FOR a man who a few months ago was one of the most powerful individuals in Nigeria, heading the central bank of Africa’s biggest economy, and aspiring for the presidency of the continent’s largest nation, Godwin Emefiele’s fall from grace has been headlong.
In a flash, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor’s fortunes have nosedived. The longest serving chief of the bank has been suspended then detained as the new president, Bola Tinubu (71), positions himself as a new broom sweeping clean an economy littered by political turmoil, rampant
corruption, contentious policies and upheaval in the flagship oil sector.
Emefiele (61) is the first high-profile individual nabbed as Tinubu’s presidency, at the helm for almost a fortnight, stamps its authority. However, this first crack of the whip is divisive in a country synonymous with new governments using their newfound power to settle scores with individuals of the previous administration.
Ethnicism, long a problem in Nigeria’s volatile politics, has also come to the fray.
Last Friday, Tinubu suspended Emefiele.
“The suspension is sequel to ongoing investigation of his (Emefiele’s) office and also the planned reforms in the financial sector of the economy,” stated Willie Bassey, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
Emefiele was directed to hand over the affairs of his office to the Deputy Governor (Operations Directorate), Folashodun Adebisi Shonubi.
The ensuing arrest of Emefiele by the State Security Service, self-styled as the Department of State Services (DSS), was not without controversy.
Speculation was rife on Saturday that the under-fire CBN governor had been arrested. DSS initially professed ignorance of the arrest.
Later, the agency, long accused of being a law unto itself an appendage of the government to oppress critics and opponents, confirmed it had apprehended Emefiele.
Late Saturday, Peter Afunanya, said the governor was in custody of the DSS “for some investigative reasons.”
“The public, particularly the media, is enjoined to apply utmost caution in the reportage and narratives concerning this,” Afunanya said.
But the Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo, a socio-cultural organisation, threw caution to the wind after the confirmation of the arrest.
“We view the development as clearly part of the new administration’s
scheme of ethnic cleansing of the Igbos from public offices,” the organisation charged.
The Igbos, found mostly in the mainly-Christian South, are the third largest tribe in Africa’s most populous nation (estimated at 221 million people and 250 ethnic groups) but have not occupied the presidential seat since the civilian rule in 1999.
Emefiele and Tinubu are both southerners from Lagosians. However, Tinubu
is Muslim and Emefiele apparently Christian.
“This is nothing but a witch hunt directed at the Igbos for no other reason other than they dared to oppose the new administration in the last general elections,” Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo stated of Emefiele’s arrest.
The pro-Igbo group warned this could be detrimental in a nation divided
along ethnic lines and still embroiled in apprehension as Tinubu’s win
in February is still challenged in the courts.
“We are therefore asking President Bola Tinubu to beware of starting his
administration with actions capable of driving an already shaking nation
into chaos,” it warned.
A chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Femi Fani-Kayode, commended the DSS for the arrest.
“This is another first for them and a refreshing and encouraging display of heroic, courageous and decisive leadership by our new president,” he said.
Laolu Akande, an ex-spokesperson at the Office of the Vice President, alleged “shenanigans and colossal” damages Emefiele perpetrated against Nigerian people while at the helm of CBN.
“This is not even about cashless policy, but apparent corruption especially in the dual exchange rate policy which never made sense,” Akande stated.
Emefiele incurred the wrath of Nigerians after the CBN introduced new naira notes, in what the apex bank pledged was to address inflation, currency counterfeiting, insecurity and vote buying.
It backfired when fewer naira was distributed to the market than was mopped up. This resulted in widespread protests marked by criminality.
The longest-serving governor (he has been at the post since 2014), Emefiele adopted an interventionist currency policy. To sustain the local currency, CBN pumped billions of dollars into the foreign exchange market and introduced a multiple exchange rate regime.
He is the first governor to enjoy a second term (renewed in 2019 for another five years), hence the sentiment that he is merely a scapegoat.
“Emefiele served under a president,” said Godwins Nduka, an agro-economist.
“He didn’t print trillions of naira through ways and means for his personal use. President (Muhammadu) Buhari asked him to do it. Even Buhari owned up to the naira redesign policy,” he argued.
Commentator Shehu Gazali Sadiq, argued Emefiele was a victim of the Buhari “kleptocratic regime.”
“When will Buhari, the head of the kleptocracy, be arrested. Emiefele should be free if Buhari is free. There should be no discriminatory judgment,” Sadiq insisted.
Ex-presidents in the West African country enjoy immunity from prosecution.
Inibehe Effiong, a public interest and human rights lawyer, said, “Emefiele corrupted the CBN and made nonsense of our exchange rates and forex market.”
He added, “The fiscal and monetary policies of the CBN under him did not
help the country.”
Effiong noted however Tinubu cannot remove Emefiele from office by virtue of Section 11 of the CBN Act, without recourse to the Senate.
Emefiele apparently is paying the price for his venturing into partisan politics, against the dictates of the same Act.
In May 2022, it emerged he was angling to replace Buhari in the presidential election. Buhari has served his two terms as allowed by the constitution.
Emefiele’s intentions are said to have not gone down well with the Tinubu camp of the APC. While he endorsed Tinubu, Buhari was supported by Emefiele’s new naira policy, to the extent of defying the courts.
Courts stepped down the request by Emefiele to be declared eligible to
Civil society organisations also filed multiple court cases against the governor for the apparent violation of the CBN Act.
Sanusi Lamidu Sanusi, who is Emefiele’s predecessor, was also hauled out of the position in 2014 after a suspension by then-president, Goodluck Jonathan, and detention by DSS.
He won the case against the government.
Apart from insecurity, political and social issues, the new administration faces an enormous task in reviving an economy searing under debt, forex and fuel shortages and weak local currency (₦1 =US$0,002 or ¥0,015).
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects the oil-reliant economy to grow by 3,2 percent in 2022 but in his inauguration at the end of March, former Lagos governor Tinubu pledged to expand it by 6 percent annually.
– CAJ News