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CBN-DSS tussle must cease

If Nigeria’s public institutions work to their design and purpose daily, and in accordance with the statutes that set them up, which often are as…

If Nigeria’s public institutions work to their design and purpose daily, and in accordance with the statutes that set them up, which often are as clear as daylight, then the whole country would be the better for it, and then some.

If the head of central bank would not stray too far into politics, to the extent of becoming a card-carrying member of a political party and putting himself forward for political office while still on seat, then he would make few political enemies and the economy would be in safer hands. If the head of the nation’s secret police would do more of spying than engage openly in political dog-fights with other public officials and politicians, then for sure, the country would see less crime by the day. And if the president of the nation would brook no turf wars and inter-agency rivalries among his appointees, then the government would function less acrimoniously and deliver on its mandates and promises to Nigerians.

Sadly, all of this is the shadowy political drama reaching anti-climax in Nigeria today. Over the past month or so, the impression has been created in the local and international news that the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr Godwin Emefiele is on the run because the Department of State Security (DSS), led by its Director-General, Yusuf Magaji Bichi, are on his chase. The mere impression of this is not good for the Nigerian economy, nor for President Buhari’s government, even if none of it is true, as both the CBN and the DSS have claimed.

Last Monday, CBN’s Director of Corporate Communications, Osita Nwanisobi had told newsmen that “Mr. Emefiele, who proceeded on leave in December 2022, resumed work today, Monday, January 16, 2023. The Governor resumed with renewed vigour to perform his duty ahead of the first Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meeting of the year scheduled for January 23 to 24, 2023”. Nwanisobi’s statement was intended to assure the country that Mr Emefiele’s absence from office since December 13-15 2022, when he attended the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit in Washington DC together with President Muhammadu Buhari, was no more than a routine matter of going on leave.

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But Nigerians know that just before that Summit, the media reports had indicated that the DSS had approached the Federal High Court, Abuja, for a warrant for the arrest of the CBN Governor over what the court filings and newspapers described as allegations of “terrorism financing” and “economic crimes of national security dimension” against Mr Emefiele. But ruling on the case at the time, the chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice John Tsoho had dismissed the application by DSS for Emefiele’s arrest warrant on grounds that the DSS had not supported its grave allegations with concrete evidence. Before all this, news had filtered across social and some mainstream media in the country that operatives of the DSS had stormed the office of the CBN Governor in an apparent attempt, allegedly, to arrest him. Of course, both the CBN and the DSS had denied any such thing happened.   

And even while CBN’s official communication last Monday had sought to present Mr Emefiele’s resumption of work as normal routine from holiday, several newspapers had reported it was anything but. Reports in some newspapers had said the CBN Governor had returned into the country “secretly” earlier than last week; others reported that he was allegedly escorted to office that same Monday by men of the Nigerian army, while still other newspapers reported that top military officers and traditional rulers were lobbying the presidency and the DSS to prevent his arrest.

No one knows where the truth lies in all of this, or whether, for that matter the alleged charges by the DSS against Mr Emefiele were even true in the first place. For us at Daily Trust, however, three things are clear by this point. The first is that something is amiss somewhere between the CBN Governor and the DSS and Nigerians have and deserve the right to know. This much is amply demonstrated by the application for warrant of his arrest filed in court by the DSS, even if as Justice Tsoho makes clear, the application does not say whether the “Godwin Emefiele” sought by the DSS is also same one as Nigeria’s current Governor of the Central Bank.

Daily Trust also believes that President Muhammadu Buhari’s numbing silence through all this is dangerous, not only for his government but also for the country at large. If it is true that the DSS are bent on arresting the CBN governor for whatever charges, and that he is now under military protection, then that creates a potential for gun battle between men of the DSS and the army, and on the premises of the CBN no less. Given previous cases of armed conflict between various security agencies, few situations could spell more danger than this.

Finally, we believe the position of the law on all this is also clear. As a secret police outfit, the DSS lacks prosecutorial powers. The Nigeria Police Force and the Office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice both have these powers. If the DSS has enough evidence of terrorism financing and economic crimes against the CBN Governor, or for that matter, any other Nigerian, then it behoves it to hand same to those agencies that have the powers to prosecute. Arresting the CBN Governor is not by itself evidence of crime, even if it is a means for collecting evidence.

We, therefore, urge President Buhari to break his silence by calling all sides to order and act only in accordance with the law. In the meantime, this shadowy tussle must cease. It has cause Nigeria more than enough embarrassment already.

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