Emefiele And The Gang

By Austyn Ogannah

Godwin Ifeanyichukwu Emefiele has battled many controversies since his appointment as Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in 2014, just like his predecessor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi did during his own tenure. No doubt, with the power and influence of the office of the governor of the reserve bank, the occupant will almost likely face pressures from the political class and elite over one thing or another. As a close observer of the activities of the CBN, I have keenly followed the bank’s policies and the reactions that greet their announcement and subsequent implementation.

There is however one policy, the naira redesign and weekly cash withdrawal peg, that is causing some politicians and some odious persons endless headaches and hypertension as we count down to the general elections slated for February 25, 2023.

These actors have argued both privately and openly that the redesign of the naira and the pegged weekly withdrawal limits was ill timed and should not have been implemented with elections around the corner. Some claim Emefiele deployed the policy to pay back politicians for antagonising his bid to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari.

The fact is that this policy had been unduly delayed because of political influence/considerations since the Goodluck Jonathan presidency, but thankfully, President Buhari, who will not be on the ballot, is desirous of leaving an unmatched record of conducting the most credible election the country has ever had where the influence of cash is drastically reduced.

THEWILL EDITORIAL: APC And Recent Defections
THEWILL EDITORIAL: APC And Recent Defections
My understanding of the policy according to the explanations by officials of the bank is that it helps to deal with many issues ranging from making kidnapping for ransom less attractive to curbing counterfeiting as well as reducing corruption having realised that more than 70 percent of issued notes were not in circulation but instead in private storage of corrupt government officials, politicians and criminals. President Buhari, who said he was fully briefed and supports the policy, as well as the electoral commission and monitors say the policy will significantly reduce vote buying and the influence of money in our elections and help the right candidates emerge.

Is this not good for Nigeria? Of course, it is. But what is always good for the country may not be good for one person, a few, or a clique.

In the course of researching for this column, I also discovered that Emefiele is being vilified by some state governors as well because he is no longer open to support intervention programmes in their states.

You may now understand why Emefiele has suddenly become a target of attacks from multiple fronts by unusual allies who now see him as a common enemy. This policy has no doubt shaken these persons, and they are hell-bent on seeing Emefiele humiliated out of office by all means, as payback.

It started recently with a claim by Hon. Muhammed Kazaure, a member of the House of Representatives who alleged the theft of N89 trillion of Stamp Duty, proceeds alleging that the Central Bank and Godwin Emefiele were complicit amongst other wild allegations. The presidency has since debunked the claim, saying ongoing reconciliation of the collection of stamp duties has so far shown no foul play after months of investigations. The CBN has also described the allegations as ridiculous and lacking in substance. I have taken time to watch a press conference addressed by Hon. Kazaure and also read the document circulated by him. I should add that some of the allegations were made based on a lack of understanding or misconception of how some firms and things are designed to work. A detailed response to these allegations that make sense to me have been made by Garba Shehu, President Buhari’s spokesman.

These wild allegations appear to be the reason for the ‘extensive investigations’ being carried out by the Department of State Services, whom I gather has interviewed the top management of the CBN multiple times. The officials, including Emefiele, the deputy governors as well as some directors, have all honoured the invitation of the DSS at all times to be interrogated as I have found out. What I however find curious is the secret court application by the secret police to detain the CBN Governor for 60 days (note elections are due to begin on Feb 25 and the bank plays a key role in our elections) on disputable terrorism financing allegations which of course the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Hon. Justice John Tsoho found suspicious and declined, saying the DSS “intends to use the court, as a cover for an irregular procedure, which is unacceptable.”

Justice Tsoho declared: “In the light of the foregoing reasons, I decline to grant this application ex parte. If the applicant believes that the evidence available to it so far is sufficient, then it can also arrest and detain the applicant, even without the order of this. If, however, the applicant desires to still pursue this application, then it should place the Respondent on Notice, considering the sensitive public office that he occupies. This application, as presently constituted, is refused.”

Central banks universally are very sensitive institutions that work closely with each other and share common goals and, as such, must be handled with caution and thoroughly protected. To charge Emefiele with terrorism is not a tea party. The consequences of the allegation are grave for both the man and our country. We could be suspended by the EGMONT Group, a 164-country financial group that exchanges financial intelligence to combat money laundering and terror financing, amongst others. Can you imagine the damage it would do to the United States and the Federal Reserve Bank if the FBI were to publicly accuse Jerome Power, the chair of the US Reserve Bank, of being a terrorist?

I have not in any way said Mr. Emefiele is above the law. If indeed he has broken the law, there are better and more sophisticated ways to deal with the issue. This was clearly stated by Justice Tsoho in his ruling. He hinted that President Buhari’s approval to arrest Emefiele ought to have been sought because he is a “high ranking public official and indeed occupies a sensitive position as one of the key drivers of the nation’s economy.” I am of the opinion that if indeed Emefiele is a terrorist or terrorist financier as being alleged by the DSS (an allegation I personally find spurious, outlandish and outrageous) then why would it put the president in danger by allowing Emefiele meet PMB privately a few days ago in his Daura residence and also allowed him on the president’s entourage to Washington DC last week to honour the invitation of President Joe Biden, with the CBN Governor appearing next to Buhari at some of the events?

We must be careful in the manner we deal with issues when sensitive institutions are involved. I recall how the DSS poorly handled its beef with the leadership of the 8th National Assembly, which caused the immediate past Director-General his job. I also recall the humiliation and hounding of the former Chief Justice of the Federation, Hon. Walter Onnoghen, GCON, out of office by some powerful elements within the current All Progressives Congress (APC) led federal government as we approached the 2019 general elections. The former CJN would later say he was unceremoniously removed from office barely a month to the 2019 presidential election over a false allegation that he met secretly in Dubai, UAE, with former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the main opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) prior to the poll. It appears that when it comes to the quest for political power in Nigeria, there are no sacred areas.

The Department of State Services (DSS) is a security and intelligence agency in Nigeria that was established in 1986. It was originally known as the National Security Organization (NSO) and was responsible for intelligence gathering and analysis, counterintelligence, and protective services. The NSO was dissolved in 1993 and replaced by the State Security Service (SSS), which was responsible for similar functions. In 2016, the SSS was reorganized and rebranded as the DSS, and its mandate was expanded to include the protection of national security and the investigation of crimes that threaten national security.

Throughout its history, the DSS has played a key role in the intelligence gathering and security efforts of the Nigerian government. It has been involved in a range of activities, including investigation of crimes and protection of government officials and VIPs. The DSS has also been involved in counterintelligence efforts, working to identify and prevent threats to national security. In recent years, the DSS has faced criticism and controversy in relation to its operations and activities, even if it remains a key player in the intelligence and security efforts of the Nigerian government. The DSS as a sensitive and key institution can not afford to be perceived as lacking in transparency and credibility. Recall the criticism and backlash it got for its controversial 2016 raid on the houses of some justices of the Supreme Court and high court judges.

In its reaction after the secret court filing became public, the DSS was combative in response to the general public’s reaction to their suspicious move. Responding to protests calling on it to retract its suit, the DSS warned Nigerians against being used to “undermine” its work. Peter Afunanya, the DSS spokesperson, issued a statement last Monday with this warning and claimed that the Department will not be distracted by those seeking to use “propaganda” to undermine what it believed to be lawful investigations.

While I caution for responsibility at all levels, whether at the Central Bank, State Security and law enforcement, Judiciary and even the general public, we must put the interest of our country as well as our sensitive institutions first in all we do. Emefiele is not infallible. He is human after all and would have faults like you and I. The CBN, under his leadership, has done remarkably well considering the fundamental economic issues we have in the country. Do I agree with all his policies? Of course not. But I am not an economist. He is the expert, so I will defer to him and accept his bank’s policies, knowing that they are often in the interest of the country.

I often repeat this joke I was told by a ranking government official in the national budget office a while ago, who said that even if you hire the highly respected Alan Greenspan to run the CBN, he would face almost the same challenges all past CBN governors have faced because the fiscal side has never really delivered on its task – uninterrupted electricity, security of lives and property, healthcare and effective public education amongst other things.

It is wrong and despicable to deliberately destroy the hard earned reputation of a person because you just do not like him. My counsel to those seeking Emefiele’s ouster over an alleged infringement or crime is to be transparent in the process for the sake of posterity and the integrity of the CBN.

First, President Buhari who is the CEO of the country must be presented with evidence of the alleged serious infraction against the holder of the sensitive office and if he is convinced that a crime has indeed been committed by Emefiele, I am certain he would handle the matter in a manner that protects the institution and country from a needless controversy, embarrassment and ridicule.

Emefiele was reappointed governor of the CBN in 2019 for a five-year tenure and is scheduled to serve until 2024. The procedure to remove a governor of the CBN is clear. Any other illegal means would taint the process and hurt the economy and the country’s reputation even more. A battle to forcefully remove Emefiele from office without Buhari and the Senate’s approval or consent will be long and costly for the nation’s fragile economy.

As we celebrate Christmas and look forward to the end of 2022 and enter the New Year, it is my desire that we all have stability, peace, prosperity, and joy as we party and celebrate. Have a very Merry Christmas.

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