By Festus Adedayo
If you read God’s Bankers: A History of Money and Power at the Vatican, you would have a whiff of understanding of the battle that assails and the nature of the assailants of Godwin Emefiele, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor. God’s Bankers, written by Gerald Posner, is an expose on the Papacy and the Holy See, known to be the world’s biggest and the most impregnable religious institution ever. Posner, reputed to be a “master chronicler of legal and financial misconduct,” conducted a deep-seated investigation which lasted nine years, into how financial octopuses of the Vatican, known as God’s Bankers, waddled through the ocean of wealth, intrigues, corruption and plotted the graph of political intrigues that these bankers face in the Catholic Church.
With a fine toothcomb which he pierces into the darkest secrets of the Vatican, Posner was able to meticulously locate and prise open cracks in the Holy See, revealing legendary and long-lost secrecies that have acted as the underbelly of the Vatican. Like David Yallop’s In God’s Name, Posner was able to expose how the church accumulated wealth and the byzantine, cobweb-like weaves of its financial malfeasances scattered all over the world. From the narratives of cardinals, prelates, bishops and Popes who were in charge of the Vatican in the previous 200 years, Posner uncovered the lead of eyebrow-lifting narratives of how power and money were shuffled, as they do in card games, inside one of the world’s most dreaded but influential religious empires. In God’s Bankers, you are confronted with a cache of revelations of how business moguls were poisoned; how prosecutors disappeared and some found with holes in their heads; how obvious murders were swapped as suicides and the tension of power in the inner court of power at the Vatican. These all got a trace from the author who plotted the graph of how the Vatican mutated from its initial conception as a bastion of faith to a convoluted empire of immense wealth, power and systemic corruption.
In a Nigeria where the grotesque, the absurd are everyday commonplaces, Nigerians should rank as possessing one of the most vibrant shock-absorbing mechanisms in the world. Yet, last week, Nigerians were shocked beyond comprehension. News suddenly hit the airwave that Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Godwin Emefiele, was embroiled in terrorism financing allegation. The first thought that coursed through Nigerians’ minds was that the allegation was a broth straight from the pot of yellow journalism concoction. On a more careful perusal, the news shed its veil of social media gossip. In actual fact, so it unfolded, the Department of State Services (DSS) had secretly filed a suit to have Emefiele arrested over terrorism charges. The ex-parte suit, filed at the Federal High Court Abuja, before Justice John Tsoho, was however dismissed by the court, in what it called a subterranean ploy and an illegal operation; indeed, a “plot to deceive the court into granting a frivolous order to help them arrest and deprive an innocent man of his personal liberty.”
In the suit No FHC/ABJ/CS/2255/2022 and its affidavit depositions, DSS had averred that its preliminary investigation revealed various acts of terrorism financing, fraudulent activities perpetrated by Emefiele and his involvement in economic crimes of national security dimension. Prefacing its prayers on Section 66 of the Terrorism Prevention and Prohibition Act 2022, the plaintiff asked the court to grant an order for the arrest and detention of the CBN governor for 60 days. By the wording of that Act, if that ex-parte application was granted and Emefiele clamped into 60 days detention, the order could be renewed for another 60 days or until investigation into the alleged misdemeanor is concluded. Such a person would be held incommunicado during the pendency of investigation. The judge however ruled that DSS provided no concrete evidence to back up its very grievous allegations.
Peeled of its legalese, Nigerians are scared stiff of the implications of these allegations. Yes, Emefiele has behaved like a rogue CBN governor, the most roguish in the history of that office ever, while he got enmeshed, early this year, in a scandalous but subterranean angling for the Nigerian presidency. In the process of that obtuse ambition, billions of what would appear to be Nigerian money were incinerated in this amorphous bid which, according to feelers from political sidewalks, also got him allegedly milked by some men of media-cum-political wheeling-dealing. This notwithstanding, news of Emefiele’s alleged involvement in terrorism financing is not a barroom gossip that should be flung off with a beer fly whisk.
Having sufficiently mastered the geography of propaganda and image burnishing techniques that are the turf of Nigerian politics, Emefiele apparently immediately began to play the politics of re-contextualizing the grievous allegations with which he was tar-brushed. One after the other, lackeys and political beneficiaries appeared in the media trying to voice their dissent to the Emefiele terrorism allegation. All of these dissenting voices to the DSS allegation, if the Nigerian propaganda mechanism is to be factored in, must have been actioned by Emefiele himself or induced by politicians who stand to make political currency from where they stand.
First to march out in protest was a group which called itself Coalition of Civil Society Organisations, (CSOs) a body said to comprise Lawyers in Defence of Economic Rights and Justice, Forum of Chairmen of Political Parties, Ethnic Youth Leaders of Nigeria, Buhari Legacy Defenders, African Centre for Justice and Human Rights, Arewa Consultative Youths Movement, and Ohanaeze Youths Movement.
The group marched to the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and submitted a petition against the DSS boss, Yusuf Bichi. It also submitted similar letter to the office of the President, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, and Inspector General of Police and addressed a press conference where its convener, Tochukwu Ohazuruike, outlined their grouses. They queried why the DSS, headed by an appointee of the president, “brazenly undermined” his authority and “carried out actions that could so destabilize the government and the economy of the country.” It asked how Emefiele could be accused of being a terrorist and yet be allowed to travel with the president, thus having unrestricted access to the President. The last straw was their claim that the goal of what they called witch-hunt of Emefiele was both political and financial.
“It must be stated clearly that the entire purpose of this dastardly plot was for political and financial benefit. The people in the plot are really very strong people and indeed the high and mighty in the government and in our country,” it said.
Individuals and groups have also latched on to the alleged politics in the terrorism allegation. One of such was the Conference Of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP) which tasked the federal government to investigate the allegation it labeled a plot to frame Emefiele. CNPP raised further allegation that the DSS was derailing from its statutory role and becoming a tool in the hands of desperate politicians.
“Those who want to receive and spend money without any traces are those who have been kicking against the cashless policy of the CBN. If you have legitimate money, why are you afraid to wire the money through bank transfers? Why are you afraid of cash withdrawal limits? There is no limit to the amount you can transfer through the bank but because they are having our stolen money, they don’t want to make traceable transactions and that is the sin of Godwin Emefiele. That’s why they want him out of the way before the election so that someone who can do their biddings is appointed to reverse the cashless policy implementation,” CNPP said.
A group which called itself Center for Financial Surveillance and Illicit Transaction Tracking Group (CSITT) also jumped into the fray. In a release issued by its director, John Dimu, CSITT raised a poignant alarm of looming consequences that could follow what it called “unprovoked attack” on the CBN governor. The attack, it said, was borne out of disavowal with the new cash withdrawal policy of the apex bank. Egmont Group, a 164-countries forum with the core responsibility of providing financial units with a platform to securely exchange expertise and financial intelligence, so as to combat money laundering and terrorist financing, said CSITT, could sanction Nigeria for the “witch-hunt” of Emefiele.
A chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, in a statement, also condemned the DSS charge, advising Nigerian security agencies to refrain from being manipulated by politicians as the 2023 polls draw near. “With all the due respect that I have for the DSS, as a very professional security agency, I still found it very difficult to understand what led to the charges, why concrete evidence that will enable the court to take a good decision was not provided and why the Department gave room for suspicion and speculations as the case file has gaping holes as noted by the Judge John Tsoho,” he said.
Speaking in the same vein last Wednesday, Lord Hannan, the Baron of Kingsclere, a member of the Board of Trade and Conservative peer, queried the DSS charge of terrorism on Emefiele at the House of Lords. He said: “The rule of law, due process and the independence of public officials: these values matter. They bind us together as Commonwealth nations… That is why I have raised the issue of the attempt to detain the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, in Parliament. And that is why I hope that democrats on all sides will join Nigeria in supporting the independence of its institutions in the run-up to the 2023 election – including, of course, the central bank.”
What should agitate Nigerians more is that, thus far, neither the Nigerian government, President Buhari nor the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) has spoken about the bothersome matter. Yet, the Emefiele terrorism charge is held as a strong symbol of the kind of government Buhari has run in the last seven and half years or so.
Notorious for his aloofness, embarrassing taciturnity, snailish drawl in taking decisions on dire, critical matters of state, these unstatesmanlike qualities have dragged Nigeria backwards under Buhari. The loopholes of this laidback leadership style have been bored even deeper by individuals with an eye on taking advantage of presidential decision hiatus. The actions of these proxies have led Nigeria and the system into grave consequences. Some have even said that Buhari’s 2015 prefacing of his government as “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody.” was a clear summary of the drudgery in office which he eventually manifested
For instance, when Buhari, ensconced in his snailish shell, pre-All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential primary, dilly-dallied on his preferred choice of a successor, a group of people in the presidency, allegedly chaperoned by the famous cabal head, Mamman Daura, using the media, gave an Emefiele presidency a larger-than-life image. In the process, these mopping-stick triumvirates succeeded in squeezing liquid cash, said to be in billions of Naira, from Nigeria’s Number One Banker’s Banker and inflicting serious danger of Hiroshima proportion on the a-political office of the CBN governor.
At the end of the presidential primary, not only did Emefiele hurt some top guns in the presidential race, his integrity as Nigeria’s financial umpire suffered serious setback. It was said that he would never remain the same. After that fox-like angling for Aso Rock, which Emefiele shrouded with infantile and deceptive denials, the image of the Buhari government got dented in no small measure. A clear-sighted, unambivalent and purposeful government would have shown Emefiele the gate of the CBN afterwards, but not Buhari. The tragedy of it all is however that, if today, he is asked about the whole Emefiele-for-president furore, we may be shocked that Buhari’s response would be that he never knew that Emefiele ever took that shameful step. Buhari doesn’t know anything and the proxies who act for him enjoy that veil on the president’s face. It is the veil under which the cabal re-angles presidential policies to suit their interests, cavalierly call the shots and take atrocious steps that have taken Nigeria to where it is today.
After superintending over the most unprecedented somersault of national currency in Nigeria’s history within the period of the Buhari presidency, the currency re-designation policy of Emefiele has been held to be one of his most redemptive moves ever. Its advantages for the polity are myriads. First is that it will stem the Nigerian currency’s journey to Zimbabwe which it embarked upon under Buhari. Second, it will take the wind off the sail of Nigerian politicians’ vote-buying strategy as they have reportedly warehoused billions of Naira in personal vaults for the 2023 election. Third, it will bring sanity to the worthless binge that the Nigerian Naira is enveloped in.
Methinks the gravest allegation that those who are ranged against Emefiele hold aloft against him is that he is being used by those selfsame proxies of Buhari to emasculate them financially, while conferring financial advantage on their opponent. Thus, having allegedly had the EFCC, DSS and strategic agencies under their armpit, it was time for Emefiele’s adversaries, the political vultures of Nigeria, to unleash these agencies on Emefiele, When you add this to the vultures’ disgust at Emefiele’s audacity in contesting the primary election against them, configuring trumped up charges of terrorism against him may just be their last card in this 2023 race to achieve their life ambition.
The audacity of the DSS in leveling terrorism charges against a top officer of state, the CBN governor, without noticeable recourse to the president, is a manifestation of awareness in top circles that Buhari is a boringly weak leader. Emefiele was also said to have stayed back abroad, rather than come to Nigeria with the president, with whom he had earlier travelled. This has provoked analysts’ claim that this is a confirmation that Emefiele knows that the bloodsucking paws of the vultures gathered against him can reach him faster than the protective shield of the Buhari presidency. To understand the weakness of the president and his inability to bring sanity into this messy scenario, one can just imagine what would have happened to the conjurers of this grisly terrorism charge if they had dared do same under Olusegun Obasanjo.
One is tempted to pity Emefiele who, like Posner revealed in God’s Bankers, is strapped in a vault of dangerous, vaulting ambitions that clash like cymbals. To continue to occupy his position as Nigeria’s No 1 Banker’s Banker, Emefiele dined with the devils of power who dragged him into the raw sewage of political power. The devil is asking for propitiation now. Its demand is a bowl of human flesh. Will Emefiele offer himself as sacrifice?
* Festus Adedayo, lawyer, journalist and public affair analyst, writes from Ibadan