President Muhammadu Buhari must be reminded that he risks having his entire government judged only by the resounding failure and debilitating effects of his now unconstitutional naira redesign policy, whatever the original intensions behind it.
The President appears stuck between doing the right thing by back-tracking on his poorly-conceived, badly-implemented and unconstitutional naira redesign and forging ahead with it against all well-meaning advice. As a newspaper, our constitutional duty is to advise or criticise the government, whenever either advice or criticism is warranted. Our advice on this issue, once again, is that there is no shame or blame for the president to back-track on a policy declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land.
We are not alone. Professor Auwalu Yadudu is not only one of Nigeria’s most brilliant legal minds, he is also not known for cheap interventions. He speaks only on the thorniest constitutional matters and even then, does so only with a clarity of purpose for the common good rather than to please the powers that be at the moment, an affliction that often beclouds the judgment of too many of our lawyers and public intellectuals, whether in office or out of it.
Last week, Yadudu sounded almost exasperated when he described as “total contempt of court” President Buhari’s dallying to issue a clear statement on the unanimous Supreme Court verdict declaring the government’s naira redesign policy unconstitutional. Yadudu said, “it is a brazen disregard and total contempt of court order; not any court but the highest court of the land, and it is the most irresponsible thing for any agency of government or any elected official of government to be so brazen about it.”
And then, more pointedly to the President, he added: “It doesn’t tell well, and my greatest worry is that Mr President has descended into the fray and it will appear that whatever the CBN is doing has his blessing, and this is the worst case of disregard for the rule of law that the president can leave behind. Even when an interim order was given, he (the president) chose to disregard it completely and even to issue his decree as to what note will remain a legal tender and which will not. I think this is the saddest point in the administration of Mr. President that such a disregard of a court order can be made under his watch and with his manifest approval.”
We do not know who else President Buhari is listening to on this issue. But we do know that it is important, even helpful, for a leader to listen not only to the cries of his citizens, but also to well-intentioned voices outside the closed loop of his own government, however harsh or critical those voices might come across.
The reality is that Nigerians are hurting very deeply by the effects of this policy. It may be that those hurting the most are those least able to speak out for themselves, the same category of Nigerians for which the government has the highest obligation to listen to and help. And over the past two months in Nigeria, tons of news reports have shown that Nigerians are hurting badly from the social and economic dispossession wrought by this failed naira redesign policy that has, for more than a week now, been declared null, void and unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. If the government cares to do its research, it would have seen the staggering millions of Nigerians whose businesses, incomes and livelihoods have been decimated by this policy, as news reports daily indicate.
Yet, the point is no longer about the merits or demerits of the policy. The real issue now is constitutionalism. What should a government do when the Supreme Court declares any of its actions or policies as unconstitutional? This is the question now, and there is only one answer under our democratic order. The government must release a statement clearly indicating its compliance with the court’s ruling. This is a matter on which neither the President nor the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has any choice left than to demonstrate their compliance with the law.
Our democratic order is founded on the actionable principle that the three co-equal branches of government will exercise checks over one another on behalf of the citizen. Such a system is not always elegant or convenient for leaders, but it is the best that assures protection for the rights of the citizen, the very heartbeat of a democratic system. And on any matters of law or the constitution, the rulings of the Supreme Court are final, binding on all authorities and take effect immediately, as the human rights activist, Femi Falana stated last week. It is unfortunate—to say the least—that President Buhari would wait this long to show he stands on the side of the law.
Finally, we remind the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr Godwin Emefiele and the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) that the quality of their advice to the President depends not only on the extent to which it aligns with the expectations of the suffering and dispossessed Nigerians on this policy, but also on the extent to which their advice is consistent with the law. The Supreme Court of Nigeria has said, unanimously and unambiguously, that the old naira notes remain legal tender until December 31st 2023. So must it be.