Nigeria: Falana Writes CBN, Requests Information On New Naira Notes

20 February 2023

Mr Falana sought the information on new naira notes in response to CBN's claim that politicians were mopping up the new naira notes released into circulation.

Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, has asked the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to disclose the amount of redesigned naira notes it has printed and supplied to commercial banks.

He made the request in a letter he sent to the CBN on the strength of the Freedom of Information Act.

He sought the information in response to CBN's claim that politicians were mopping up the new naira notes released to circulation.

There has been an acute shortage of N200, N500, and N1,000 notes in circulation which has led to biting cash crunch since the CBN began an aggressive mop-up of the notes without sufficiently replacing them with the newly redesigned versions.

Citing the hardships the situation had brought on Nigerians, some state governments had sued the federal government challenging the 10 February deadline set for ending the validity of the old notes.

The Supreme Court, in a ruling on an application by the plaintiffs on 8 February, - two days before the February deadline - issued an interim order directing the CBN to suspend the deadline.

The court also ordered that both the old and the new notes should be allowed to continue to circulate pending the determination of the suit.

But in violation of the Supreme Court's order, President Muhammadu Buhari, on 16 February, restored the validity of only the old N200 notes, while insisting that the old N500 and N1,000 notes had ceased to be legal tender.

He said about N2.1 trillion out of the over N3 trillion in circulation before the naira redesign policy had so far been mopped up by the CBN.

While the current crisis persists, neither the president nor the CBN has officially disclosed how much of the new notes has been printed and distributed to commercial banks.

Yet the CBN had insisted that politicians, whose names were not given, were mopping up new notes released to commercial banks.

In the light of the bank's claim, Mr Falana, through his law firm, asked it "to furnish us with information concerning the amount of the newly designed notes of N200, N500 and N1,000 denominations made available to each commercial bank by the Central Bank of Nigeria."

"Furthermore, we also request you to furnish us with the list of customers of the commercial banks who collected more than N100,000 approved by you from the commercial banks," the letter signed by a lawyer in the law firm, Femi Adedeji, read in part.

The CBN is expected to respond to the request within seven days as stipulated by the FoI Act.

As this request is made pursuant to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2011, you are required to accede to our request within 7 days of the receipt of this letter.

The law firm threatened to sue the bank at the Federal High Court should it fail to release the requested information within seven days.

Mopping up of new notes

Meanwhile, Mr Falana said in a statement on Sunday that the CBN governor "assured that the apex bank would release between N700 and N800 billion into circulation before the end of" February.

Dismissing insinuations that politicians had mopped up the redesigned banknotes, Mr Falana requested the CBN to disclose "detailed information on the politicians who have hijacked and mopped up the new Naira notes."

He wondered how politicians could mop up the new notes when individual cash withdrawals per week had been pegged at N500,000.

Vote buying may become cheaper

Mr Falana, who chairs a nonprofit organisation, Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond (ASCAB), countered claims that the currency redesign policy would tackle the menace of vote-buying during election.

He argued that the inability of Nigerians to access their funds from the banks may make vote-buying "cheaper."

Noting that the "shoddy implementation" of the monetary policy "appears to be making people to lose interest in the general elections."

He explained that dubious politicians may be paying as little as N500 per vote from the billions of new naira notes which have been allegedly captured by them.

Reacting to directives and counter-directives from the President and state governors, Mr Falana warned against heating up the system.

He accused the governors who sued the federal government over naira scarcity as been selfish, wondering why they did not do so "to challenge fuel scarcity and unprecedentedly high fuel price, which are equally causing economic pains in the land."

"... State governors have approached the apex court for legal redress to protect their class interests, they should not heat up the polity by making inciting statements capable of being exploited by anti-democratic forces to disrupt the forthcoming General Elections."

Mr Falana advised the governors to initiate contempt proceedings against the Attorney-General of the Federation if they feel the Supreme Court orders are being disobeyed.

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