It presented as a pantomime, but it was as entertaining as it was exasperating. At last, it ended as an anti-climax. If the stock market or Nigeria’s naira dangled the way that the current Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor gravitated about his presidential aspiration, it would have set off alarm bells in various parts of the world.
The drama, which has now come to be tagged a messy affair in certain quarters, revolves around the coded political gamble involving Nigeria’s top banker, Mr. Godwin Emefiele. But, the political thriller tagged Meffy2023, by friends of the CBN governor was a script authored by very powerful, high net-worth, and influential individuals.
Despite his more than 35 years in the banking industry, these captains of industry, business moguls, and portfolio investors still see Mr. Emefiele as a boy. By 2015 when President Muhammadu Buhari came on board, Emefiele was barely one year on the job.
Perhaps, because the new administration saw everything that had to do with the Jonathan-led Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) administration in a bad light, Buhari’s men contemplated sweeping away the finance specialist, who was snatched from Zenith Bank to the nation’s lender of last resort.
It took a leak in the media about plots by some shadowy presidency enforcers to suspend and sack the CBN governor for the conspirators to have a rethink. To save face, the powerful political figures decided to get closer to the custodian of the national treasury.
It was in that process of dismissing insinuations of possible estrangement that Buhari’s inner men found that Goddy was a jolly good fellow. He was later to win the confidence of his new employers when he began implementing CBN’s interventionist currency scheme.
From the multiple exchange rate structure, soft devaluation, and other fiscal and monetary policies, the Emefiele-led CBN became a willing ally of President Buhari’s supply-side economics, otherwise called “Buharinomics.” As a man long used to the regimental life of the military, Buhari saw Emefiele as a pliable expert that could help him reach out to his Talakawa republic.
Whether in placing 41 items under import ban, or supporting the shutting down of Nigeria’s land borders, Emefiele remained an acquiescent player in the Buhari administration: a good boy!
To a soldier, no act of loyalty goes unrewarded. It was perhaps on that premise that contrary to speculations, 20 days to his inauguration for a second term, President Muhammadu Buhari sent a letter to the Eighth Senate asking the lawmakers to confirm Emefiele for a second term of five years.
Many had thought that in his characteristic manner, the president would bid the CBN governor goodbye and seek his replacement from the northern “hemisphere.” Spurred by the disappointing turn, the Eighth Senate headed by highly critical Bukola Saraki confirmed the Emefiele’s second term mandate on Thursday, May 16, 2019.
However, exactly three years into his second five-year term, Meffy’s name started making the rounds as one of those being penciled to succeed President Buhari on May 29, 2023. The 61-year-old “good boy” was said to be the picking of powerful forces working to protect their “national” interest in a post-Buhari era.
The rumours, which flew up like a fowl and landed like a man in the eyes of many Nigerians were received with a mixture of incredulity and ponderous animation. Although a creation of President Goodluck Jonathan, Emefiele’s transition from a product of “a corrupt regime” to the darling of “a saintly” one that plotted his exit was incomprehensible.
Those who dismissed the speculation as a dry joke swore that there was no connection, insisting that Meffy does not have a political side to warrant any such suggestions. Still, others, especially the egg-heads expressed alarm that such a political ambition, if it exists, would not only imperil the country’s struggling economy, but would also sweep away any remaining shreds of public confidence in the country’s electoral system.
In a nation used to electoral banditry, the CBN has been serving as a secure pavilion where sensitive electoral materials are warehoused. As such critics complained of the inherent dangers of storing such critical resources in the care of a partisan and interested contender.
There was also the question of legal breaches in the Meffy2023 affair. For instance, Section 9 of the CBN Act of 2007 stipulates that the governor and his deputies “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 charitable causes as may be determined by the Board and which do not conflict with or conflict with their full-time duties.”
But on May 6, Nigerians woke to a fresh act in the pantomime. What made headlines was that a certain Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), and two other groups had paid the N100m price tag that APC placed for the purchase of Presidential nomination forms for Emefiele.
As the development sparked national outcry, the CBN governor announced that he could afford the forms instead of doing so by proxy, explaining that he was still waiting for God’s leading to make a categorical statement on the matter.
Yet, as calls for him to rein in his ambition or resign his appointment came from left, right and centre, the central banker hired a lawyer to secure a court order of the court granting him the special waiver to retain his office and participate in the Presidential contest.
Having brought his two legs out on the matter of presidential aspiration, some observers started wondering whether the CBN governor was still in control of his sanity or under a spell. Others believed that the Agbor-born economist was lured into the presidential contest in a bid to provide a leeway for his eventual removal from office.
That sentiment gained traction when a Federal High Court in Abuja, rejected Emefiele’s prayer for a restraining order on INEC and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) to allow him to pursue his presidential ambition.
Believing that Emefiele’s ex-parte application sounded like an attempt to have one’s cake and eat it, the court in a brief ruling by Justice Ahmed Ramat Mohammed, refused to grant the order.
The order of status quo ante bellum that Emefiele sought through his counsel, Mike Ozekhome (SAN), was to prevent INEC and AGF from forcing him to resign within the 80 days prescribed by Section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act 2022 as amended, instead of 30 days to the general election stipulated by the constitution.
While the litigation suffered set back, it emerged that the CBN governor had all the while been a card-carrying member of the governing APC. This discovery convulsed a lot of stakeholders, including the Ondo State governor, Rotimi Akeredolu and former Deputy Governor of CBN, Prof. Kingsley Moghalu.
Decrying Emefiele’s involvement in partisan politics while in service, Moghalu lamented that the numero uno has broken the laws guiding the CBN. He said Nigerians should not allow the CBN governor to continue “using public office to attain his interest.”
Moghalu, who stated that the CBN Act was not ambiguous, lamented: “I weep for this nation with the development at the CBN. It is deeply wrong to play politics while in office. It is a violation of ethics, morals, and the law.”
Sustaining that refrain against Emefiele’s presidential ambition, Akeredolu, who is also a senior lawyer enjoined the CBN governor to “resign from office before declaring to run for president.”
While contending that Emefiele’s declaration for the presidential race while still serving as CBN governor is an attack on the democratic process, Akeredolu said: “This act, if unchecked, timeously, portends great danger to the fragile economy of the country.”
And as condemnation continues to pour in torrents, the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP) and the umbrella of allied civil society groups, the Coalition Of National Civil Society Organisations (CNCSOs), added their voices to the issue.
Addressing a joint press conference in Abuja, the Secretary-General of CNPP, Chief Willy Ezugwu, and the National Secretary of the Coalition of National Civil Society Organisations, Ali Abacha, called for Emefiele’s immediate resignation.
The groups expressed alarm, saying: “Nigeria’s economic woes will worsen if Mr. Godwin Emefiele continues to formulate and supervise the execution of Nigeria’s monetary policies as an APC member. He would be flouting international best practices and standards, which forbids a CBN Governor from being a member of a political party.”
They also urged an urgent investigation into the status of electoral materials that have been kept in CBN’s custody from 2019, when Emefiele started participating in partisan politics.
Perhaps, believing that those calling for his sack were wasting their saliva, Emefiele, who was born on August 4, 1961, paid an august visit to President Buhari to compare notes.
Emerging from the meeting with the President, the CBN governor told State House correspondents that he was having fun, remarking derisively that those bellyaching about his presidential ambition are suffering from heart attacks.
I’m having fun with the scenario. Let them have a heart attack. It’s good to have a heart attack. I am having a lot of fun,” Emefiele stated.
Although the CBN governor promised that there would be news, his demeanour belies the claim in certain quarters that the Presidency was part of the ribald jokes that have attended the mass declaration of Southerners for the APC Presidential ticket.
Amid the volatility in the petroleum market and naira’s free fall against the US dollar, how long Emefiele’s fun would last depends on whether he continues in office or becomes President Buhari’s dark horse. But, without a word, the CBN governor denounced his presidential aspiration by failing to buy or submit the forms already bought for him or even appearing for screening. He could not wait until February 2023 to have a taste of heart attack from Nigerians, who are already provoked by the game of thrones in the Federal Capital Territory.