By John Danjuma Omachonu
The Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), AbudulRasheed Bawa has disclosed that over N500 billion of the old N500 and N1,000 banknotes were yet to be returned to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in line with the apex bank’s directive following the naira redesign project.
But he was quick to add that the Commission has deployed its operatives to all the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) ahead of the Saturday’s elections.
According to Bawa, the moves will ensure the integrity of Feb. 25 Presidential and National Assembly elections.
He said he had advised all operatives to be conscious of the interest of the nation and exhibit high sense of professionalism, urging them to promptly report any case of vote-buying or selling or evidence of financial malpractices designed to compromise the electoral outcome.
Since the introduction of the policy last October, nearly N2 trillion had been returned to the CBN according to the apex bank.
However, speaking during the programme on Channels Television yesterday, monitored by metrobusinessnews (MBN), the commission’s chairman disclosed that, “over N500 billion is yet to be returned to the CBN.”
Bawa further disclosed that a large chunk of the N500 billion of the new N200, N500 and N1,000 banknotes in circulation were been hoarded allegedly for vote-buying in the general elections which commence this Saturday with the presidential and National Assembly polls.
He, however, warned that all machineries have been put in place to drastically reduce the influence of vote buying in the election.
Bawa expressed confidence that the agency would record more success compared to the recent Ekiti and Osun governorship polls because of the naira redesign policy.
“As you know we have new currency in circulation, it is easier to track this new currency by their numbers, the CBN knows the serial numbers of these currencies as they distributed them across the country.
“So we even have another added responsibility because all the funds that we will eventually recover out there in the field that would be used for buying of votes; we can actually check and see whether they are genuine currencies that are gotten from ATMs and across the counter or somebody somewhere gave them in bulk and gave politicians the money,” he said.
According to Bawa some bankers had been suspected of sabotaging the equitable distribution of the new notes, assuring that after the elections a lot of people who had deposited very huge sums would certainly have answers to provide to the agency.
He assured that the EFCC would do everything to ensure that “dirty money does not find its way into the electoral process,” by stopping all those who want to buy votes from doing so.
Bawa said although the commission’s operatives are not many but, all of them would be deployed to the field to prevent vote buying.
He called on all Nigerians to buy into the fight if the country must get rid of corruption which is the cause of the insecurity and economic woes facing the country.
He specifically charged Nigerians to “say something” when they “see something,” by reporting incidents of vote buying in their areas through dedicated phone lines.
He equally appealed to Nigerians to be calm and remain peaceful because after Saturday’s election those hoarding the new notes would definitely release them.
A seven-man panel of the apex court presided by Justice John Okoro announced the date for judgment shortly after taking all arguments for and against the policy.
The CBN as part of its demonitisation policy had redesigned the N200, N500 and N1,000 denominations of the nation’s banknotes.
A timeframe of three months was given to Nigerians to deposit the old bank notes of the affected denominations with a January 31, deadline for the recall of the old notes.
Besides the economic benefits of the naira redesign policy, it was expected that the policy would curtail incidents of vote buying as well as address issues of kidnapping for ransom amongst other insecurity challenges.
Three states of Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara had initially sued the federal government over the implementation of the naira policy over the hardship they claimed the policy has brought upon the country.
In addition, they had obtained an interim order of the apex court restraining the federal government from banning the use of the old N200, N500 and N1000 banknotes pending the hearing and determination of their interlocutory applications.
Justice John Okoro who had issued the interim order on February 8, subsequently fixed February 15, for hearing of the interlocutory applications.
However, when the matter came up on February 15, nine other states applied to be joined as interested parties.
The States were Lagos, Katsina, Cross River, Ogun, Ekiti, Ondo, Sokoto, Bayelsa and Edo, although Bayelsa and Edo had sought to be joined as co-defendants alongside the federal government.
Due to the new entrants, hearing could not go on as scheduled and hearing was again adjourned till Wednesday February 22 and President Buhari had held a nationwide broadcast and directed that only the N200 should remain as legal tender till April 10.
At the resumed hearing on Wednesday, six other states also brought their suits seeking for consolidation with the earlier suit.
The new states included Rivers, Kano, Jigawa, Niger, Nasarawa and Abia, who joined the earlier 10 plaintiffs in asking the apex court to declare as unconstitutional, null and void the cashless policy of the federal government.
AbdulHakeem Mustapha, who argued the case for Kaduna and Kogi, urged the apex court not to hear the case of the federal government due to the contempt proceedings against the first respondent.
On his part, Chief Abiodun Owonikoko, who argued that of Zamfara urged the apex court to set aside the directive of Buhari wherein the president during a media broadcast reiterated the ban on N500 and N1,000 banknotes.
The plaintiffs had argued that the action of the president was in disregard to the interim order of the apex court, coming a day (February 16) after the apex court adjourned for hearing of the matter.
It was their argument that the president’s directive coming when the apex court interim order still subsists leaves Nigerians in a dilemma as to which order to obey.
However, besides Lagos and the new six states, who came up with new suits against the federal government, the other remaining states adopted and aligned themselves with the main suit.
Counsel to Lagos State, Mr. Moyosore Onigbanjo, who noted that his suit bordered on the impact of the policy on governance in the state, also argued that the federal government should not be given audience at all until it complies with the February 8 order of the apex court restraining it from banning the old naira notes from February 10, 2023.
However, in vehement opposition to the plaintiffs’ suit, counsel to the federal government, Chief Kanu Agabi, urged the apex court to dismiss the case on the grounds that it lacked jurisdiction to entertain the matter in the first instance.
According to Agabi the proper place for the plaintiffs to ventilate their grievances was the Federal High Court that is clothed with the necessary jurisdiction.
He said, “if the court holds that all the reliefs of the plaintiff are rooted in Section 20 (3) of the CBN’s Act, then the process cannot be commenced at the Supreme Court at all”.
“They are crying in the wrong place,” the senior lawyer added.
Agabi while further faulting the case of the plaintiffs observed reference was made 32 times about the CBN by the plaintiffs in their originating summons but the plaintiffs did not seem it necessary to bring the CBN before the court.
On Buhari’s directive, Agabi stated that long before the order of February 8 was made, Nigerians were already rejecting the old notes, adding that the president’s directive was to forestall a breakdown of law and order because the president only asked the people to take the old notes to the CBN for deposit.
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Similarly, Agabi submitted that the constitution empowers the president to provide basic infrastructure and policies to enhance the welfare and living conditions of the people and the directive was in line with his constitutional powers.
He therefore urged the apex court to dismiss the suits of the 16 states on the grounds of absence of jurisdiction or for being incompetent and lacking in merit.
After listening to all arguments canvassed by parties in the suits, Justice John Okoro announced that judgment in all the suits would be delivered on Friday March 3, 2023.