- February 21, 2023
- Posted by: Stephen Azubuike
- Categories: Opinions, Trending
The recent Naira redesign policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) appears to have become the most controversial policy of the Buhari-led administration. The controversy rears its head from within and without, and from different quarters. This is in view of the hardship occasioned by the implementation of the policy which has brought with it high shortage of cash and unavailability of cash to people to meet their basic needs.
The public outcry and protests by frustrated Nigerians in various states as a result of the ugly development is understandable. Nigerians are familiar with poverty, suffering, hardship, and protests. But what seems to be inexplicable is the heat generated by the Naira redesign policy from within—within the inner circles of President Buhari and his political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), the ruling political party that brought him to power in 2015.
As President Buhari prepares to bow out, he seems to be on a mission to allow great upset within the APC. Many of the APC Governors, including one of his most trusted allies, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, the Executive Governor of Kaduna State, are not in support of the current implementation strategy of the policy.
Consequently, some of these Governors approached the Supreme Court of Nigeria, invoking the original jurisdiction of the apex Court against the Federal Government in a bid to halt the implementation of the policy in the manner adopted by the Federal Government.
Recall that the CBN on 26 October 2022 announced the introduction of new and redesigned N200, N500, and N1,000 banknotes into the financial system. The CBN thereafter declared that the old notes would cease to become a legal tender by 31 January 2023. This period was later extended to 10 February 2023 after much outcry by Nigerians and persuasion by the APC Governors. But the Governors were still not satisfied. According to the Governors, their major reasons for rejecting the deadline were the shortage of cash and the hardship occasioned as a result. The Governors were of the view that sufficient time should be allowed even after the 2023 elections for the full implementation of the policy in line with the CBN Act 2007.
On 8 February 2023, the Supreme Court of Nigeria made an interim order restraining the Federal Government and its agencies, including the CBN from implementing the 10 February 2023 deadline until the hearing and determination of the Motion on Notice for interlocutory injunction filed on the subject.
Notwithstanding the order of the Supreme Court, President Buhari on 16 February 2023 addressed the nation in a national broadcast. Buhari insisted that there is no going back on the policy and its implementation as scheduled. But he amended it by directing the CBN to allow only the old N200 notes back in circulation together with the new N200 until 10 April 2023. And that the old N500, and N1000 will still cease to be legal tender by 10 February 2023. He upheld CBN’s directive that those having the old N500 and N1000 may deposit them directly through any of the CBN branches within another grace period from 10 February 2023 to 17 February 2023.
It is arguable whether the pronouncements of the President amount to an affront on the order and authority of the Supreme Court. As the Supreme Court sits in about 24 hours, this argument is for another day.
Reasons for the Naira Redesign
While the matter before the Supreme Court is set to continue on 22 February 2023, let’s look at the reasons furnished by the President for the Naira redesign policy. According to President Buhari, the reasons are as follows:
a) The need to restore the statutory ability of the CBN to keep a firm control over money in circulation. In 2015 when this administration commenced its first term, currency-in-circulation was only N1.4 trillion.
b) The proportion of currency outside banks grew from 78% in 2015 to 85% in 2022. As of October 2022, therefore, currency in circulation had risen to N3.23 trillion, out of which only N500 billion was within the banking system while N2.7 trillion remained permanently outside the system, thereby distorting the financial policy and efficient management of inflation.
c) The huge volume of bank notes outside the banking system has proven to be practically unavailable for economic activities and by implication retard the attainment of potential economic growth.
d) Economic growth projections make it imperative for government to aim at expanding financial inclusion in the country by reducing the number of the unbanked population; and
e) Given the prevailing security situation across the country, which keeps improving, it also becomes compelling for government to deepen its continuing support for security agencies to successfully combat banditry and ransom-taking in Nigeria.
Along the line in his speech, the President did not hesitate to state what appears to be the most important reason for the Naira redesign. He said:
Fellow citizens, on the 25th of February, 2023 the nation would be electing a new President and National Assembly members. I am aware that this new monetary policy has also contributed immensely to the minimization of the influence of money in politics.
Heavy counter opinion
Aggrieved by the position taken by the President, the Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam El-Rufai, addressed people of his state as well as Nigerians in a press briefing. He blamed some unnamed persons for misleading the President. This seems to imply that the President lacks the capacity to realise that he has been allegedly misled in taking the position he took in a matter as sensitive as this. The Governor alleged that some disgruntled politicians who lost at the gubernatorial and presidential primaries of the APC in 2022 were behind the policy and its implementation strategy. He alleged that the policy was birthed the moment the alleged politicians were ignored by the presidential flag-bearer of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, for the position of running mate. Governor El-Rufai alleged that the overall objective was for APC to lose all the elections and for there to be possible chaos which might lead to an Interim National Government or possible military takeover.
Governor El-Rufai boldly countered the President by urging Kaduna State indigenes and other Nigerians to ignore the President and the CBN’s policy and go ahead to retain their old notes and use them as they please. He threatened to deal with any person or corporate entities that do not comply with his directives. The Governor relied on the order of the Supreme Court.
Opinion & posers
But just so we are clear, amidst the ongoing controversies, certain facts need to be straightened. There’s no law that invalidates a currency validly issued by the CBN. What the law contemplates is that citizens may deposit the old notes and the banks will replace it with the new notes. The process will continue continuously and seamlessly until the old notes will disappear and the new notes would remain.
Undoubtedly, the current move by the CBN has achieved some great results. But the pain being inflicted is enormous. No matter what the intentions are, what the Federal Government and the CBN are currently doing is harmful to the well-being of the people. The interest of the citizens remains paramount.
Meanwhile, it’s difficult to ignore the hypocritical handwriting on the wall across both divides. First, at what point did President Buhari realise that money influence in politics isn’t the way to go? For instance, what steps did the law enforcement agencies under his control take to deal with the bullion-van street-party in Lagos which held like a bachelor’s eve on the eve of the election in February 2019? Did the Federal Government make any down-payment to cushion the effects of the hardship brought by the Naira redesign policy which are roasting Nigerians like corn?
Second, why are the APC Governors so disturbed by this Naira redesign policy and implementation? What similar steps did they take to tackle the sufferings of Nigerians all these years? How have the Governors shown legitimate concerns for the interest of the citizens in the past?
If the Buhari administration wishes to fight money influence in elections, it had all the time to strengthen our institutions and invent innovative ways to deal with it. This artificial cash scarcity which seems to have been primarily caused by the Government is hasty and appears unreasonable in the estimation of the common masses.
Buhari’s current move appears to be tantamount to an attempt to perform a critical surgery in a dark room. The risk of innocent casualties is high. And it is getting higher as the clock ticks. But this is only one side of the dilemma.
On the other side, it appears some politicians are determined to destroy the “structure” by which power is being hijacked at elections. Their reasons for this, like every other move, seems to be more personal than for the common good of the nation.
Whether this development will be for the ultimate good or whether it will plunge the nation into more crises and political and economic instability is left to be seen.