The Supreme Court ruled that President Muhammadu Buhari disobeyed a court ruling regarding the redesign of the federal government’s currency notes.
On Friday, a seven-member court panel led by John Okoro unanimously ruled against a lawsuit launched by some state governors to challenge what they termed the federal government’s “demonetisation strategy.”
“The disobedience of court orders by the President in a constitutional democracy such as ours is an indication that the constitution has failed and that democratic governance has been replaced by autocracy or dictatorship,” said Emmanuel Agim, a member of the Supreme Court panel, in the court’s lead judgement.
The strategy, which was implemented by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in October of last year, entails the issuance of newly redesigned N200, N500, and N1,000 bank notes and the withdrawal of their previous forms from circulation within a limited time frame.
It had originally planned to discontinue the legal tender status of the old notes on January 31, but had to move the date to February 10 when it became apparent that the CBN lacked the capacity to send enough new notes into circulation.
Mr. Buhari’s approved and directed program has resulted in the scarcity of banknotes. This has resulted in instability, disrupting economic activity and causing misery for millions of Nigerians living in a cash-based economy.
On 3 February, three state governments — Kaduna, Kogi, and Zamfara — filed a lawsuit against the federal government in the Supreme Court to invalidate the policy.
Two days before the 10 February deadline set by the CBN to halt the usage of the old N200, N500, and N1,000 notes, the Supreme Court issued a temporary ruling postponing the policy’s implementation on February 8.
The judge ruled that both the old and new versions of the currency should remain valid pending further proceedings in the case.
In contravention of the court’s judgment, President Buhari reinstated the validity of the old N200 notes in a broadcast on 16 February and reiterated that the old N500 and N1,000 banknotes had ceased to be legal tender.
“It is beyond question that the first defendant disobeyed the instruction. This disobedience is evidenced by the President’s nationwide broadcast on 16 February 2023, which is reproduced on pages 27 to 31 of this document,” Mr. Agim argued.
He continued, “In defiance of the order, he ordered that only the old N200 naira bills be recirculated.
“Interestingly, there is no evidence of even this directive’s implementation. I concur with the ninth plaintiff that the first defendant has no right to be heard by this court because it has refused to recognize the authority of this court and the authority of the law, from which the power of the President and the Government of Nigeria emanates.
Mr Agim said Mr Buhari’s disobedience to the court decision makes democratic administration unreal.
“The rule of law, upon which our democratic government is based, becomes illusory if the President of the Republic or any other authority or individual refuses to respect court rulings,” the Supreme Court justice stated.
As expected in a democracy, the court overturned the policy on Friday since it was proclaimed by the President without input.
The court then prolonged the validity of the old naira notes until December 31 and ruled that they would remain legal money until the new deadlines.
Mr. Buhari, a former military dictator with a dismal reputation for human rights in the 1980s, ran for president in 2015 on the promise that he had become a reformed democrat.
Since assuming office in May 2015, however, Mr. Buhari has rarely lived up to his pledge, as his administration has constantly picked and chosen which court decisions to comply over the past seven and a half years.
Friday’s verdict marked the first time a judge had directly ruled him disobedient to a court order.