From Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
The House of Representatives seems to have drawn a battle line with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) over the deadline for the phase out of old N1000, N500 and N200 notes. Last week, members of the House were furious over the repeated failure of the CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele to honour its summon over the deadline for the withdrawal of the old Naira notes.
Nevertheless, the CBN governor eventually appeared before the panel on Tuesday. Consequently, with his appearance, there might be need to issue an arrest warrant against him as threatened by the speaker. However, while Emefiele has committed that the CBN will comply with extant laws as regards the phasing out of the old notes, it is yet to be seen how the House can push through its quest to get the apex bank to “restore the over-the-counter transaction to the old limit before the new policy was introduced,” amongst others.
The apex bank had recently redesigned the N1000, N500 and N200 notes; and fixed January 31, as deadline for the phase out of the old notes. However, amidst complaints over the scarcity of the new notes, the Green chamber had adopted a motion calling on the CBN to extend the deadline by six months. It also summoned the CBN management and Chief Executive Officers( CEOs) of commercial banks to meet with an ad-hoc panel set up to interface with all concerned in respect of the scarcity of the new notes.
Nevertheless, the CBN led by Emefiele was nowhere near the Green chamber, last Wednesday, when it was supposed to appear before the panel. The House leader and chairman of the Ad-hoc Committee, Alhassan Ado-Doguwo, had explained that the apex bank liason to the National Assembly sent words to appeal that the official could not appear last Wednesday, as it got the summon late.
Consequently, Doguwa said the CBN would be given another opportunity to appear before the panel last Thursday. However, at the commencement of plenary, last Thursday, the speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, read a letter from the apex bank, informing the lawmakers that Emefiele will not appear before the panel that fateful day, as he was out of the country on official duties.
Infuriated by the communication from the CBN, Gbajabiamila threatened to invoke Section 89 (1)(d) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Order 19 (2)(1) of the Standing Orders of the House to issue an arrest warrant to the Inspector General of Police to compel the CBN governor or any of the Chief Executive Officer ( CEO), who shunned the summons, to appeal before the panel.
He explained that, “the resolution of the House was predicated on information showing that the rollout of the redesigned naira notes has been an unmitigated failure. This failure has real and dire consequences on the ability of Nigerians to conduct business across the country. The refusal by the CBN 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, I will, pursuant to the authority conferred by Section 89 (1)(d) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Order 19 (2)(1) of the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives, not hesitate to issue a warrant to the Inspector General of the Nigeria Police Force to compel the attendance of the CBN or Managing Directors who fail, refuse or neglect to respond to the summons by the House of Representatives.”
Many believe the anger of the parliament is understandable. The CBN has been engaged in a hide and seek game with the parliament since December last year.
After the bank rolled out its latest cashless policy, the House had adopted a motion inviting Emefiele to appear before it. However, the CBN governor failed to honour the invitation.
First, he said he was out of the country with President Muhammadu Buhari, on an official engagement. At the rescheduled date for the appearance of Emefiele, he wrote the House again, saying he was sick abroad. Eventually, the Green Chamber resolved that the apex bank governor could be represented.
Analysts say the latest letter by the CBN to the House, over the latest summon seems to be following a consistent pattern, especially since the move by the parliament to get bank to soft pedal on its new cashless policy and the deadline for the phase out of the old N1000, N500 and N200 notes.
Doguwa thinks so too. The House leader, while addressing commercial banks officials, who appeared before the ad-hoc panel last week, said the latest letter from the CBN to the House is unacceptable.
According to him, “the position of the House of representatives is that the letter they have earlier sent to us is only an action in futility. The House does not count on that letter whatsoever and it holds no water at all.
“I want to rule that the Central Bank of Nigeria through its chief executive, who is the governor of the Central Bank, has decided to flagrantly disregard and disrespect the institution of the legislature. And on this note, I would want to say that this committee will outrightly inform the House.
“By this position, the House of Representatives is now compelled to recommend to Mr speaker to go ahead and initiate the necessary instrumentality of the law to compel the governor of the Central Bank to appear before this constitutional committee”.
The speaker said the House recognizes and appreciates that the CBN is empowered by law to determine the country’s currency. He added: “the House is also aware that Section 20 (3) Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Act mandates the CBN to redeem the face value of the recalled currency upon demand, even after the expiration of the notice of recall. Notwithstanding the deadline imposed by the Central Bank of Nigeria(CBN), this House will see to it that this provision of the law is honoured in full.”
Nevertheless, pundits say the challenges with the CBN is more or less a failure of oversight by the House Committee on Banking and Currency. During the debate on the motion on the cash withdrawal limit by the House, last December, lawmakers had raised concerns that contrary to extant laws, which mandates the CBN to brief the National Assembly twice a year on monetary policy, the committee is yet to interface with the apex bank in the last three years.
Curiously, neither the House nor the speaker had raised any issue over the alleged infraction until the current controversy over the cash withdrawal limit and phase out of the old Naira notes.
Gbajabiamila’s stance not withstanding, the question is: how far can the parliament actually go in its quest to get the CBN governor to comply with the provision of extant act, and that he appears before the parliament to answer lawmakers query? Can the speaker actually walk the talk?
In the history of the House, threats to issue arrest warrant against heads of MDAs who fail to honour its summons are countless but nothing has ever come out of it as the parliament has failed to match words with action.
While heads of MDAs continue to treat House summons with levity, committee chairmen watch helplessly. But this would be the first time the Speaker himself would be threatening to issue an arrest warrant against any government official.
Therefore, although the CBN has extended the deadline for the extension of the phase out of the old notes, all eyes are on Gbajabiamila, to see how far the House would go to get Emefiele to appear before the parliament to answer lawmakers’ query.