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Tinubu’s Emefiele decision

If your name is Bola Ahmed Tinubu and you are the President-Elect of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and you are preparing to form government…

If your name is Bola Ahmed Tinubu and you are the President-Elect of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and you are preparing to form government and implement your programmes in just over 60 days—you plan to hit the ground running after an election in which all the things that have happened in the past year of the campaign happened—what would you do with the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr Godwin Emefiele?

What if your name was something else, not Bola Ahmed Tinubu, but all the other things that have happened in this most difficult year of campaign still happened under the same circumstances with the same sets of players, what would you do with the CBN Governor, Mr Godwin Emefiele?

The two questions are complementary, of course, but either is nonetheless important in its own right because whoever takes the oath of office for president in Nigeria on May 29 this year, would still need to make what I can only call the Emefiele decision. If the Supreme Court affirms his victory—which to my lay mind cannot go any other way—then Tinubu would have to make a decision on Emefiele, and quickly too. Even if the court finds in favour of the other major candidates—which again, to my lay mind, is highly unlikely—then they too must make the Emefiele decision, and quickly too.

For the good of the country, the economy and the bank itself, Emefiele’s continued stay as Central Bank Governor is simply no longer tenable.

First, Mr Emefiele has personally become too deeply enmeshed in national politics on too many fronts as to blur his vision in discharging the functions of his office as required by law, by the convention of central banking, and even by common decency.

The CBN, like most central banks, operates on the principle of its independence and separation from partisan politics, to enable it to deal effectively with everyday monetary policy issues, but also the cyclic but persistent vagaries of international and national economies. For the CBN to be independent and non-partisan simply means for its top leadership to exert that independence from politicians subtly or formally where necessary.

Equally important, the idea of independence and non-partisanship also requires the CBN leadership to meet its obligation of not only staying away from politics but to be seen to be away from politics.

Nigeria’s CBN Act 2007, the extant law guiding the operations of the bank, contains provisions that guarantee its independence from the government and also obligations that require the CBN leadership to stay far away from politics. One such provision explicitly states that “the Governor and the Deputy Governors shall devote the whole of their time to the service of the bank and while holding office shall not engage in any full or part-time employment or vocation, whether remunerated or not, except such personal or charitable causes as may be determined by the board and which do not conflict with or detract from their full-time duties”.

During the presidential primary election season alone, Emefiele violated these provisions several times over. He did that first, by reportedly holding a membership card of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), by keeping quiet when shoddy support groups sprang up and were placing numerous advertisements asking him to run for president while still in post, and then by having his name represented among aspirants who at least paid the princely sum of N100 million to pick up the APC presidential nomination and expression of interest forms.

Each of these infractions was a sufficient violation of the principle of non-partisanship required of a CBN governor. And the primary issue is not that Mr Emefiele is directly responsible for any of these things, but that he did not dissociate himself from them in a manner that would make his non-partisanship clear to all, which by itself is a form of politics.

Second, there is no question that Mr Emefiele’s total embrace of President Buhari’s naira redesign policy in the current context is also openly political. On this, he must first accept that the naira redesign policy had influenced the election one way or another, regardless of which way the election had gone. This is in the same sense in which, it is widely held that in the US 2016 presidential election, the FBI’s decision to launch an investigation into allegations of the use of a private email server against Hillary Clinton just a few days before the election influenced the election and its outcome.

Then, we must accept that influencing an election or seeking to influence it by any and whatever means must amount to a serious breach of the law, or at least, in the case of a CBN governor, a breach of the principles of independence and non-partisanship.

My point here is that by not making the new notes sufficiently available, well after the old ones had been mopped up, the CBN governor was seeking to influence the outcome of the election one way or another, and therefore, was engaging in an open political activity that not only violates the requirements of his office but amounts directly to the abuse of power. It doesn’t matter if the CBN governor did all this deliberately or not, and it is regardless of whether he was taking directives or not.

Yes, it is true that Emefiele was only taking “directives” from President Buhari. But the whole point of insulating a CBN governor from direct partisan politics is to avoid a situation where he will take “directives” from a president on far-reaching monetary policy issues like the naira redesign, certainly to avoid the political ramifications of the policy in an election year. Moreover, a policy that would be declared unconstitutional by a unanimous decision of the Supreme Court can be smelled from a mile away by most competent lawyers.

So did the CBN under Emefiele seek legal advice before accepting and implementing, so crudely, a “directive” of the president on a policy that would ultimately be declared unconstitutional? Seeking competent legal advice—and finding out early that the policy as proposed by the president breached the constitution—would have shielded Emefiele from being caught up in the thick of the political quagmire that the policy ignited, and thus the CBN as an institution would be more protected from all the politics of the past few months, as required by law. That certain voices were hailing the CBN governor does not excuse his inaction or make them right.

Finally, Emefiele’s dallying and delay in upholding a Supreme Court ruling—which in practical terms, actually still persists—is also openly political. For 10 days Emefiele’s CBN dallied and ignored the Supreme Court, until President Buhari released a statement disclaiming responsibility for the delay. Worse than that, during those 10 days, the CBN even issued a public statement that it had NOT directed banks to receive or issue the old notes, a very serious own goal against Emefiele in its own right. If a CBN governor has not given a directive to commercial banks to obey the highest court in the land, is that not a directive that the banks should disobey it?

In other words, whichever way a President Bola Tinubu turns, he will find Emefiele’s entanglement with politics, not to talk of possible breaches of the law. So we must return to where we took off. If you are President Tinubu, what would you do with Godwin Emefiele?

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