The Nigerian House of Representatives is the lower chamber of Nigeria’s bicameral National Assembly, and just like its upper chamber the Senate, it has largely enabled the Muhammadu Buhari administration. It has provided very little in terms of checks and balances or oversight functions, but the emergence of a presumed threat to the political goals of some of its members has forced this koala bear to act like a mother grizzly bear looking to protect its kids.
The House of Representatives is led by the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, and his Deputy, Ahmed Idris Wase, who are both members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). These two have stayed gleefully supportive of the Buhari Administration as it did so much harm with quite bizarre policies and actions.
In one of those economically unproductive policies, the Buhari Administration shut Nigeria’s land borders ostensibly to encourage local rice production and stifle the illegal exportation of refined petroleum products to other West African countries. At another time, secret service agents attacked the homes of some Supreme Court judges in the run-up to the last elections, and the Chief Justice was later removed. Yet again, peaceful protests against police brutality were shut down after some participants were gunned down by the Nigerian army. So much happened, yet all that the House of Representatives had to offer was unflinching support for the Buhari Administration.
In a recent interesting development, however, the Central Bank of Nigeria’s move to redesign the national currency and recall all old notes suddenly awakened the sleeping representatives. Some have argued that the CBN’s move was partly motivated by the desire to nullify the massive war chest of a particular presidential candidate who has a close relationship with the Speaker of the House of Representatives and comes from his region. In response, the House of Representatives suddenly found its capacity for oversight and aggressive confrontation.
The CBN had set a 31 January deadline for the return of the old naira notes of ₦200, ₦500 and ₦1000 denominations. The decision didn’t take proper cognizance of Nigeria’s size and its heavy dependence on cash-based transactions neither did it consider the appropriate logistics and timing that would be required to provide enough of the new currencies to satisfy the cash demands of a poorly-connected country with almost 200 million people.
So as expected, the deadline for the use of the old notes was extended till the 10th of February 2023, with a further seven-day grace period, beginning on 10 to 17 February 2023, to continue depositing the old notes to the banks after they have ceased to be legal tender.
This cashflow complication is said to be a threat to the efforts of some politicians who were looking to buy millions of votes in the coming elections. While it is difficult to tell how true this is, it is inarguable that cashflow restrictions would have a significant impact on election activities by candidates and parties at all levels being contested for.
The House of Representatives has passed a resolution demanding an extension of the deadline by six months and threatened to issue a demand for the arrest of the Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele if he fails to appear before an ad-hoc House Committee that will be chaired by Majority Leader, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa.
Godwin Emefiele has insisted that the program has been a success as it has led to the recovery of 75 percent of the ₦2.7 trillion held outside the banking system. He did also say that there was no scarcity of the new notes, so it might be better to take his claims with the appropriate pinch of salt.
It has been interesting watching the Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, go from Teddy Ruxpin to a great Grizzly who is willing to order the Central Bank governor’s arrest. We can only imagine how laudable his actions would have been if he had been this bold to stand up to the Buhari administration when it positioned itself as a threat to the interests of the Nigerian people over the last few years.
It will also be interesting to see the impact of cash flow restrictions on electoral activities and vote-buying efforts. Will the low supply of cash lead to lower vote prices that will be easier to ignore so people can just vote for whoever they find competent?
We will find out soon enough.