Why Were Heads of CBN and INEC Under Siege From Security Agencies?

There is currently a limit to the amount of cash that individuals and corporate bodies can withdraw from their bank accounts across the counter in Nigeria. But there is no limit to the absurdities that can happen in the financial services and political space in our dear country.

The assertion above is justified by the fact that until Monday 16 January 2023 that he returned to his desk after his trip to the United States of America, USA where he was part of President Mohammadu Buhari’s delegation to the President Joe Biden’s US – Africa summit held in Washington DC, from13 – 15 December, the CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele had been unaccounted for.

That is simply because he was declared a national security risk by the Department of State Security Service, DSS, so he automatically became a fugitive since he could not return to Nigeria in the intervening period.

It is not clear whether it is owing to the assumption in some quarters that he had been kidnapped in the US by a criminal gang that intended to compel him with a gun pointed at his head to disclose to them the code that would enable them gain access to Nigerian treasury and authorize the transfer of billions of dollars from Nigeria to designated accounts overseas, as we often see in Western movies.

In any case, before he traveled, one Kazaure Gudaji, claiming to be the Secretary of Presidential Committee on Reconciliation and Recovery of Stamp Duties Revenue, had alleged that N89 trillion revenues accruing to the federal government of Nigeria from stamp duties was misappropriated and diverted by Emefiele.

But the spokesman of President Mohammadu Buhari, Mr. Garba Shehu had promptly debunked the claim, stating that it was “ludicrous that a member of the parliament would claim to be secretary of an executive committee”.

Despite the denunciation of the seemingly scurrilous claims of Mr. Gudaji, analysts have boiled down Emefiele’s embattlement to the allegations by the self-appointed committee that is insisting that he converted N89 trillion stamp duty charges collected from Nigerians through the banks and Nigeria Interbank Settlements System, NIBSS over a period of ten (10) years into a private account.

Dear readers, please take note that N89 trillion naira is over four (4) times the value of our country’s 2023 national budget which is N21. 83 trillion. Here is a snippet of some of the mind boggling and jaws dropping claims:

“Furthermore, Stamp Duties revenue accruing to FGN is still growing at an astronomical rate, and this is quite evident from latest NIBSS statistics that reported eTransactions at N117.3 trillion in just 4 months of 2022 alone, and by conservative estimates, these could reach over N400 Trillion by year end. It must be noted that NIBSS is just 1 of 15 other switches whose records have not been captured by Copyright-holder, and CBN is jealously guarding the huge revenue that is “above OIL” from Government…”

But since no money has been declared missing from the CBN and Emefiele is back home (presumably in the safe bosom of his dear wife and other family members), it can be safely assumed that the kidnap plot failed in the US. Perhaps, the CBN governor, relying on voodoo from his birth place – Agbor, Delta state – was able to hypnotize his kidnappers and varnished into the thin air after which he manifested in Nigeria last Wednesday and subsequently showed up at work on Monday 16 January,2023.

Of course, what has been stated above is mere speculation as there has been no proof whatsoever that stamp duty money was collected and diverted.

Although, in the course of Emefiele’s prolonged sojourn abroad, which in military terms equates to Missing In Acton, MIA, no one could account for his whereabouts in the period of his absence, there is no evidence that he was kidnapped or under duress to remain abroad except the claim that the secret police would arrest him whenever he showed up in Nigeria.

Ordinarily, government should have kept Nigerians abreast of what is going on, but did not deem it fit to give an account of where was the CBN governor, who is basically the ‘caretaker’ of our national vault from Sunday 11 December when he departed with President Buhari to the U.S to Monday 16 January which is about one month before Emefiele showed up at work.

Owing to the national security implications, apart from allegations about being a sponsor of Boko Haram and related terrorist groups, I am demurring from going into details about other frightening imputations that have been made about the alleged high crimes against Mr. Emefiele, because they are as wild and fantastic as anyone’s imagination can be stretched.

But given the fact that the CBN treasury containing our common wealth which the government in power is supposed to be holding in trust for ‘We The People’ at whose behest it happens to be in power, (having been the ones that elected the president and his cabinet in 2015 and again in 2019)and which is assuming we were practicing a truly liberal democracy where the electorate matter; Nigerians ought to have been apprised of the reasons behind Emefiele’s long absence from his duty post and why he was under siege.

It is not only disappointing, but ridiculous that the last thing Nigerians heard about Emefiele (before the press release on Monday 16/1/2023 by the CBN’s public affairs department that he is back on duty) was a failed attempt to arrest and lock him up when DSS sought to obtain an arrest warrant from a high court in Abuja, Federal Capital Territory, FCT headed by Justice John Tsoho who denied the agency the request.

One of the justifications for denying the secret police the court’s authority was on the ground that it failed to present justifications solid enough to convince the judge on the need to the grant the order to arrest Godwin Emefiele, CBN governor at a time that he was leading the apex financial regulatory agency on the task of redesigning the naira-a critical national assignment with monumental socio-economic and even political impact on our beloved country.

Propitiously, the SSS did the right thing on Monday (16/1/2023) by debunking the lie that was swirling around that the agency had arrested the embattled CBN governor after he resumed at his duty post.

But as a result of the dearth of authentic information about Emefiele’s ordeal, which I would like to tag the ‘‘Emefiele Saga,’’ the rumor mill had gone into overdrive, as Nigerians and our country’s foreign partners alike, who were starved of the correct information, went on wild speculation spree.

Arising from the above, invention of bizarre scenarios like the one that l narrated in the introductory part of this intervention to fill the information gap between reality and fantasy was bound to happen simply because nature abhors vacuum.

And the unsavory incident of the attempt to arrest the CBN governor by DSS underscores the opaqueness of our government about its activities which has been taken to a new level of incredulity by the current regime in charge of our beleaguered country.

In fact, the malaise of lack of transparency in public administration in our country is deeply concerning because the travail of the CBN governor of which government has failed to be open to Nigerians by explaining what the issues are and sharing with the public the actions being taken is bound to have a reverberating effect across financial institutions around the world.

Given that the nation and indeed the world had just been regaled with damning and bewildering revelations about how the former accountant general of the federation, Ahmed Idris bilked the country of a humongous sum of one hundred and nine (N109 billion) naira by simply manipulating teacher’s payroll, it is obvious that there is no limit to the level of perversion in our country’s financial services system. Which is a development that is gut wrenching and a negative tag on our identity as Nigerians as we travel internationally while on holiday or doing business around the world.

In light of the sordidness of such a damnable reputation of our country in the eyes of global financial institutions, the rating of our country’s financial and economic strength by international rating agencies like Fitch and Moodys would further nose dive and lenders would rather thumb their nose at us, than give us thumps up.

That is on top of the fact that our country has just made an appropriation bill (budget) for this year 2023 for a total of N21.83 trillion naira with only a paltry sum of about N9 trillion naira as revenue projected to be generated by the economy, while about N12 trillion of the budget would be sourced through borrowing.

With a tattered reputation of financial recklessness evidenced by the chaos in our financial regulatory system highlighted earlier, who would be willing to lend Nigeria money? And if they do, would it not be at cut throat rate because of the high-risk rating status of our country stemming from the ludicrous events surrounding the handlers of the financial affairs of our country?

The dire situation is further compounded by the fact that our country’s local debt stock that is currently estimated to be about N55 trillion, and which some experts are even projecting that both the local and external loans would be amounting to N77 trillion by the time the current regime is exiting Aso Rock Villa by the end of May, is another albatross that should worry Nigerians.

And the assertions above about our country’s current debt profile are not bogus as they are based on data and reports sourced from the Debt Management Office, DMO.

The gargantuan size of our national debt is the reason over 90% of our revenue is dedicated to loan servicing of which it has been recently reported that a princely sum of nearly $15 billion dollars has been expended in servicing of our foreign debt in the past eight (8) years. Worse still, an International Monetary Funds, IMF projection is that by 2026, one hundred (100%) percent of Nigeria’s revenue would be dedicated towards servicing public debts.

It is some of these liabilities that are casting dark shadows over the future of our country as we move towards another change of guard in Aso Rock Villa and a very likely change of ruling party at the center as it had happened in 2015 when Peoples Democratic Party, PDP yielded the position to APC as a consequence of even less hardship compared to the current burden of multiple dimensions of extreme poverty and frightening level of insecurity whose weight are crushing Nigerians.

Right now, what should even be giving Nigerians more sleepless nights is that it is only a tiny fraction of the 2023 national budget, a miserly 23% or so of the N21.83 trillion is what would be left for capital projects, (after hiving off a huge portion for debt servicing and recurrent expenditure) in a country of 200 million people suffering from acute shortage of infrastructure in the manner that the Sahara, Kalahari or any desert at all is bereft of water.

As we all know, deserts are uninhabitable by ordinary humans, except the Berbers and Tuaregs who have adapted to the harsh environment.

With Nigerian environment degenerating to the level of being like a desert, it is understandable why Nigerian youths have been migrating in droves to foreign lands where the grass appear greener-also known as ‘‘japa syndrome.’’

So, by all indications, owing to the nation’s present colossal debt burden, Nigerians are guaranteed more hardship as it would be another desert experience for the long-suffering masses who elect not to ‘japa’ but to remain in our country in the next few years.

Arising from the scenario painted above, the incoming government from 29 May this year would certainly be faced with the priority of first of all rescuing our country from financial entanglements in order to restore hope before any other action can be taken.

Which is why Nigerians on 25 February presidential election D-Day must elect a president with cognate experience, garnered from being on the saddle before, so that he would not get to Aso Rock Villa and spend a better part of his first term trying to understand how best to untangle the web of debts in order to claw our country out of the debt hole that it has sunken. Otherwise, it would be very tough, if not an impossibility for Nigerians to escape the current looming hardship that may get worse if the wrong person gets into the saddle of leadership in Aso Rock Villa. That is my personal assessment.

In any case, the masses are already attuned to or adapting to the grim condition which they are doomed to continue to contend with this year and the coming years as some economists aver that individual Nigerians would be carrying a debt burden of at least N385,000 each, if the projected debt of N77 Trillion is shared equally amongst two hundred (200) million members of the populace.

In other words, if a child is born in Nigeria today, he/she would from the moment of birth be carrying a debt burden of about N385,000. Do not blame me if it sounds alarmist because l am just the messenger.

Now, compare the chaotic and opaque situation in the top echelon of our country’s political leadership and financial system as well as security monitoring and enforcement space whereby nobody has taken the responsibility of explaining to Nigerians what the matter really is with the CBN governor; to the events in the US wherein classified documents were discovered in the private office and residence of current president, Joe Biden, and Americans asked hard questions,(deservedly so) until the presidency started giving them answers.

It is part of the beauty of democracy that Americans are being briefed consistently about the development starting from president Biden who had been bombarded with questions by reporters at every turn, to the chief press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre who had no other choice than to be conducting daily press conferences, and finally to the Attorney General/Justice Secretary, Merrick Garland, who has dutifully explained to Americans the steps that he has taken so far and the reason he had to appoint an independent investigator to get to the bottom of how and why classified documents were found in the private office and home of President Joe Biden.

That is a classic case of the people pushing for accountability from their political leaders and public office holders as well as a striking evidence of true democracy at work.

As has been done in the US, – which is why the truth is presently unfolding – why has President Buhari not caused our Justice Minister, Abubakar Malami to appoint a special investigator to truly find out what is the cause of the hoopla raised by SSS against Emefiele and the hullabaloo going on in the CBN – which is the nation’s financial institution that is the lender of last resort and therefore a critical organ of government.

Considering that the International Monetary Fund, IMF had advised Nigeria to phase out CBN financing of government in order to reduce double-digit inflation which has reached an unprecedented rate, (in excess of 21% according to NBS records) even as President Buhari had also requested that NASS converts the over N23 trillion worth of loans to government by the CBN via the financial instrument of Ways and Means to 40 years bonds at 9%(securitization) which effectively boils down to transferring current debt to the next generation, search no more for why our country is in a quagmire.

That is not all.

In the twilight of this administration, the federal government has also sought and received another loan from the apex bank worth nearly one trillion naira. Given the realities above, who is after Emefiele to the extent of trying to force him out of office before the end of his tenure when he has a huge responsibility of tidying up CBN books (that have been under HI’s management for 8 years) before the curtain falls on Buhari’s administration?

The trillion-naira poser now is: ‘‘who are Emefiele’s antagonists? Is it the presidency at whose behest he occupies the office of CBN governor or politicians who are alleged to be opposed to the CBN governor on the account of his naira redesign project and cash withdrawals limits – which are seen in many quarters as a twin ploy to prevent politicians from having access to cash?’’

Although, those considering the matter from a political prism claim that the policy would deny politicians of access to the cash that they could have applied in buying votes during the general elections coming up in less than forty (40) days, but in Justifying the naira re-design initiative, and limit on cash withdrawal policy; Emefiele applying the optics of an economist, had said that N2.73 trillion, which is over 80 per cent of the total cash of N3.23 trillion in circulation is outside the banking system.

So, the policy is aimed at pulling the funds into the system, reducing counterfeiting, encouraging a cashless economy, staving off cash hoarding, bringing more people into the financial sector, as well eliminating the incidences of kidnapping and terrorism which cash payments facilitates.

Keeping in mind that President Buhari has the power to sack Emefiele even when his tenure of five (5) years is yet to be completed, (in the manner that former president Goodluck Jonathan suspended and subsequently sacked Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi). In my reckoning, President Buhari is most likely not Emefiele’s traducer.

My position is based on the assumption that the president would not go round in circles if he wanted to fire Emefiele, If President Buhari were displeased with Emefiele’s performance or it came to light that Emefiele has been criminally indicted for any impropriety, I assume that the president would be decisive in getting rid of him.

If peradventure I am correct in my second guessing of President Buhari, in any case he hardly fires his appointees based on public outcry against them, who want’s Emefiele out of the CBN? That question would be best answered by the members of the intelligence and security community who should be talking more to Nigerians to avoid the unnecessary tension stemming from speculations and fake news that are currently suffocating our country.

To appreciate the criticality of the role of effective communication in governance, consider how the prompt media statement by the SSS making it clear that it had not arrested Emefiele on Monday 16 February 2023 as earlier reported in the media, helped clear the fog before it could gain currency.

The crisis situation in the CBN would not be too worrying, if the chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu had not like CBN’s Emefiele been threatened as well with an arrest also by one of our country’s security agencies.

In professor Yakubu’s case, it is in connection with alleged flawed asset declaration action which is in contravention of the rules of the Code of Conduct bureau. But pundits have argued that the plan to arrest the INEC chairman Yakubu is not just about his alleged failure to declare his assets correctly, which they claim is just a cover up.

But they are insisting that it is a plot to prevent him from conducting the forthcoming election in which he intends to deploy Bimodal Voter Registration System, BVAS which is amongst other high technology-based systems that have proven to be solid proof against election rigging.

So, what the hell is going on in our country’s intelligence and security space as the apparatchiks appear to have become so much on edge based on the unusual spate of attempts to arrest top members of government in charge of strategic and sensitive organs currently executing the most consequential event in the life of our country-the recruitment of the next set of our political leaders via general elections?

It is remarkable that it also took an injunction by a court of law prohibiting professor Yakubu’s arrest and detention to keep him at his desk where he is currently saddled with the onerous duty of superintending over the general elections commencing 25 February which is more or less forty (40) days away.

Can readers imagine the effect that arresting and keeping the INEC chairman away from his duty post could have caused the nation at this critical point in time, if the prayers of one Somadina Uzoabaka who sued INEC chairman to court in Abuja were to have been granted by the judge?

That would have likely caused the postponement of the elections and thus become a repeat of what occurred in 2015 when the general elections were postponed for six (6) weeks.

Incidentally, election postponement which INEC chairman is vehemently opposed to and working assiduously to avoid is in tandem with the vision of president Buhari who has also vowed to prevent it as evidenced in his speeches to multiple local and global audiences. In fact, our president is known to have made solemn promises to Nigerians and our international partners that his goal is to bequeath Nigeria with the freest and fairest elections before he exits Aso Rock Villa on 29 May this year.

With such a determined and focused mindset to leave a legacy of a reformed and robust electioneering system, how would Mr. president allow forces of anarchy (seemingly invisible) cause a postponement or cancellation of the scheduled election by disrupting activities in the CBN and INEC under his watch?

Whatever the case may be, I am convinced that postponement or cancellation of the general elections is not in President Buhari’s contemplation right now.

Nevertheless, one curious and striking situation that I have observed is that lately there have been so many co-incidences of clashes between the law enforcement community and the interpretative society.

For instance, barely one month ago, the Chief of Army Staff, COAS, General Farouk Yahaya was also charged for contempt of court and his arrest was ordered by the court presided over by Justice Halima Abdulmalik in Minna, Niger state.

Similarly, within the same period, the Inspector General of Police, IGP was also issued a bench warrant for contempt of court. The order was by Justice Bolaji Olajuwon, a Federal Capital Territory, FCT high court judge.

Around the same time in December last year, Abdulrasheed Bawa, Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC was equally directed to be committed to jail for contempt by a court in the FCT.

Although the trio have caused the court orders to be discharged, these are nevertheless uncommon occurrences and suggest lack of coordination between relevant federal government agencies. So, what is going on in the interpretative, security intelligence, military and law enforcement communities in our country?

What is responsible for the chaos? Why is it that there appears to be an ongoing tuff war? It would still be fresh in the memory of some Nigerians when the SSS and EFCC, both of which report directly to the presidency literally crossed swords publicly as the EFCC laid siege on the residences of a former DG of SSS with the intent to arrest him and the agency that he had led had to give him cover.

It was such an embarrassment that both government security agencies that could have resolved their differences administratively and amicably by seating around a table over coffee/tea with the Office of the National Security Adviser, ONSA as umpire, exhibited their rivalry via naked and public display of raw power to the dismay of most Nigerians.

It is my hope, and in-fact my fervent prayers that our country security agencies have grown beyond that sordid past.

It also necessary to recall that after June 12,1993 elections, late Chief Arthur Nzeribe and a certain Abimbola Davies riding on a civil society platform known as Association for Better Nigeria, ABN, went to court with the intention of scuttling the process of transition from military to multi-party democracy.

Based on the nefarious activities of ABN, civil rights and democracy advocate, Beko Ransome-Kuti (of blessed memory) went to court to obtain an injunction against ABN that was allegedly engaged in subversive activities inimical to democracy.

And ABN was then restrained by a court judgement issued by Justice Dolapo Akinsanya. But, late Nzeribe and his group, two days before the election, approached a high court in Abuja headed by Justice Bassey Ikpeme, which granted them an order lifting the restraining restraint.

The rest they say is history because the June 1993 election that is believed to have been won by M K.O Abiola of blessed memory degenerated into a debacle that has had a reverberating and highly consequential effect on our country some thirty (30) years ago.

Do we have a copycat scenario of the events that happened to 1993 general elections in our hands? Now, there are two significant take aways from the ongoing saga in the national security, intelligence and judicial space.

The first is that the DSS went to court to seek legal backing for its intention to arrest Emefiele. That is very professional as it reflects a marked departure from the past when that Standard Operating Procedure, SOP was not followed.

The recent past experience with our security agencies is that more often than not, they effect arrests without first of all obtaining court order, as they should.

Secondly, unlike Justice Bassey Ikpeme who seemingly did not really care about the broader implications of his action of lifting a restraining order by another court (in what some have referred to as midnight judgement) in contrast, Justice John Tsoho, demurred from granting an ex parte motion to arrest Emefiele, CBN governor. And on 29 December last year, Justice M.A Hassan restrained all the security agencies in the country from arresting or detaining the CBN governor, just as on 4 January this year, the same judge also issued a similar order restraining any law enforcement agency from arresting and detaining, INEC Chairman, Yakubu.

Those actions from the bench are evidence that integrity, which seemed to have taken flight in the recent past, appear to be returning to the temple of justice in Nigeria.

So far, the order of the court has been respected with regards to INEC chairman, but it was not clear if the same respect would apply to CBN governor’s case until the SSS released a media statement on Monday 16 February which has left no one in doubt about the fact that Emefiele has regained his freedom.

In the heat of the imbloglio in December, Edward Adamu, a Deputy Governor of CBN had told the parliament that Emefiele was under the weather, and it had also been mentioned that he had been on his annual leave.

Whatever the case may be, it was critically important that the presidency that is CBN governor’s employer provided Nigerians with information about his whereabouts.

That is because it cannot be taken fore-granted that government cannot guarantee the safety of its employee, particularly, the one who holds the keys to the national vault.

Responsively, the storm appears to be over with Emefiele at his desk indicating that President Buhari has now asserted his authority in line with the dictum: the buck ends at the president’s desk.