The Road Emefiele Took
By Lasisi Olagunju
(Published in the Nigerian Tribune on Monday, 12 June, 2023)
In the end, we realise that nothing really belongs to us; not power, not life. Power is fragile; it can also be deadly. It shares properties with candle flames. I take this idea from Brandon Sanderson, author of ‘The Way of Kings.’ Sanderson thinks the lives of men are as brittle and lethal as candle flames. What you get is what you consciously worked for. And, it is no brainer that that thing that provides warmth can also burn if you increase the intensity. Sanderson says when left alone, candle flames “lit and warmed.” When they are allowed to burn without control, “they would destroy the very things they were meant to illuminate.” That is Godwin Emefiele and the enormous powers he wielded at the Central Bank of Nigeria. He was brought in in June 2014 as CBN governor to rearrange the bales in our strongrooms and illuminate the various dark rooms of the Nigerian economy. But, because for eight years we had a president who lacked the mental and physical energy for the driver’s job he took, the CBN and its free-reining governor were soon ‘encouraged’ to set other agenda for themselves – and set Nigeria’s economy ablaze.
Some things need to be made clear. Godwin Emefiele was suspended on Friday; the video of his arrest trended on Saturday morning; a probe of his tenure is underway. All these did not happen to him solely because of what you and I suffered at the hands of his new Naira notes or because of other indignities we may be suffering courtesy of his policies as CBN governor. The man lost his job and his freedom because he got drunk and climbed the tree beyond the leaves; he went beyond the boundary the gods of Nigeria set for him. His cricket was no longer content with eating the leafy greens of his office; he wanted the very food reserved for the gods. He joined politics, bought a nomination form and printed posters. Yes, the law says no CBN governor should nurse such godless lust but breaking the law is no sin if you sit under the protective wings of the country’s principalities. The fatality here is because he broke the law and competed with those who held the yam and the knife of the system. You do not drag the ram with Sango; if you take what Olukoso covets as your delicacy, his thunder celts will shred you. Where I come from, there is a bird that does not die young. We call it igúnnugún (or simply igún); ancestors of the white man named it vulture. Sure-wingedly, igún flies to old age unfamished, undisturbed because it is a very patient bird that knows its place in the world of birds. And because it respects itself, vulture has come to be respected by all. No one kills igún to host a feast; no Babaláwo prescribes igún as a sacrifice to an orí or as an ingredient for a ritual. The place of general dread where three footpaths meet is where vulture takes its meals. Flying or perching or eating, whatever vulture does is without consequences. That is why our ancestors warned all other birds never to compare themselves to the vulture. They warn till tomorrow that any other bird that does what igún does will sleep in the hearth of dinner. That is what happened to Emefiele – he is literally in the soup pot of those he thought he could roast for him to dominate the skies. His butterfly thought itself a bird; it thought the immunity enjoyed by the igúnnugún of Nigeria extended to his flightless bird. He wanted to be president against the letter of the law and in spite of the spirits of politics and power. Such thoughts have always been fatal.
Emefiele served the last government the way a house slave served his master in 18th century America. And he enjoyed a lot of hand-me-downs as an obedient servant. There are several unbelievable stories flying about on what went on in our central bank while he was there. The Tinubu government announced a probe last week; we wait to see how far it can go without their party committing a suicide. Fire, it is said, does not make fire; it makes ashes. But, whatever they do or do not do with themselves is their problem. We are not supposed to know what lies behind their iron walls. We can comment, however, on what we’ve seen and warn that it must not happen again. We’ve seen photos of Emefiele desecrating the sacredness of the apex bank with postures of servitude. There is at least a photograph of him on bended knees, holding a jotter and a pen while a potentate dictated a to-do list to him. The tragedy is that the man receiving that prostration from our CBN governor did not even hold any position in government. He was powerful simply because he was an FOP (Friend of the President). Such men (and women) are common in our corridors of power. The new government will likely have its own FOPs soon, if it doesn’t already. Because CBN governorship is perhaps the juiciest post in Nigeria, Emefiele thought he would keep it by pouring ceaseless libation of obsequiousness to the priests of the president. And he succeeded so well that he got nine years of active service straddling two regimes that were not friends. Yet, after his failed coup against the new men in power, he did not have the sense to resign and flee. He thought the spell that sold him to Buhari (and Buhari to him) would do the same with Bola Tinubu. There must be something in that office that starves the brain of oxygen. Emefiele was always on his knees in the Villa. He wanted to remain and serve until he is tired of serving us. The Yoruba would look at such mendicant tenacity and say O ló danindanin m’ókùn orò (He held tight to the cord of wealth). But subservient people ultimately sell themselves into slavery. People who sacrifice everything noble to keep whatever job they think they have will lose more than that job.
There are arguments that the president cannot remove the CBN governor except in accordance with the law. That is true. But the CBN Act 2007 contains several grounds on which the CBN governor may lose his job. One of those grounds is “If they are guilty of serious misconduct in relation to their duties under the CBN Act.” And how do you establish ‘serious misconduct’ except through investigations? I think there is a clause in Emefiele’s suspension statement which described that presidential decision as a sequel to an ongoing investigation of his office. That is what you get when you have seen it all but do not know when to quit and how to quit. The tragedy of princes and their thrones is “to gain everything and lose everything in the space of a moment” (C.S. Pacat, author of Captive Prince).
Someone described Emefiele as arrogant. I never met him and so cannot validate that charge. But I know that there is something about very big positions with big money and big influence. They intoxicate the office holders. They birth very big egos. If you want to know how big that office is, ask to know the salary of the CBN governor and compare it with the salary of the president who appointed him. What are their allowances? The chairman of the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), Mohammed Shehu, said on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily seven months ago that “the severance package of a CBN governor is higher than that of a sitting president.” How much is it? He didn’t tell us but he was diligent enough to educate us that some government officials got as high as N500 million as their severance package while “the president gets N10 million after his tenure.”
To whom much is given, much is expected. There is a historical reason why the CBN enjoys what it enjoys. But the bank has serially abused that reason, this democracy, the privileges and the freedom it confers. What is the job of the bank? Is it not to manage the economy of Nigeria in such a way that everyone would have a reason to live? But it deviates from its core duties. With impunity, it does politics and cuddles politicians. Emefiele’s predecessor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, pioneered that path. Unlike Emefiele who worshipped in the shrine of Buhari’s cabal, Sanusi openly romanced the opposition and damned the man who put him in power. There were reports the bank under him started doing what politicians do with money. Donation of cash and community projects here and there – like commercial banks doing CSR. A report said Sanusi was indeed queried for making “donations of N4 billion to Bayero University, Kano; N10 billion to Uthman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto; N500 million to the University of Benin; and N100 million to the Kano State government.” Femi Falana, SAN, at a time, issued a statement accusing that CBN governor of “diversion of public funds to promote his religious and political ambition.” Sanusi’s defence, according to a report, was that he made these interventions and others “with adequate approval from the board of his bank and President Goodluck Jonathan.” Like Emefiele, Sanusi was suspended by the president; he went to court, he lost and never appealed the judgement.
Beyond a perfunctory, political probe of Emefiele, I suggest a comprehensive reexamination of the entire legal and operational frameworks of that bank. How much should we continue to invest in its freedom? If freedom for it is desirable, then how do we ensure that the absolute power there does not continue to corrupt absolutely? To what extent should the president be involved in the appointment of the CBN governor for the bank to be insulated from partisan politics?
The subsisting law gives enormous powers and very sweet freedom to the bank and its omnipotent governor. But, is it not said that with great power comes great responsibility. Those wise words came from grand old witty Voltaire, and, later, from Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben. There is a variant credited to Eleanor Roosevelt who stressed that “freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being” and that “with freedom comes responsibility…For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect.” Growing up takes place in the mind. For some people, no matter how much nutrients you pump into them, they remain what they want to be – midgets. Emefiele had everything he needed to serve Nigeria without undue interference, but he surrendered every jot of autonomy he had to persons we didn’t know and who did not want to know anyone outside their invidious bank of predatory worms. From May 29, 2015 to May 29, 2023, the man held Nigeria’s sacred cow for a rapacious clique of power sellers to milk in exchange for security of tenure. They gave him, and he enjoyed it. Now, because no empire lasts forever, that cabal is no more and the protege has fallen. There is something like that in Christianity: “Whoever chooses to save his life shall lose it…” Emefiele has eventually lost the job he feared to lose; he has also lost his freedom. Nine years ago, Sanusi suffered suspension as CBN governor. Last week, it was his successor’s turn to kiss the canvas. I do not envy who comes next.