By Nnamdi Elekwachi
Godwin Emefiele, the immediate past czar of Nigeria’s apex bank, is standing trial in an Abuja court on an amended twenty-count charge almost alone. It is not to say that there are no persons fingered alongside him in the corruption case, but that all Emefiele’s co-accused are either his subordinates or alleged beneficiaries, some of whom are still at large, but not his principal. This poses the moral question: did Godwin Emefiele not act based on directives? Emefiele, I share in Prof. Kingsley Moghalu’s submission, is the worst CBN Governor to have emerged in Nigeria recently. The former CBN Governor has many questions to answer concerning the monetary policy regime he headed; but all those questions are not for him alone to answer. The worst is that rather than decisively indict him, the Tinubu-led Federal Government keeps amending his charge, thereby canonising and lionising Emefiele with allegations that beggar belief.
What did his accusers say? First, terrorism financing; later, unlawful possession of firearms – with no proof of criminal intent; procurement law breaches; acquisition of some deposit money banks through fronts; holding 593 bank accounts in China, the US, the United Kingdom; and then, recently, forgery and false pretense and the like.
Funnily enough, some of the charges were dropped after the DSS appeared to be collapsing under the weight of the burden of proof. Fresh charges were filed after fresh amendments, yet Emefiele has not answered any question bordering on the more serious crimes he allegedly perpetrated while in office, to which I shall return in a later part of this piece.
There is a political undertone to the travails of Emefiele which renders his trial a mere scapegoating exercise being aggressively pursued by pro-Tinubu escapists. It should be recalled that alongside President Tinubu and others, Emefiele aspired to be on the ballot during the APC presidential primary election. He even challenged the decision to remove his name on the ballot on the basis of being a public servant, and not a civil servant, after some phony groups had procured expression of interest and nomination forms at ₦100, 000, 000 for him. After he failed to secure the APC ticket, the former CBN boss announced the naira redesign policy, which he claimed would on the one hand help the apex bank mop up liquidity as there was too much money in circulation, and on the other hand prevent moneybags from influencing the outcome of the 2023 general elections.
Of all the presidential candidates then, only Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the APC openly condemned the idea of recolouring the naira. Tinubu, in whose Bourdillon compound two bullion vans, believed to be stashed with cash, were sighted prior to 2019 general elections, held that Emefiele’s naira redesign policy, whatever it was, was targeted at him. Emefiele, meanwhile, had announced the policy while Buhari was away, though the former president came back to claim that the policy had his prior approval in a national broadcast, in hindsight, the policy is a total failure that gulped over ₦96 billion of taxpayers’ money. Tinubu read this policy as a strategic move to demobilise him politically; he did not forget.
Emefiele’s agony began even before Buhari left office. A plot to arrest him at the airport while he was abroad was allegedly foiled by Gen. Lucky Irabor, former Chief of Defense Staff who hails from Delta State, Emefiele’s home state. The allegation then was that Emefiele was funding the want-away proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, a secessionist group pushing for the restoration of a plebiscitary Republic of Biafra.
Emefiele’s charge, by increasing and decreasing in number following oscillatory amendments, shows that the EFCC did not do a thorough investigation before building their case file as the charge had been amended endlessly. The allegations preferred against Emefiele moved from a 20-count charge to a 6-count charge; now it is back to 20 after fresh amendments.
In fairness, Emefiele is not answering questions on grave issues allegedly perpetrated during his regime. It was alleged, for example, that under his watch, the CBN secured a loan to the tune of $7.5 billion from two American banks: J P Morgan and Goldman Sachs, respectively. The loans, sources claimed, were collateralised using Nigeria’s foreign exchange reserves, a move many financial analysts said lowered Nigeria’s credit rating and partly culminated in the current foreign exchange liquidity problem.
The J P Morgan and ’oldman Sachs facilities were advanced to the Federal Government in 2022. Earlier, in April of 2021, after the low sales that hit the post-pandemic global oil market, Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State had alleged that following NNPC’s failure to remit a kobo into the Federal Account Allocation Committee, FAAC account in a long while, the CBN came under intense pressure to ‘print more money’ thereby expanding Federal Government’s overdraft unduly. ₦60 billion, Obaseki said, was this way printed in one instance and shared vertically among the three tiers of government, which the Edo governor then labeled ‘monetary rascality.’ The entire economic team of former President Muhammadu Buhari has a lot to explain in this, not only Emefiele.
That brings me to the Ways and Means advances of the CBN.
Recently, Jim Obazee was appointed by President Tinubu to investigate all past activities and records of the apex bank under Emefiele. Emefiele, Obazee’s report went ahead, did not receive the blessing of the CBN board or that of former President Muhammadu Buhari before embarking on the naira redesign. Contrary to this claim, Buhari granted interviews where he lauded the policy as capable of initiating electoral process reforms and bettering the political lot of the nation and even went ahead to urge Nigerians to exercise patience in the face of cash crunch occasioned by the policy in a national broadcast.
Again, the Ways and Means of the apex bank, according to the CBN Act of 2007 is a borrowing plan that allows the Federal Government to resort to the apex bank as ‘the lender of last resort’ when there is need to address budgetary shortfalls or to defray certain short-term emergency financial costs for which cash receipts could be delayed. Under former President Muhammadu Buhari, the Ways and Means advances of the CBN were grossly abused. While Section 38 of the CBN Act is clear that ‘the Federal Government shall pay back within the same financial year,’failing which the CBN shall no longer be able to perform such obligation, Buhari’s government did not pay back in the same financial year and the CBN did not stop advancing the facility, yet, after ballooning the advances to an unsustainable amount, the same government sought to have the facility restructured to a forty-year bond (security) at 9% interest per annum. Buhari got his wish, thanks to the ninth and tenth National Assembly.
To help Buhari borrow more, two days before the May 29 transition, the National Assembly, Nigeria’s worst nightmare, hastily passed a law that increased the Federal Government’s borrowing limit from the CBN. According to the new amendment, the Federal Government would be able to borrow 15% of the revenue of the preceding year from the apex bank as Ways and Means, representing a 200% increase from the initial 5%. This happened during an emergency Saturday plenary session!
It has to be stated that before this time, Buhari had always exceeded the 5% revenue provided for in the law as the Ways and Means. It should be noted that the Ways and Means cannot be advanced to the Federal Government if the latter did not formally approach the apex bank. What followed was a flagrant monetary policy abuse where Buhari neglected the law, Emefiele aided him, and the National Assembly bent the law. Why is Emefiele’s name alone being mentioned? Were there no Lawan and Gbajabiamila in the 9th assembly that amended the Ways and Means clause of the CBN Act?
To understand the conspiracy better. The CBN Act says that the CBN shall make an onward transmission of its financial report at the end of every year to the president and National Assembly. But for about 8 years, Emefiele made no such financial disclosure to the lawmakers, yet the National Assembly did not serve him summons for that. This enabled Buhari to increase the Ways and Means advances from ₦760 billion in 2015 to ₦23.7 trillion naira when he left office in 2023!
Another thing I consider laughable is the claim that Emefiele, through false pretense and forgery, caused $6.2 million to be released as ‘logistic advance’ for foreign election observers. While this has yet to be explained sufficiently, I do not know which observer mission or group, whether foreign or domestic, the Federal Government funds or mobilises during election in Nigeria. Maybe there is a gap in knowledge. All the observer missions like: ECOWAS, AU, UN, EU and the like have their respective budgets and in most cases spend their money during elections in Nigeria. Same goes for foreign missions like the US Embassy, Chinese Embassy, Russian Embassy, British High Commission, Canadian High Commission and the like, including civil society and media groups, whether foreign or domestic.
No election observer, to the best of my knowledge, as an accredited stakeholder, demands or receives funds from Nigeria for the purposes of election. The European Union, for example, is quoted to have spent the sum of €39 million during the last elections in Nigeria. So why would Emefiele, as alleged, claim that the said $6.2 million was for observers’ logistics? Emefiele’s accusers claimed to be in possession of a video footage where Boss Mustapha, the former secretary to the government of the federation, plotted with Emefiele to divert the said $6.2 million, but in the updated charge sheet, Boss Mustapha’s name was omitted. How come? What happened to the video clip?
Those who are coming to equity on Emefiele’s matter should ensure that their own hands are clean. All the allegations preferred against Emefiele seem too narrow and petty. Let the question be about the Goldman Sachs and J P Morgan lendings, about non-transmission of financial records to the National Assembly, about how and why he allowed Buhari exceed the Ways and Means threshold, not who owns the rifle under his bed or any implausible accusation. Let that process start, even if it demystifies other characters in the drama, so be it, after all there is no such law as post-presidential immunity clause. Already, the self-serving bias of former President Muhammadu Buhari is too much to be overlooked.
So what are we still waiting for?
Nnamdi Elekwachi, a historian wrote from Abia State