Thursday, 30th November 2023

Investigation of Godwin Emefiele: Matters arising

By Editorial Board
03 July 2023   |   3:52 am
The suspension of the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele and his subsequent arrest and detention by the Department of State Services (DSS) may appear plausible, even predictable to many Nigerians who readily blame the apex banker for their financial woes, particularly in the last days of former President Muhammadu Buhari government.

Godwin Emefiele (Photo by Olukayode Jaiyeola/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The suspension of the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele and his subsequent arrest and detention by the Department of State Services (DSS) may appear plausible, even predictable to many Nigerians who readily blame the apex banker for their financial woes, particularly in the last days of former President Muhammadu Buhari government. However, it remains a stark truth that Emefiele is innocent of all allegations being touted against him, until the law court says otherwise. That position of the Nigerian Constitution subsists. And it remains to be seen whether or not the DSS is grandstanding on the Emefiele matter, as it did on many previous cases including that of Supreme Court Justice Mary Odili a couple of years back. The security agency has a duty to show substance to justify its action, and not merely play to the gallery.

Precisely, on June 10, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu suspended Emefiele as the CBN governor and in his stead, appointed Folashodun Shonubi, the Deputy Governor (Operations Directorate) in acting capacity. According to the Federal Government, the suspension is sequel to ongoing investigation of the office of the CBN governor and the planned reforms in the economy’s financial sector.

Since assuming office as the head of the apex bank in 2014, Emefiele has been embroiled in controversies of varying and diverse dimensions stemming mainly from his improper management of the economy. While the ill-fated and poorly implemented Naira Redesign and Swap Policy is arguably the most contentious and contemptuous decision of Emefiele-led CBN inflicting direct and far-reaching adverse implications on (all) Nigerians, the most distinctive stunt of notorious complexion pulled by the embattled governor is his audacity to run for the presidency.

Not only was this ambition jaw-breaking, Nigerians were equally stunned to learn that Emefiele had been a card-carrying member of the All Progressives Congress (APC) since February 2021! His active participation in politics as Central Bank governor negates the letters and spirit of the CBN Act. This unbridled appetite for political power exposed him to public scrutiny, and also attracted widespread condemnation, with experts expressing worries about his impartiality and the autonomy of the CBN. No doubt, this singular illogical move heralded his current tribulations as the investigating lens of the DSS immediately focused on him.

In December 2022, the DSS alleged that Emefiele had been involved in “financing terrorism, fraudulent activities, and economic crimes of national security dimension.” However, its application to the Federal High Court, Abuja for a warrant of arrest against Emefiele was dismissed for want of evidence. In that case, of the Incorporated Trustees of Forum for Accountability and Good Leadership v. DSS & 4 Ors., Justice M.A Hassan of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) while temporarily restraining the DSS, Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and CBN from arresting Emefiele, held inter alia: “Any continuous harassment, intimidation, threats, restriction, and free movement, abuse of right of office, surreptitious moves to arrest, and humiliation of Mr. Godwin Emefiele over trumped up allegations of terrorism financing and fraudulent practices, etc, by the 2nd, 3rd and 4th respondents and their offices were “vindictive, unwarranted, abrasive, oppressive and same constitute a flagrant breach of his rights to personal liberty, dignity and human person and illegal and unconstitutional.”

Apparently, the DSS was deterred by the above ruling, and also the presidential protection extended to Emefiele at the material time from taking any further action. However, with the exit of President Buhari’s government, the DSS confirmed the arrest and investigation of Emefiele, urging the public, particularly the media, to apply ‘‘utmost caution in the reportage and narratives concerning this.”

While this admonition is laudable, however, the DSS should heed its own advice by being circumspect in handling the matter. It bears resounding that the above-stated cases went against the DSS because it failed to do due diligence. In fact, Justice Hassan had described all the allegations of terrorism against Emefiele as “trumped up.” Therefore, it is pertinent to pose whether the DSS now has iron-clad evidence against Emefiele, or is merely witch-hunting.

On face value, the allegations against Emefiele contain two major elements, viz; terrorism/national security, and graft. Issues have been raised as to whether the DSS is imbued with the power to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. A Senior Advocate of Nigeria and human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, answers in the negative. Falana pointedly stated as follows: “DSS lacks the power to investigate and prosecute Emefiele, in respect of allegations of money laundering and other economic crimes. After investigating the alleged involvement of Mr. Emefiele in terrorism financing, DSS should transfer him to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for the purpose of investigating the allegations of money laundering and allied offences. Otherwise, investigation of the case will be bungled by the DSS! In the case of Dr. Bukola Saraki v. Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Supreme Court ruled that EFCC lacks the vires to investigate and prosecute the Appellant for breach of provisions of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act. It was for that principal reason that the apex court freed Senator Saraki. In line with the principle of law enunciated by the apex court in Saraki’s case, the DSS lacks the power to investigate and prosecute Emefiele in respect of allegations of money laundering and other economic crimes.”

The concerns expressed by the learned silk are germane and should be given due consideration before the DSS takes any further judicial actions against Emefiele. Admittedly, Emefiele’s alleged financial misconduct partly borders on terrorism and national security which ordinarily clothes the DSS with the requisite vires to investigate and prosecute the matter, however, the other allegations of fraudulent activities are outside its purview. In order not to embark on a futile exercise, interagency cooperation between DSS and EFCC is strongly advised. It is about time both parties jettisoned the power tussle between them in the overriding interest of the country.

Strangely, the EFCC had informed Justice Hassan that Emefiele was not under its investigation as it had no case against him, probably out of spite for the DSS. It is disturbing for the nation’s primary anti-graft establishment to have maintained such a stance. Considering that the allegations substantially border on financial infractions, the EFCC is duty-bound to set its own investigative machinery in motion (without any external prompting) to be in a position to either corroborate or refute the allegations. Disassociating itself from the actions of the DSS (at the time) not only betrays its bias against a sister agency but clearly shows that the EFCC is not proactive.

To effectively tackle the issue at hand, it is expected that both agencies will bury the hatchet and collaborate for the common good of the nation. The prosecution of the matter should be undertaken by the AGF to avert any prosecutorial hiccups. Sadly, too many legal battles initiated by law enforcement agencies have been lost on the grounds of incurable procedural irregularities and technicalities. Therefore, the need for prudence in the instant matter cannot be overemphasized.

Indeed, the allegations against the suspended CBN governor are grave, and deserving of befitting sanctions, if proven true. However, his fundamental right to a fair hearing should not be sacrificed on the altar of a media trial or grandstanding by security agencies. The general public should desist from casting stones, while the investigating and prosecutorial authorities should ensure that Emefiele is fairly investigated and tried if indicted.

Given the enormous powers vested in the CBN governor and the likelihood of abuse, necessary control measures should be put in place to check the same. To this end, experts have recommended that Nigeria “should adopt the United Kingdom model where the prudential regulator is separated from the ombudsman.” Also, bankers, due to conflicts of interest, are more prone to undermining the office of the CBN governor. Consequently, to prevent a situation of divided loyalty to the banking industry and the Federal Government, bankers may not be the best fit for the exalted position. Tinubu is charged to fill the vacant substantive CBN governor position with a seasoned economist with a proven track record and “a strong experience in international development finance and macroeconomics” in line with his pledge to run a government of national competence.