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CBN must be truly independent

The controversial and chaotic method by which the tenure of Godwin Emefiele as governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) was brought to an…

The controversial and chaotic method by which the tenure of Godwin Emefiele as governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) was brought to an end revives the age-long debate about the independence of the CBN from political influence and pressures in the conduct of its functions. Appointed in 2014 by former President Goodluck Jonathan for an initial five-year term that ended in 2019, former President Muhammadu Buhari re-appointed Emefiele for another five-year term that should have ended in 2024. However, in circumstances shrouded in secrecy, the now-former CBN governor was removed by the Bola Ahmed Tinubu government and replaced by Yemi Cardoso last week.

The CBN Act, as amended in 2007, clearly stipulates how the CBN governor should be removed from office. It says in Section 11(2,3): “The governor, deputy governor, or director shall cease to hold office in the Bank if he becomes of unsound mind or, owing to ill-health, is incapable of carrying out his duties and is convicted of any criminal offense by a court of competent jurisdiction except for traffic offences or contempt proceedings arising in connection with the execution or intended execution of any power or duty conferred under this Act or the Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act.”

The Act stipulates further that the governor can also be removed if he “Is guilty of serious misconduct in relation to his duties under this Act; disqualified or suspended from practising his profession in Nigeria by order of a competent authority made in respect of him personally; becomes bankrupt… The CBN governor can be removed by the president, provided that the removal of the governor shall be supported by a two-thirds majority of the Senate praying that he be so removed.”

Since June 2023, Emefiele’s status as CBN governor has been unclear, first due to his suspension from office by the president, and he was later arraigned in court on July 25, 2023, over alleged illegal possession of firearms. In line with the provisions of the Act, President Tinubu ought to have sought the support of the Senate before sending him packing. But Nigerians did not learn of Emefiele’s resignation until legal experts queried the appointment of a new CBN governor and deputy governors.

Emefiele’s supposed resignation in June, to tally with the three-month notice required by law, was leaked to an international news organisation.  That was done auspiciously to meet the requirement of Section 11(3) of the Act, which provides that “The governor or any deputy governor may resign his office by giving at least three months’ notice in writing to the president of his intention to do so, and any director may similarly resign by giving at least one month’s notice in writing to the president of his intention to do so.”

About two weeks ago, the acting governor and all the deputy governors were also removed without any reason provided. In removing persons holding such sensitive positions, reasons must be given and it must follow laid down procedures. The secrecy surrounding Emefiele’s resignation was unwarranted, but it is a demonstration of how political influence can dangerously erode the confidence and independence of any Nigerian appointed to the position of CBN governor.

The role of the CBN is very critical to the stability of the country’s monetary system and, by extension, the economy and the survival of the people. If, therefore, the head of the apex bank spends his days struggling to save his head from being severed off by the country’s political leadership, then the country is doomed. The CBN governor must be able to focus on how to come up with measures to ensure monetary and price stability, the management of the country’s external reserves to boost the value of the Naira; control of the country’s finances, and the performance of his oversight functions on commercial banks.

This is not to say the CBN governor, deputy governors, and board are above scrutiny; even the law makes provision for them to be sacked if found wanting. But that must be done in line with the rules. It is difficult to clearly understand why the Department of State Services (DSS), which had made attempts to arrest Emefiele even under the former president has not come out with the report of its investigations into all the alleged malfeasance committed by the former CBN governor. Though he has been held in custody since June 2023, it is still not clear the offences for which Emefiele is being charged to court. There are insinuations that his tenure at the CBN was marred by mismanagement of the country’s resources and perhaps corruption. However, the evidence to support the accusations may not be available until the recently appointed special investigator, Jim Obazie, completes his assignment.

This newspaper does not support corrupt practices in any form; we are not against giving the boot to any appointee of government who has breached the confidence reposed in him. However, such actions must be carried out in accordance with the law. We must strive to have an independent and autonomous Central Bank of Nigeria.

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