Today, the Supreme Court of Nigeria will begin hearings in the case brought by three states against the federal government over the Central Bank of Nigeria’s contentious currency swap scheme.
As requested by the suing states of Kogi, Kaduna, and Zamfara, a seven-member panel of the apex court granted an interim injunction last week Wednesday, “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 1000 denominations of the naira may no longer be legal tender,
In this case, the court is sitting as a court of first instance.
While the Federal Government was barred from participating in the hearing of the exparte application filed with the Supreme Court on 3 February and heard five days later, the objection of the central authority is expected to be the primary topic in the proceedings at the resumed hearing today.
In the face of an alleged move by the CBN to disregard the interim decision because it was not a party, the respondent, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, had guaranteed that the ruling would be followed despite the federal government’s objection.
He also indicated that his preliminary objection would challenge the supreme court’s authority to hear the case without CBN’s participation.
He stated, “The Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order, which was set to expire on Wednesday, February 15, which was also the date the court set for hearing the motion.”
“In light of this position, we have taken steps to submit an objection contesting the court’s authority to hear the case. Jurisdiction on the grounds that, while discussing monetary policy, the Central Bank is an essential and indispensable party.”
As the highest court of appeal, the Supreme Court can only serve as a trial court in issues involving the federal and state governments. When a federal government agent is involved as a party, the federal high court is constitutionally designated as the court of first instance.
Given the Attorney General’s aim to have the temporary injunction lifted, today’s hearing is expected to cause a great deal of controversy. As a result of the CBN’s stance about the order’s February 10th deadline, he is anticipated to encounter resistance.
Since the decision was issued, the central bank has taken a defiant stance, with a leaked internal legal opinion indicating that the bank and its operations were not included in the interim order and are therefore not bound by it.
Tuesday, less than twenty-four hours before the hearings, the bank’s governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, took a stance on the order, stating that it had not altered the initial deadline established by the bank.
This viewpoint practically equates to disobedience of the highest court’s order.
During a meeting with members of the diplomatic corps in Abuja, Emiefiele stated that the February 10 timeline for phasing out the old N1,000, N500, and N200 notes remained unchanged.
He acknowledged the inconveniences caused by the naira redesign policy, such as stockpiling and heightened agitation, but he asked Nigerians, especially those in positions of authority, not to exaggerate it in order to prevent the spread of panic. While recognizing that the transition to the new naira notes may be challenging, the CBN governor underlined that the benefits are substantial and will eventually lead to a cashless regime.
Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, a prominent rights attorney, requested the highest court to take judicial notice of the stance of the apex bank when hearings begin today.
If a party disobeys a court order, the opposing party would typically request that the disobedient party not be heard by the court until it complies with the existing order.
Supreme Court has also been at the vanguard of a renewed effort to make governments at all levels comply with court decisions, despite the fact that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has a history of ignoring court orders, particularly those against it.
Falana insists, despite the doubts of the federal authorities, that once the Supreme Court has spoken, compliance is mandatory.
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