A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mike Ozekhome, says the Supreme Court has yet to take a decision on the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) policy that stipulates a February 10 deadline for old N200, N500 and N1,000 banknotes.
This comes after a seven-man panel of the apex court led by Justice John Okoro, in a unanimous ruling on Wednesday, granted an interim injunction restraining the Federal Government from implementing the CBN’s ultimatum.
The judgement followed a motion ex-parte on behalf of three northern states – Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara – filed on February 3rd, by their lawyer, AbdulHakeem Mustapha (SAN), praying the apex court to halt the CBN naira redesign policy.
But Ozekhome, in live appearance on The 2023 Verdict, Channels Television’s special election programme, clarified that the judgement was not a conclusive stance on the CBN’s currency swap policy.
“The Supreme Court has not decided the matter. All it has done is to fall back to a decision like Kotoye v. CBN, that in matters of extreme urgency, you can grant an interim order, even if it be ex parte, to prevent the subject matter of the suit being truncated.
“If, for example, the Supreme Court, did not make that order, and the only order existing is that of the High Court, it means that the CBN, by 10th of this month, will stop the use of all old notes.
“But what the Supreme Court has said is, ‘Just wait, let us listen to you people,’ not that it has decided that Zamfara, Kogi and Kaduna states have any valid case that is actionable because the action is already being challenged with a preliminary objection.
“It is another way of saying, ‘Let us first drive away the fox before we blame the fowl for wandering too far into the forest,’” he said.
Lower Courts Vs Supreme Court?
On Monday, Justice Eneojo Eneche of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court stopped the CBN, President Muhammadu Buhari and 27 commercial banks from suspending or interfering with the currency redesign terminal date of February 10, or issue any directive contrary to the said date.
But Ozekhome argued that other courts in the hierarchy of courts must “blow muted trumpets” when matters are being heard in the apex court.
“Notwithstanding the fact that a high court or Federal High Court had granted an order telling the CBN, ‘You can stop this naira swap policy on the 10th of February as you have decided to do,’ the Supreme Court today said, ‘Hello? Don’t do that!” he said.
He explained that apex court’s judgement allows the old and new naira to be in the same position – status quo ante bellum, which according to him means “the state of affairs before the crisis broke out.”
“[The Supreme Court says] ‘Allow it to continue. Come back on the 15th of February and let us hear you people,’” he added.
The senior lawyer highlighted the significance of a full constitutional panel of seven justices in the ruling, saying in such a case, the Supreme Court should invite amica curiae – “friends of the court”.
According to him, the Supreme Court should invite “very respected senior lawyers” to give their opinions in writing.
Commenting on the three governments’ suit against the Federal Government, he said, “I also believe – if you ask me – three attorneys-general of three states, Kogi, Kaduna and Zamfara, have gone to court.
“Question: Any decision arrived at by the Supreme Court, will it not affect the other 33 attorneys-general of Nigeria? The answer is in the affirmative. It will.
“I also think this is the type of matter in which the Supreme Court should also suo motu, even if they did not apply to be joined, join all the attorneys-general of the federation, so that the matter could be decided once and for all.”