GODWIN Emefiele, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, has attempted once more to dribble Nigerians by issuing another unconvincing denial of his advertised presidential ambition. It will not fly. The reported purchase of the N100 million expression of interest form for the presidential ticket of the ruling All Progressives Congress is the culmination of several months of overt and subterranean marketing of his candidature even while retaining his strategic CBN position. It is unconscionable and inimical to the country’s interest to entangle the central bank in partisan politics.
He should resign today. Failing this, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), should invoke the law and force him out.
Emefiele, by his indulgence of the shadowy, sinister groups canvassing his candidacy, and Buhari, by looking away, have sullied the bank. The nonsense started many months ago, beginning with sponsored media reports of his suitability for the presidency. This was followed by advertisements in the print and online media. Thereafter, posters, billboards, inscriptions on vehicles and business premises promoting his candidacy appeared in cities across the country. In response to justifiable complaints that a sitting CBN governor should never, or even appear to have partisan political affiliation; Emefiele has occasionally issued lame, unconvincing rebuttals. He has not exhibited the expected vigour necessary to shut down the amorphous campaigners.
Encouraged, three “interest groups” — Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria, ‘Friends of Emefiele’, and ‘Emefiele Support Group’ – according to the News Agency of Nigeria, took the decisive step and purchased the APC nomination form “on his behalf.” This is provocative. RFAN’s involvement violates the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act that forbids receipt of gifts associated with official actions. When predatory political contractors tried promoting a presidential bid for Mahmud Yakubu, the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, his strong, decisive rebuttal put paid to the rascality.
For the avoidance of doubt, it is perfectly within Emefiele’s constitutional rights as a citizen to seek the presidency or any other elective office. Indeed, democracy is nurtured and the quality of leadership enhanced when technocrats, members of the intelligentsia and middle class take an active role. It is however wrong for him to pursue, be dragged in, or be seen to be pursuing a political ambition as an incumbent CBN governor.
Significantly, Emefiele’s regular denials always leave the window open: his response to the furious public push-back to the form purchase was typical. “I am humbled by the growing interest of those asking that I run for office of the president in the 2023: I have not come to that decision.” He had earlier said he was “awaiting God’s divine intervention.”
Legal luminaries insist that his linkage to a partisan political action raise legal and ethical questions. We agree totally.
The CBN Act expressly protects the bank and its governor from political influence, granting it considerable autonomy, including protection from arbitrary removal. But by being linked with any party, its vaunted independence is compromised, and its reputation takes further battering. Citing the CBN Act, Chidi Odinkalu, a law professor, said the CBN governor is legally precluded from political activities, and is required to give three months notice of resignation if he seeks political activities. Besides, the law expressly bars serving civil servants from politics.
The political circus ridicules Nigeria. Emefiele’s denials are akin to hiding behind a finger. The country can ill-afford his brinksmanship. According to Reuters, the naira plunged to a record low of N591 to US$1 at the parallel market on news of the form purchase compared to the official rate of N413-N417. Nigeria’s economy is in turmoil; broke and amassing debt. Debt servicing absorbs 90 per cent of public revenues and the CBN is reportedly printing money at record levels.
Monetary policies have failed. On his watch, the critical tasks of the central bank — curtailing inflation, managing interest rates, managing the exchange rate and effective bank regulation — are in a shambles. Official inflation rate of 15.92 per cent in March is reckoned to be understated; lending rates averaging 17-30 per cent squeeze out SMEs and hit bigger firms. The forex market is marred by badly-managed multiple rates, and illegal arbitrage. Weak regulation facilitates rent-taking, arbitrary charges, and money laundering. Foreign reserves are rising only marginally despite high oil prices fuelled by the Russia-Ukraine war.
It reflects Nigeria’s weak institution-building. In mature democracies, resignation is standard ahead of running for an elective office. Five US states – Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Hawaii and Texas – have adopted Resign-to-Run laws requiring public office holders to resign from their current office in other to run for another.
The CBN needs effective handling and undivided attention by its helmsman. A governor that cannot decisively stamp out campaigns by sinister supporters dragging him and the institution into partisan politics is a national liability. Many state governors have asked their officials nursing electoral ambitions to resign.
Emefiele’s brinksmanship suggests contempt for the law and impunity. He is setting a very bad precedent. His is a danger foretold. Like many others, Kingsley Moghalu, a former CBN deputy governor, had long warned that Emefiele has been too cosy with politicians and the Presidency, compromising the bank’s independence. Economists within and outside the country also complain that the bank has virtually abandoned its price-stability mandate to pander to the government’s reckless fiscal policies.
Two former CBN governors, Clement Isong and Chukwuma Soludo, went on after their terms to become elected governors of old Cross River (1979-83), and Anambra states (March 2022- ) respectively. In exercise of his freedom to seek political office, Emefiele should toe this honourable path and resign immediately. If truly he has no interest, the onus is on him to take extraordinary steps beyond his present waffling, to decisively dissociate himself from the “supporters,” including reporting them to the police.
We reiterate that every Nigerian has right to elective office. However, no one has a right to politicise or overtly involve the CBN in partisan politics. It is a strategic national institution that plays a very important role in the economy. Its independence and insulation from partisan politics are crucial for its success.
Buhari is once again allowing Nigeria to drift like a rudderless ship. His distraction and aloofness encourage officials to act with impunity. By now, he should have taken steps to stop the Emefiele CBN circus. He and the National Assembly should intervene.
Emefiele is within his personal rights to “await divine intervention”: Buhari and the NASS should demonstrate that he cannot do so at public expense. If he does not resign immediately, they should do their duty and sack him without further delay.