AN EXAMINATION OF SECTION 21 OF THE CENTRAL BANK ACT, 2007, FRN V. IDRIS OKUNEYE OLANREWAJU (BOBRISKY) AS A CASE STUDY

AN EXAMINATION OF SECTION 21 OF THE CENTRAL BANK ACT, 2007, FRN V. IDRIS OKUNEYE OLANREWAJU (BOBRISKY) AS A CASE STUDY

If you are unaware of the debacle Okuneye Idris Olanrewaju (a.k.a. Bobrisky) is in, are you on social media at all? Quick recap, for those who are late to the party.

On April 5, 2024, the Court convicted Bobrisky after he pleaded guilty to a 4 counts charge of abuse of the naira, made against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The abuse of the naira was as a result of spraying the Nigerian currency at various events, an offence contrary to and punishable under Section 21(1) of the Central Bank Act, 2007 (CBN Act, 2007)

Bobrisky pleaded guilty and was summarily convicted and sentenced to 6 months imprisonment, without an option of fine. This article is not to dissect the fairness or not of the Judgment, but to examine the law and its nuances.  What exactly does CBN Act, 2007 says that led Bobrisky’s waterloo?

The CBN Act, 2007 by virtue of Section 21 Prohibits the mutilation, defacing, or any form of tampering with Nigerian currency notes and coins. It explicitly states that it is unlawful to deface, hawk, or otherwise trade naira notes, violation of which can lead to prosecution, and offenders may be subject to fines or imprisonment.

CBN Regulations and Directives

The CBN has issued series of circulars and directives reinforcing the prohibition on naira defacement. The CBN also frequently runs campaigns to educate the public about the importance of respecting and properly handling the naira, to ensure longevity and maintain its integrity. The campaigns often emphasize that writing on, spraying, or otherwise damaging currency notes is illegal.

Specific Prohibitions

Mutilation: This includes any act that physically alters the note or coin, such as tearing, cutting, or burning.

Defacing: Writing, drawing, or marking on currency notes is considered defacement.

Spraying and Stamping: Common during celebrations, these acts are explicitly prohibited.

Selling: Trading or selling naira notes is illegal, as it often leads to the notes being mishandled and defaced.

Enforcement and Penalties

The CBN collaborates with law enforcement agencies to enforce these laws.

Offenders can face fines, imprisonment, or both, depending on the severity of the offense and the specific circumstances.

Back to Bobrisky – does the EFCC have the prosecutorial power to prosecute him­?

Bobrisky was arraigned by the EFCC, a situation which befuddles the mind. The EFCC is the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in Nigeria. The primary responsibility of the EFCC is investigating and prosecuting Economic and Financial Crimes and Money Laundering, as seen in Section 1 (2) (C) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act, 2004 (EFCC Act, 2004)

What are Economic and Financial Crimes?

These crimes generally involve large-scale financial misconduct and abuse of public funds. The provision of Section 46 of the EFCC Act, 2004 defines Economic and Financial Crimes as follows:

“The non-violent criminal and illicit activity committed with the objectives of earning wealth illegally either individually or in a group or organized manner thereby violating existing legislation governing the economic activities of government and its administration….(emphasis mine)”

The above represents the primary objective of the EFCC. The question that comes to mind now is whether the offence of Naira mutilation falls within the context of earning wealth illegally; the answer, no matter how you expand the interpretation, ISin the negative.

This was the crux of the Supreme Court’s case of DR. JOSEPH NWOBIKE, SAN v. FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA (2021) LPELR-56670, on whether the EFCC can investigate and prosecute the offence of an attempt to pervert the course of Justice, the Court per ABUBAKAR JSC, held:

“….A fortiori, it must be pointed out, as the learned senior counsel for the Appellant rightly argued and as conceded by the Respondent, that the test for ascertaining if a criminal conduct can be regarded as an economic and financial crime is such that must be a non-violent criminal and illicit activity committed with the objective of earning wealth. I do not think it will be safe to regard the offence of attempt to pervert the course of justice which the Appellant was convicted for, where it has not been shown that it was committed with the objective of earning wealth, and be regarded as an economic and financial crime, thereby vesting the power to investigate and prosecute in the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.”

The Supreme Court in the above case allowed the Appeal and set aside the decisions of the lower Courts. The Appellant was consequently discharged.

A juxtaposition of the law with Bobrisky’s case will lead us to the safe conclusion that the offence committed by Bobrisky lacks the element of earning wealth illegally. In fact, he lost wealth through the act of mutilation. The EFCC, by virtue of the clear provisions of the law and Nwobike’s case (supra) lacks the prosecutorial power to prosecute the offence of naira abuse and mutilation.

NB: the writer is not oblivious of the facts that Bobrisky’s charge contained an offence of money laundering which were struck out as a result of plea bargaining, but that is not the focus of this article.

If the EFCC lacks the power to prosecute the offence of Naira mutilation, who then can?

The CBN Act, 2007 is an enactment of the National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. As the Chief Law Officer of the Federation, the provision of Section 174(1) (a) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, empowers the Attorney-General of the Federation (AG Fed) to institute criminal proceedings with respect to any offence created by the National Assembly. For emphasis, the section is hereby reproduced:

The Attorney-General of the Federation shall have power to institute and undertake criminal proceedings against any person before any Court of Law in Nigeria, other than the Court martial, in respect of any offence created by or under any Act of the National Assembly.

Nigeria Police Force (NPF), by virtue of Section 4 of the Nigeria Police Act, 2020 also has omnibus power to prevent and detect crimes, maintain public safety, law and order, protect the lives and property of all persons in Nigeria, etcetera. On a holistic view of section 4 of the Nigeria Police Act, 2020, especially on powers of the Police to “maintain public safety, law and order”, one may deduce that the offence of naira mutilation falls under the offences capable of prosecution by the NPF.

More specific is the provision of section 66(1) of the Nigeria Police Act, 2020 that gives NPF the concurrent power with the AG Federation and of a State to prosecute any person before any Court in Nigeria. See the case of F.R.N. v. OSARHON (2006) 5 NWLR Part 973 pg. 361

The take away from  the preceding paragraph is that the Nigeria Police can prosecute offences capable of prosecution by the AG Federation.

Conclusion

One of the characteristics of the Law is its dynamic nature, but as it stands, the above represents the position of the Law. I submit on the strength of the laid down principles that the appropriate authority that ought to have prosecuted Idris Okuneye Olanrewaju a.k.a Bobrisky for the offence of naira mutilation are the Attorney-General of the Federation or the Nigeria Police Force and his conviction ought to be set aside on appeal, in line with the Supreme Court’s decision in NWOBIKE’s case (supra).

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