Port Harcourt — By the time you read this piece, Godwin Emefiele, the once-powerful (and some say power-drunk) Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria is either rueing his suspension from office (actually, a euphemism for dismissal) or cooling off as a detainee in a cell. The man’s fate and actions depend on the person telling the story. What we can confirm however, is that Mr. Emefiele, the 10th indigenous CBN Governor was forced to leave his post to make way for “the ongoing investigation of his office and the planned reforms in the financial sector of the economy.” There were reports of his being detained by the DSS soon after his suspension but this was not confirmed. This is the second time in 10 years that an incumbent CBN Governor would be suspended by the President.
Lagos-born Agbor (Delta State) indigene Emefiele was CEO of Zenith Bank when the call for higher duty came in June 2014. He was re-appointed in May 2019, the first time since 1999 when a CBN Governor would serve two consecutive terms. Emefiele made news and history within and outside the halls of CBN. At a time of dwindling revenue and plummeting value of the Naira, Emefiele was thrust into negative and sometimes nasty headlines as he administered drugs which he said were unavoidable but considered too painful and unbearable by those who had to swallow them. I don’t have the space to go into details but we all remember the Naira redesign policy which he announced in October last year “to manage inflation, combat currency counterfeiting and ransom payment.” In a curious development, the Minister of Finance disowned the policy 48 hours after it was announced saying it was not consulted. But President Buhari backed him all the way until the Supreme Court ruled that the old naira notes remained legal tender till December 31, 2023. This effectively ended the re-design policy which some experts say had cost the country some N20tn.
Emefiele became one of the unacceptable faces of the Buhari era. Some people felt the move was to undercut the then APC presidential candidate, Ahmed Bola Tinubu. He himself averred so at the hustings. “Let fuel be expensive, only they know where they keep it. Keep petrol, keep the naira, we will vote and be elected. You may change the ink of naira notes. What you expect will not happen. We will win,” he said rather colloquially at the MKO Abiola Stadium in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital.
Emefiele made headlines on the soapbox. While the CBN Act of 1958 forbids the Governor of the apex bank to venture into politics, here stood Emefiele, the recipient of the benevolence of nameless rice farmers who spent a whopping N100 million to buy the presidential nomination form of the APC. This happened just as campaign posters bearing his name and image flooded Abuja. He eventually denied any presidential ambition, but rather curiously (again!) went to the Federal High Court in Abuja for an order to direct INEC and the office of the Attorney General of the Federation “not to stop him from contesting the presidential election.” Who was advising or rather, pushing this man? The case did not proceed beyond the court, but to many people, the CBN Governor had crossed the threshold of impartiality and non-partisanship. Many individuals and organisations approached the courts, seeking his dismissal for allegedly “violating multiple provisions of the Central Bank Act.” When you add these demands to the purported bias against the man who eventually won the presidential election, you will understand (even if you don’t accept) why Emefiele will have to be in the cold in the current dispensation.
And herein lies my worry. In February 2014, President Goodluck Jonathan suspended the then CBN governor, Lamido Sanusi, days “after he exposed the alleged theft of at least $20bn by officials of the petroleum ministry.” The man was away at an official assignment in Niger Republic when the news broke. The Presidency ordered him to leave office “pending the conclusion of investigations into the alleged breaches of enabling laws, due process and the mandate of the CBN.” No details have been provided since. If the Presidency does not publish the outcome of what it says are the investigations against Emefiele and the said reforms, it means there is a revolving door at the CBN with its chiefs seating on chairs without solid legs. This will portray Nigeria as a country that can kick out its apex bank chief without taking into account the resultant instability and damage to reputation. The Jagaban has won the elections and he has proved he can also bite. Let’s see what happens next.
Follow us on twitter