The trial of Emefiele: A lesson for all presidential yes-men, by Olu Fasan

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The trial of Emefiele: A lesson for all presidential yes-men, by Olu Fasan
THE images of Godwin Emefiele, flummoxed as he is chaperoned by state security agents from custody to custody, from courtroom to courtroom, contrast sharply with those of the man who, as governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, bestrode, until just a year ago, the Nigerian financial and banking world like a colossus; the man who daringly wanted to run for president while still CBN governor.

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It is a classic case of how life or fortunes can turn in a dime. But one must also wonder what former President Muhammadu Buhari, ensconced in his cosy home in Daura, Katsina State, is thinking as he watches the man whose behaviour he aided and abetted being treated like a common criminal. Why has Buhari abandoned Emefiele? Indeed, why is Buhari free and Emefiele not?

That last question is jejune. After all, this is a country where a former president is untouchable, treated as an ‘institution’. Nigeria is the only country where presidents enjoy constitutional immunity in power and have de facto immunity after they leave office. All over the world, from Argentina to France, from Croatia to South Korea, from Malaysia to South Africa, former presidents and prime ministers have been tried, convicted and jailed for various offences. But that’s utterly inconceivable in Nigeria, where every president is on the presidential gravy train for life.

Notwithstanding that allegation of corruption and misappropriation of billions of dollars swirls around a former president’s government, it is always functionaries of the government that are questioned, detained and even incarcerated. The former president himself is free as a bird, enjoying state largesse, gallivanting around the world and pretending as if nothing went wrong under his administration. But how could billions of dollars or trillions of naira be missing in a government, especially channelled through the central bank, with the president knowing nothing about it?

Remember ‘Dasukigate’? In 2014, under President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, $2.2billion of public money, set aside to buy arms to fight the Boko Haram insurgency, was allegedly transferred by his National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, from the CBN into private accounts and distributed to various individuals and organisations to mobilise support for Jonathan’s re-election bid in 2015. Now, for those allegations, Dasuki spent four years in custody under President Buhari’s administration; he was not even allowed to attend his father’s funeral. Other people were also incarcerated.

But not once was Jonathan himself invited for questioning over the allegations. Can anyone with even a modicum of intelligence say that Jonathan did not know that the money was being used to prosecute his re-election campaign? In 2016, Professor Charles Soludo, a former CBN governor, now governor of Anambra State, said that Jonathan ran the CBN just like Idi Amin, the Ugandan dictator, ran his country’s central bank, with “the apparent abuse of the CBN as ATM by the presidency.” But being a former president, Jonathan had become untouchable, “even if he stole all the money in the world”, as someone put it!

Professor Itse Sagay, President Buhari’s former anti-graft adviser, gave another reason why a former president cannot be tried in Nigeria. According to him, “putting a former leader on trial in Nigeria would be divisive.” Of course, he’s right. If any government attempts to try former President Jonathan, the Niger Delta militants would blow up oil installations and bring Nigeria’s economy to its knees. Attempt to try former President Olusegun Obasanjo, and the Yoruba would be up in arms even though they don’t much like him. Ah, what about former President Buhari? Put him on trial, and the Hausa/Fulani would tear Nigeria apart.

But presidents and prime ministers have been jailed for corruption or malfeasance in other multi-ethnic countries without the issue being ethnicised. Well, Nigeria is exceptional. Yet, it’s precisely because of that perverse exceptionalism that Nigeria is not making progress. For if a former president is above the law, if he cannot be held accountable for whatever he did in office, how can there be good governance in Nigeria? But while a former president is untouchable, officials in his government can spend years in custody. That’s a lesson for those who hide behind transient presidential protection to abuse public office: their misdeeds could hang over them forever and mangle their lives.

Which brings us back to Emefiele. Truth be told, few would shed tears for Emefiele. A seasoned banker who rose to become CEO and group managing director of Zenith Bank Plc, Emefiele threw away professionalism as CBN governor, and put personal interests above the public interest. Appointed by Jonathan in June 2014, Emefiele quickly ingratiated himself with President Buhari; indeed, he was Buhari’s man Friday, recklessly printing money to fund Buhari’s insatiable appetite for debt.

Everyone knows about the CBN’s N30 trillion Way and Means lending to the Buhari government. One of the commonest phrases of President Buhari was: “I have instructed the central bank to …” And, of course, the CBN always obliged. In April 2022, Emefiele told Buhari: “We (the CBN) will continue to protect your legacy and ensure that posterity remembers you for all you have done for our country.” How could a central bank governor be so fawning? Of course, Emefiele was protecting Buhari’s legacy of bankrupting Nigeria!

I wrote many articles critical of Emefiele during his headship of the CBN. For me, he wasn’t behaving like a proper central bank governor. In an article titled “Buhari’s orders to the central bank are harming its credibility” (Vanguard, September 24, 2020), I said: “Emefiele is probably the most political CBN governor in recent history.” That view was confirmed by his audacious but utterly inappropriate attempt to run for president while still CBN governor. But what about the judgement of his fellow central banker, Dr Kingsley Moghalu, a former deputy governor of the CBN? In a tweet, Moghalu said: “He (Emefiele) is, without debate, the worst and most damaging Central Bank Governor in Nigeria’s history.”


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