Godwin Emefiele’s overdue desserts

In November 2017, it emerged that the suspended governor of Nigeria’s central bank, Godwin Emefiele, had significant interests in an off-shore company registered in Bermuda, which held an account with UBS in London. UBS is a multinational investment bank and financial services company with its headquarters in Basel and Zurich in Switzerland.

Disclosures released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in the Paradise Papers revealed that Emefiele owned 49% of Oviation Asset Management since 2009 and was a director in the company from January 2013.

According to The Guardian newspaper in London: “Oviation was part of a structure that imported two jets via the Isle of Man. The latest purchase, a $50 million Gulfstream G550, arrived in November 2015. It replaced a $33 million Gulfstream G450, imported in 2013”. 15 months before the import of the second Gulfstream, in June 2014, Mr. Emefiele became governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). In this capacity, he also chaired the board of the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting PLC, which is responsible for printing Nigeria’s currency.

Section 9 of the CBN Act of 2007 requires both the governor of the central bank and his deputies that they “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 charitable causes as may be determined by the board and which do not conflict with or conflict with their full-time duties”.

This prohibition places three constraints on the CBN governor: one substantive, another procedural, and a third ethical. Substantively, it bars him from moonlighting in any other job or vocation, whether or not remunerated. Procedurally, he needs the approval of the board of the CBN before taking on any role outside the bank. Implied in this is an obligation of full and honest disclosure on the part of the CBN governor. As an (additional) ethical standard, the act precludes the CBN governor from putting himself in a position that conflicts with his full-time duties.

As the head of a public corporation (which the CBN is), Emefiele, as CBN governor, is also subject to the Code of Conduct for senior public officers contained in the 5th Schedule of the Nigerian constitution, which imposes on him standards of conduct with reference to asset disclosure, acceptance of gifts and donations, and holding of overseas interests.

For Emefiele, these standards were ornaments of convenience. Three years into his office as the CBN governor, his interests in Oviation were still intact. Contacted by The Guardian for an explanation in November 2017, Emefiele claimed that he “gave instructions for his shares to be handed back” to his former employer, a Nigerian bank, in 2014. For a central banker, this claim showed either a tendency for the cavalier or a habit of casuistry.

On or about May 4, 2022, Emefiele was a guest of President Muhammadu Buhari in the presidency. The following day, some characters claiming to be armed Niger Delta militants endorsed Emefiele for the presidential ticket of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) promising to lay down their arms if the party were to hand the ticket to him.

Two days later, on May 6, 2022, it emerged that one Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) and two other shadowy organisations had purchased for Emefiele forms to run for the presidency on the ticket of the APC. On the same day, Reuters reported that “news of Emefiele’s presidential bid sent the Naira close to a record low”.

Reacting to these developments, Ondo state governor, himself a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Rotimi Akeredolu, put the issue pointedly: “It is difficult to imagine that a person who occupies the exalted and sensitive office of the governor of the CBN will be this brazen in actualising his ambition”.

The following day, May 7, Emefiele claimed that he was waiting for “God’s divine intervention” which he hoped to receive “in the next few days”. His political organisation, called #Meffy2023, was launched three months earlier in February 2022 by The True Green Alliance (TGA), an organisation that, bizarrely, “promotes caring for the earth and sustainable living practices throughout the societies and governments of southern Africa”. Nigeria is in West Africa.

Emefiele was nothing if not consistent in his convenient attitude to rules. As CBN governor, he maintained a ruinous regime of multiple exchange rates, sustaining a deliberate scheme of arbitrage that oiled both insider abuse and cronyism.

From taking over the management of the National Theatre (despite pending litigation) to making himself a willing instrument for the persecution of #EndSARS protesters, Emefiele got the CBN involved in schemes and scams that almost assuredly violate Section 34 of the CBN Act. Premium Times in a February 21, 2021, editorial feared that his tenure at the CBN will be remembered for having wilfully “shredded” the guardrails in the CBN Act.

In a country where consequences follow malfeasance, Emefiele should have been unemployed and in prison. In Nigeria, he longed for the presidency.

The question of Emefiele’s presidential project was, even more, of a legal issue. Two of his predecessors proceeded him into elective politics. Clement Isong, the second governor of the CBN from 1967 to 1975 became the first elected governor of old Cross River state in October 1979. Chukwuma Soludo, who was CBN governor from 2004 to 2009, is currently serving as the governor of Anambra state, having been elected on November 6, 2021. Both Dr. Isong and Professor Soludo, however, ran for office after the expiration of their terms.

But section 9 of the CBN Act makes it quite clear that the CBN governor just cannot choose to run for elective office while still holding on to office. He could, of course, have chosen to resign in order to pursue his ambition. For this, though, section 11(3) of the CBN Act required him to give “at least three months’ notice in writing to the president of his intention to do so”.

Emefiele did neither. Instead, he used the time and money of the central bank to set up a partisan bid for the presidency. As with his holding in an offshore company despite being prohibited from doing so, Emefiele wished this prohibition away as yet another inconsequential encounter with an inconvenient guardrail.

In pursuit of his presidential project, Emefiele did not encounter any guardrails that he was not willing to destroy. When citizens objected to his pursuing the presidency from the office of the CBN governor, Emefiele procured a fly-by-night order from the High Court of Delta State in Kwale to see them off. In December 2022, the Federal High Court in Abuja issued two orders, one declining the application of security agencies to question Emefiele; the other restraining anyone from touching him.

As with the launch of his presidential ambition in February 2022 and the purchase of his presidential forms in May, Emefiele managed to find another faceless NGO to be his Mother Theresa. The plaintiff in the latter case was “Incorporated Trustees of Forum for Accountability and Good Leadership”, registered in May 2018. The case took only five working days; they filed on Monday, December 19, 2022, and had a 22-page judgment on December 29! When the same courts encountered a suit seeking accountability by Emefiele, they ruled that citizens did not have standing to question him.

Emefiele has always been relaxed about having his fate decided by Nigerian judges, a tribe with whom he has had many favorable encounters. While he was the boss of The Mint, he could issue enough notes to buy any number of court orders he fancied. Now that he is no longer there, he can still afford the most expensive lawyers in the land and can get courts who will give him orders to send him on medical tourism whenever he wants. But if at any point he were to suffer a bloody nose, I’ll not cry for him because that will be just dessert for a man who clearly believes everything can be bought and sold.

This article updates an earlier version which appeared in May 2022 under the title “#Meffy2023: A Joke Taken Too Far

About Author
Chidi Odinkalu
Chidi Anselm Odinkalu is a Nigerian human rights activist, lawyer, professor and writer.