CBN In The Web Of Politics

A cursory assessment of the administration of former President Muhammadu Buhari in all facets of socio-economic life was thoroughly abysmal, and a tragedy in the history of Nigeria. Nigerians, especially the poor masses, reposed so much hope in the retired Military General considering his touted integrity.

He got the mandate based on his All Progressive Congress Party (APC) mantra, ‘Change’, hoping he would restore sanity in our socio-economic life, battered by the sixteen year misrule by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Nigerians expected a breath of fresh air from the general who once ruled this country but was removed through a palace coup. His failed attempts on three occasions also elicited the massive votes he garnered in 2015.

Prior 2015 electoral victory, his cultic admiration among the poor masses could not secure him victory until he formed an alliance with four political parties.

A warning signal of what to be expected of his eight-year abysmal rule, reared its head early in the administration when it took him six months to constitute a cabinet. But he warned on his inauguration day that he was for nobody.

When eventually the cabinet was constituted, quite a few were recirculated and spent politicians. He confessed he did not know many of them. Thereafter he embarked on ethnic clothed appointments, eschewing federal character spirit as enshrined in the constitution.

He ignored the public outcry for ethnic balancing. He became aloof, oblivious of what was happening around him. The political hyenas who knew his weakness took over governance. His illness over a considerable period also did not help matters, typifying a man who was not ready nor equipped for the task of governance.

His appointment into key ministerial posts like Agriculture, Trade and Investment, Finance, (after the exit of Kemi Adeosun), Aviation and Health to mention a few were skewed. Till he left office, no meaningful trade and investment policy came out from the Ministry of Trade and Investment to drive foreign or domestic investment or create jobs. Ministry of Agriculture became practically a sub-department in the Central Bank of Nigeria.

The former Minister of Education even threw decency to the winds telling Nigerians that he knew nothing about the ministry when the President appointed him. We were therefore not surprised by his woeful performance.

So also, were extra-ministerial agencies with mandates to formulate and execute fiscal policies, who went to sleep, bereft of what to do. It is often said that “when a fish is rotten from the head, what do you expect from the body”. The performance was lackluster with non-existence supervision.

Every appointee had to watch the body language of Mr. President before acting. Banditry reigned supreme all over the country and ravaged the food basket of the country. The regime was unable to arrest banditry and criminality. The country was on autopilot.

But there was an agency of government at the time who saw the morass and took practical steps to give the economy a lifeline – the CBN. The Bank during the 8 years of President Buhari administration was the only agency that worked.

The Bank reeled out a lot of programmes which include the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP), suspended 43 items from access to official forex window to promote local production, and save needed foreign exchange. CBN made it possible for the country to become a net exporter of rice. Nigeria has attained near-sufficiency in wheat, fish and poultry, dairy products etc.

Critical sectors of the economy also received support: Power and Aviation, education, health, among others. During the COVID-19 ravaging era when all nations economy was on lockdown, the Central Bank of Nigeria became the rescuer, deploying potent monetary policies to reflate the economy, and immunize it from collapse.

It was its effort of rallying the private sector stakeholders, CACOVID, that pooled resources together to sustain the economy. At the time, the fiscal authority headed by President Buhari was clueless on policy option to adopt and save the economy.

Ministries of Trade and Investment, Agriculture, Health, Education were caught napping, groping, and unsure of what to do. The CBN provided leadership and resources, deploying targeted financial intervention to households and businesses.

To encourage repatriation of forex, the CBN introduced Naira-4-Dollar scheme, 100 for PPP, and RT 200. All these were spearheaded by the suspended Governor of the Bank, Godwin Emefiele.

Recently, Nigeria’s new President, Bola Tinubu, accused the CBN under Godwin Emefiele of engaging in rent-seeking and arbitrage through its policy of multiple exchange rate windows.

He implied that the Naira Redesign and Swap policies were politically motivated. President Tinubu during election campaigns cried out that the policy was targeted at him. I am not sure Emefiele has been forgiven by the political elite for daring to contest the presidency of the country under the platform of the APC.

The effort was frustrated. His Naira Redesign program was interpreted to be a vendetta against those who worked against his ambition. They forgot that Godwin Emefiele could not have unilaterally embarked on such venture without the express approval of the former President. But when it mattered most President Buhari and his cronies let him down.

The Nigerian Secret Police, DSS, went hunting for Emefiele, alleged of funding terrorism, but till the game lasted, the President did not intervene. It was rumored that the immediate past Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor came to his rescue by providing him cover. The respite was short-lived. Shortly after the inauguration of the new President, Emefiele was suspended from office, and arrested for sins yet to be made public.

Emefiele may have naively fell into the booby-trap of those who wanted him ‘killed’. Heeding the urge, as a sitting Governor of the nation’s apex bank, to join politics and vie for the post of the president was a misadventure.

It has never been heard of an incumbent apex bank governor, globally, joining politics to contest election. The move was what his ‘ambition killers’ wanted, the journey to descent and ignominy.

His ill-fated political ambition beclouded the noble intention behind the Naira Redesign as stated in the reason for redesigning the banknotes last carried out over two decades ago, expanding the scope of payment channels and financial inclusion.

Politicians like Samson’s Delilah in the Bible ganged up to frustrate Emefiele’s cash swap in cohort with bank chief executives to hoard the new banknotes thereby eliciting public umbrage. This marked a crack on his wall of laurelled career, that enabled the proverbial lizard a free passage. Emefiele has had no one to help him in his present travail. His patriotic balloon spirit has been busted, with only himself to fight for himself.

Lesson to be learnt in Godwin Emefiele saga is that: if he had not probably made a foray into the murky waters of politics, may be the Naira redesign exercise would not have been coated anti-politicians’ interest. Maybe they would not have hoarded the new banknotes to elicit public opprobrium against him.

Even former President Buhari who gave approval for the redesign has warned that no one should call him out to answer any question except the person wants trouble. No one to fight for him. Where then lies the so-called independence of the Central Bank?

Godwin Emefiele may have made mistakes as a human being, but no one can fault his patriotism and passion for a better and stronger Naira, and Nigerian economy. Throwing away the baby with the bathwater will always be anathema to progress and economic development. National interest, always, should override personal interest.

Is Godwin Emefiele getting punished for his audacious policies while at the CBN, or for intransigence into murky water of politics like the Jonah in the Bible?
Time will tell.

Chisom Adindu writes from Lagos.

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