SCORNING another golden chance to bond with Nigerians and forge a lasting legacy in the dying days of his regime, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), has cemented his anti-democratic credentials. Essentially, he aggravated the socioeconomic tensions in the country on Thursday in a morning broadcast in which he flagrantly disobeyed a Supreme Court order on the naira redesign policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria, to keep the old N200, N500 and N1,000 banknotes in circulation till February 22. This is a very dangerous precedent and the effects will only investigate further assault on Nigeria’s unstable democracy.
On the eve of Buhari’s incendiary broadcast, the Supreme Court had issued a second interim injunction restraining the Federal Government and the CBN from implementing the February 10 deadline for rejecting the old banknotes. Instead of waiting for the highest court in the land to decide the matter, Buhari precipitately violated the order. This is a blatant threat to the rule of law, which the noted scholar, Ludwig von Mises, says “…hinders the rulers from turning themselves into the worst gangsters.”
With this nefarious example, the CBN, and many state governors have followed suit. The rule of law, for long shaky in the country, and battered on Buhari’s watch, has taken another bashing.
In his defiant broadcast, Buharisaid, “To further ease the supply pressures, particularly to our citizens, I have given approval to the CBN that the old N200 bank notes be released back into circulation and that it should also be allowed to circulate as legal tender with the new N200, N500, and N1,000 banknotes for 60 days from February 10, 2023 to April 10, 2023 when the old N200 notes ceases to be legal tender.” By that pronouncement, he inflicted violence on the principle of the separation of powers of the three arms of government and the constitutional system of checks and balances.
His action is contemptuous of the judiciary, representing another assault on the rule of law, which is the staple of stable democracies. Buhari should stop desecrating the 1999 Constitution that he swore to uphold.
The importance of the rule of law in a democracy is settled. Lord Denning, the legendary English jurist, said, “Be you ever so high, the law is above you.” This was echoed by a general who became America’s 34th President,Dwight Eisenhower: “The world no longer has a choice between force and law; if civilisation is to survive, it must choose the rule of law.” Nigeria must toe this line.
Claiming that it has caused hardship, Kogi, Kaduna and Zamfara states had initially approached the Supreme Court, seeking to extend the deadline for the acceptance of the old banknotes alongside the scarce new banknotes. Seven more states have joined in the suit, as the pains inflicted by the chaotic implementation of the policy spiral out of control. Buhari glossed over this.
By his arrogance, he failed the test of leadership once again at a critical time.Rather than soothing words, or reassuring a tense populace, he stoked the furnace.Under him, disobedience of court orders isrampant. On six separate occasions between 2015 and 2018, the regime refused to release Sambo Dasuki, anex-National Security Adviser.Ibrahim el-Zakzaky, the Shi’ites leader, suffered the same fate despite the court ordering his release several times.
Omoyele Sowore, a presidential candidate in Saturday’s election, was detained by the State Security Service for months after the court ordered his release on charges of masterminding anti-government protests. In an ongoing case, the regime is holding on to Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra, several times after the court granted him bail.
Lawlessness is catching on like wildfire with many state governors and other officials trampling on the law. Amnesty International had accused the Buhari regime and the Cross River State Government led by Ben Ayade of manipulating the prosecution of a journalist, Agba Jalingo. Jalingo was bizarrely charged in August 2019 for ‘treason’ after his medium, CrossRiverWatch, published a story alleging diversion of public funds by the governor.
At various times, Governors Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna, and Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano, who are spearheading compliance with the Supreme Court order on the naira policy for partisan reasons,had disobeyed court orders.
In 2017, the Kaduna State Urban Development Agency demolished the property of an el-Rufai political rival despite a pending court case; Durbar Hotel suffered the same fate there. In Kano, the governor ignored a Kano High Court order restraining him from appointing four new emirs and implementing the division of Kano into five emirates in May 2019. This is executive lawlessness, a culture of arrogance by ephemeral public office holders.
This should however teach the judiciary a bitter lesson. There are allegations of judges getting friendly behind the scenes with members of the executive and legislature;the courts have been giving conflicting judgements that astound both lawyers and laymen alike in their recourse to technicalities to confound justice delivery.
The judiciary should maintain its aura of independence and do all that is needed to restore its receding authority. Even under military rule, the judiciary maintained this aura. Then, the Nigerian judiciary gained immense respect beyond the country’s borders. In 1972, the late Akinola Aguda was the first African to be appointed as the Chief Justice of Botswana. Emmanuel Ayoola was the Chief Justice of The Gambia from 1983 to 1992.
Buhari’s eight-year tenure has divided Nigeria on many counts; his intervention in the monetary policy has deepened unprecedented privation. Although the policy does have some noble intentions, its awful implementation has triggered hardship and unrest.
Buhari should reverse his mischief. He should allow the judiciary to give its judgement, realigning himself to the reality that in a democracy, he cannot act outside the remit granted him by the 1999 Constitution. All stakeholders should push back against the assault on the rule of law.