100 Days Of Hardship 

Cash Squeeze: As Buhari Plays Pontius Pilate

Last week, Nigerians got some sort of relief as the Central Bank and Federal Government finally complied with the Supreme Court ruling on the lingering cash squeeze which practically squeezed life out of many Nigerians.

I am not particularly interested in the debate as it concerns the independence of the CBN or otherwise or the right of the Supreme court to intervene in monetary policy administration.

The arguments for or against, are neither here nor there, my pain is the unwarranted hardship which the federal government under president Muhammadu Buhari unconscionably subjected the people to. This level of hardship is unprecedented.

Not even during the COVID-19 pandemic did Nigerians experience this level of hardship where people who had money could not have access to their money to meet their basic needs. During Covid-19, if we could not access the banks, we could use the ATMs or do other transfers.

Some graphic cases will suffice here, if only to just illustrate the extent of the hardship experienced within that period.

In Ibadan, an Ibadan-based radio presenter, popularly known as Baba Bintin, slumped and died on his way to work.

According to reports the presenter died on his way to the Fresh FM station where he had a programme at Ayefele Music house, Challenge, Ibadan, Oyo State capital. Reports say he was trekking from the Amuloko area where he lived to Challenge as a result of his inability to get cash for transportation to the studio.

In Kaduna, a heavily pregnant woman in Kasuwan Magani, Kajuru LGA, in Kaduna, lost her life when her husband could not pay the required hospital deposit because he could not access cash. The deceased’s husband said his wife was rejected by the hospital when he could not make the cash payment.

Of course, there were several stories both in the regular and social media where people simply threw caution to the dogs while protesting against the policy all across the nation.

If the reason for the sudden redesigning of the naira was meant to check the influence of money on our elections, it is difficult to tell to what extent that was achieved, because the election itself did not suggest that it was spared of that.

If again, as the CBN claimed, the redesigned naira notes and new limits on large cash withdrawals would help curb money laundering and kidnappings for ransoms and make digital payments the norm in Africa’s biggest economy, the question to ask is what is the population of kidnappers in the country that cannot be handled by the security operatives? If sincerely, the federal government is desirous of checking the menace the identities of some of these felons are known to some FG-approved as well as some self-appointed negotiators.

How do you punish an entire population for the infraction of an insignificant population of criminals? Are bandits so untouchable and invincible that not one single case has been successfully prosecuted?

Thank God that reason prevailed and the federal government through the CBN decided to approve recirculation of the old notes. Although, the effect of this action is not very significant, at least for now, but all the same it is by far a better option and proposition.

For the first time after more than two months, I could walk into a bank last Thursday to make a withdrawal without the usual crowd around the bank. Even though we were limited to N10,000, it was almost unbelievable that I could do that in less than 20 minutes. Indeed, it was a great relief.

The situation got so bad that we not only spent several hours trying to withdraw paltry sums that were hardly available, we also spent several hours just to access the customer care sections of the banks over issues of reversal of payment not made for which the customers had been debited.

Now after punishing us for no reason, CBN on Monday, March 13, after the Bankers’ Committee meeting held the previous day, directed commercial banks to dispense and receive old naira notes as legal tender across the country. The Supreme Court had ordered that the old naira notes be allowed to circulate side by side the new notes until December 31, 2023.

A seven-man panel of the Supreme Court led by Justice John Okoro gave the judgment. Other justices that sat on the case are Emmanuel Agim, Amina Augie, Mohammed Garba, Ibrahim Saulawa, Adamu Jauro and Tijanni Abubakar.

In the judgment delivered by Justice Agim, the apex court held that Buhari breached the constitution in the manner he issued directives for the redesigning of the naira.

On the disobedience of the Supreme Court’s earlier order on the new notes, Justice Agim said Buhari’s broadcast of February 16, 2023 that only the N200 note should remain legal tender made the country’s democracy look like a mere pretension.

How the Supreme Court expected Buhari who has never hidden his disdain for court rulings, to obey its order still beats one’s imagination. Similarly, is it not hypocritical of the governors themselves who do not regard court judgements or only obey them when they are favourable to accuse the FG of contempt? If the judiciary wants to command the respect of political office holders, they know what to do. Pandering to the whims and caprices of the president and the governors certainly is not the way.

Meanwhile, as has become traditional with the president, he promptly played Pontius Pilate, as he conveniently washed his hands of the matter, after keeping mum for one week after the Supreme court ruling.

The Presidency said the CBN had no reason not to comply with the ruling of the Supreme Court on the naira redesign policy.

It stated that the President did not instruct the CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, to disobey “any court orders involving the government and other parties.”

This is the same President Buhari who as military head of state executed a similar currency change and has been quoted in several interviews as saying he likes the policy of the CBN and that it will be good. The president was the one who, after a meeting with the CBN governor, defended the policy. He also alluded to the fact that the policy will reduce the influence of money in these elections.

President Buhari’s predilection for feigning ignorance is legendary. He should know that it’s not a mark of strength to always shirk responsibility. Both Malami and Emefiele are his appointees, therefore, he must accept responsibilities  for their actions or inactions.

Sadly, lots of Nigerians have fallen for this Buhari’s gimmick of blaming everyone except himself. They condemn Emefiele for a policy that’s solely Buhari’s. They demand the head of Malami for contempt of court, even though Buhari’s dictatorial antecedents are there for all see. The governors accused some unnamed elements within the presidency of being behind the policy, but pray, who heads this loose presidency?


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