Naira Redesign Litigation: Why Supreme Court has original jurisdiction – Kayode Oladele

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Naira Redesign Litigation: Why Supreme Court has original jurisdiction – Kayode Oladele
Hon Kayode Oladele

In December 2022, the Federal Government through Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) introduced the demonetization Policy which has necessitated the redesigning of new Naira notes to replace the old ones.

The policy also set February 10, 2023 as the deadline for the phasing out of high-value naira notes, otherwise known as Naira swap throughout the country.

As a result of the serious hardships caused by the “disruption to the economy, trade and business and worried by the effects the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)’s naira redesign policy is having on the residents of their states, the State governments of Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara evoked the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Nigeria by instituting an action against the federal government of Nigeria.

In the suit, the three northern states urged the Supreme Court to grant them an interim injunction stopping the Federal Government either by itself or acting through the CBN, the commercial banks or its agents from carrying out its plan of ending the timeframe within which the now older versions of the 200, 500 and 1000 denominations of the Naira may no longer be legal tender on February 10, 2023.

The suit also challenged the demonetization Policy of the federal government being currently implemented by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on the ground that it is not in compliance with the extant provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, (as amended) and section 20 (3) of the Central Bank of Nigeria Act, 2007 and the extant laws on the subject. It should be noted that the defendant in the suit is the Attorney General of the Federation as the Chief law officer of the Federation.

The institution of the lawsuit has generated critical debates amongst lawyers and political analysts in the public space on various grounds ranging from whether the subject matter falls within the gamut of the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, whether the Central Bank of Nigeria ought not to have been joined as a party or whether the Honorable Attorney-General of the Federation is the appropriate Defendant in such a suit.

My contribution to these debates shall address the aforementioned questions with the aid of statutory provisions and judicial authorities.

Jurisdiction generally is the authority which the court possesses to entertain and determine a cause of action presented before it in the manner prescribed by law. It is a threshold issue and it is such an elementary position of the law that it is the superstructure upon which the judicial powers of the Court are based.

Thus, the general convergence of the opinion of law is to the effect that jurisdiction is the life wire, the blood, the bedrock and the foundation of all judicial proceedings. It is therefore, very vital and fundamental to the administration of justice in any judicial system as it touches on the competence of a court to adjudicate on a matter. This is why it is essential for any Court before which an issue is presented for determination to determine same in limine before any further steps in the proceedings in order to avoid embarking on an exercise in futility.

Suffice it to say that any decision reached without jurisdiction by a court of law or any tribunal is null, void and of no legal effect whatsoever notwithstanding how well, beautifully, elegantly or meticulously such a trial or proceeding had been conducted or how sound, ingenuous or profound the resultant judgment is. See All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) V. Senator Christiana N.D Anyanwu & 2 Ors. (2014) Lpelr-22182 (Sc).

Original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court is circumscribed by the relevant provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and the Supreme Court (Additional Original Jurisdiction) Act No.3, 2002.

There are certain conditions that must be met under the law and these conditions shall be discussed in this paper. To be sure, those who raise objections to the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to adjudicate in this case might have done so based on the subject-matter of the dispute without considering the fact that jurisdiction in this case is the existence of a dispute between the Plaintiff States and Federal government which in my view, implicates Party jurisdiction prescribed by the Constitution rather than subject matter jurisdiction.

In my opinion, to use subject-matter jurisdiction to determine the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in this case may constitute an aggravated mischaracterization of the law, practice and procedure.

This is so because the case presents a clear legal dispute between the plaintiff States and the federal government) to invoke the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. See the case of Attorney General of Bendel State vs. Attorney General of the Federation (1981) 10 S.C. 1 at 32 ,lines 37 to 42.

The Supreme Court has the requisite jurisdiction to entertain and determine the suit instituted by the States as presently constituted.

When considering the plenitude of the judicial powers of the Supreme Court as conferred under section 6(6) (b) of the Constitution (as amended) which “shall extend to all matters between persons, or between government or authority and any person in Nigeria, and to all actions and proceedings relating thereto, for the determination of any question as to the civil rights and obligations of that person.” See also the provisions of section 232 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) as well as section 1(1)(a) of the Supreme Court (Additional Original Jurisdiction) Act No.3, 2002.

In other words, the Supreme Court can invoke and exercise its original jurisdiction under the combined provisions of section 232(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and section 1(1) of the Supreme Court (Additional Original Jurisdiction) Act, 2002 as long as the following conditions are met:

a) There must be a justiceable dispute involving any question of law or fact.

b) The dispute must be between:

i) The Federation and a State in its capacity as one of the Federating constituent units of the Federation; or

ii) The federation and more states that are in their capacity as members of the constituent units of the federation; or

iii) The states in their capacities as members of the federation; or

iv) The states in their capacities as members of the federation; or

v) The national Assembly and the President; or

vi) The National Assembly and any State House of Assembly; or

vii) The Nationa Assembly and a State of the Federation.

c) The dispute must be one on which the existence or extent of a legal right in the said capacity is involved.

See: A. G. Federation Vs. A. G. Lagos State (2017) 8 NWLR (Pt. 1556) 20 @ 45, 49, 56.

It is apposite to reiterate here that the word “OR” was deliberately used by the legislature to engender options, and disjunctive meaning. It is now trite that the word “OR” bears a disjunctive meaning when used in any legislation or statutes. See: Abubakar vs. Yar’adua (2008) 4 NWLR (PT. 1078) 465.That being said, I strongly believe that the conditions underlined above are applicable disjunctively, and same have been complied with to confer original jurisdiction on the Supreme Court in this case.

More importantly, the mere filing of the suit presupposes that there is legal dispute on the questions submitted for determination before the court and the arguments in support thereof which the Defendant must respond to and join issues with the Plaintiffs. In AG of the Federation vs. AG of Lagos State (supra) at page 42, Para E, the Supreme Court defines dispute as follows:“The word “dispute” means the act of arguing against, controversy, debate and contention as to rights, claims and the like or on a matter of opinion”.

In this case, the Plaintiff States felt aggrieved by the manner in which the Federal Government is implementing the demonetization policy which has imposed untold hardships on the people and the economy, hence, the States have no other alternative than to seek the intervention of the Supreme Court to protect their citizens and alleviate their sufferings.

Some legal analysts have also argued that the Honorable Attorney General of the Federation is not a proper party to the suit as a defendant while some hold the view that the proper party ought to be the Central Bank of Nigeria. With due respect, this contention is legally faulty as same is not correct in law. The Attorney-General of the Federation is a proper party and a nominal party by virtue of his office in defence of the suit before the Supreme Court in its eminent original jurisdiction. This is because the Attorney General of the Federation is the chief law officer of the Federation and an appointee of the Federal Government to ensure the compliance with the Constitution and other laws.

It is trite that the Attorney General of the Federation of Nigeria is the chief law officer of Nigeria. See: C & C.B. Dev. Co. Ltd Vs. Min. E.H. & U.D. (2019) 5 NWLR (Pt. 1666) 484; A. G. Anambra State Vs. A. G. Federation (2007) 12 NWLR (Pt. 1047) 4; Erokoro Vs. Govt. Of Cross River State (1991) 4 NWLR (Pt. 185) 322 @ 336.As the Chief Law Officer of the Federation, the Attorney General of the Federation may sue or be sued on behalf of the Federation or any of its agency. Obviously, the Central Bank of Nigeria is an agency of the Federal Government of the Federation of Nigeria.

The Attorney General of the Federation is both a proper and a nominal party in any suit where the decision or activity of the Federal Government or any of its agencies is being contested or challenged in court. In other words, the Attorney General of the Federation just like the Attorney General of a State, is the Chief law officer of the Federation.The Attorney General of the Federation is the person vested with the responsibility under the Constitution for bringing and defending actions on behalf of the Federation. Any action instituted against the Federation in the name of the Attorney General of the Federation is competent against the Federation in any court where the Federation can or be sued and any order made against the Attorney General of the Federation is made against the Federation.

In other words, the office of the Attorney General of the Federation and state is created under sections 174 and 195 of the Constitution.

He can sue and be sued in such matters affecting the Federation and state respectively.

See A-G Anambra State V. A-G Federation (2007) 12 NWLR (Pt.1047) 4; Erokoro V. Govt. Of Cross River State (1991) 4 NWLR (Pt. 185) 322 @ 336, Paras.G-H;Sambo V. Bello (2017) LPELR 43022 (Ca); Abubakar Rimi V. Okeke (2017) LPELR-43181(CA).

Furthermore, the provisions of section 232(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and section 1(1)(a) of the Supreme Court (Additional Original jurisdiction) Act, 2022 relate to the disputes that can be brought to the Supreme Court in its original jurisdiction.

As stated above, this is particularly a dispute between the Plaintiff States and the Federal government.

To this effect, the Supreme Court has the requisite jurisdiction to entertain and determine this suit as presently constituted.