Over the last few weeks, Nigeria’s chief banker, Godwin Emefiele has been under the insistent eye of the Department of State Services (DSS), the agency responsible for the prevention, detection and investigation of crimes such as terrorism.
As the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Emefiele occupies a strategic position in Nigeria’s economy. The principal objects of the CBN include promoting a sound financial system in Nigeria, acting as banker and providing economic and financial advice to the federal government. This is why policies emanating from the Bank and the actions of its leaders will constantly be open to public critique.
A lot of controversies have often surrounded the Central Bank governor both for right and wrong reasons. Some have led many to seek an understanding of the laws on the issues and others have ended up in court.
Below we highlight two instances where Emefile was legally in the right, but ethically divisive.
Emefiele and the DSS
Via an ex parte application, the agency sought a warrant from the court to arrest the CBN governor over alleged acts of financing terrorism, fraudulent activities and economic crimes of national security. From the preliminary investigation by the DSS, it was revealed that the governor was seen fraternising with an unnamed well-known terror financier. The agency stated that several invitations to Emefiele to be voluntarily interrogated on the issue went unanswered. As such, it was compelled to initiate the proceedings against the CBN Governor.
In its ruling, the court sitting in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja rejected the application on the grounds that the DSS failed to provide sufficient evidence to support the issuance of an arrest warrant against the governor of the apex bank. The court presided over by Justice John Tsoho stated that the charges against the governor of the CBN were unsubstantiated and only based on trumped-up allegations.
In fact, the evidence of a sighting of the CBN governor with the unnamed known terrorist financier is not sufficient evidence for an arrest warrant, as rightly decided by the court. However, it is the inference that some draw from Emefiele’s response to the suit that gives some cause for pause.
After the application for a warrant to arrest the CBN governor was made on December 7, 2022, Emefiele went to the United States on leave and did not return to Nigeria until January 16, 2023 after the court’s ruling rejecting the DSS’ application for his arrest warrant. While there are no laws preventing Emefiele from going on leave pending the decision of the ex-parte application, for some, Emefiele’s refusal to oblige the invitation to assist with the interrogation and sudden vacation when the application was filed is an ethical violation of his duty as CBN governor to satisfy the citizens that there was no compromise of Nigeria’s economic and financial interest, especially on a sensitive topic like terrorism.
The position of the CBN Governor and Chairman of the Monetary Policy Committee is not only a legal but fiduciary one
Emefiele and the Presidency
Every Nigerian citizen has the right to vote and be voted for during elections. This is guaranteed under the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Section 77 (2) and 117 (2) provides that “every citizen of Nigeria, who has attained the age of eighteen years residing in Nigeria at the time of the registration of voters for purposes of election to a legislative house, shall be entitled to be registered as a voter for that election.”
Section 131 of the 1999 Constitution stipulates that a person is qualified for election to the office of president if he is a citizen of Nigeria by birth; he has attained the age of forty years; is a member of a political party and is sponsored by that political party.
In the early days of the presidential campaigns towards the 2023 elections, Emefiele, the then and still extant Governor of the CBN decided to run for the office of the president. Although, based on the above provisions, Emefiele was entitled to throw in his hat as a presidential aspirant, By the combined effect of sections 66(1)(f), 107(1)(f), 137(1)(g) and 182(1)(g) of the 1999 Constitution, a person shall not be qualified for election in Nigeria if the candidate is a person employed in the civil or public service of the federation or of any state and has not resigned, withdrawn or retired from the employment at least thirty (30) days before the date of the election. The simple interpretation of the above constitutional provision is that any employed civil servant or public servant intending to contest an election in Nigeria must have resigned from his or her position at least 30 days before the date of the election.
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The public service of Nigeria includes any member of staff of any commission or authority established for the federation by the Constitution or by an act of the national assembly, which includes the office of the Governor of the CBN.
Regardless of the legal restraint, several other issues surrounding his run caused controversy. One was the sudden appearance of a coalition of interest groups – Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria, Friends of Emefiele and Emefiele Support Group who purchased the expression of interest and nomination form of the All Progressive Congress worth N100 million for him. This group did this because they were still exultant from loans and the commendations received from President Muhammadu Buhari who believed the CBN governor had contributed significantly to his agricultural agenda.
The second was that in the face of this largesse, Emefiele, at first, neither gave a yes or no to the questions on whether he planned to run for office or whether he was aware that the purchase was being made. As a result of this delay, the air was rife with speculation that he was interested in running for the office.
Added to this was his insistence, despite the provisions of the law, that he is not a public servant. Finally, it was only after the laws had been taken to court for interpretation and there was a public outcry for him to resign as CBN governor before running that Emefiele stated that the interest group only acted on his behalf. Adding to that, he stated that if he wanted to run for president he would use his own money to purchase the nomination form.
More so, election materials are usually kept in the custody of the CBN for safety and security reasons. Due to the controversies surrounding Emefiele’s ambition to run, the Independent National Electoral Commission said that it will no longer keep election materials with the CBN but kept the status quo after Emefiele declined interest.
The position of the CBN Governor and Chairman of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the CBN (the committee which formulates monetary and credit policies) is not only a legal but fiduciary one and the incumbent is expected to carry out their duties in the interest of the country. The financial powers of the country lie with the CBN through the governor, thus, the power to make or mar the country’s economy lies with this office. Information in the public whether speculative or true cannot be controlled and the extent to which it can be used cannot be fathomed. As such, actions and allegations that not only cast a shadow on the effective dispatch of these obligations but imply connections with one of the country’s biggest issues, terrorism create uncertainty, and should to the extent of one’s abilities be avoided.