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Godwin Emefiele: Quintessential Banker/ Intellectual @ 60

EMEFIELE Caricature

August 08, (THEWILL) – Presidents and prime ministers have been known to keep cabinet members waiting for hours, days, weeks or not even see them at all if they are not keen. After the scandal that swirled around Simon Cameron during Abraham Lincoln’s presidency in America, he declined meeting his Secretary of War despite the latter’s desperate attempt to see his former friend and dinner partner.

If he is so inclined, President Muhammadu Buhari may not take calls from any governor of the thirty-six states in the country he presides over – party loyalist or anyone from the opposition camp. Indeed, soon after re-election in 2019, the president declared that from then on, anyone who wanted an audience with him should go through his Chief of Staff or Secretary to the Federal Government.

But there is one governor he cannot ever decline his call or refuse to see in person. Though this particular governor has no state of his own from which he calls the shot, he plays a more central role in Nigeria’s economy than any of the state chief executives. That man is Godwin Emefiele, governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, appointed in 2014 by Goodluck Jonathan and reappointed by PMB last year to continue his run in office.

Emefiele was born in Lagos on August 4, 1961 to parents from Agbor in Delta state, which makes him a confirmed Lagosian. He also attended primary and secondary school in the state then proceeded to University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where he distinguished himself as a graduate of Banking & Finance having made Second Class Upper Division. It was no surprise he also became the Best Graduating Student in 1986 for an MBA.

He topped all of that with executive studies at Stanford and Harvard, choice institutions for serious minded business executives in the making. Of course, Emefiele would turn out to be one in no time, starting off a sparkly career with Zenith Bank Plc from inception in 1990. Ten years later, he was Group Managing Director of the same bank, owing, no doubt, to his very refined mind as a banker/ intellectual, as one of his former workers told THEWILL recently.

Though now a PR man and biographer, Toni Kan Onwordi who celebrated his 50th last month, worked with Emefiele at Zenith Bank many years ago. “I remember him as a quiet, unobtrusive and observant man,” TK told the newspaper. “He interviewed me when I joined and I found him cerebral and detailed which was not surprising since he was a lecturer in finance.”

Continuing, TK also compared him to former CBN governor, Charles Soludo who people say “has been the only intellectual at CBN.” For TK, that is isn’t true, insisting that “before GIE, as we called him at Zenith, became a core banker, he was first an egghead.”

Is it any surprise PMB reappointed Emefiele, an egghead and banker rolled into one, for a second tenure as CBN top man? The records are there for all, and counting.

It has been said that Buhari reappointed Emefiele for his radical fiscal policies and prompt response to the COVID-19 scourge. What the presidential seal of approval means is Emefiele’s professionalism, a man who knows what to do to get a wonky economy working again.

To be sure, no past CBN governor had to face plummeting oil prices as it happened under Emefiele. No previous CBN governor was confronted with a raging virus that almost brought the world to a halt. Emefiele weathered all of that and did not go under. Instead, he quickly put in place some economic policies that got the country going once again despite the odds.

A commentator, Boniface Chizea, writing for Vanguard on the CBN governor’s sixtieth had this to say: “If we are looking for one institution that has been accountable for the country’s quick exit from the pandemic to resume growth, it must be the Central Bank under your watch…the President also admitted openly that it was one of his best decisions to have reappointed you as the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria for a second term.”

Banning imported rice and some such commodities has saved the country billions of foreign exchange and boosted local production. Banning sale of forex to operators of Bureau de Change is cutting money laundering. Under his watch, CBN has intervened and implemented some laudable policies.

One of them is the Nigeria Youth Investment Fund (NYIF) to tackle youth unemployment and also empower them. As the name suggests, sums of money – anywhere from N250, 000 to N50, 000 with low interest rates – have been made available to thousands of youths to start up a business. There is also the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Fund (MSMEDF), Agribusiness Small and Medium Enterprises Investment Scheme (AgSMEIS) and Creative Industry Financing Initiative (CIFI.) And the Anchor Borrowers Programme which has rejigged farming in the country.

The reason for such interventions in these areas is to make funds available to small businesses with interest rates as low as five percent. Any economist will tell you that lack of access to funds is the main obstacle to starting up businesses in this part of the world. Emefiele made that possible as governor of CBN, and is still continuing to do so.

In good shape at sixty where some in his lofty position would have been seduced into needless indulgence and become portly in the process, Emefiele is military straight, no extra ounce of fat anywhere. Those who know him closely say he is a habitual walker, covering long distances as opportunities present themselves.

Of course, being the nation’s number one banker can be very demanding. But having taught in an institution of higher learning, successfully run a bank and the professional that he is, Emefiele has never been more at home where he currently is. In his seventh year as CBN governor, it is hard to imagine PMB terminating his appointment midway like it happened to one or two of his predecessors.

It is also had to imagine Emefiele himself leaving Nigeria’s number one financial institution worse than he met it. One of the most cerebral and successful bankers of all time, Alan Greenspan, 13th chairman of Federal Reserve in America, famously quipped thusly: “The true measure of a career is to be able to be content, even proud, that you succeeded through your own endeavors without leaving a trail of casualties in your wake.”

His Nigerian counterpart seems to know that already.