President Muhammadu Buhari needs to be reminded that, no matter how good his original intentions were, his entire government could be judged by how badly his unconstitutional policy to change the naira has worked.
The President seems to be stuck between doing the right thing by reversing his poorly-thought-out, badly executed, and unconstitutional redesign of the naira and going ahead with it despite all the good advice he has received. As a newspaper, it is our constitutional duty to either give advice to or criticise the government when either is needed. Again, our advice on this issue is that there is no shame or blame in the president going back on a policy that the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, said was unconstitutional.
We are not on our own. Professor Auwalu Yadudu is not only one of the best lawyers in Nigeria, but he is also known for not doing things on the cheap. He only talks about the most difficult constitutional issues, and even then, he does so with a clear goal in mind, which is the common good, not to please the powers that be at the time. This is a problem that affects too many of our lawyers and public intellectuals, whether they are in the office or not.
Last week, Yadudu almost sounded angry when he said that President Buhari’s delay in making a clear statement about the unanimous Supreme Court ruling that the government’s naira redesign policy was unconstitutional was “total contempt of court.” Yadudu said, “It is a blatant disregard and complete disobedience of a court order from the highest court in the land, and it is the most irresponsible thing for any government agency or elected official to be so blatant about it.
” Then, speaking directly to the President, he said, “It doesn’t look good, and my biggest fear is that Mr President has joined the fight, and it will look like he approves of whatever the CBN is doing. This is the worst case of ignoring the rule of law that the president can leave behind.” Even when a temporary order was given, he (the president) chose to completely ignore it and make his own decision about which notes would be legal and which would not. I think it’s the saddest part of Mr President’s administration that a court order can be ignored in this way under his watch and with his clear approval.”
We don’t know if President Buhari is talking to anyone else about this issue. But we do know that it is important and even helpful for a leader to listen not only to the cries of his citizens but also to well-meaning voices from outside the closed loop of his own government, no matter how harsh or critical those voices may sound.
In reality, this policy is causing a lot of pain for the people of Nigeria. It’s possible that the Nigerians who are hurting the most are also the ones who can’t speak up for themselves. This is the group that the government has the most responsibility to listen to and help. And over the past two months in Nigeria, a lot of news stories have shown that people are suffering a lot because of this failed naira redesign policy, which the Supreme Court has said is null, void, and against the constitution for more than a week now. If the government cared to do its research, it would have found out that this policy has destroyed the businesses, incomes, and ways of life of tens of millions of Nigerians, as shown in the news every day.
But the point is no longer whether the policy is good or bad. Constitutionalism is now the real issue. What should a government do when the Supreme Court says that one of its actions or policies is against the Constitution? This is the question right now, and in our democratic system, there is only one right answer. The government must make a clear statement that it is following the court’s decision. In this case, the President and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) have no choice but to show that they are following the law.
Our democratic system is based on the idea that the three equal parts of the government will keep each other in check for the good of the people. A system like this is not always pretty or easy for leaders to use, but it is the best way to protect the rights of the people, which is what a democratic system is all about. Femi Falana, a human rights activist, said last week that the Supreme Court’s decisions about the law or the constitution are final, bind all authorities, and go into effect right away. To say the least, it’s a shame that President Buhari waited this long to show that he supports the law.
Lastly, 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 how well it matches what the suffering and dispossessed Nigerians want from this policy, but also on how well it matches the law. The Nigerian Supreme Court has unanimously and clearly said that the old naira notes can still be used as money until December 31, 2023. So it must be.