By Femi Falana
Last week, it was reported that a group of farmers had purchased the N100 million nomination form for the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele, to enable him to contest the presidential primary election of the All Progressives Congress (APC). While thanking his band of supporters, Mr. Emefiele did not hesitate to confirm his interest in the presidential race. According to him, “Should I answer their calls and decide to seek presidential nomination, I will use my own hard-earned savings from over 35 years of banking leadership (simulating the image of a public-spirited official) to buy my own Nomination Forms…This is a serious decision that requires God’s Divine intervention: in the next few days, (my italics) the Almighty will so direct.”
Apparently convinced that Mr. Emefiele is on a strong legal ground, a newspaper had reported that his involvement in the race has caused jitters in the camp of other aspirants in the APC. But the supporters of the Governor have ignored section 9 of the Central Bank of Nigeria Act which provides that : “The Governor and the Deputy Governors 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 personal or charitable causes as may be determined by the Board and which do not conflict with or detract from their full time duties.” The provisions of section 18 (4) (b) of the Banks and are in pari materia with Section 9 of the CBN Act.
For the avoidance of doubt, the powers conferred on the Governor and the Board of the CBN under the CBN Act are enormous. They include the power to ensure monetary and price stability; issue legal tender currency in Nigeria; maintain external reserves to safeguard the international value of the legal tender currency; promote a sound financial system in Nigeria; and act as Banker and provide economic and financial advice to the Federal Government. In addition, the Banks and Financial institutions Act 2020 has empowered the Governor and CBN to grant and revoke licences of banks; supervise banks, dissolve Boards and Management of Banks, remove Managing Directors and other directors of Banks, sanction erring banks and officials, make rules that guide commercial banks, provide loan to Governments, set interest rates, serve as apex bank to other banks and ensure cordial relationship with foreign banks. Furthermore, the Minister of Finance shall seek inputs from the CBN in preparing the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework for the annual budget pursuant to the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007.
The performance of these statutory functions which shall be in the national interest cannot be left in the hands of a politically exposed person. Hence, the Central Bank Act and Banks and Financial institutions Act provide that the bank shall be a fully autonomous body with the objective of promoting stability and continuity in economic management. Therefore, the involvement of the Governor in partisan politics will compromise the autonomy of the CBN. For instance, during the #endsars protests in October 2020, Mr. Emefiele held a secret meeting with some of the leading protesters. He tried in vain to prevail on the young men and women to end the protests. In a desperate bid to coerce the leaders of the #endsars movement to stop embarrassing the Buhari administration, Mr. Emefiele invoked his powers under the BOFIA by freezing the bank accounts of 20 leading protesters. He then proceeded to the Federal High Court where he secured an ex parte order to justify the violation of the fundamental rights of the protesters to property. Even though Mr. Emefiele wanted to extend the obnoxious ex parte order he was compelled to discontinue the suit when his use of the CBN to achieve his political objective was exposed in the media.
No doubt, the image of the CBN would have been more dented if the bank accounts of leaders of opposition political parties had been frozen for protesting the deleterious economic policies of the Buhari administration. No doubt, the discharge of the functions of the CBN Governor by a politically exposed person will certainly lead to a conflict-of-interest contrary to the provisions of Section 9 of the CBN Act, Section 18 (4) (b) of the BOFIA Act and Paragraph 1 of the Code of Conduct for Public Officer enshrined in Part 1 of the 5th Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended. Since the governorship of the Central Bank is a full-time engagement, it is submitted that Mr. Emefiele cannot go around wooing delegates to vote for him in the primary election of the ruling party. More importantly, the country cannot afford a situation whereby the Governor of the Central Bank will be tempted to dip into the till to fund his political campaign.
From the foregoing, Mr. Emefiele has a number of legal hurdles to cross to participate in the primary election of the ruling party. Having realised the criminality involved in accepting the Greek gift of the farmers the CBN Governor said that he would use his “hard-earned savings from over 35 years of banking leadership (simulating the image of a public-spirited official) to buy my own Nomination Forms.” However, since he has the constitutional right to participate in politics and contest elections, he is required by law to resign his appointment forthwith. If he does not call it quits with the CBN forthwith Mr. Emefiele should be removed by the President in line with Section 11 of the CBN Act and recommended for prosecution for conflict of interest before the Code of Conduct Tribunal. Retaining Mr. Emefiele as the Governor of the CBN and presidential aspirant in the ruling party is going to have more deleterious effect on the national economy that has been paralysed through the implementation of obnoxious monetary policies at the behest of imperialism.
Finally, it was reported that upon the purchase of the APC nomination form for Mr. Emefiele the naira was reported to have plunged to N591 to US$1 from N417 at the parallel market official rate. More disastrous consequences await the currency and the debt-ridden national economy if the Governor is allowed to continue to use his official position to prosecute his presidential ambition. However, while Mr. Emefiele is awaiting divine intervention it is pertinent to point out that by virtue of the combined effect of section 9 of the CBN Act and Section 18 of the Banks and Financial institutions Act 2020, it is the Board of the CBN that is competent to permit him to engage in politics or any other vocation. So far, the Board of the CBN has not authorised him to participate in the primary election of the ruling party. To that extent, he is disqualified from seeking any elective position in the primary election of any political party or in the general election.
Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria is the Chair, Alliance on Surviving Covid 19 and Beyond (ASCAB).