The National Assembly leadership is to seek an audience with President Muhammadu Buhari over the insistence of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on its January 31 deadline for the phasing out of old naira notes.
House of Representatives Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila disclosed this after members of an Ad hoc committee set up by the House faulted the failure of CBN Governor Godwin Emefiele to appear before it for the second time yesterday.
Gbajabiamila threatened to invoke relevant sections of the law for the police to compel Emefiele’s appearance before the House.
The House had on Tuesday constituted the Alhassan Ado-Doguwa-led committee to interface with Emefiele, other CBN officials and commercial banks’ managing directors on the scarcity of the new naira notes.
The CBN boss was absent on Wednesday when the committee expected him to appear it. His absence forced the panel to shift the meeting till yesterday.
But by 1 pm yesterday, the committee received a letter from the apex bank that Emefiele would not show his presence as he was out of the country with Buhari.
Dismayed by the “fragrant refusal” of the CBN boss to honour the House invitation, Gbajabiamila and Dogowa said the excuse given by the apex bank was untenable.
They wondered why Emefiele stayed away when it was evident that Nigerians were suffering untold hardship as a result of the scarcity of new naira notes.
The Speaker, who narrated his efforts to ensure that committee members were not discouraged, said that the National Assembly leadership would explain to the President the challenges being faced by Nigerians as a result of the January 31 deadline.
The Speaker insisted that the CBN and the banks must respect the provisions of Section 20 of the Central Bank Act and allow the new and old notes to operate side-by-side for a period of time.
On the letter from the CBN that Emefiele travelled to Dakar with the President, he said: “Nobody showed up yesterday (Wednesday) and apparently, it appears, the governor and his people will not be showing up today (Thursday).
“The refusal by the CBN or managing directors to heed the invitation by the House of Representatives is evidence of a blatant disregard for the well-being of the Nigerian people who are their customers. It is also an insult to the authority and prerogatives of the people’s parliament.
“Therefore, if by the end of today(Thursday), there is further disregard to the summons, I will …not hesitate to issue a warrant to the Inspector General of the Nigeria Police Force to compel the attendance of the CBN and/ or managing directors who fail, refuse or neglect to respond to the summons by the House.
“I have no choice now. On Tuesday when we resume to invoke the provision of Section 89 of the Constitution, you must remember that the summons of CBN was simply based on a motion to clarify a gap and to know where the problem is. Whereas on one hand, bankers are saying that they don’t have sufficient new notes to dispense, on the other hand, the regulator, the CBN is saying that they do have enough notes to dispense.
“How can we get these monies to the public? The President gave his approval based on what he was told. So, on Tuesday, this will follow the proper procedure. We will invoke the provision of Section 89 to compel the presence of the CBN governor.”
The Speaker, however, advised Nigerians to do everything possible to get their old notes to the bank on or before the January 31 deadline.
He assured that the House would do everything possible to ensure that the right thing is done by the apex bank.
Dogara, who briefed the House on the committee’s futile wait for Emefiele, said: “The committee was unfortunately delayed by the absence, the fragrant refusal on the part of the Central Bank to make an appearance. The governor was not there and no other person came from the CBN in place of the governor.
“We were able to speak to the liaison officer of the Central Bank to the National Assembly who later apologised and said they got our letters late.
“Yes, the letter might have gotten to them late, but it was in the agreement of all members that we give them till 1 pm today (Thursday) to appear.”
He said the bank lied that on Emefiele’s trip because Buhari who he claimed to be with was in Katsina State.
Doguwa added that there was “a dark horse behind this agenda (new notes), adding:
“We will continue to sit until this matter is sorted. Commercial banks and customers are complaining. The economy is bleeding. I want to believe that somewhere somehow, there is a dark horse behind this agenda. And we will not allow a dark horse to continue to drag the success of our electoral process.”
After contributions by some members, the House agreed to take a final decision on the issue on Tuesday.
NLC calls for deadline extension
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) yesterday lent its voice to the calls for the January 31 deadline.
Arguing that the policy was not well thought out, it said the deadline should be extended because the new notes are not widely circulated
The president of the NLC, Ayuba Wabba, stated this during an interaction with Labour reporters in Abuja.
He said: “We align ourselves fully with the position of Senate because we go to the rural areas. We have workers in rural areas. We have many of our local governments that don’t have banking facilities and some of those areas are even very hard to reach.
“Right now, our commercial banks are culpable of inflicting hardship on Nigerians, go to the ATM points and you will see what is happening. Most of them are not even dispensing. You see many queues. People have been subjected to all manner of actions.
“The CBN did not think through this policy very well. If it is targeting the rich, the rich are the owners of the banks, the rich are already spending dollars and the rich are spending other currencies. So, CBN is targeting the rich but punishing the poor.”
Zulum orders emergency microfinance bank branches
However, Borno State Governor Babagana Zulum has directed the urgent establishment of microfinance bank branches in 25 local government areas in the state to enable residents meet the deadline.
Zulum also directed the Finance Ministry to immediately develop a template to organise and ensure people in rural communities deposit their old Naira notes before the expiration of the deadline.
Besides, the governor ordered the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation to support mobile telecommunication providers toward improving their network coverage for internet connectivity across the councils.
CBN, Emefiele, Malami dragged to court
The Federal High Court in Abuja has been urged to, among others, restrain the CBN and its governor from implementing the January 31 deadline.
The request forms part of the reliefs sought in a suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/114/2023 and filed by a Professor of Law, Joshua Alobo.
Alobo also wants the court to issue a mandatory order compelling the CBN to extend the “duration where the old notes cease to become legal tender to a period of three weeks when the redesign notes will be sufficiently dispensed by the commercial banks.”
Defendants in the suit are the CBN, Emefiele and the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF).
The plaintiff, who is the President of Abuja-based Human Rights Development Centre, stated, in a supporting affidavit, that Emefiele had on October 26, 2022, announced that the apex bank would introduce new series of redesigned N200, N500 and N1000 banknotes into the financial system.
He said although CBN’s decision was meant to reduce inflation and entrench a cashless society to curb money laundering and corruption, the majority of Nigerians, especially the less privileged ones, are yet to have access to the new notes.
Alobo, who accused commercial banks of failing to make the new notes available to their customers, stated that as of January 25, he was still handed the old notes on the counter and through an ATM.