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Emefiele’s 2023 ‘aspiration’ rattles financial experts, lawyers

By Joseph Onyekwere (Deputy Editor) and Geoff Iyatse (Assistant Business Editor)
09 May 2022   |   3:52 am
After months of speculation, the picking of expression of interest and nomination form by Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, Godwin Emefiele, to join the race to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari...

Godwin Emefiele of CBN. Photo: NAIRAMETRICS

Fasua: Injection of CBN chief, Adesina points to more complex game plan
• He has no moral, ethical reason to remain in office, say lawyers  
• HEDA petitions ICPC to investigate Emefiele

After months of speculation, the picking of expression of interest and nomination form by Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, Godwin Emefiele, to join the race to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari has drawn the ire of many, throwing up frenzied reactions from politicians, financial experts and lawyers over the impropriety or otherwise of the apex bank’s chief joining the fray.

It was gathered at the weekend that owing to implications the situation could have on the nation’s economic outlook, the House of Representatives immediately convened an emergency plenary session for Monday (today) to deliberate on Emefiele’s presidential ambition, which crisis in the aviation sector may have put at bay.  
Though Emefiele, on Saturday, said he had not taken a decision on the 2023 presidency yet, there have been heated reactions to the purchase of presidential nomination forms of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) by a coalition comprising Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria, Emefiele Support Group and Friends of Godwin.

The CBN governor has been under intense pressure to resign since then, with many raising concerns about a potential conflict of interest in his possible involvement in politics may have raised.

Responding to the support groups’ decision to pick up a nomination form on his behalf, Emefiele, who had earlier distanced himself from the ‘distraction’, turned down the gesture, saying, “I will use my own hard-earned savings to buy my own nomination forms and would not do so through proxies.”

He, however, did not foreclose the possibility of heeding the call to join the race but asked for time to seek the divine guide. 
   
Emefiele’s response has raised controversy on the morality and legality of a sitting CBN governor’s participation in the partisan process, the extent to which this has breached the CBN Act and if a case of conflict of interest can be established. 

   
Dr. Tope Fasua, an economist and presidential candidate in the 2019 elections, told The Guardian yesterday that Emfiele should resign on moral grounds. He, however, said the involvement of the President of African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, has broadened his perspective on the issue. 
 
Just like Emefiele’s case, a coalition of 28 groups purchased the forms on behalf of the former Minister of Agriculture.
   
Fasua said: “I am now a bit confused with the news of Adesina also chasing the same position, which means heads of two big banks are involved. That calls for more introspection. The offices of Emefiele and Adesina are not political positions. If some groups have put down N100 million each on behalf of the two individuals, it means there is a bigger and more complex political game, which many people are not aware of.”
   
Fasua said he was worried about how Emefiele would survive the politicking while holding on to his office but he “cannot approbate and reprobate now” having learnt that Adesina is coming into the race.
 
 
On the concern that Emefiele’s supposed interest could send an untoward signal to the market and economy, Fasua said: “Until Emefiele decides, we cannot take him up on whether he has been a member of APC all this while and begin the process of taking him on the issue of conflict of interest.”
 
Ken Ife, a professor of economics and international finance expert, said Emefiele could not dabble into the race without recourse to provisions of relevant laws, including the CBN Act, which emphasises the independence of the apex bank.
   
“I am sure he knows the CBN Act and its position on the involvement of key officials in partisan politics. He must have also studied the potential consequences of seeking a political position while in office as CBN governor,” Ife stressed.
   
On the signal the debate could send to the market, another professor of economics, Godwin Owoh, said Nigeria’s market has been so battered that it becomes indifferent to issues that ordinarily weigh heavily on other economies.
   
Owoh, a former consultant to the CBN, said the key issue is not whether Emefiele is seeking a political office but whether he needs to step down from office. “If Emefiele joins the race in the coming week,” he said, “it would be tantamount to a Supreme Court judge joining a political party to contest any elective position.
 
But Owoh added that the CBN board members would have to resign alongside Emefiele as they have also failed to perform their roles as a check on the management team of the regulatory body.
   
“I am sure even some politicians are surprised that the CBN governor is contemplating running. And, surprisingly, no member of the board thinks there is something wrong with it. Nigerians all over the world will be ashamed because there is no such example anywhere in the world,” the economist said. 
   
If Emefiele chooses to contest and emerge Nigeria’s president next year, he will be joining the likes of the current Prime Minister of Italy, Mario Draghi. Draghi was governor of the bank of Italy from 2006 till 2011 and served as President of the European Central Bank (ECB), thereafter, until 2019. He only emerged as Italian Prime Minister in February last year after intense inter-party negotiations and political compromises.
   
But Owoh argued that Draghi’s route to power was remarkably different from what we have today, saying Emefiele will become “the first central bank governor to campaign for an elective position while still in office.”    

REACTING to the development, Ibadan-based lawyer, Yomi Aliyu (SAN), said while Sections 6 to 11 of the CBN Act provide for the qualifications of the CBN Governor, Section 9 bars him from taking up any other job than being the governor.
  
By this, the lawyer stated, Emefiele is a public office holder, unlike Ministers who are political officeholders. He explained that the office of the CBN governor has a guaranteed tenure.
  
“If the law says that he cannot take up any other job, I doubt whether he can pick the nomination form for political appointments without resigning his post. 
  
“It is illegal, morally wrong and unethical. He ought to have resigned before embarking on hunting for an elective post, being somebody in charge of the commonwealth of the people. It is an abuse of office in the extreme for him to say the debtors of his bank got the N100 million nomination forms for him. If they have that much, why did they have to approach him for a loan?
 

 
“He is deemed to have resigned by the provision of Section 11 of the Act or the Senate should vote him out by the provision of Section 11(2)(f) for gross misconduct under Section11 (2)(c),” he suggested, adding that the CBN Act did not define misconduct, therefore, leaving it to whatever the Senate deems to be same.
  
Also, a professor of Comparative Constitutional Law and Governance, Edoba Omoregie (SAN), said Emefiele should either resign to pursue his aspiration or be kicked out.
  
“His remark is not only suggestive but disappointing. It shows that Mr. Emiefele doesn’t fully grasp the negative policy and legal implications of being associated with partisan politics, even remotely. 
  
“Already, and rather unsurprisingly, local and international media have picked up the news of Emiefele’s reported interests and his unwise response to his linkage to partisan politics. It’s needless to say that his alleged aspiration while holding office as governor of the apex bank is a very weighty turn of events. It can potentially erode the confidence in the Nigerian monetary system, which is expected to be administered by non-partisan experts with the CBN governor as the dominant head of the team,” he stated.
  
Omoregie explained that being nonpartisan as the CBN governor is a global norm, applicable in all other countries.
  
“Any indication, however, unconfirmed, that the head of the CBN harbours political aspirations is disastrous for the economy of any country,” he pointed out. 
  
According to the scholar, from a legal standpoint, Section 9 of the CBN Act is quite explicit. It, he said, prohibits the Governor and Deputy Governors of the CBN from engaging in other activities except those related to their offices. This prohibition, he added, applies to any form of political engagement.
  
His words: “By commending those who purchased the presidential nomination form for him, and unconvincingly suggesting that he’s still pondering the thought of contesting or not contesting, Mr. Emiefele’s position as Governor of the apex bank has become untenable. 
  
“Consequently, I join other well-meaning Nigerians to call on Mr. Emiefele to resign his office as Governor of the CBN forthwith, to save the Nigerian economy from further erosion on account of his political partisanship.
  
“If he fails to do so, I urge the President to relieve Mr. Emiefele of his position without delay. This will reassure all Nigerians and the international economic community that the CBN will not be allowed to be led by a person with partisan political aspiration.”
  
Similarly, Lagos lawyer and human rights activist, Festus Ogun, said Emefiele’s presidential aspiration, while still in office, “is illegal, morally reprehensible and weakens whatever is left of our institutions.”
  
Politics, he explained, is a vocation and the CBN Governor is not allowed by law to engage in partisan politics.
 
 
“It is unthinkable that Emefiele, despite his embarrassing failures, will disregard law and morality to vie for President under the ruling APC, while still in office. Our national vault is no longer safe.
  
“Emefiele must immediately resign his position as CBN Governor to save our country from this unthinkable absurdity. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) must immediately commence a thorough investigation into Emefiele’s period in office.”

A civic group, the Human & Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA Resource Centre) has petitioned the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), urging the body to investigate the CBN governor and an emergency interest group, Green Alliance.

HEDA, in a statement, said it had petitioned the ICPC to take swift action to prevent the breach of the Central Bank of Nigeria Act by the Governor, by promptly and diligently investigating the motive and sponsors of The Green Alliance Movement and if any foul play was uncovered, such culprits should be prosecuted accordingly.

The group said the statement by the CBN governor shows that he had been involved in politics contrary to Section 9 of the CBN Act.
 
HEDA said, “As the CBN governor, Emefiele keeps Nigerians confused regarding his 2023 Presidential bid, the ICPC has responded to a petition filed against him by HEDA Resource Centre last month.

“As the event unfolded, HEDA petitioned the ICPC to take swift action to prevent the breach of the Central Bank of Nigeria Act by the Governor, by promptly and diligently investigating the motive and sponsors of The Green Alliance Movement and if any foul play was uncovered, such culprits should be prosecuted accordingly.

“In a response signed by the Petition Registrar, H.S Folaranmi, on behalf of the chairman of the Commission, Bolaji Owasanoye, to HEDA, ICPC acknowledged HEDA’s Petition and averred to act accordingly.

“The chairman of HEDA, Mr. Olanrewaju Suraju, confirmed that its petition among others must have prompted Emefiele to come up with his latest statement on his Twitter handle, ‘This is a serious decision that requires God’s Divine intervention, in the next few days The Almighty will so direct.’”

HEDA’s boss maintained that Emefiele had been involved in politics and a member of APC contrary to the law. 

“By telling Nigerians that within the week, he would let Nigerians know his stance (to run or not) after hearing from God, it then means he’s been involved in politics and member of APC, contrary to the law,” Suraju asserted.

“He reminded Emefiele that failure to publicly state his position on the 2023 general election would not only be precarious to Nigeria’s currently fragile economy but inimical to the country’s financial integrity, saying that the current state of the economy requires all actors to stay focused on the task of repositioning Nigeria on a trajectory of prosperity.

“Going by our mandate as a leading anti-corruption organisation in Nigeria, we expect every political aspirant to play by the rules, but they must remember that good governance remains the hallmark of democracy,” he added.