Africa: How Nigeria robbed Biafrans of their hard earned cash at the end of the war

Nigeria accounts

This article by Joseph Ndibuagu, revisits the suit filed by the late Chief F.R.A Williams, SAN, on behalf of Chief J. J Enweozor, against the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), in which the Claimant, having deposited the sum of £26, 695 in the old Nigerian currency into the CBN on 7/4/70, was subsequently, informed by the then Governor of CBN, that he was only entitled to the sum of £20 in the new currency, in exchange for the deposit.

“I write with reference to your letter (Ref – FRAW/AO/CB/11/71 of 8th October, 1971 to inform you that your client’s entitlement as a depositor was £20 ex gratia award authorised by the Federal Government’’.

Signed by E. N. ISONG

Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria

As applied by the Supreme Court of Nigeria in the celebrated case of CHIEF J. J. ENWEOZOR V. CENTRAL BANK OF NIGERIA (1976)1 ALL NLR PAGE 252 AT PAGE 256. This letter, dated the 18th day of October, 1971, signed by E. N. ISONG, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, addressed to Chief F. R. A. Williams, an eminent Nigerian Lawyer, is a reply to Chief F. R. A. Williams enquiry from the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria why his Client, Chief J. J. Enweozor, described as a Nigeria citizen ordinarily resident in Onitsha. Enweozor, had in response to the CBN’s directive “on the 7th of April, 1970, paid to your bank the sum of £26,659 (Twenty Six Thousand, Six Hundred and Fifty Nine pounds) as per receipt no ESOO5055 dated 7/4/70 in old Nigerian currency notes’’ is yet to be paid his money in the new currency.

The shameful story is a stressed fact in Nigerian History. Yet it always compels repetition. The fact is that after Chief J. J. Enweozor and his Biafran folks, having been mercilessly massacred in all parts of Nigeria, particularly, the North, a savage and barbaric genocide unleashed on them, ‘shooting of everything that moves’, applied as a doctrine against them, starvation employed to annihilate the unborn and the children, Gowon, the Nigeria head of State, the architect of their woes, was so kind and so zealous in reconciling with, and rehabilitating them that he gratuitously offered them from the milk of his Gowon – Nigerian heart, a gratuitous £20 (Twenty) pounds in exchange of any amount whatsoever they had ever earned within the Nigeria context.

Of course, neither Chief Enweozor nor his counsel, Chief FRA Williams of blessed memory was impressed by this Nigerian-brand of benevolence. Consequently they sought remedy from the court, the supposed last hope for the common man. The fact of this case is mutual between the parties. It behoves emphasis even at the risk of repetition. As told by Mr Sule Okponubi, the sole witness of the Central Bank of Nigeria: “The Federal Government requested the people from the East Central State to exchange their currencies, both Biafran and Nigerian. We sent out teams to accept the deposits. This was in 1969/70. “After all the deposits had been accepted, the Government directed that the Defendant should make an ex gratia payment of £20 each to all of them.

As a result of this direction, the Defendant was not able to exchange the deposited amounts, whether Biafran or Nigerian”. The case was dismissed by Savage J. of the Lagos High Court who, after considering the Decrees and subsidiary legislation governing exchange or conversion of old currency note to new ones, held that “the action was misconceived because the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria had not exercised certain discretionary powers vested in him under the law’’. Up to the Nigeria Supreme Court went Chief Enweozor in desperate quest for justice. On hearing the case, the Supreme Court was supremely confounded by the obnoxious provisions of Decree No 11 of 1968, a draconian legislation that surpass the worst in the annals of jurisprudence.

Consequently, the Nigeria Supreme Court in sync with its Nigerian gusto found that the law applicable in this case, the Currency Conversion (South-Eastern and other states) Decree No. 11 of 1968, at all times material to this case is not applicable to the East Central States of Nigeria – The Biafran enclave. The Supreme Court placed reliance on section2 of the Decree which provides inter alia that the Decrees:-

“Shall apply to all States of the Federation, so however that nothing in this Decree shall extend its application to …….East Central State……..until a direction of the Head of the Federal Military Government given in such a manner as he may think fit, and in the discretion of the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria published in the Gazette at any time any such discretion is given, or at any time thereafter. In the characteristic Nigeria swagger, the Supreme Court held that: “there was no evidence that discretion had either been given under section 2 or that it had been given and published in the gazette. We must therefore conclude that it has not been established by evidence that Decree No. 11 of 1968 was applicable to the …….East Central State”.

Not yet done in curtailing the effrontery of Chief Enweozor in taking Nigeria to court, the Supreme Court, although it acknowledged that it was not necessary for the determination of the appeal before it, waved a sword of Damocles from the Decree in an obvious threat against any similar effrontery by the ilk of Chief Enweozor. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reminded all of the `mischief’ aimed at by the stringent provisions of the Decree. The Supreme Court emphasized that the exchange of the Nigerian old currency for new ones can take place `only where so authorized by law’ as provided by section 1B of the Decree which created offences in relation to the exchange of currency. Of much significance is sub-section D which made it an offence for any person.

“By any means to move or cause to be moved from a part of Nigeria where the time or extended time for conversion of former currency under this Decree has elapsed, into any part of Nigeria where former currency has not been converted, or as the case may be, action to convert has not commenced or if commenced, has not been completed under this Decree’’. The exchange of the old Nigeria currency for new one in the East Central State of Nigeria, as the Supreme Court found, was never `authorized by law’. Accordingly Chief Enweozor and his counsel Chief FRA Williams of the blessed memory came to the rude awakening that in Nigeria, courts are anything but the last hope for the oppressed. The articulated sadism of this Decree must not be lost on any one.

This provision made it impossible for the Biafrans, even in the so called liberated areas, to exchange their old Nigeria currency with the new one or in any way touch or transact with it. Accordingly, another alternative means to genocide was legitimised by the Nigerian law. Those that survive the bullet must perish by starvation. It should also not be forgotten that Gowon at the time of this Decree had put in place an `administrator’ for the East Central State of Nigeria. Yet, no positive function of the alleged East Central State Administrator or government was allowed.

The only utility of the administrator is in shielding horrendous acts of genocide determinedly carried out by the Nigerian Army. As St Augustine of Hippo bewailed, “justice being denied, then, what are Kingdoms but great robberies’’! In fairness to the Supreme Court Judges, they relied on the prevailing law to reach their judgment. But what cannot be denied is that this judgment firmly acknowledged, if not established, as unchallengeable, the right to the Nigerian State to rob people of their hard earned monies. Show me the laws of a state and I will show you their ethos. With such laws in our code up till today, is it any difficult to see where the Nigerians penchant for greed and corruption comes from? If the state can so unscrupulously grab, rob and extort, then, why can’t the citizens do the same? Is it not pitiable that the State can pretend to be armoured against same graft? Is it any wonder that the cardinal goal of office holders in Nigeria is to loot, extort and rob the citizens in any conceivable way? Chief Enwezor had endured the robbery of his £26,659 (Twenty Six Thousand, Six Hundred and Fifty Nine pounds) by the Nigerian State.

My own parents equally endured the same robbery of their over £7,000 (Seven Thousand Pounds) by the Nigerian State. And so do other Biafrans. But it never ended there! In the present day Nigeria any time I (like all others) use my ATM, the Nigeria State pilfers N50.00 from me. But everybody has embraced State theft as proper ethos that no one complains! Even, oil, which God intends to be a blessing to the nation has been converted to a veritable tool for extorting from the citizens.

The saddest story about Nigeria is that both the State and her citizens have lost the ability to be ashamed of anything at all! And accordingly, it is the law when electoral officers forgo the counting or computations of votes and fill up their Return Forms to declare abysmal losers as ultimate winners; It is the law when Nigerian Custom men lay siege on Easterners journeying home for Christmas celebrations and rob them of their cars on the ground that cars registered in Lagos, and had been in use for years in Lagos, are uncustomed goods. And, of course, in the Nigerian brand of benevolence, they will grant bail to the victim, his wife and Children, after extorting all the money they have. It is the law! After all, the man should be grateful for not spending eternity in the custom cell or as awaiting trial detainee in any of the many dungeons in Nigeria termed prisons.

Yes, It is the law when the Nigerian Army declares Operation Python Dance, and make a career of molesting and extorting civilians. It is the law when Nigerian soldiers devoid of any sense of honour mow down defenceless civilians – men women and Children- because they are what GOD created them to be. It is the law when the states through the EFCC tags any person as corrupt and embark on immediate despoliation of the individual; It is the law when Lai Mohammed in a characteristic Nigerian solemnity announce to the Nation that their patriotic President in his sick bed in faraway London hospital is only taking made in Nigeria medications. Nigerian patriotism is indeed spectacular! It is the law, when Judges who give judgments that offend the whims of the power holders are raided in the dead of the Night, spirited out and subjected to mock trial. It is the law! The list is endless. In fact, In Nigeria anything can be the law, once the government has the power to enforce it. The unscrupulousness to enforce it is always assured. The compelling truth is that Nigeria is a dire jungle. The sooner everybody that bears the burden of its citizenship is liberated, the better.

 

Culled from Thisday

 

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