Opinion

Emefiele’s perfidy

By Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN

It came like a bolt out of thunder. After months of sponsored speculations, it finally dawned on Nigerians that they had entrusted their biggest vault into the hands of a politician. Not that politics in itself is so bad. After all, politicians are the ones ruling us. But never did we anticipate that the inner recess of the Central Bank of Nigeria was also playing host to a presidential aspirant and financial regulator all at once. The main question that many Nigerians have asked about this embarrassing revelation is: how did we get here? How on earth does a sitting Central Bank Governor go about hobnobbing with politicians that he was supposed to control and monitor? How can a politician in Nigeria seek to retain such a vital office as CBN Governor, go about his campaigns, attend political meetings and events, embark upon aggressive lobbying and still have the time, passion and energy to regulate our finances? Where will he get the funds to run his campaigns, in this frenetic era of money-bag politics?

Godwin Emefiele is a Nigerian in many respects. Born in 1961 in Lagos, he had the rare opportunity of being trained at the Ansar Udeen Primary School and Maryland Comprehensive School, all in Lagos, before he proceeded to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka for his tertiary education. He attended several higher institutions abroad and was a teacher at UNN and UNIPORT respectively, before moving to the business world, most of which he spent with Zenith Bank Plc, where he rose to the position of Managing Director. He was appointed Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria in June 2014 by the Goodluck Jonathan administration and was retained by the Muhammadu Buhari government and also re-appointed for another five years. This history and background are important to help situate the management of CBN under Emefiele with the experience of his predecessor in office, HRH Sanusi Lamido, who was seen as too controversial and getting too entrenched in politics whilst still in office.

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The Constitution in section 40 grants the freedom of association and the right to assemble freely with others to protect one’s interest, so no one can deny the fact that Emefiele has the constitutional right to seek to rule Nigeria. In fact, his experiences within the public and private sectors place him in a better stead than many other candidates who have so far shown interest in the presidency. However, Emefiele is by virtue of his office placed in a special class that curtails his personal interests and ambitions. And as if the drafters of the law were conscious of such development as we now have in Emefiele, they carefully ensured the independence and autonomy of the office of the CBN Governor, putting him above the whims and caprices of the Executive arm by requiring legislative approval for his removal. Also, the office is well remunerated, being one of the highest paid public offices in Nigeria, with mouth-watering perks, allowances, packages and benefits. It is said in some quarters that the CBN is richer than many States in assets alone. This is why it is totally unexpected of any one bequeathed with such a sensitive position to be fully entrenched in partisan politics with all its attendant gimmicks, especially in Nigeria. Now let us examine the laws governing Emefiele’s ill-fated ambition to rule Nigeria.

Under and by virtue of section 1 of the CBN Act, “…the Bank shall be an independent body in the discharge of its functions.” The principal objects of the CBN as stated in section 2 of the Act are to: ensure monetary and price stability; issue legal tender currency in Nigeria; maintain external reserves to safeguard the international value of the legal tender currency; promote a sound financial system in Nigeria; and act as banker and provide economic and financial advice to the Federal Government. The CBN is thus the live wire of the nation’s financial sector. It is no doubt in the bid to grant the CBN sufficient leverage to perform these onerous statutory responsibilities that Section 9 of the CBN Act prohibits the pursuit of any vocation that conflicts with the duties of the Governor of the Bank. In the case of Emefiele in particular, he is required under section 9 of the Act to first seek and obtain the approval of the Board of CBN before venturing into politics so that the Board will be placed in a good position to consider the effect of such ambition on the overall interest of the nation’s economy and the vantage position of CBN in particular. This was not done at all and Emefiele proceeded to register as a member of the All Progressive Congress in his home State in Delta. He deliberately set out to traumatize us all with his ambition, to set the economy of the nation on riot and to cause confusion in the land.

Let us compare Emefiele with Reverend Father Hyacinth Alia of the Catholic Church, who left the ecclesiastical temple to join the Governorship race in Benue State. He was promptly suspended by the authorities of the church.

“The mother church does not allow her clerics to get involved in partisan politics on their own – Ex can. 285,3 CIC … Therefore, to respond to the spiritual and pastoral needs of the church in the Catholic Diocese of Gboko, I have suspended him from exercise of sacred ministry.”

This is how it should be for Emefiele and it is the reason why the Constitution in section 1 of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers bars them from putting themselves in positions where their personal interests conflict with their public duties and responsibilities. It is public knowledge that many politicians are heavily indebted to many banks either through their business or political engagements. How will Emefiele regulate the affairs of his fellow politicians who are customers of various banks and also his bosses in politics? Who will help tame Emefiele, who has sworn to give his employers heart attacks with endless surprises? It would seem that this is another of the series of drama that has become the lot of this administration, which has perfected the ignoble style of creating new scandals to bury old ones. Do we say that there is no one in charge of the affairs of Nigeria, for a public officer to dare throw mud upon the sacred temple of justice, abusing the processes of the court at random and with reckless abandon?

Sensing the wrath of the people of Nigeria, Emefiele rushed to the Federal High Court in a bid to use its processes to preserve his job and to tie the hands of Nigerians from sacking him. In a suit where he was seeking the interpretation of constitutional provisions relating to political issues, he carefully left out the political parties. Whilst that case was still pending in Abuja, another suit surfaced before the Delta State High, wherein the hands of Emefiele’s employers were being tied through the proverbial voice of Jacob and the hands of Esau. Coming after the National Judicial Council had released its Practice Direction governing pre-election cases, it would not take long for that latter case to suffer disgrace when it was sent back to the Chief Judge for appropriate sanctions. And I can bet that we have not heard the last of Emefiele’s political ambitions.

All cannot be quiet so long as Emefiele continues to hold sway as the number one banker in Nigeria and a registered member of a political party. For failing to disclose his political interest, he has stained the integrity and autonomy of the apex bank. The laws regulating Emefiele’s office empowers him to apply to the court to freeze the bank account of any individual, which power he wantonly abused to persecute the leaders of the EndSARS movement and indeed many other Nigerians. Emefiele is at liberty to sack the management of any bank in Nigeria, to grant or to revoke the licence of any bank and to generally determine the economic fortunes of Nigeria. Why would such a person be involved in partisan politics? The President needs to act promptly and swiftly to show Emefiele the way out of CBN, as was done to Father Alia by the Catholic Church. Nothing else can assuage our collective embarrassment on the desecration of the hallowed office of the CBN Governor by Emefiele other than to relieve him of his office so that he can have all the time in the world to pursue his political ambition.

In demonstration of the faith Nigerians have in the CBN, the Independent National Electoral Commission chose the apex bank to warehouse its sensitive election materials, believing that the CBN vault would guarantee their sanctity, unknown to INEC that the man at the head of the bank had always nurtured a political ambition. Let me paint a scenario. Assuming Emefiele is allowed to pursue his inordinate ambition to become the presidential candidate of the APC for the 2023 presidential election. All he needs to do to frustrate his opponents is to ensure that the keys of the CBN branches in certain States where the opposition is strong are withheld or that the relevant staff in charge do not show up in time to give out election materials, thus effectively disenfranchising the supporters of his opponents. And there are other things he can still do to cause confusion or disharmony. Emefiele should not have remained a day longer in office the moment it was revealed that he had registered with the APC in Delta State.

The President needs to act swiftly on Emefiele or else the impunity will embolden some other public officers holding very sensitive positions to equally toy with their official responsibilities to enable them pursue their political ambitions. It is good to seek public office through election, as that in itself should be a test of acceptance by the voting public. However, the combination of law, morality, ethics and the rule of transparency demand that Emefiele should be relieved of his position without further ado. As the ultimate regulator of human affairs after God, it is distasteful that the government in power has shown itself reluctant to follow the path of honour in the same way that the Catholic Church has admirably called its politician-priest to order. When one sows to the wind, he should without fail reap the whirlwind. In delaying to boot out Emefiele to stop him from further polluting the national economy, it is the President that is giving Nigerians the shock and heart attack that Emefiele mocked us with. It is a dangerous signal for an outgoing regime.

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