• Monday, May 27, 2024
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The trial of Emefiele: A lesson for all technocrats in government

Court orders forfeiture of $4.7m, N830m, multiple properties linked to Emefiele

The images of Godwin Emefiele, looking flummoxed as he is chaperoned by state security agents from custody to custody, from courtroom to courtroom, contrast sharply with those of the man who, as governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, bestrode, until just a year ago, the Nigerian financial and banking world like a colossus—the man who daringly wanted to run for president while still the CBN governor. It is a classic case of how life or fortunes can turn on a dime; how the choices people make in life can lead to terrible consequences.

Read also: Emefiele, Kanu arrested arbitrarily as pre-trial detention persists in Nigeria – US Govt

But one must also wonder what former President Muhammadu Buhari, ensconced in his cosy home in Daura, Katsina State, is thinking as he watches the man whose behaviour he aided and abetted being treated like a common criminal. Why has Buhari abandoned Emefiele? Indeed, why is Buhari free and Emefiele not?

Well, that last question is Jejune. After all, this is a country where a former president is untouchable, where a former president is treated as an ‘institution’. Nigeria is the only country where presidents enjoy constitutional immunity in power and have de facto immunity after they leave office. All over the world, from Argentina to France, from Croatia to South Korea, and from Malaysia to South Africa, former presidents and prime ministers have been tried, convicted, and jailed for various offences. Indeed, according to one analysis, 78 countries worldwide had, as of 2023, prosecuted or jailed presidents or prime ministers who had left office since 2000. But that’s utterly inconceivable in Nigeria, where every president is on the presidential gravy train for life.

“It is a classic case of how life or fortunes can turn on a dime; how the choices people make in life can lead to terrible consequences.”

Notwithstanding that allegations of corruption and misappropriation of billions of dollars swirl around a former president’s government, it is always functionaries of the government that are questioned, detained, and even incarcerated. The former president himself is free as a bird, enjoying state largesse, gallivanting around the world, and pretending as if nothing went wrong under his administration. But how could billions of dollars or trillions of naira be missing in a government, especially channelled through the central bank, with the president knowing nothing about it? Well, in Nigeria, the president is always presumed to be ignorant of such monumental heists under his government.

Remember ‘Dasukigate’? In 2014, under President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, $2.2 billion of public money, set aside to buy arms to fight the Boko Haram insurgency, was allegedly transferred by his National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, from the CBN into private accounts and distributed to various individuals and organisations to provide mobile support for Jonathan’s re-election bid in 2015. Now, for those allegations, Dasuki spent four years in custody under President Buhari’s administration; he was not even allowed to attend his father’s funeral. Other people were also incarcerated.

But not once was Jonathan himself invited for questioning over the allegations. Can anyone with even a modicum of intelligence say that Jonathan did not know that the money was being used to prosecute his re-election campaign? In 2016, Professor Charles Soludo, a former CBN governor, now governor of Anambra State, said that Jonathan ran the CBN just like Idi Amin, the Ugandan dictator, ran his country’s central bank, with “the apparent abuse of the CBN as ATM by the presidency.” But being a former president, Jonathan had become untouchable, “even if he stole all the money in the world,” as someone put it!

Read also: How Emefiele allegedly used a dispatch rider to transport millions in cash

Professor Itse Sagay, President Buhari’s former anti-graft adviser, gave another reason why a former president cannot be tried in Nigeria. According to him, “putting a former leader on trial in Nigeria would be divisive.” Of course, he’s right. If any government attempts to try former President Jonathan, the Ijaw/Niger Delta militants would blow up oil installations and bring Nigeria’s economy to its knees. Attempt to try former President Olusegun Obasanjo, and the Yoruba would be up in arms, even though they don’t much like him. Ah, what about former President Buhari? Put him on trial, and the Hausa/Fulani would tear Nigeria apart. It is what the American biologist E. O. Wilson called “tribal carnivores,” where a tribe would happily harm other tribes but care more about their tribe than anything else.

But presidents and prime ministers have been jailed for corruption or malfeasance in other multi-ethnic countries without the issue being ethnicized or seen as an attack on a tribe. Well, Nigeria is exceptional. Yet, it is precisely because of that perverse exceptionalism that Nigeria is not making progress. If a former president is above the law and cannot be held accountable for whatever he did in office, how can there ever be good governance in Nigeria? But while a former president is untouchable, officials in his government can spend years in custody. That’s a lesson for those who hide behind transient presidential protection to abuse public office: their misdeeds could hang over them forever and mangle their lives.

Which brings us back to Emefiele. Truth be told, few would shed tears for Emefiele. He brought his current plight into his own head. A central bank governor is a technocrat who is expected to use his technical expertise to manage his country’s central bank and monetary policy for the common good. But as a seasoned banker who rose to become CEO and group managing director of Zenith Bank Plc, Emefiele threw away professionalism as CBN governor. He put personal interests above the public interest and private gain above the public good.

Given how President Buhari harangued functionaries of the Jonathan administration over ‘Dasukigate’, it was surprising that he didn’t force Emefiele, appointed by Jonathan in June 2014, to resign, especially as the scandal happened under him as the CBN governor even though he was not personally implicated. But truth be told, Emefiele quickly ingratiated himself with President Buhari, assuring him that he would do his bidding; indeed, he was Buhari’s man Friday, recklessly printing money to fund Buhari’s insatiable appetite for debt. Everyone knows about the CBN’s N30 trillion Way and Means lending to the Buhari government.

One of the commonest phrases of President Buhari was, “I have instructed the Central Bank to…” And, of course, the CBN always obliged. In April 2022, Emefiele told Buhari: “We (the CBN) will continue to protect your legacy and ensure that posterity remembers you for all you have done for our country.” How could a central bank governor be so fawning? Of course, Emefiele was protecting Buhari’s legacy of bankrupting Nigeria!

I wrote many articles critical of Emefiele during his headship of the CBN. For me, he wasn’t behaving like a proper central bank governor. In an article titled “Presidential diktats: How independent is the Central Bank of Nigeria” (BusinessDay, September 28, 2020), I said: “Emefiele is probably the most political CBN governor in recent history.” That view was later confirmed by his audacious but utterly inappropriate attempt to run for president while still CBN governor. But what about the judgement of his fellow central banker, Dr. Kingsley Moghalu, a former deputy governor of the CBN? In a tweet, Moghalu said: “He (Emefiele) is, without debate, the worst and most damaging Central Bank Governor in Nigeria’s history.”

Read also: Court sets bail at N50m for Emefiele

Yet, far more damaging, potentially, is the allegation, purportedly confirmed by forensic experts, that Emefiele forged President Buhari’s signature to move $6.2 million from the CBN vault. If the allegation is true, and that requires a verdict from the court, it’s a criminal misdeed for which Emefiele would not recover professionally and reputationally. It would confirm Moghalu’s view that he is “doubtlessly severely challenged with integrity.”

Buhari aided and abetted Emefiele’s abuse of office but has now abandoned him. It’s a lesson for all technocrats in government!