Naira Notes Swap, President Buhari and the Currency Hoarding Governors - It is a case of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves



 By Bello M. Zaki

I very much enjoyed Professor Chidi Odinkalu’s Naira notes swap discourse on Channels Television last Friday evening. The lawyer and a human rights activist was the first person I heard, except the government, taking the other side of the swap argument. Odinkalu, who swore he had never had anything good to say about President Buhari, said the president was right to have done what he ought to do on the issue “I think Buhari is fighting for the last thing a government must fight for and on that he is well within his rights." That a government credibility “is dependent on three things: Defence and Security, Foreign Affairs and Currency.”

He said the court actions, the counter orders issued by the state governors against President Buhari’s banning the old N500 and N1,000 notes last Thursday and the amount of insults the governors are heaping on the president over the issue, all amount to a struggle to be able to utilize the ill-gotten banned old Naira notes they hugely stashed to rig the forth coming elections; and this is treasonable, as “they are essentially trying to turf out a sitting President.” He concluded.

The story of stashed money stolen from government in the present administration is not new: The Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Abdulrasheed Bawa told media men last November, few days after the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) had announced the redesigning of N200, N500 and N1,000 respectively, that some governors were hoarding billions of Naira at various locations in the country and were quickly planning to pay salaries with their stashed stolen fund before the CBN issued the redesigned Naira notes. The Commission had also in December 2021 said, a governor in the North Central region was suspected to have withdrawn over N60 billion Naira, between 2015 and 2021, and that further investigation by the EFCC revealed that the amount of his withdrawal within the period had reached N78 billion Naira.

The CBN had for over a decade introduced the cashless policy to limit the circulation of physical cash and promote electronic modes of payment in the country, so as to ensure financial inclusion, curb corruption in the public sector and reduce the spate of major crimes such as theft, armed robbery, and kidnapping.

Beaming their floodlights on the state governors, financial analysts say, a great percentage of the trillions old Naira notes outside the banks today, belongs to the state governors; and that the governors’ accumulation consists of slashed and kept state and local governments monthly allocations from the federation account, borrowed money for bogey projects, monies from illegal disposal of public properties, cuts from internally generated revenues, kick-back from contracts, issuing bogey contracts and conversion of financial aides from the Federal Government such as State Budget Support fund, Paris Club Refund, Anchor Borrowers Loan, COVID-19 Special Grants e.t.c. These unwholesome practices had more than doubled the amount of currency in circulation between 2015 and 2022; according to CBN, the currency in circulation increased from N1.4 trillion in 2015 to N3.23 trillion in October 2022 when the Naira redesign was announced. 

President Buhari, whose one of the three cardinal principles of his administration is curbing corrupt practices, tried to stem corruption at the state level by approving financial autonomy for Local Government Councils, States Judiciary and States Legislature respectively, but all were rejected and reversed by the state governors so that they could continue their corrupt practices unabated.

President Buhari also wanted a free and fair election in 2023, but most of governors who are to depart after this election, decided to plant their stogies at the state level so as to cover their criminal tracts and continue perpetuating their corrupt practices; while Buhari’s APC governors sold the presidential ticket to a confused, ill and very corrupt aspirant, so that they can control the next federal administration.

Therefore, determine to neutralize their evil ambition, President Buhari came up with the Naira redesign project with the intention of exposing their primitive accumulation to the public and therefore check them – an old Army General is never short of a strategy!

The governors were also at their feet, they tried to nib this strategy at the bud by employing various means to dissuade the president from actualizing it, so they could save their illegally acquired wealth: Just like the case of Ali Baba in the Arabian folks tale who discovered a hidden treasure of some 40 thieves that later made many attempts to kill him, but was saved by his loyal slave girl, Murjanat.  

The governors first attacked the idea and its executor – Godwin Emefiele, the CBN Governor, who turned up to be President Buhari’s ‘Murjanat’:  They used both the social and legacy media to allege a horrendous sum being used to print a small amount of the new Naira notes; that other key officials in the government such as the minister of finance and the Federal Executive Council were not involved in the decision to redesign the Naira; that the redesigned Naira was the old one that was lightly brushed with fading colours, capable of dissolving in water; as this did not work, with President Buhari turning a blind eye to the allegations, they then set their dogs with the allegation of 83 trillion Naira stamp duty fraud against Emefiele; that also withered out with the president not paying heed to it.

In the next move, probably the final, three state governors from President Buhari’s APC ruling party (Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara) sued the Federal Government and the CBN in the Supreme Court and sought an interim injunction to stop the withdrawal of the old Naira notes from circulation on February 10, 2023, and a permanent order to reverse the redesigning of the Naira notes policy. A seven-member panel of the court led by Justice John Okoro granted an ex parte ruling to the governors on February 8th, halting the withdrawal of the old currency from circulation. The panel adjourned until 15th of February for hearing of the main suit. Four more APC state governors of Kano, Ekiti, Niger and Ondo joined the suit immediately after the ruling as co-plaintiffs.

On February 11th, the Council of State that consists of the president, vice-president, governors, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, former presidents, former heads of state, former Chief Justices of Nigeria, President of the Senate, Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Attorney-General of the Federation, advised the Federal Government to either allow the old and new currencies to co-exist for a time or print more of the new currency and mop up the old one in a while. The President asked them for time to make up his mind on their suggestions.

After the ruling, the entire state governors met in Abuja on February 12th under the auspices of Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) and urged all other state governors in the country to join in the legal battle against the Federal Government in the Supreme Court. In a communique signed by the chairperson of the forum and governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, the forum alleged that the country was at the risk of a CBN induced recession and causing hardship for Nigerians, accusing the CBN of conducting ‘Currency confiscation’ programme, rather than redesigning.     

The forum concluded thus: “The inability to use the new notes has had far-reaching economic effects, leading to the emergence of the naira black market, severe food inflation, variable commodities prices based on the method of exchange, and long queues as well as crowds around Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) and banking halls across the country. The country runs the risk of a CBN-induced recession.”

At the resume hearing of the case on the 15th of February, Sokoto and other APC states such as Ogun, Katsina, Lagos and Cross Rivers applied to join their counterparts in the suit as co-plaintiffs, while two opposition PDP states of Bayelsa and Edo states joined the Federal Government to support the currency policy as co-respondents. The Panel adjourned hearing to February 22 to enable both the plaintiffs and the respondents to incorporate the applications of their new joiners; it also declined the plaintiffs’ request to make pronouncement on the Federal Government’s supposed flouting of its order to retain the use of the old Naira notes until the determination of the suit before it. This generates debates amongst lawyers, whether the earlier ex parte ruling of the court on the continuous using the old notes as legal tender, holds or otherwise. Jigawa, another APC state, joined the suit the following day as a co-plaintiff.

A day after the adjournment, President Buhari went on air and extended the validity of the old N200 note by 60 days, up to April 10, and confirmed the expiration of the old N500 and N1,000 notes as legal tender in Nigeria, respectively. On the same day, Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufa’i, made a statewide broadcast insisting that N500 and N1,000 notes remained legal tender in his state until the Supreme Court declares otherwise, describing the Naira redesigning policy as a “plot for interim government and military takeover.”

Similarly, Kano State Governor Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje has legitimized the old notes in his state and went to the extent of closing a popular supermarket in Kano, Wellcare, for refusing to accept the old notes; he threatened to destroy all banks that tow along the president’s Naira redesign policy. He alleged that the president was out to destroy the ruling APC that helped him became president as he was about to leave office; he likened him to a notorious Katsina State drunkard of the yesteryears, Habu Na Habu, who formed a formidable drinking contingent only to disband it when he quitted drinking. The governor had also, at a rally in Kano Municipal area yesterday, described President Buhari as ‘Awon Igiya’ a Hausa language expression meaning directionless.

Jigawa and Ogun states governors also announced the continuous usage of the old notes in their respective states, with Ogun state governor threatening to revoke the certificate of occupancy of any recalcitrant organization that failed to abide by his order. What Professor Odinkalu and many other observers are asking is, why are these governors suddenly rising collectively to fight for the interests of the common man in this regard, but never did so in more serious issues such as banditry, insurgency and wallowing poverty? Is it because the Naira notes swap issue coincides with their personal interests?

Whatever the Supreme Court case outcome, the EFCC said it is watching any cash transaction and bank deposit of five million Naira and above.

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