Emefiele for President?

Does Mr. Godwin Emefiele, governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) since 2014, desire to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari as elected leader of the country in 2023? This is from all indications the case. As has become an all too familiar story in Nigeria, all kinds of faceless groups are urging on Emefiele to run, printing campaign posters on his behalf, and even placing advertorials in the media in pursuit of this objective of pushing his candidacy even though the man himself has maintained a studied silence on the issue.

The main thrust of their campaign is that he has performed so brilliantly as CBN governor over the last seven years that the governor of the apex bank is best placed to help actualize the ongoing ‘economic consolidation project’ as well as continue and achieve the Buhari administration’s goal of lifting 100 million people out of poverty in the next couple of years.

Of course, the dominant reaction has been that if indeed he has this political aspiration, which is his right in any case, Emefiele should immediately resign from his current appointment to pursue this goal in the interest of fairness and fairplay, the credibility of the critical office of CBN governor, the integrity of monetary policy in the remaining years of Buhari’s tenure as well as the health and stability of the Nigerian economy.

Ace columnist, Sam Omatseye, is one of those who have pointed out the patent immorality of the deceptive antics of Emefiele and his cheerleaders on this matter. With unsparing pungency, he wrote in this newspaper on Monday: “An abuse of office is going on with Godwin Emefiele. His so-called committee of friends failed to protect the CBN governor. Rallies are around town. Posters are everywhere. He is still mum. If he wants to run for president, he should resign his office. He should not hide under pieties about God or Muhammadu Buhari”. Of course, the very next day, the apex bank governor’s shadowy friends had responded in a full-page advertorial. Seeking unconvincingly to distance the CBN governor from the campaigns that he run for the highest office in the land, they argued among others that “Godwin Emefiele without prejudice to how he may feel about the posters, also respects the constitutional right of Nigerians, guaranteed under Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended, to hold opinions and express them without any encumbrances”.

This is of course utter balderdash. Anyone who is convinced that Emefiele is unaware of the architects of the campaign and indeed part of the entire game plan will believe anything. One of the arguments of some of these amorphous groups for an Emefiele candidacy is that he has a track record of loyalty, patriotism and performance and is different from the typical politicians “who are well versed in political deception, intimidation and blackmail”. This is a grand irony. For, the very essence of the surreptitious campaigns that have heralded Emeliele’s bid for the presidency in 2023 is deception on a grand and stunning scale. If he wants to contest the office of President next year, Emefiele should be bold and courageous enough to declare his ambition rather than acting by proxy. He should be honest enough to voice his aspiration openly and clearly as well as demonstrate sufficient loyalty and patriotism to the country to quit his current office so as to shield the sensitive institution of the CBN from corrosive political partisanship.

What we have here is also fundamentally a question of character and integrity. Over the last seven years, Emefiele has presided over the most massive financial intervention by the apex bank in virtually every key sector of the economy. As my colleague, Sanya Oni, put it in his column on Thursday, “Never mind those high sounding programmes of the Buhari administration, the man, Emefiele, – in the absence of an effective fiscal counter -foil from the executive branch – has quite easily become the author and finisher of all developmental activities of the current government”.

In other words, the CBN under Emefiele has only seized upon the ineptness of the managers of the fiscal side of the economy to get the Apex bank involved in the humongous funding of diverse sectors of the economy – agriculture, textiles, aviation, tertiary education, power, health, entertainment etc with hardly any mechanism in place for effectively ascertaining the efficacy or impact of these policy initiatives.

The Emefiele-must-run orchestra credits the CBN governor for whatever may be the successes of the Buhari administration on the economic policy terrain as if there is no Vice President and the National Economic Council, no Minister of Works and Housing, Minister of Transportation, Minister of Finance, Minister of Agriculture, Minister of Power, Minister of Trade etc. They assert that Emefiele is singularly responsible for the vacuous and largely meaningless claim that Nigeria is the number one economy in Africa while studiously ignoring the hardly disputable logic that, if so, the CBN governor should be held no less culpable for the equally valid assertion that Nigeria is currently the poverty capital of the world. To quote Sanya Oni once again, “Yes, Emefiele wants to run. No problem with that. What is problematic is when he prefers to hide behind the fingers – and some dark – forces to proclaim or quite predictably, deny an ambition that bears every hallmark of opportunism and greed! Or when as he seems set to do, willfully convert an office held in trust to further a personal ambition”.

A man of firmer moral fiber and vertebrae should have come out to declare in clear and unmistakable terms that, given his sensitive and delicate role as one of the key managers of the economy over the last seven years including the disbursement of public funds on a stupendous scale, he has absolutely no interest in venturing into partisan politics – at least for now. That would have stopped all these shadowy Emefiele – for – President advocates in their tracks. In the alternative, he should wholeheartedly plunge into the political waters but immediately quit the CBN job for a politically disinterested successor in the best interest of a country he professes to love. Of course, on the campaign trail, he will be obliged to explain to Nigerians if, given the interest rate, exchange rate, inflation rate and unemployment rate at the time of his assumption of office in 2014 and what these indices are today, he considers his tenure the unqualified success those goading him along this dishonorable path are suggesting.

In any case, with his hitherto hidden political ambition now in the open, how does Emefiele credibly convince anyone that the disbursement of funds under him as CBN governor through the various sectoral financial interventions was not motivated by his subterranean partisan political interest rather than the advertised reasons for doing so, which should be the overall good of the economy? The office of the CBN governor in Nigeria has tremendous powers of political patronage particularly in the absence of any meaningful executive or legislative oversight. This envisages a man of the highest standards of integrity in that office who will not abuse these powers for partisan or any other type of selfish advantage.

Those who are championing the cause of Emefiele’s 2023 presidential candidacy have the right to do so. But he has a greater obligation to say a firm no on ethical grounds. If he lacks the moral character to stoutly resist those, possibly beneficiaries of his patronage, calling on him to engage in what is clearly an abuse of trust and power by contesting in 2023, how is Emefiele better than those well- known military and civilian Heads of State in our history who could not refuse the seductive and destructive lure of sycophants who urged them to perpetuate themselves in office even against the stated will of the people and the constitution. This moral lapse was fundamentally responsible for military President, General Ibrahim Babangida’s annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, General Sani Abacha’s life presidency schemes and former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s third term agenda. What guarantee do we have then that if he achieves his goal and is elected president, Emefiele will not be susceptible to the antics of those ever present sycophants who will inevitably seek to pressurize him to exceed constitutional term limits as the best thing ever to have happened to the country?

The marketers of Emefiele as a possible presidential candidate in 2023 refer essentially to his role as a technocrat and CBN governor in the last seven years. This column does not dispute that he has some plaudits to his credit in this regard. The not unimpressive 3.4% Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth recorded in 2021 and the relatively quick recovery from the COVID-19 induced recession were partly due to the expansionary policies of the apex bank under Emefiele. However, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), this attainment was driven “mainly by Agriculture (crop production); Trade; Information and Communication (Telecommunication); and Financial and Insurance (Financial Institutions), accounting for positive GDP growth”. It is thus dishonest and uncharitable for Emefiele to seek to claim sole credit for what is at best a collective achievement.

In any case, Emefiele’s proclaimed genius has not helped us to unravel the mystery of how to translate relatively high economic growth rates into concrete improvement in the material living conditions of millions of Nigerians. For, no less impressive growth rates were experienced at various times under the preceding Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan administrations with negligible impact on poverty and unemployment levels. We need a president and economic managers in 2023 who will be able to solve this conundrum. But even as CBN governor, Emefiele’s performance has not been necessarily more superlative than that of either Professor Chukuma Soludo or Mallam Lamido Sanusi Lamido before him. Those two were also widely applauded and won a number of prestigious awards by professional bodies for their achievements as governors of the apex bank. Indeed, in terms of core CBN functions, it appears to me that the preceding two were more creative, bold and imaginative than Emefiele.

Even then, given the multifaceted crises confronting Nigeria today; the diverse existential threats to the country’s very survival, the country needs in the immediate post-Buhari dispensation a president who is not just a strait-jacket technocrat; he must be a tested political hand and proven bridge builder who can run an inclusive government and pull the country together. The next president must not be a conservative system – man but one with a demonstrated capacity and past record of thinking outside the box in governance and coming up with radical innovations that can help revive virtually comatose organizational structures and set them on a path of sustained accelerated growth and transformation.

About the Author

Segun Ayobolu is a columnist with The Nation Newspaper and was Chief Press Secretary to Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu when he was governor of Lagos State between 1999 and 2005.

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