President Muhammadu Buhari is the target of a lawsuit brought by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) over his “illegal directive banning the use of old N500 and N1,000 banknotes, which contravenes the interim injunction granted by the Supreme Court that the old N200, N500, and N1000 notes remain legal tender.
In a dispute that was first launched by 10 states, the Supreme Court recently decided that the old banknotes will continue to be accepted as legal tender until the outcome of a move on notice that was scheduled for February 22. The time for exchanging the previous notes passed on February 10.
Buhari, however, overruled the Supreme Court and prohibited the usage of old N500 and N200 banknotes last week in a national broadcast by ordering the CBN to only reissue the old N200 notes.
In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/233/2023 filed last Friday at the Federal High Court, Abuja SERAP is asking the court to determine “whether President Buhari’s directive banning the N500 and N1,000 banknotes is not inconsistent and incompatible with the constitutional duties to obey decisions of the Supreme Court and oath of office.”
SERAP is asking the court for “a declaration that President Buhari’s directive banning the use of old N500 and N1,000 banknotes is a fundamental breach of section 287(1) of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended] and his constitutional oath of office, and therefore unconstitutional, unlawful, null and void.”
Joined in the suit as Defendants are the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
SERAP is seeking “an order of interim injunction restraining President Buhari, the CBN and Mr Malami, their agents or privies from further enforcing the presidential directive banning the old N500 and N1,000 banknotes, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice filed contemporaneously in this suit.”
In the suit, SERAP is arguing that: “Upholding the rule of law is the cornerstone of Nigeria’s constitutional democracy. President Buhari and other public officials and authorities have a binding legal responsibility to strictly comply with the rule of law and obey the decisions by the Supreme Court, and all other courts.”
SERAP is also arguing that, “The directive to ban the use of N500 and N1000 banknotes, contrary to the interim injunction by the Supreme Court, is ultra vires – beyond the constitutional and legitimate powers of President Buhari and the government.”
The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN, and Kolawole Oluwadare, read in part: “It is a very serious matter for anyone to flout a positive order of a court.”
“President Buhari’s directive undermines the authority and independence of the judiciary, which is an underlying constitutional principle intended to ensure that government is conducted according to law, and to prevent the arbitrary exercise of powers or discretion by public officials and authorities.”
“An order of Court must be obeyed even if such an order is perverse, until such a time that the order is set aside by a competent court. A flagrant flouting of an order of the court by the executive is an invitation to anarchy.”
“The rule of law makes all government officials, including the President and other officials, answerable for their acts in the ordinary courts. The law must apply to everybody; nobody is above the law.”
“Section 281(1) of the Nigerian Constitution provides that, ‘the decisions of the Supreme Court shall be enforced in any part of the Federation by all authorities and persons, and by courts with subordinate jurisdiction to that of the Supreme Court.”
“Under 318 (1) of the Nigerian Constitution, ‘decision’ means in relation to a court, any determination of that court and includes judgement decree, order, conviction, sentence or recommendation.”
“It is the duty of the government to allow the law to take its course or allow the legal and judicial process to run its full course.”
“The directive by President Buhari to ban the use of the old N500 and N1000 banknotes can have no other interpretation than the show of intention to pre-empt the final decision of the Supreme Court in this case.”
The courts expect the utmost respect of the law from the government itself which rules by the law.”
“The rule of law is essential in a constitutional democracy such as we have in this country for the protection of the rights of citizens and for checking arbitrary use of power by the executive or its agencies.”
“It is a necessary implication of the rule of law that, except where the law gives a discretion to a public functionary, he can only act in accordance with the law, as to do otherwise may enthrone arbitrariness.”
“The Defendants are public officers who have sworn the constitutional oath office to perform their respective duties in the interest of the Nigerian citizens.”
“This suit is not challenging the statutory power of the Central Bank of Nigeria, acting on the directive of the President, to change the currency and denomination banknotes in Nigeria.”
“Unless the reliefs sought are granted, the Defendants will continue to violate constitutional provisions and disobey the order of the Supreme Court as implied by the directive of the President in his address to the nation on 16 February, 2023.”
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit