For those who decide to ride on the back of the tiger, the problem is not how to mount, but how to dismount without ending up in the belly of the tiger. For Godwin Emiefele, the incompetent and amoral governor of Nigeria’s central bank, that time is now. For eight years, he operated as a rogue central banker, bludgeoning the Nigerian economy with one catastrophic monetary policy decision after another while violating all ethics, norms, and procedures to satisfy his political masters. He went on a money-printing spree for the government over and above the legal limits, lending to the government over N23.72 trillion ($53 billion) in its so-called “Ways and Means Advances” while raising the Cash Reserve Ratio and throttling the private sector to manage inflation, unsuccessfully. Worse, his staccato banning, unbanning, and re-banning of individuals, groups or items from access to foreign and the almost weekly change to rules surrounding inflow and outflow of foreign exchange led to the loss of trust and the delisting of Nigeria from most money transactions mediums. This is to say nothing of the plunge in foreign direct and portfolio investments as a result of the policy inconsistencies and the instability of the local currency.
His rise to the plum job mirrors all that is wrong with appointment into public office in Nigeria. Goodluck Jonathan was forced to fire his predecessor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, an otherwise competent but irascible fellow who not only stabilised the country’s financial system and asserted the independence of the central bank, but went so far as to politicise his office by levelling salacious and false allegations against the president to aide the political opposition. Jonathan decided to go for a malleable individual who would do as he was told. Emiefele fitted the bill and he got the job.
And what a malleable person he turned out to be. In 2015, after Jonathan’s defeat, and sensing his position was threatened based on the questionable transactions he engaged in during the Jonathan years, he expertly ingratiated himself to the cabal – a shadowy but powerful group of individuals surrounding the president – and the president’s family, providing them with enough foreign exchange for roundtripping and arbitrage while ensuring the gap between the official and parallel value of the Naira to the dollar keeps expanding to maximise their returns. To the government, he simply did as he was told by printing money on demand – even if illegally and turning the central bank, in Doyin Salami’s words into “the government’s piggy bank.”
So astutely did he manage his relationship with the president and the political class that he made history by becoming the first and only governor of the central bank to be nominated and confirmed for the second term of five years since the return to democratic rule in 1999. At his second confirmation hearing in 2019, he was confirmed unanimously with the Senate saying he has “performed creditably well in his first tenure…”
But like a slave who forgot his place and is gunning for his masters’ position, Emiefele misinterpreted the president’s and political class’s tolerance for real political power and goodwill and took the unprecedented decision to run for president while still being governor of the central bank.
That was a step too far – and they are now after him. The country’s Department of State Security (DSS) has declared him wanted for – wait for it – “terrorism financing, fraudulent activities, and involvement in economic crimes of national security dimension.”
However, to show how the country is on an auto cruise, since being declared wanted, Emiefele has continued to preside over the central bank – either from exile or in hiding.
Of course, the question to the DSS is: since when did it realise that Emefiele is financing terrorism and economic crimes? Did the agency just discover the crimes now or was it aware of it but kept quiet since he was basically printing free money for the political class?
I have consistently argued that the constitution and laws in Nigeria are only on paper and mean absolutely nothing to the Nigerian political class. The only true law that matters is the one that governs elite competition and contestation for power. Every other law is expendable and of no consequences when it clashes with the interest(s) of the elite and their quest for power.
Besides, we must spare a thought for the image of Nigeria in the international financial and investment community. How would the world’s financial system and investors look at us when the governor of our central bank is accused of financing terrorism and economic crimes and has continued to run the central bank in exile or in hiding?