Nigeria’s Old Notes The Supreme Court Has Nullified the Ban on Old Naira Notes

In the judgment, the court noted that Buhari admitted that the policy was flawed in his address, but still exercised the unlawful use of his executive powers to deny Nigerians of access to their money.

On Friday, the Supreme Court of Nigeria rendered the ban placed on old ₦200, ₦500 and ₦1000 banknotes null and void. The court, in a unanimous decision by a seven-member panel of Justices, held that the old naira notes should remain as legal tender until 31 December 2023.

In the lead judgement, read by Justice Emmanuel Agim, the court said President Muhammadu Buhari disobeyed the interim order that halted the full implementation of the new policy. The court held that the unlawful use of executive powers by Buhari, inflicted unprecedented economic hardship on the citizens and that the policy had been introduced without consulting the Council of States, the Federal Executive Council, and other relevant stakeholders. 

In October 2022, the Central Bank governor, Godwin Emefiele, announced the recall and redesign policy to encourage a cashless economy, stave-off cash hoarding, and lower kidnapping rates and terrorism. The redesigned naira notes were unveiled on 23 December, 2022 and the deadline for its implementation was fixed for 31 January, 2023, but this was further extended to 10 February following backlash from Nigeria’s political elite and the citizenry.

Three state governments—Kaduna, Kogi, and Zamfara—challenged the policy on 03 February and the Supreme Court restrained the Federal Government, the central bank and commercial banks from continuing with the deadline following the ex parte application. Thirteen other states later joined the suit as co-plaintiffs, arguing that the policy had caused hardship for Nigerians. Abubakar Malami, the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) filed a preliminary objection to the suit, arguing that the court lacked the jurisdiction to entertain the matter and that the suit ought to have been filed before the Federal High Court.

However in a national broadcast on 16 February, Buhari directed the central bank to release old N200 notes into circulation to co-exist with new ₦200, ₦500 and ₦1, 000 banknotes until 10 April 2023 and that old ₦500 and 1, 000 banknotes had ceased to be legal tender in Nigeria. 

In the judgment, the court noted that Buhari admitted that the policy was flawed in his address, but still exercised the unlawful use of his executive powers to deny Nigerians of access to their money.

At the moment, the central bank and the presidency are yet to publicly respond to the ruling. The governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai, welcomed the ruling, saying neither the incoming president nor the CBN can upturn the decision of the Supreme Court.

According to El-Rufai: 

The policy of currency confiscation where you deposit money in the bank and the bank chooses not to give you is illegal and shall end forthwith, so Nigerians can go to the bank and collect whatever they have deposited and get on with their lives. It’s not a rebellion, it’s a reform to make Nigeria better. And with this judgement, no future president or Governor of the Central Bank can come and announce a policy that ambushes the lives and livelihood of Nigerian people anymore.

The news of the policy’s nullification may bring some relief to small business owners and—per World Bank estimates, the 64 million unbanked Nigerians. Similar to India’s demonetization policy, the currency scarcity placed a strain on small businesses and put people through unnecessary hardship, especially ahead of the general elections. Political campaigns suffered for it, protests were held about it and Nigerians—in need of cash, resorted to paying extra charges when withdrawing from POS merchants, the alternative to bank ATMs

Recommended Reading

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