Since 1999, there’s never been a presidential election where every political camp appears convinced of victory, all pretentiously confident in their echo chambers. This pervasive optimism, while impressive in its intensity, is equally disconcerting, as none appears to be anticipating the potential for defeat in the February 25 election.
This is a sign of trouble in our politics. Such lack of preparedness for a looming loss is a cause for concern but, with another chaos rippling across the country, the full story shall be reserved for another week.
The Naira redesign policy has instigated a pervasive sense of unease across all social classes in Nigeria, prompting even the typically sycophantic politicians to become Che Guevara against President Muhammadu Buhari. The result is a distinct air of anarchy that has descended upon the nation. In an unprecedented move, Governor Nasir El-Rufai, who’s famously loyal to the President, has publicly rebuked him, jumping from one TV station to another to denounce his actions, questioning his judgement and analysing how far he has been misled by a phantom Cabal and the Central Bank of Nigeria’s Governor, Godwin Emefiele.
When a group of APC governors seized the moment and took the matter before the Supreme Court and secured what seemed like a favourable injunction—an extension of the deadline of the validity of old Naira notes—the panicking nation awaited the President’s compliance with angst. Buhari’s response is a predictable middle finger to his party’s chieftains, who, without saying so, are convinced that the President is desperate to sabotage the party’s chances in the forthcoming general election.
For Nigerians outside of the corridors of power, Buhari’s contempt of court is just a leopard advertising its spots. However, it is rather entertaining to see those who had previously cheered on Buhari’s flagrant disregard for court orders over the past seven years – simply because the targets were deemed undesirable, from Dasuki to El-Zakzaky – now weaving fancy grammar and exhibiting extreme anger towards the same practice they had condoned since 2015.
Even if the president had opted to comply with the court order, the Central Bank of Nigeria had already tightened its grip on the Naira in circulation, rendering the judgment moot with respect to the release of old notes withdrawn from circulation. As a result, the issue of Naira scarcity continues to persist across the country, leaving the question of a viable solution unanswered.
What Buhari has done differently in this chaos is honouring the nation with a broadcast last Thursday, and appealing for calm without a reassuring solution. The Naira redesign, he admitted while permitting the CBN to extend the validity of only the old N200 notes, had “contributed immensely to the minimisation of the influence of money in politics,” and that “This is a positive departure from the past and represents a bold legacy step by this administration, towards laying a strong foundation for free and fair elections.”
If the current policy of currency redesign is the proposed solution to end the influence of money in our elections, then it appears that the country would be faced with the impractical challenge of having to redesign its currency every election cycle. Moreover, the timing of the policy’s implementation is suspect, given that it was not implemented when President Buhari himself was on the ballot four years ago. Despite the theatrics displayed by the government, it seems unlikely that the policy will achieve its intended goal, as the financial institutions are always accessible to politicians and the scarce banknotes will continue to be in circulation. Thus, the government must develop a more effective and sustainable solution to address the issue of money politics in Nigeria.
As we approach the post-election period, the primary challenge before us is effectively managing the chaotic aftermath of the polls. Already, protests have erupted in several cities, particularly in the southern part of the country, as citizens express their frustration with the Naira redesign policy and the government’s response. More frighteningly, Governor El-Rufai has even urged his constituents to retain their old notes, defying the President’s call for compliance with the new policy. He has also authorised state agencies to disobey the President’s “no extension” directive, citing the pending Supreme Court case as justification.
That El-Rufai had to go that length despite the implication, and despite knowing it’s a green light to the DSS—with whom he had had interrogation sessions during his “activism” days before he took charge as the chief security officer of Kaduna state—to mark him as an enemy of the state. Whether El-Rufai’s rebellion is an attempt to undermine the President’s authority, which is being framed as treason by his critics, or a guided effort to check Buhari’s dictatorship is left for the court of law to establish. But no matter where he belongs in the court of public opinion, he’s protected by immunity for now.
Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State has also taken a similar stance as El-Rufai, openly defying the federal government’s decision to phase out the old Naira notes and even threatening to penalise anyone who refuses to accept them within his jurisdiction. This kind of open rebellion by governors who belong to the same political party as the President is a clear indication of the extent to which the centre has collapsed.
After the elections, Nigeria’s fate will lie in the hands of the Supreme Court, which has the final say on who becomes the next President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces if the electoral processes are ever questioned, which is inevitable. So, overruling the apex court in a critical time like this would create a dangerous precedent, allowing an unlawfully-elected President to treat future court judgments as mere side notes. And Buhari won’t be around when such anarchy begins to manifest.
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