The Supreme Court has adjudged President Muhammadu Buhari a disobeyer of court order over his handling of the federal government’s currency notes redesign policy.
A seven-member panel of the court led by John Okoro made the pronouncement on Friday in a unanimous judgement on a suit filed by some state governors to challenge what they described as the federal government’s “demonetisation policy”.
“The disobedience of orders of courts by the President in a constitutional democracy as ours is a sign of the failure of the constitution and that democratic governance has become a mere pretension and is now replaced by autocracy or dictatorship,” Emmanuel Agim, a member of the Supreme Court panel, said in the court’s lead judgement.
The policy, introduced by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in October last year, includes issuing newly redesigned N200, N500, and N1,000 bank notes and withdrawing their old versions from circulation within a short period.
It initially set 31 January to end the legal tender status of the old notes but had to shift it to 10 February when it was obvious that the CBN lacked the capacity to supply enough of the new notes into circulation.
The policy approved and directed by Mr Buhari has led to the scarcity of banknotes. This has, in turn, created chaos, disrupting economic activities and bringing hardships to millions of citizens in Nigeria’s cash-dependent economy.
Three state governments – Kaduna, Kogi, and Zamfara – sued the federal government at the Supreme Court over the issue on 3 February, seeking an order invalidating the policy.
On 8 February, two days ahead of the 10 February deadline set by the CBN to end the use of the old N200, N500, and N1,000 notes, the Supreme Court granted an interim order suspending the implementation of the policy.
The court ordered that both the old notes and their newly designed versions should remain legal pending further hearings in the suit.
But in violation of the court’s order, President Buhari, in a broadcast on 16 February, restored the validity of the old N200 notes and insisted that the old N500 and N1,000 banknotes had ceased to be valid.
“It is not in dispute that the 1st defendant refused to obey the said order. The President’s 16 February 2023 national broadcast reproduced here on pages 27-31 demonstrates this disobedience,” Mr Agim held.
He added, “In disobedience of the order, he directed that only the old N200 naira notes be recirculated.
“Interestingly, there is nothing to show the implementation of even that directive. I agree with the 9th plaintiff, that the 1st defendant is not entitled to be heard by this court when it has refused to respect the authority of this court and the authority of law from which the authority of the President and the Government of Nigeria derives.”
Mr Agim said Mr Buhari’s disobedience to the court order makes democratic governance illusory.
“The rule of law upon which our democratic governance is founded becomes illusory if the President of the country or any authority or person refuses to obey the orders of courts,” the Supreme Court justice held.
The court invalidated the policy on Friday as it was issued by the President without consultation as expected in a democracy.
The court then extended the validity of the old naira notes till 31 December and ordered that they remained legal tender alongside the old notes up till the new deadlines.
Mr Buhari, a former military dictator with a poor human rights profile in the 1980s, campaigned to be elected as a democratic president in 2015, promising that he had become a reformed democrat.
But since coming to office in May 2015, Mr Buhari has hardly lived up to his promise, as his administration consistently picks and chooses which court orders to obey in the last seven and half years of its coming to power.
Friday’s pronouncement was the first time a court would specifically adjudge him as disobedient to a court order.