For a Nigerian currently living in Nigeria, holding new naira notes is as difficult as finding an oasis in the Sahara desert.

This is because of CBN’s expiration date on the old N200, N500 and N1,000 to be implemented on February 10. So far, there has been a scarcity of the new naira notes in circulation which has caused mobile banking app downtimes and even a ‘naira to naira’ exchange rate from POS operators.

However, on February 8, a temporary injunction from the Supreme Court of Nigeria changed everything — CBN should halt the February 10 deadline for the expiration of old N200, N500 and N1,000 notes, respectively.

This left Nigerians with a lot of mixed emotions on social media, with some jubilating, while others heavily criticised the order and even later had a protest at CBN headquarters.

But, how did the matter go all the way to the Supreme Court? Is the Supreme Court ruling legal or not? What should we expect next?

Let’s dive a little bit into the backstory.

How did the matter reach the Supreme Court?

On February 3, three frustrated governors from Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara states, decided to drag the Federal Government before the Supreme Court. Their request? An injunction barring the CBN’s February 10 deadline on old naira notes as legal tender.

We imagine their faces look a lot like this

This request means serious trouble, as the Supreme Court is the highest court in Nigeria. Any decision that is made in this court is final.

In other words, if the Supreme Court is against the CBN’s deadline order, who is CBN to object?

This happened after a Federal High Court in Abuja decided to side with CBN’s deadline and ordered that no one, not even President Muhammadu Buhari, the CBN or local banks should change the deadline.

The High Court to CBN, Buhari and commercial banks

But which direction will Nigeria face? High court and CBN or Supreme Court?

Supreme court vs federal high court: who’s the winner?

Before we decide who wins this fight, it’s important to note that the Supreme Court’s decision right now is not final. This is because the injunction was given under an ex-parte motion (i.e with only one party involved (the governors)).

The Federal Government is to come together and a final judgement is to be given on February 15.

Now to get back to our important question – whose ruling shall we believe?

The side of the Supreme Court?

In an interview with Channels Television, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mike Ozekhome, maintained that the Supreme Court is the highest court in the land and that other lower courts “blow muted trumpets” when the matter is taken to the Supreme Court.

In his words, “Notwithstanding the fact that a high court or Federal High Court had granted an order telling the CBN, ‘You can stop this naira swap policy on February 10 as you have decided to do,’ the Supreme Court today said, ‘Hello? Don’t do that!” he said.

He also explained that the apex court’s judgement allows the old and new naira to be in the same position. He called this status quo ante bellum, which according to him means “the state of affairs before the crisis broke out.”

According to Ozekhome, “[The Supreme Court says] ‘Allow it to continue. Come back on February 15 and let us hear you people,’” he added.

Or the side of the Federal High Court?

To get another perspective on the situation, Citizen contacted human rights and constitutional lawyer, Festus Ogun.

For Festus, even though the Supreme Court may want to use the law of original jurisdiction in Section 232 of the 1999 constitution (a law that allows interference from the Supreme Court when a dispute is between states and the nation), the CBN is an independent body outside the Federal government. Therefore, the ruling is not even legal.

According to Festus, “By Section 232 of the 1999 Constitution, the Supreme Court can only activate its original jurisdiction when a dispute arises between the Federation and States or between states. The current dispute is clearly not one between the Federation and States. The CBN is an independent agency of the Federal Government. Any dispute relating to its monetary policies cannot be mistaken for a dispute involving the “Federation”.

He also added that the Supreme Court can only entertain issues involving CBN when the subject matter is an appeal arising from the decision of the lower courts.

This means that the only way the governors can legally get the Supreme Court “big boys” on their side is to beg or appeal the Federal High Court’s (the lower court) ruling.

What is the way forward on CBN’s deadline extension?

On the side of the Supreme Court, Nigerians have no choice but to wait it out. This is until both the governors and the Federal Government meet in court until February 15.

But when asked by Festus, he said that if one approaches the Federal High Court and sues Buhari, CBN, Godwin Emefiele (CBN Governor) and the Attorney-General of the Federation, then the deadline could be extended based on a breach of Section 20 of the 2007 CBN Act.

According to Festus, “If carefully litigated, I think the law, as far as I know, and practice it, supports an extension. The timeframe given by the CBN, with the greatest respect, is not reasonable as required by Section 20 of the CBN Act. [This section] says the deadline must be reasonable. What is reasonable is always a question of fact. So, it is desirable for the court to really determine if the CBN timeframe and deadline are reasonable.”

What would be the final judgement of the Supreme Court after February 15? Will the High Court use the constitution to get its way? Would Nigerians come out of the palaver that is the scarcity of the new naira notes?

Well, we have no choice but to wait and see.

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