Moneybags, the CBN and Competitive Federalism, By Ajibola Adigun


Ajibola Adigun, Policy Innovation Center


Last week, the Justice John Okoro-led panel of the Supreme Court of Nigeria gave the Mr. Godwin Emefiele-led Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) an order to temporarily suspend their decision to use the old 200, 500 and 1000 Naira notes as legal tender. The governments of Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara – all led by the ruling All-Progressives Congress pled with the court to consider the scarcity of the new notes and the suffering of their people and suspend the cessation of the old notes as legal tender. Before this decision, Governor Nasir El-Rufai had told some traders and supporters of his party to ignore the CBN and continue trading in the old notes. He promised that their presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, was going to reverse the decision of the CBN once he got elected into power. Public interest, like patriotism, is often the scoundrels last excuse.

When the CBN governor joined the fray of presidential aspirants by buying by proxy of some millionaire farmers an expression of interest and nomination form for 100 million Naira, it was reasonable to assume – and later to be confirmed –  that the farmers had bought the nomination form for a card-carrying member. Mr. Emefiele, like the foolish farmer in the third gospel who stores up grains to secure his life, soon learnt that money (or his monetary policies for that matter) does not make him secure when the Department of State Security started hounding him for terrorism financing.

In disregard of the CBN Act which expressly forbids the apex bank’s honcho from being partisan, Mr. Emefiele nonetheless continued as a governor without a state and a law unto himself. The writers of the CBN Act of 2007 were explicitly clear in section 9 that “the Governor and the Deputy Governors shall devote the whole of their time to the service of the Bank and while holding office shall not engage in any full or part-time employment or vocation whether remunerated or not, except such personal or charitable causes as may be determined by the Board and which do not conflict with or detract from their full-time duties”. Section 11 forbids the Governor from being a member of a Federal or Legislative House, or a director, officer or employee of any bank. It was reasonable to expect that if Mr. Emefiele indeed wanted to become President, he should have resigned his mandate of the apex bank. The Central Bank Governor, like Ceaser’s wife, must be above suspicion and accusation.

So when the Governors went to stop Mr. Emefiele from ceasing the use of the old currency notes, one is not sure if their plea of the public interest is just a scoundrel’s excuse of fighting back with the tools of government their principal’s battle. Whatever it is, in a competitive federalism where constituent states compete with the national government for who brings succor to the citizens the fastest, this fight is welcome. This is the exception where when two elephants fight, the lawn is mowed.

It is a shame that Mr. Emefiele has dragged the integrity of the apex bank and brought their intention of reducing vote-buying to question. By admitting to the apex bank’s inability to supply the banks sufficient cash to exchange the old notes for new because of their inability to procure paper to mint the new currencies, Mr. Emefiele has admitted unwittingly that he has not devoted himself fully to his mandate. While he was busy with his lawyers looking for a court that would read his prayers into the constitution and the CBN Act, he got conflicted and detracted from his full-time responsibilities, situations that the CBN Act had envisaged and prohibited in its ninth section.

Mr. Emefiele did not appoint himself. He answers to the Nigerian people through the National Assembly and the President who appointed him. He seemed to have forgotten this because of the purported independence of the apex bank that two of his immediate predecessors had used to the citizens’ benefit. His run-round around from state security operatives, and his imminent arrest by the House of Assembly after he failed to honor their initial invitation to the green chamber shows someone who thinks he is only answerable to the president as opposed to the people of Nigeria. So while all these moneybags fight for their interest and pretend it is in the interest of the ordinary Nigerian, let them. When two big elephants fight in a competitive federalism, the lawn is mowed and we are all the better for it.