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OPINION: Why Were Heads Of CBN And INEC Under Siege From Security Agencies?

Godwin Emefiele
THEWILL APP ADS 2

January 18, (THEWILL) – There is currently a limit to the amount of cash that individuals and corporate bodies can withdraw from their bank accounts across the counter in Nigeria.

But there is no limit to the absurdities that can happen in the financial services and political space in our dear country.

The assertion above is justified by the fact that until Monday, January 16, 2023, when he returned to his desk after his trip to the United States of America, USA, where he was part of president Mohammadu Buhari’s delegation to president Joe Biden, U.S.-Africa summit, held in Washington DC, USA, December 13-15, the CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, had not been unaccounted for.

That is simply because he was declared a national security risk by the Department Of State Security Service, DSS, so he automatically became a fugitive since he could not return to Nigeria in the intervening period.

It is not clear whether it is owing to the assumption in some quarters that he had been kidnapped in the US by a criminal gang that intended to compel him with a gun pointed at his head to disclose to them the code that would enable them to gain access to Nigerian treasury and authorise the transfer of billions of dollars from Nigeria to designated accounts overseas, as we often see in Western movies.

But since no money has been declared missing from the CBN and Emefiele is back home, (presumably in the safe bosom of his dear wife and other family members), it can be safely assumed that the kidnap plot failed, as the CBN governor, who perhaps relying on voodoo from his birthplace – Agbor, Delta state, was able to hypnotise his kidnappers and varnished into the thin air, after which he manifested in Nigeria last Wednesday, after which he showed up at work.

Of course, what has been stated above is mere speculation, and that is because since Emefiele’s prolonged sojourn abroad, which in military terms, equates to Missing In Acton, MIA, as no one could account for his whereabouts in the period of his absence, and the government did not deem it fit to give Nigerians an account of where the CBN governor, who is basically the ‘caretaker’ of our national vault, was from Sunday, December 11, when he departed with President Buhari to the US, to Monday, January 16, about one month, before Emefiele showed up at work.

Owing to the national security implications, apart from allegations about being a sponsor of Boko Haram and related terrorist groups, l demur from disclosing other frightening imputations that have been made about the high crimes against Mr Emefiele because they are as wild and fantastic as could be imagined.

But given the fact that the CBN treasury, containing our commonwealth, which the government in power is supposed to be held in trust for ‘We The People’, at whose behest it happens to be in power, (having been the ones that elected the president and his cabinet in 2015 and again in 2019), and which is assuming we were practising a truly liberal democracy, where the electorate matter; Nigerians ought to have been apprised of the reasons behind Emefiele’s long absence from his duty post.

It is not only disappointing but ridiculous that the last thing Nigerians heard about Emefiele (before the press release on Monday 16/1/2023 by the CBN’s public affairs department that he is back on duty), was a failed attempt to arrest and lock him up when DSS sought to obtain an arrest warrant from a high court in Abuja, Federal Capital Territory, FCT, headed by Justice John Tsoho, who denied the agency the request.

One of the justifications for denying the secret police the court’s authority was on the ground that it failed to present justifications solid enough to convince it of the need to grant the order to arrest Godwin Emefiele, CBN governor, at a time that he was leading the apex financial regulatory agency on the task of redesigning the naira – a critical national assignment with monumental socio-economic and even political impact on our beloved country.

Propitiously, the DSS did the right thing on Monday, (16/2/2023), by debunking the lie that was swirling around that the agency had arrested the embattled CBN governor after he resumed his duty post.

As a result of the dearth of authentic information about Emefiele’s ordeal, the rumour mill had gone into overdrive, as Nigerians and our country’s foreign partners alike, who were starved of the correct information, went on a speculation spree.

Arising from the above, the invention of bizarre scenarios like the one that l narrated in the introductory part of this intervention to fill the information gap between reality and fantasy was bound to happen simply because nature abhors a vacuum.

And the unsavoury incident of the attempt to arrest the CBN governor underscores the opaqueness of our government about its activities, which has been taken to a new level of incredulity by the current regime in charge of our beleaguered country.

In fact, the malaise of lack of transparency in public administration in our country is deeply concerning because of the travail of the CBN governor, which the government has failed to be open to Nigerians by explaining what the issues are and sharing with the public the actions being taken; is bound to have a reverberating effect across financial institutions around the world.

Given that the nation and indeed the world had just been regaled with damning and bewildering revelations about how the former accountant general of the federation, Ahmed Idris, bilked the country of a humongous sum of one hundred and nine (N109 billion), by simply manipulating teacher’s payroll, it is obvious that there is no limit to the level of perversion in our country’s financial services system, which is a development that is gut-wrenching and a negative tag on our identity as Nigerians, as we travel and do business around the world.

In light of the sordidness of such a damnable reputation of our country in the eyes of global financial institutions, the rating of our country’s financial and economic strength by international rating agencies like Fitch and Moodys would further nose dive and lenders would rather thumb their nose at us, than give us thumbs up.

That is on top of the fact that our country has just made an appropriation bill (budget) for this year 2023 for a total of N21.83 trillion, with only a paltry sum of about N9 trillion naira as revenue projected to be generated by the economy, while about N12 trillion of the budget would be sourced through borrowing.

With a tattered reputation of recklessness, evidenced by the chaos in our financial regulatory system highlighted earlier, who would be willing to lend Nigeria money? And if they do, would it not be at a cut-throat rate because of the high-risk rating status of our country stemming from the ludicrous events surrounding the handlers of the financial affairs of our country?

The dire situation is further compounded by the fact that our country’s local debt stock is currently standing at about N55 trillion, and some experts are even projecting that both local and external loans would be N77 trillion by the time the current regime is exiting Aso Rock Villa by the end of May.

And the assertions above are not bogus, as they are based on data and reports sourced from the Debt Management Office, DMO.

The gargantuan size of our national debt is the reason over 90% of our revenue is dedicated to loan servicing, of which it has been recently reported that a gargantuan sum of nearly $15 billion has been expended in servicing our foreign debt in the past 8 years.

Worse still, an IMF projection is that by 2026, one hundred (100%) percent of Nigeria’s revenue would be dedicated to servicing public debts.

It is some of these liabilities that are casting dark shadows over the future of our country as we move towards another change of guard in Aso Rock Villa and a very likely change of ruling party at the centre, as it had happened in 2015 when Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, yielded the position to APC as a consequence of even less hardship compared to the current burden of multiple dimensions of extreme poverty and frightening levels of insecurity, whose weights are crushing Nigerians.

Right now, what should even be giving Nigerians more sleepless nights is that it is only a tiny fraction of the 2023 national budget, (a miserly 23% or so) of the N21.83 trillion that would be left for capital projects, after hiving off a huge portion for debt servicing and recurrent expenditure, in a country of 200 million people suffering from acute shortage of infrastructure, in the manner that the Sahara, Kalahari or any desert at all is bereft of water.

As we all know, deserts are uninhabitable by ordinary humans, except the Berbers and Tuaregs, who have adapted to the harsh environment. That being the case, it is understandable why Nigerian youths have been migrating in droves to foreign lands, where the grass appears greener-also known as ‘japa’ syndrome.

So, by all indications, owing to the nation’s present colossal debt burden, Nigerians are guaranteed more hardships, as it would be another desert experience for the long-suffering masses, who elect to remain in our country in the next few years.

Arising from the scenario above, the incoming government from May 29, would certainly be faced with the priority of first of all rescuing our country from financial entanglements, in order to restore hope before any other action can be taken.

This is why Nigerians, on February 25, presidential elections D-Day, must elect a president with cognate experience, garnered from being on the saddle before, so that he would not get to Aso Rock Villa and spend a better part of his first term trying to understand how best to untangle the web of debts, in order to claw our country out of the debt hole that it has sunken. Otherwise, it would be very tough, if not an impossibility for Nigerians to escape the current looming hardships that may get worse if the wrong person gets on the saddle of leadership at Aso Rock Villa. That is my personal assessment.

In any case, the masses are already bracing up or adapting to the grim conditions, which they are doomed to continue to contend with this year and in the coming years, as some economists aver that individual Nigerians would be carrying a debt burden of at least N385,000 each, if the projected debt of N77 Trillion is shared equally amongst two hundred (200) million members of the populace.

In other words, if a child is born in Nigeria today, he/she would from the moment, be carrying a debt of burden of about N350,000.

Do not blame me if it sounds alarmist because l am just the messenger.

Now, compare the chaotic and opaque situation in the top echelon of our country’s political leadership and the financial system, as well as the security monitoring and enforcement space whereby nobody has taken the responsibility of explaining to Nigerians what the matter really is with the CBN governor; to the events in the US wherein classified documents were discovered in the private office and residence of the current president, Joe Biden, and Americans have asked hard questions, (deservedly so), until the presidency started giving them answers.

This is why Americans are being briefed consistently about the development: starting from president Biden, who had been bombarded with questions by reporters at every turn, to the chief press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, who had no other choice than to be conducting daily press conferences, and finally to the Attorney General/Justice Secretary, Merrick Garland, who has dutifully briefed Americans about the steps that he has taken so far and the reason he had to appoint an independent investigator to get to the bottom of how and why classified documents were found in the private office and home of President Joe Biden.

That is a classical case of the people pushing for accountability from their political leaders and public officeholders.

It is also striking evidence of true democracy at work.

As has been done in the US, which is why the truth is presently unfolding, why has President Buhari not caused our Justice Minister, Abubakar Malami, to appoint a special investigator to truly find out what the cause of the hoopla raised by the DSS against Emefiele and the hullabaloo going on in the CBN, which is the nation’s financial institution, that is the lender of last resort, and therefore, a critical organ of government.

Considering that the International Monetary Fund, IMF, had advised Nigeria to phase out CBN financing of the government, in order to reduce double-digit inflation, which has reached an unprecedented rate, (in excess of 21% according to NBS records), even as president Buhari had also requested that NASS converts the estimated N23 trillion worth of loans to government by the CBN via Ways and Means to 40 years bonds at 9%(securitisation), which effectively boils down to transferring current debt to the next generation.

That is not all. In the twilight of its life span, the federal government has also sought and received another extra nearly one trillion naira loan from the apex bank.

In light of the realities above, who is after Emefiele to the extent of trying to force him out of office before the end of his tenure, when he has the huge responsibility of tidying up the CBN books (under his management in the past 8 years), before the curtain falls on Buhari’s regime on May 29?

The trillion naira poser is: The presidency, at whose behest he occupies the office, or Politicians, who are being accused of being behind the CBN governor’s travails, based on allegations that his naira redesign project and cash withdrawals limits are a ploy to prevent politicians from having access to cash, owing to the cap on the amount of cash that can be withdrawn from banks?

Although those considering the matter from a political prism claim that the policy would deny politicians of access to the cash that they could have applied in buying votes during the general elections coming up in less than forty (40) days’ time, in justifying the naira re-design initiative, and limit on cash withdrawal policy, Emefiele applying the optics of an economist, had said that N2.73 trillion, which is over 80 percent of the total cash of N3.23 trillion in circulation, is outside the banking system. From a regulatory point of view, that is unacceptable, owing to its low implications with respect to macroeconomic consequences.

So, the policy is aimed at pulling the funds into the system, reducing counterfeiting, encouraging a cashless economy, staving off cash hoarding, bringing more people into the financial sector, as well as eliminating the incidences of kidnapping and terrorism, which cash payments facilitate.

Keeping in mind that President Buhari has the power to sack Emefiele even when his tenure of five (5) years is yet to be completed, (in the manner that former president Goodluck Jonathan suspended and subsequently sacked Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, who later became the emir of Kano before he was deposed), Mr President in my reckoning, is most likely not Emefiele’s traducer.

That is because l am assuming that he would not go around in circles to fire Emefiele if he is displeased with his performance or he has been criminally indicted for any impropriety.

Assuming l am correct in my second-guessing of president Buhari, (in any case he hardly fires his appointees based on the public outcry against them), who wants Emefiele out of the CBN?

That question would be best answered by the members of the intelligence and security community, who should be talking more to Nigerians to avoid the unnecessary tension stemming from speculations and fake news that are currently suffocating our country.

See how the prompt media statement by the DSS, making it clear that it had not arrested Emefiele on Monday, February 16, 2023, as earlier reported in the media, helped clear the fog, before it could gain currency.

The crisis situation in the CBN would not be too worrying, if the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, had not like CBN’s Emefiele, been threatened as well with an arrest also by one of our country’s security agencies.

In professor Yakubu’s case, it is in connection with the alleged flawed asset declaration action, which is in contravention of the rules of the Code of Conduct bureau.

But pundits have argued that the plan to arrest the INEC chairman, Yakubu, is not just about his alleged failure to declare his assets correctly, which they claim is just a cover-up. They are insisting that it is a plot to prevent him from conducting the forthcoming election, in which he intends to deploy Bimordal Voter Registration System, BVAS, which is amongst other high technology-based systems that have proven to be solid proof against election rigging.

So, what the hell is going on in our country’s intelligence and security space, as the apparatchiks appear to have become so much on edge based on the unusual spate of attempts to arrest top members of the government in charge of strategic and sensitive organs currently executing the most consequential event in the life of our country – the recruitment of the next set of our political leaders via general elections?

It is remarkable that it also took an injunction by a court of law prohibiting professor Yakubu’s arrest and detention to keep him at his desk, where he is currently saddled with the onerous duty of superintending over the general elections commencing February 25, which is more or less forty (40) days away.

Can readers imagine the effect that arresting and keeping the INEC chairman away from his duty post could have caused the nation at this critical point in time if the prayers of one Somadina Uzoabaka, who sued the INEC chairman to court in Abuja, were to have been granted by the judge?

That would have likely caused the postponement of the elections and thus become a repeat of what occurred in 2015 when the general elections were postponed for six (6) weeks.

Incidentally, election postponement which the INEC chairman is vehemently opposed to and working assiduously to avoid is in tandem with the vision of President Buhari, who has also vowed to prevent it as evidenced in his speeches to multiple local and global audiences. In fact, our president is known to have made solemn promises to Nigerians and our international partners that his goal is to bequeath Nigeria with the freest and fairest elections before he exits Aso Rock Villa on May 29, this year.

With such a determined and focused mindset to leave a legacy of a reformed and robust electioneering system, how would Mr president allow forces of anarchy (seemingly invisible), to cause a postponement or cancellation of the scheduled election by disrupting activities in the CBN and INEC under his watch?

Whatever the case may be, l am convinced that postponement or cancellation of the general elections is not in President Buhari’s contemplation right now.

One curious and striking situation that l have observed is that, lately, there have been so many coincidences of clashes between the law enforcement community and the interpretative society.

For instance, barely one month ago, the Chief of Army Staff, COAS, General Farouk Yahaya, was also charged with contempt of court and his arrest was ordered by the court presided over by justice Halima Abdulmalik in Minna, Niger state.

Similarly, within the same period, the Inspector General Of Police, IGP, was also issued a bench warrant for contempt of court. The order was by Justice Bolaji Olajuwon, a Federal Capital Territory, FCT high court judge.

Around the same time in December last year, Abdulrasheed Bawa, Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, was equally directed to be committed to jail for contempt by a court in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT.

Although the trio have caused the court orders to be discharged, these are nevertheless uncommon occurrences and suggest a lack of coordination between relevant federal government agencies.

So, what is going on in the interpretative, security intelligence, military and law enforcement communities in our country?

What is responsible for the chaos?

Why is it that there appears to be an ongoing tuff war?

It would still be fresh in the memory of some Nigerians when the DSS and EFCC, both of which report directly to the presidency, literally crossed swords publicly, as the EFCC laid siege on the residences of an ex-DG of DSS, with the intent to arrest him and the agency that he had led had to give him cover.

It was such an embarrassment that both government security agencies, which could have resolved their differences administratively and amicably by seating around a table over coffee/tea with the Office Of The National Security Adviser, ONSA, as umpire, exhibited their rivalry via naked and public display of raw power to the dismay of most Nigerians.

It is my hope, and in fact, my fervent prayer that our country’s security agencies have grown beyond that sordid past.

It is also necessary to recall that after June 12, 1993 elections, the late Chief Arthur Nzeribe and a certain Abimbola Davies, riding on a civil society platform known as Association for Better Nigeria, ABN, went to court with the intention of scuttling the process of transition from military to multi-party democracy.

Based on the nefarious activities of ABN, civil rights and democracy advocate, Beko Ransome-Kuti (of blessed memory), went to court to obtain an injunction against ABN that was allegedly engaged in subversive activities inimical to democracy.

And ABN was then restrained by a court judgement issued by Justice Dolapo Akinsanya.

But, late Nzeribe and his group, two days before the election, approached a high court in Abuja, headed by Justice Bassey Ikpeme, which granted them an order lifting the restraining restraint.

The rest they say is history because the June 1993 debacle that has had a reverberating and highly consequential effect on our country and its complicated and complex political system happened some thirty (30) years ago.

Now, there are two significant takeaways in the ongoing saga in the national security, intelligence and judicial space.

The first is that the DSS went to court to seek legal backing for its intention to arrest Emefiele. That is very professional, as it reflects a marked departure from the past when that Standard Operating Procedure, SOP, was not followed.

The recent past experience with our security agencies is that more often than not, they effect arrests without first obtaining a court order, as they should.

Secondly, unlike Justice Bassey Ikpeme, who seemingly did not care much about the broader implications of his action of lifting a restraining order by another court, in what some have referred to as midnight judgement; Justice John Tsoho, demurred from granting an ex parte motion to arrest Emefiele, CBN governor. And on December 29, last year, Justice M.A Hassan restrained all the security agencies in the country from arresting or detaining the CBN governor, just also on January 4, this year the same judge issued a similar order restraining any law enforcement agency from arresting and detaining INEC chairman, Yakubu.

Those actions from the bench are evidence that integrity, which seemed to have taken flight in the recent past, appears to be returning to the temple of justice in Nigeria.

So far, the order of the court has been respected with regard to the INEC chairman, but it was not clear if the same respect would apply to the CBN governor’s case until the DSS released a media statement on Monday, February 16, which has left no one in doubt about the fact that Emefiele has regained his freedom.

In the heat of the Imbroglio in December, Edward Adamu, Deputy Governor of CBN, told the parliament that Emefiele was under the weather, and it had also been speculated that he had been on his annual leave.

Whatever the case may be, it was critically important that the presidency, that is CBN governor’s employer, provided Nigerians with information about his whereabouts.

That is because it can not be taken for granted that the government cannot guarantee the safety of its employee, particularly, the one who holds the keys to the national vault.

Responsively, the storm appears to be over with Emefiele at his desk indicating that President Buhari has now asserted his authority in line with the dictum: the buck ends at the president’s table.

*** Written by Magnus Onyibe from Lagos.