The Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele, has been fighting, perhaps the toughest battle of his career since last October when he announced that the apex bank would redesign the N200, N500 and N1,000 banknotes with January 31 as the deadline for the return of the old notes to the banks.
Since he unveiled the apex bank’s plan, many political leaders, who have been the cause of the misery of the common man in this country, have cashed in on the hardships inflicted on Nigerians by the scarcity of the naira notes and suddenly become the champions of the cause of the poor.
By redesigning the naira a few weeks to the general election, Emefiele stepped on the toes of some politicians, governors and National Assembly members who had stockpiled the old naira notes to buy votes and mobilise thugs in the forthcoming general election.
It was not surprising that politicians who had never sympathised with the poor masses over the persistent petrol scarcity and other harsh conditions of living in the country suddenly realised that the naira redesign is inflicting hardship on the poor.
Despite the enormous gains of the naira design to the economy, these politicians, who have been robbed of the opportunity to stockpile cash for the elections, have continued to mount enormous pressure on President Muhammadu Buhari and Emefiele.
Repeated assurances by President Buhari that the policy was targeted at people hoarding illicit funds and not businesses and the common man did not pacify these overnight activists and fake champions of public interest.
The extension of the deadline from January 31 to February 10 did also not pacify these political forces, who are determined to ensure that the old notes remain legal tender until after the general election.
First, these political actors attempted to frame Emefiele just to get him out of the way with a ridiculous accusation that a man occupying such a sensitive and influential position and who is not even from the South-east, was funding the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
Unfortunately, the court saw through their mischief and refused to grant an order for the arrest and detention of the apex bank’s governor. When the plot for his arrest failed, Emefiele returned to the country from his annual leave with what the CBN had described as “a renewed commitment to perform the task before him in line with his oath of office and the policy direction of President Muhammadu Buhari.”
No sooner had he resumed work than he was invited to a meeting by the governors of the 36 states under the aegis of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF). The governors however declared at the end of the meeting that they were not opposed to the CBN policy.
Subsequent outbursts by the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu and Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State strengthened the speculations that the gang-up against the policy has nothing to do with public interest but a political survival strategy ahead of the elections.
Before the uproar, Kaduna State governor was not known to have championed any cause of the downtrodden.
But the governor, who is famous for crushing voices of dissent, reportedly granted interviews against the policy to four television stations within 48 hours under the guise of championing public interest.
Governors and other political leaders who had never raised their voices against the perennial petrol scarcity in the country also suddenly realised that the masses are suffering under the current scarcity of the product.
Some of these fake activists even made themselves the moral compass that declares others who support the policy public enemies.
It is not surprising that the pressure on President Buhari and Emefiele is coming from the members of the ruling APC and their supporters, given the fact they have more capacity to mobilise cash for the elections than the opposition parties.
When Emefiele shrugged off the pressure, the governors elected on the platform of the APC stormed the Presidential Villa where President Buhari asked them to give him seven days to address the challenges. The speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila even threatened the CBN governor with arrest.
Governors and other leaders pressurising President Buhari and Emefiele to back down on naira design on the grounds that it hurts public interest were the same political leaders who were publicly celebrating the graduation ceremonies of their children in foreign universities when the children of the less-privileged Nigerians were not going to school for eight months because of the strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). Throughout the ASUU strike, these political leaders never stormed the Presidential Villa to prevail on President Buhari to fulfill the federal government’s agreement with ASUU because the strike did not affect their children. They knew that if the federal government fulfilled the agreement and funded the universities properly, it would hurt the revenue available for distribution to the various tiers of government, which ends in private pockets.
Despite the pressure on Emefiele, he has demonstrated courage and determination to maintain the autonomy and independence of the CBN as provided by its enabling legislation.
Section (S) 1 (3) of the CBN Act No. 7 of 2007 provides that “in order to facilitate the achievement of its mandate under this Act, and the Banks and other Financial Institutions Act, and in line with the objective of promoting stability and continuity in economic management, the Bank shall be an independent body, in the discharge of its functions.”
Section 17 of the Act provides that “the Bank shall have the sole right of issuing currency notes and coins throughout Nigeria, to the exclusion of the federal, state or local governments or any person or authority.
Section 18 (a & b) of the Act states that “ the Bank shall arrange for the printing of currency notes and the minting of coins; and issue, re-issue and exchange currency notes and coins at the bank’s offices and at such agencies as it may, from time to time, establish or appoint.”
Emefiele has acted within his powers by resisting the undue interference of politicians in the operations of the CBN.
Since the governments of Kaduna, Zamfara and Kogi states have shifted the battle to the Supreme Court, Emefiele should also meet them at the apex court since he acted within the limit of his powers.
If El-Rufai and his colleagues are really worried by the effects of the naira design and petrol scarcity on the masses as they claimed, they should have also dragged the NNPC Limited and the federal government to court to compel them to make petrol available to Nigerians.
Opposition parties believe that the three states did not go to the Supreme Court to save Nigerians from hardship, but to save political careers that are being threatened by President Buhari’s determination to ensure free and fair elections.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Kaaynan’s editorial stance.