged Nigerians to “say something” when they “see something,” by reporting incidents of vote buying in their areas through dedicated phone lines.
Bawa, in addition, urged all Nigerians to download the EFCC’s app through which the can upload pictures and videos of vote buying during the election.
“Issues of vote buying is about our future, country and the system itself” he said, hence all Nigerians must own the fight,” he added.
He also assured that all those caught would be brought to book as the commission has already gotten the fiat to prosecute vote buyers as well as sellers.
Meanwhile he appealed to Nigerians to be calm and remain peaceful because after Saturday’s election those hoarding the new notes would definitely release them.
Nigerians Know Fate March 3 as Supreme Court Adjourns for Judgment
Meanwhile, the controversy over the naira redesign policy of the federal government would finally be rested on March 3, when the apex court is expected to deliver judgment in the matter.
A seven-man panel of the apex court presided by Justice John Okoro announced the date for judgment shortly after taking all arguments for and against the policy.
Three states of Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara had initially sued the federal government over the implementation of the naira policy over the hardship they claimed the policy has brought upon the country.
In addition, they had obtained an interim order of the apex court restraining the federal government from banning the use of the old N200, N500 and N1000 banknotes pending the hearing and determination of their interlocutory applications.
Justice John Okoro who had issued the interim order on February 8, subsequently fixed February 15, for hearing of the interlocutory applications.
However, when the matter came up on February 15, nine other states applied to be joined as interested parties.
The States were Lagos, Katsina, Cross River, Ogun, Ekiti, Ondo, Sokoto, Bayelsa and Edo, although Bayelsa and Edo had sought to be joined as co-defendants alongside the federal government.
Due to the new entrants, hearing could not go on as scheduled and hearing was again adjourned till Wednesday February 22 and President Buhari had held a nationwide broadcast and directed that only the N200 should remain as legal tender till April 10.
At the resumed hearing yesterday, six other states also brought their suits seeking for consolidation with the earlier suit.
The new states included Rivers, Kano, Jigawa, Niger, Nasarawa and Abia, who joined the earlier 10 plaintiffs in asking the apex court to declare as unconstitutional, null and void the cashless policy of the federal government.
AbdulHakeem Mustapha, who argued the case for Kaduna and Kogi, urged the apex court not to hear the case of the federal government due to the contempt proceedings against the first respondent.
On his part, Chief Abiodun Owonikoko, who argued that of Zamfara urged the apex court to set aside the directive of Buhari wherein the president during a media broadcast reiterated the ban on N500 and N1,000 banknotes.
The plaintiffs had argued that the action of the president was in disregard to the interim order of the apex court, coming a day (February 16) after the apex court adjourned for hearing of the matter.
It was their argument that the president’s directive coming when the apex court interim order still subsists leaves Nigerians in a dilemma as to which order to obey.
However, besides Lagos and the new six states, who came up with new suits against the federal government, the other remaining states adopted and aligned themselves with the main suit.
Counsel to Lagos State, Mr. Moyosore Onigbanjo, who noted that his suit bordered on the impact of the policy on governance in the state, also argued that the federal government should not be given audience at all until it complies with the February 8 order of the apex court restraining it from banning the old naira notes from February 10, 2023.
However, in vehement opposition to the plaintiffs’ suit, counsel to the federal government, Chief Kanu Agabi, urged the apex court to dismiss the case on the grounds that it lacked jurisdiction to entertain the matter in the first instance.
According to Agabi the proper place for the plaintiffs to ventilate their grievances was the Federal High Court that is clothed with the necessary jurisdiction.
He said, “if the court holds that all the reliefs of the plaintiff are rooted in Section 20 (3) of the CBN’s Act, then the process cannot be commenced at the Supreme Court at all”.
“They are crying in the wrong place,” the senior lawyer added.
Agabi while further faulting the case of the plaintiffs observed reference was made 32 times about the CBN by the plaintiffs in their originating summons but the plaintiffs did not seem it necessary to bring the CBN before the court.
On Buhari’s directive, Agabi stated that long before the order of February 8 was made, Nigerians were already rejecting the old notes, adding that the president’s directive was to forestall a breakdown of law and order because the president only asked the people to take the old notes to the CBN for deposit.
Similarly, Agabi submitted that the constitution empowers the president to provide basic infrastructure and policies to enhance the welfare and living conditions of the people and the directive was in line with his constitutional powers.
He therefore urged the apex court to dismiss the suits of the 16 states on the grounds of absence of jurisdiction or for being incompetent and lacking in merit.
After listening to all arguments canvassed by parties in the suits, Justice John Okoro announced that judgment in all the suits would be delivered on Friday March 3, 2023.
Weighing in on the matter, Senator Sani Musa representing Niger east in the National Assembly has vowed that the 10th National Assembly would join hands with the Presidency of Bola Ahmed Tinubu to return the old banknotes that had been retired by the Buhari-led administration.
Apparently dissociating himself and the APC presidential standard bearer from the policy, Musa made this known at the grand finale of the gubernatorial campaign held at the Bako Mohammed Kontagora Stadium in Minna, Niger State.
The senator who is seeking a second term in office said it “is very clear that the naira swap policy was introduced to make Asiwaju lose the election,” but maintained that, “with or without naira Asiwaju will win the election on Saturday.”
He noted that the policy was making most Nigerians to suffer, adding that, “even now some people don’t have N500 in their pockets.”
“We are not in support of the policy it is an anti-people policy we will reverse it when Asiwaju assumes office.”
Musa lamented that, “the PoS are not working, you cannot get alert from your banks, we have seen the change in the colour of the naira, but the naira is not circulating.”
The senator also took a swipe at the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) saying, “How can somebody who was vice president for eight years and could not construct ordinary 45 kilometer road to his village want to be president of Nigeria?”
The federal lawmaker announced that he would settle the National Examination Council (NECO) bill for students in secondary schools in Chanchaga Local government to enable them sit for the examination in June this year.