A raging storm
It was like a thriller. Some of their weapons were concealed. Others displayed. Eagle-eyed operatives in decoy jackets and dark spectacles maintained prime angles. Vans loaded with communication gadgets and heavy ammunition, manned by plain-clothed detectives paraded the streets consanguineous to the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN. That was on Monday, 16 January.
In one of the offices was holed the target, Dr Godwin Emefiele, overseer of the nation’s economy. Words quickly went around that the agents’ mission was to ensure their target did not escape the dragnet. Minutes turned to hours. And the suspect, embracing the sanctity offered by his office, refused to step out. In the meantime, strings were being pulled behind the scene. In the end, the secret police pulled the wool and dissociated from the operations.
In a terse statement, Dr Peter Afunaya, Spokesperson of the DSS denied the manhunt. The statement reads in part, “The attention of the Department of State Services has been drawn to the false news making the round that its operatives invaded the Central Bank of Nigeria and arrested its Governor, today 16/1/23. This is fake news and quite misleading.”
For Godwin Emefiele, these are not the best of times. Indeed, the magnified torrent of his drawbacks, shows that when it rains, it also pours. The nation’s number one banker is encumbered by a sandwich of dour political outings, perceived hostile policies, the allegation of terrorism financing and family feuds. He is in every home across the country, as the February 10 (originally 30 January) deadline he sets against old naira notes knocks.
Nigerians had barely settled down from the hassles and distractions of the presidential primary of the various political parties and the CBN began a major crusade for monitory reforms. Emefiele who made a proxy, even if an unsuccessful attempt at the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC ticket in June, dropped the bombshell.
The apex bank shocked Nigerians on October, 26 when it announced a plan to redesign some currencies. The affected Naira notes were 1,000, 500 and 200. According to Emefiele, President Muhammodu Buhari approved new notes to replace the existing ones.
The bank said it will begin the distribution of the new notes by December 15, 2022, and that they will be available for withdrawal from commercial banks from that date. The old notes will be used for transactions until January 31, after which only new notes will be legally recognised and used for transactions. Later it was shifted to 10 February.
Consequently, the CBN had less than four months to redesign, produce and distribute the new currencies, and four months to recall the current notes.
Emefiele explained that currencies ought to be redesigned every 5-8 years, while Nigeria has not changed her’s for about two decades. Other reasons in support of the policy are the need to control excess liquidity, counterfeiting, and move towards a cashless society. It was also described as a masterstroke against vote buying and kidnappers who collect money as ransom. Further, promoters of the policy noted that about 85 per cent of Nigeria’s currency was outside the banking system and that the CBN would not allow the situation to continue.
Emefiele said, “As you all may be aware, currency management is a key function of the Central Bank of Nigeria, as enshrined in Section 2 (b) of the CBN Act 2007. Indeed, the integrity of a local legal tender, the efficiency of its supply and its efficacy in the conduct of monetary policy are some of the hallmarks of a great Central Bank.
“In recent times, however, currency management has faced several daunting challenges that have continued to grow in scale and sophistication with attendant and unintended consequences for the integrity of both the CBN and the country.”The announcement was received with mixed feelings. National Assembly members were sceptical Minister of Finance, Budget and Planning, Hajia Zainab Ahmed also said she did not know anything about the policy. She declared her ignorance on 28 October when she appeared in the Senate for budget defence.
“We were not consulted at the Ministry of Finance by the CBN on the planned naira redesigning and cannot comment on it as regards merits or otherwise,” she said
“As a Nigerian privileged to be at the top of Nigeria’s fiscal management, the policy, as rolled out at this time, portends serious consequences on the value of Naira to other foreign currencies,” she said.
Mrs Ahmed appealed to the Legislators to invite the CBN governor for required explanations as regards the merits of the planned policy and the rightness or otherwise of its implementation now.
Despite the opacity and other criticisms, Emefiele accelerated steps on the policy, presenting the new notes to Buhari and his cabinet days before schedule. The bank also set daily cash limits for individuals and corporate bodies. The limits affected both deposits and withdrawals. The policy has kicked to a sluggish start with complaints of scarcity of the “repainted” notes, inflation and higher exchange rates.
Politicians also claimed the policy was targeted at them. House of Representatives Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, threatened Emefiele with a warrant of arrest over his failure to honour the invitation from the Green Chamber on the issue.
The CBN helmsman also received arrows from many quarters. Moses Oladele Idowu, an angry commentator aggregated the frustrations.
“Where are the new notes? Who is keeping them? Who is warehousing them?
“I have witnessed at least 4 currency changes/transitions in this nation since the 1970s and none was as chaotic, opaque, shrouded in so much gimmick, secrecy, manipulation and chicanery as this. Even when Awo changed the currency during the Civil War it was more seamless and effortless (even though we were a war) than this one being done by secret societies.
“If you have made a ptact with the global manipulators at Davos for a cashless society preparatory to New World Order there is a neater and a better way to go about it. It is not by stampeding, dispossessing people collecting their cash and refusing to give them the new notes in return. It is not by force to convert to cashless. We still have a long way to go to reach there.
New notes, fresh troubles
The new policy signalled ruins for the Naira. It was a novel experience for a country not at war. Once the implementation gained currency, the woes of the common man multiplied. He was thrown back to the early days of the Buhari administration when living has become a challenge.
Indeed, since the new fiscal regime, life has turned nightmarish for the poor and the rich, alike. Prices of petroleum and other products went on the rooftop More people went to bed on empty stomachs. Cash became very scarce. Those who stuck them in the bank had no access. Others who warehoused them at home and in nebulous private bunkers, could not get them into the banks, for exchange.Old notes turned into worthless papers as they lost their legal value, long before the deadline. Traders rejected them. Religious houses and charitable organizations treated them with circumspection. Otherwise privileged people were sliding fast beneath the poverty line. Nigerians groaned and desperately demanded an amendment to the policy.
Old notes turned into worthless papers as they lost their legal value, long before the deadline. Traders rejected them. Religious houses and charitable organizations treated them with circumspection. Otherwise privileged people were sliding fast beneath the poverty line. Nigerians groaned and desperately demanded an amendment to the policy.
On Sunday, January 29, the CBN announced a ten-day extension of the deadline. Emefiele said the extension was a result of complaints and popular demand for amendments.
“Based on the foregoing, we have sought and obtained Mr President’s approval for the following: a 10-day extension of the deadline from January 31, 2023, to February 10, 2023; to allow for the collection of more old notes legitimately held by Nigerians and achieve more success in cash swap in our rural communities after which all old notes outside the CBN loses their Legal Tender Status.
“Our CBN staff currently on mass mobilisation and monitoring together with officials of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission will work together to achieve these objectives
“A seven-day grace period, beginning from February 10 to February 17, 2023, in compliance with Sections 20(3) and 22 of the CBN Act, allowing Nigerians to deposit their old notes at the CBN after the February deadline when the old currency would have lost its Legal Tender status.”
Emefiele reiterated the adjustments on Tuesday when he honoured the invitation of the House of Representatives Committee on finance. The apex bank in a statement on Thursday, February 2, signed by its Director, Corporate Communications, Osita Nwanisobi, threatened to invoke relevant laws and deal ruthlessly with those abusing the Naira in various ways.
“While reiterating our commitment to Nigerians to ensure the effective distribution of the newly introduced Naira banknotes, we urge them to exercise patience as the CBN is working assiduously to address the challenge of queues at ATMs. In line with this resolve, the Governor, Mr Godwin Emefiele, has directed deposit money banks (DMBs) to commence the payment of the redesigned Naira notes over the counter, subject to a maximum daily payout limit of N20,000.
“We also admonish members of the public to embrace and adopt other payment channels for their transactions,” CBN said in the statement. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has observed, with grave concern, the activities of persons who sell the newly redesigned banknotes and those who flagrantly abuse the legal tender by hurling wads of Naira notes in the air and stamping on the currency at social functions.
“We have equally noticed the queues at Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) across the country and an upward trend in the cases of people stocking and aggregating the newly introduced banknotes they serially obtain from ATMs for reasons best known to them. Also worrisome are the reported cases of unregistered persons and non-bank officials swapping banknotes for members of the public, purportedly on behalf of the CBN.
“We wish to state unequivocally that, contrary to the practice of these unpatriotic persons, it is unlawful to sell the Naira, hurl (spray), or stamp on the currency under any circumstance whatsoever.
“For the avoidance of doubt, Section 21(3) of the Central Bank of Nigeria Act 2007 (As amended) stipulates that “spraying of, dancing or matching on the Naira or any note issued by the Bank during social occasions or otherwise howsoever shall constitute an abuse and defacing of the Naira or such note and shall be punishable under the law by fines or imprisonment or both.”
“Similarly, Section 21(4) states that “It shall also be an offence punishable under Sub-section (1) of this section for any person to hawk, sell or otherwise trade in the Naira notes, coins or any other note issued by the Bank.”
“Accordingly, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is collaborating with the Nigeria Police, Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) to address the unpatriotic practice.
“We, therefore, warn Nigerians, particularly those at social functions such as birthdays, weddings and funerals, to desist from disrespecting the Naira or risk being arrested by law enforcement agencies.”
The apex bank reminded Nigerians that “The Naira is our legal tender and symbol of national pride. Therefore, let us respect it and handle it with care.”
Rage of the people, Governors
The ten days extension did not yield the desired outcome. Long queues persisted in banking halls and ATMs across the country. Point of Sale, PoS, operators made a brisk business from the situation, outrightly selling the Naira to desperate and often frustrated customers. Charges per thousand Naira ranged from 100 to 300 Naira. In some parts of the country, currencies of other nations, like the Dollar and Yen were used as legal tenders.
Sporadic riots also broke out in many state capitals and urban Centres, in protest of the hardship from the cash crunch. A video clip of a half-clad female adult and another of a completely naked man in separate banking halls demanding payment from hapless staff trended on social media.
What started in hush tunes had metamorphosed into audible voices. Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai took on the presidency alleging that a cabal in Aso Rock was behind the misfortunes. He accused Buhari of deliberately executing the new cash policy at the wrong time, to make the APC lose in the general elections.
On Friday, 3 February, Buhari asked Nigerians to give him seven more days to take a major decision on the problem. He sought the window when Governors elected on the APC platform stormed the Villa for a meeting with him. They reportedly intimated to the President how edgy the situation had become in town.
The President’s Spokesperson, Femi Adesina in a statement assured on policy. According to him, the President said the problem persisted because some banks are inefficient and only concerned about themselves.
”Even if a year is added, problems associated with selfishness and greed won’t go away,” he said.
He said he had seen television reports about cash shortages and hardship to local businesses and ordinary people and gave assurances that the balance of seven of the 10-day extension would be used to crack down on whatever stood in the way of successful implementation.
“I will revert to the CBN and the Minting Company. There will be a decision one way or the other in the remaining seven days of the 10-day extension,” the president assured.
Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies have intensified monitoring and begun a clampdown on banks and officials who hoard the currency. To that end, the Independent Corrupt Practices and related offences Commission, ICPC has taken not a few suspects into custody.
From banking to terrorism
As debates over the currency redesign gained steam, Emefiele entered fresh trouble. He had accompanied President Buhari on a foreign mission, specifically the United States/ Africa Summit in December when the DSS initiated moves for his arrest. After a period on their watchlist, investigators indicted the CBN Governor of terrorism financing.
Determined to prolong his freedom, Emefiele stayed back abroad on an extended medical vacation, when the President returned home.
The DSS accused him of allegedly aiding and abetting acts of terrorism.
Promptly the agency sought a legal instrument for his arrest, by dragging him before Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice John Tsoho. It accused Emefiele of terrorism financing and wanted him to answer for the alleged crime.
The embattled banker would not give up without a fight. Several ad-hoc groups sprang up in his defence. One Coalition of Civil Society Organizations, CCSO, on Live Television claimed Emefiele was a victim of persecution because of ongoing financial reforms. Members of the group comprise Lawyers in Defence of Economic Rights and Justice, Forum of Chairmen of Political Parties, Ethnic Youth Leaders of Nigeria, Buhari Legacy Defenders, the African Centre for Justice and Human Rights, Arewa Consultative Youths Movement, and Ohanaeze Youths Movement.
Tochukwu Ohazuruike, its Convener accused the DSS Director, Yusuf Bichi of witch-hunting Emefiele. The group marched to the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, and Inspector General of Police and submitted petitions against Bichi. 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.
Other groups feasted on the Emefiele drama like broken records urging the DSS to halt the investigations. Emefiele also went to court to get protection against arrest. In the end, Tsoho declined the DSS request to arrest the controversial banker.
The judge said the secret police did not provide any concrete evidence to substantiate its claims that Emefiele was involved in terrorism financing and economic crimes.
The Judge frowned at how the name of the respondent was given simply as ‘Godwin Emefiele’ without a material disclosure that he is the same person as the CBN Governor.
“In the light of the foregoing reasons, I decline to grant this application ex parte. If the applicant believes that the evidence available to it so far is sufficient, then it can as well arrest and detain the applicant, even without the order of the court. If however, the applicant desires to still pursue this application, then it should place the respondent on notice considering the sensitive public office that he occupies,” the judge said.
Emefiele thought the coast was clear for his return when he walked into the drama of the siege on his office. When the manhunt was denied, the CBN victoriously announced the return of its head from vacation.
In a statement by its Director of Corporate Communications, Mr Osita Nwanisobi, the apex bank said the governor had resumed to work that Monday, amid concerns over his absence since the previous month.
The statement read, “The Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr Godwin Emefiele, has resumed duty after his annual vacation abroad. 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. Mr Emefiele remains committed to performing the task before him in line with his oath of office and the policy direction of President Muhammadu Buhari.”
It is instructive that the MPC meeting is resolved to go on with the Naira redesign agenda. After the meeting, Emefiele thumped the policy up. The CBN also raised the Monetary Policy Rate (MPR), which measures interest rate, to 17.5 per cent.
According to him, kidnapping and ransom-taking have reduced since the three banknotes were redesigned. He also said the time given for the swap of the old naira notes with new ones were enough for Nigerians to go to commercial banks and get new notes.
A delve into murky political waters
Emefiele who was first appointed CBN Governor in 2014 and whose appointment was refreshed in 2019 for another five years, is the twelfth man to head the agency since its establishment in 1958. He is among the longest-serving Chief executives of the bank.
He, however, stretched his luck too far by eyeing the Presidency. The ambition began as a rumour energised by some interest groups. ‘Friends of Emefiele’ was a major promoter of the idea. It was also believed to enjoy the support of the cabal in the Villa. Tailored made articles appeared in the media to fly the kit of the ambition, while Emefiele maintained silence.
Kin observers of the Emefiele personnel however beheld an attention-seeking body language, that was too loud in politics. He became more familiar on national television inspecting rice farms and performing other auxiliary functions, while the economy wobbled under his watch.
Early last year, time unfolded the masquerade as the primary elections drew close. The Agbor-born maverick banker took steps to crystalize his ambition through the ruling party platform. His old allies, ‘Rice Farmers’ pulled resources to raise N100 million with which they purchased the APC Nomination forms for him.
In reaction, Emefiele played the Ostrich. See his tweet: “I am humbled by the growing interest of those asking that I run for the Office of President in the 2023 general elections: I have not come to that decision. I note and salute the sacrifices of those farmers and patriots going as far as raising personal funds and offering me Presidential Nomination Forms: I thank them most profusely.
“However, Should I answer their calls and decide to seek presidential nomination, I will use my hard-earned savings from over 35 years of banking leadership to buy my Nomination Forms without proxies openly and transparently in full compliance with the laws and Constitution of The Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“And should I not run for elected office, I will continue to serve and sacrifice for the good people of Nigeria under the able leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari.
“This is a serious decision that requires God’s Divine intervention: in the next few days The Almighty will so direct.”
Emefiele came under attack after the tweet. Many Nigerians including Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State, called for his sack if he refused to resign.
Promptly Emefiele ran to court on May 9, to stop the Attorney General and INEC from holding his hands, in the race. He said he was a public servant and not a political appointee. The court rejected his prayer. Following the legal brick wall, his ambition suffered sudden death. The N100 million was wasted as his forms were neither filled nor submitted.
To be sure, some of Emefiele’s predecessors, have played notable politics, but after their tenures in the bank. The current Governor of Anambra State once dashed the presidency after his CBN years, before he settled for the Governorship of his State.
Soludo followed in the steps of the third CBN Governor, Dr Clement Isong, who was also elected Governor of Cross River State, following his glorious stint at the banker’s bank. Thus, Emefiele’s traducers question his desire to mix the CBN job with politics.
Skyrocketing inflation, ways and means,
The Nigerian inflation index has been on a steady increase since Emefiele assumed control of the CBN. When he was appointed in 2014, the official naira/US dollar exchange rate was N155/$1. Today it is well over N400 at the Investor & Exporter forex (foreign exchange) window and more than N700 at the parallel market. Inflation was at 7.9%, a 6-year low at the time. Today, it hovers around 20 %.
A combination of bad policies, poor or haphazard implementation, politicking and impunity brought the economy down under Emefiele. An example.
On 23 June 2015, CBN banned 41 (later expanded to 44) items from importation, meaning forex couldn’t be accessed for these at the official rate. Not all the flagged items were consumables or luxuries. Some of them were required in production and construction.
Manufacturers, therefore, had to pay higher to access the items at the parallel market and pass the bill to the end user, thereby leading to higher costs for such products.
Emefiele also sidestepped its core mandate and brought less germane issues to the front burner of economic management. In a manner that smacked of hypocrisy, Emefiele was at the centre of anchor borrowers, Covid-19 loans, market money, money laundering and counter-terrorism Acts.
The flagship of Emefiele’s magic wand or voodoo economy as an analyst described it, is over-dependence on ways and. means to fund the budget. In layman’s parlance, this is simply a loan facility through which the CBN finances the government’s budget shortfalls. When the Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki raised the alarm some years back, he was called names. Nigerians now know better.
In the first ten months of 2022, the Federal Government allegedly borrowed N6.3 trillion from the CBN. Data, obtained from CBN’s website, showed that the Ways and Means’ debt climbed from N17.5 trillion in December 2021 to N23.8 trillion in October 2022 — an increase of N6.3 trillion in 10 months.
The borrowings are currently not included in the country’s total public debt stock for both federal and state governments, which currently stands at N42.84 trillion.
Section 38 of the CBN Act, 2007, provides that the total amount of Ways and Means Advances outstanding shall not at any time exceed 5 per cent of the previous year’s actual revenue of the federal government. This provision is violated at will under the embattled CBN Governor.
Paris Club, Stamp Duties and others
Emefiele is a man assailed on all fronts. Aside from the big complicities of his foray into politics, he faces questions of accountability in his management of public funds. The tar of corruption dogged his path from his days in Zenith Bank, where he was Group Managing Director.
Under his, watch the bank was fined a huge sum of money by Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the then-CBN Governor, for outright violations of CBN Rules and fiscal policy. Curiously, Emefiele became Sanusi’s substantive replacement when the latter was unceremoniously booted out of office. A more circumspect employer may have looked in another direction.
Further, Emefiele has been accused of other sundry below-the-belt cuts. For instance, his handling of Paris Club refunds is said to be tardy. A court ordered him to pay a total of $53 million. He was served a garnishee order of $70 million as part of the Paris Club refund case in 2020. He has only released $17 million.
Similarly, a House of Representatives member representing Kazaure, Roni, Gwiwa, Yankwashi of Jigawa State, and Muhammed Kazaure, raised the alarm in 2022 of alleged theft of stamp duty proceeds running into N89 trillion.
Emefiele found his tongue on the allegation just last week. He said the amount collected was stamp duty
in six years between 2016 and 2022 is N370,686 billion and not the figure claimed by the Legislator.
“The Federal Inland Revenue Service has disbursed N226.451 billion of the money to the Federation Account Allocation Committee, while the balance of N144,235 is in the CBN,” Emefiele explained, adding that the highest collection of the stamp is N71 billion, collected by First Bank.
He disclosed that the CBN had appointed four world-class audit firms to go into the books of banks to verify if there was any unremitted stamp duty. Aaa“If there is any uncollected stamp duty, the banks will pay to the last kobo,’’ he assured.
Messy family business transactions
Emefiele is entangled in a multi-million dollar business deal that has threatened to destroy a once boisterous family relationship. One John Omoile described as his inlaw has accused Emefiele of breach of contract, fraudulent inducement and negligent representation. He wants the accused to pay him $36 million in damages.
John and Emefiele’s wife, Margaret are cousins who grew up in the same house in Agbor, Delta State. John holds dual citizenship in both Nigeria and the United States. On getting married, both families had a robust relationship, exchanging visits during holidays and exploring mutually beneficial business ideas in areas such as oil and gas, property development, stock market among others.
John claimed Emefiele is using his official connections to block access to Zenith Bank shares which he purchased through him around 2004 to 2007. He also alleged that the CBN Governor was mischievous in the formation of a tripartite partnership involving Emefiele, John and Pius Oyibo. The proposed firm, called Noka Energy Nigeria Limited, was to buy, sell and transport petroleum products in Nigeria.
Emefiele versus Omoile is likened to the proverbial cat with nine lives. Settlement agreements have been drafted and signed and violated many times. The case is still on at the US District Court in a Northern Texas District.
That is not all. The case has passed through at least five Texas law firms apart from the Nigerian lawyers keeping watch over the Nigerian end of the battle on behalf of the warring parties.
Emefiele denied the allegations. His Lawyer, Nitor Egbarin, made the denial in a letter to Omoile’s lawyer, Donald Kaiser, dated 17 January 2022.
In the strongly-worded letter, Egbarin accused the complainant of blackmail. He said his client was not involved in the management of Mr Omoile’s Zenith Bank shares and could not have blocked access to the records of the investments.
“You should advise John that my client does not wish to continue to feed him. John should pursue other means to make a living rather than continue to shakedown my client for more financial support.”
He said the letters of demand sent severally to Mr Emefiele to account for Mr Omoile’s shares is “an attempt to shakedown/extort my client for money.”
“Finally, there is still nothing more my client will do for John. The gravy train has come to a stop.”
Emefiele policies have come under the radar. There are tears that the Naira redesign and cashless society mantra, are vehicles to sinister destinations. The CBN has disclosed plans to gravitate towards digital currency.
The apex bank’s National Domestic Card Scheme is aimed at unifying all payment platforms in the country and replacing all other credit cards and helping Nigerian sovereignty.
“The card will augment CBN’s effort to ensure seamless dissemination of government-to-person payment and other social impact initiatives thus supporting the growth of a robust digital economy.”
Oludele is of the view that digital currency will gag the citizenry. Listen to him: “The Central Bank Digital Currency promises to make payments easier and is being promoted as such but it is a fluke. It is part of their agenda to replace all physical funds with h digital currency which would give them total control over citizens and their private lives. With this instrument CBN and its agents can monitor every transaction, limit the amount spent and even delete your funds as they will. With this the road is paved for the full and unimpeded control and total tyranny of humanity. The road to totalitarianism is being paved.”
Dr Moses Obajemu said such views are extreme, noting that the scheme is not the evil it’s being painted to be. He lauded Emefiele for initiating the idea. Those opposing the idea are doing so out of ignorance. You may not like the CBN Governor. But that should not mean demonizing all his policies”
Nigerians are waiting.