The Chairman of the Alliance on Surviving Covid-19 and Beyond (ASCAB), Femi Falana (SAN), has said that President Muhammadu Buhari’s national broadcast on the naira swap policy will not end the hardship Nigerians are facing.

Falana in a statement by ASCAB noted that Buhari ruled out old N500 and N1000 notes as legal tender in Nigeria “contrary to the clear and unambiguous order of the Supreme Court.”

The Central Bank of Nigeria had fixed February 10 as the new deadline for the exchange of old naira notes for newly redesigned ones after shifting the deadline from January 31 initially fixed as the deadline.

Many Nigerians are currently unable to obtain the new N200, N500, and N1,000 notes, due to scarcity. This has caused hardship for many Nigerians and businesses. There have also been violent protests in some cities.

To ease the situation, President Buhari ordered the Central Bank Governor to allow the old N200 (two hundred naira note) to circulate till April 10, 2023, when it would cease to be a legal tender.

Commenting on this, the human rights lawyer said the government should allow the old currency to be valued as a legal tender till the end of this year.

Falana said, “The suffering of the Nigerian people is getting worse by the day. President Buhari in his message to the nation gave no hope that this suffering will end anytime soon. We need action now to reverse the fuel price increases and to make money available again. Our suffering cannot continue – we cannot live like this. After 13 days (rather than seven) President Buhari eventually announced a decision this morning. But it is not enough to end the crisis. There are not enough old 200 naira notes to replace all the old N1,000 and N500 notes. In addition, the new deadline of 10th of April is too close.

“If the government was serious, the crisis could be ended in a few days. All the old currency notes could be made legal tender until the end of the year. In addition, all the old currency could be changed at the banks as well as at the CBN until the end of next year. This would give confidence back in the markets and the old currency would again be accepted.

“The problem is that the corrupt elite think that increased suffering and deaths of the common people is a price worth paying if they defeat their opponents. Hungry people can no longer buy food and so they are in more danger of dying from common diseases. People cannot afford to travel to hospital. If they get there they cannot afford tests. If they take the tests they cannot afford the medicine.

“This crisis was created by the government. It is only the government that can end the crisis. The government could end this crisis in a matter of days. The CBN could issue old currency notes to the banks to issue to the public in a matter of days. That is all that is needed to end the crisis. The untold crisis across the country, the misery, suffering and deaths are a result of a fight between different clans of the corrupt elite. The common people are suffering as a result of disputes over who will loot for the next four years or more.

“Unless firm action is taken, this crisis will get worse in the days to come. The suffering and anger is likely to make violence around the election worse. Then we still have to suffer the Buhari Government for at least another three months. Any alternative to this will only make the situation worse.”

Falana added that the directive given by Buhari on Thursday to the Central Bank amounted to overruling the Supreme Court’s ruling on the same mattter before.

He continued: “The President has ruled out old N500 and N1000 notes as legal tender in Nigeria contrary to the clear and unambiguous order of the Supreme Court.

“With respect, the decision of the President to exclude old N500 and N1000 notes from the legal tender of Nigeria is of no legal effect as it constitutes a contravention of Section 287(1) of the Constitution which provides that “the decisions of the Supreme court shall be enforced in any part of the Federation by all authorities and persons, and by courts with subordinate jurisdiction to that of the Supreme court.”

“In 1983, a public officer was suspended from office. He approached the Lagos State High Court for legal “redress. While the case was pending, the then military dictator, Major General Muhammadu Buhari dismissed the officer “in the public interest” under the Public Officers (Special Provisions) Decree No 17 of 1984. In setting aside the purported dismissal, the Supreme Court berated the military junta in the case of Garba vs. Federal Civil Service Commission (1998) 1 NWLR (PT 71) 449 at 453 – 454. Speaking for the apex court, Justice Kayode Eso said inter alia:

“What remains now is an examination of the act of the Respondents in dismissing the Appellant from office during the pendency of the action. Such action, I think is contemptuous of the judiciary, which has been seized with determination of civil right under the constitution and which has been left unscathed by all military coups. For the judiciary, a powerful arm of government to operate under the rule of law, full confidence, and this must be unadulterated, must exist in that institution. It must indeed be demonstrably shown especially if it is the other arms of government that are involved. In civil days, both the Executive and the Legislature must show to the entire nation their demonstrable confidence in the judiciary. The responsibility is greater during military rule. The military in coming to power is usually faced with the question as to whether to establish a rule of law or rule of force. While the latter could be justifiable a rule of terror, once the path of law is chosen the mighty arm of government, the militia which is an embodiment of legislature and executive must in humility bow to the rule of law thus permitted to exist.”

“In view of the foregoing, we urge the Federal Government to comply with the judgment of the Supreme Court without any further delay. After all, President Buhari says loudly that he has since become a converted democrat,” the statement added.

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