On Emiefele’s second term – The Nation Newspaper

A few weeks ago, news suddenly broke of how President Muhammadu Buhari had sacked the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele. He was said to have been directed to proceed on his terminal leave as the nation’s number one banker by a letter from the president, thus, ending his one-term stint with the apex bank, abruptly.

But that was not the case. It took bank’s Director of Corporate Communications, Isaac Okorafor, to pour ice on the already burning story, when he told the first person that bothered to get to him for clarification that – The governor was in his office, working.

For the period the report lasted before it was debunked, the entire social media space, had caught the bug. Opinions and commentaries became as diverse and divergent as those making them, bordering in the main, on the ethnic, political and religious fault lines in the country.

The speculation that Buhari intended to replace Emiefele with a northerner, once again, opened a floodgate of verbal war, laced with all manner of primordial arguments between known social media warlords.

As usual, the discourse was bereft of the nuances of job proficiency or lack of it, of the CBN boss, but heavily-decked with the usual invectives, curses, hate-speech and all that have become major character of the vital social marketplace.

It is against this backdrop that Buhari’s re-appointment the CBN governor for a second term, assumes its current meaning. Today, he holds the record of being the only person so honoured since Nigeria returned to independence in 1999.

Ordinarily, commentators and observers ought to be examining the development purely on the template of competency and performance. But these are no ordinary times. Thus, the motive of the president’s action is as important as the impetus of the decision.

No doubt, the president has killed the axiomatic two birds with a stone. On the one hand, he has been able to deliver a major political masterstroke and on the other entrench a new order that would certainly be critical to the economic performance of his government in the next four years and even beyond.

It is no hidden fact that whatever achievements Buhari’s government lays claims to in terms of managing the economy since his coming, in 2015, is attributable to the apex bank.

Today, rice production, has become the pride of the Buhari government, following the policy of diversification into agriculture as the major strategy for jolting Nigeria’s economy back to buoyancy. A major factor of that rice revolution, which the government never fails to tell anybody who cares to listen had led to 90 per cent of the rice consumed in the country, being grown locally, is Emefiele’s CBN. Through the bank’s Anchor Borrowers Programme, thousands of Nigerian peasant farmers are said to have accessed from the billions of Naira the scheme provides for massive rice production, which led to the present feat.

Indeed, never given to whimsicality, Emefiele, since his appointment in 2014, had remained dogged in pursuing policies geared towards stabilising the economy and growing it with a rare single-mindedness and unwavering character.

Even when many Nigerians went into a panic mode as the economy appeared to be collapsing due to the crazy rise in the cost foreign currencies, and other tell-tale signs of economic woes, Emiefele maintained a sober and constructive mien, an attitude, which obviously came handy in arresting and stabilising the situation, such that from the almost N600 exchanged for a dollar, the rate crashed and has remained stable at about N360.

That the CBN governor was able to save Buhari that nightmare in the parlous foreign exchange macabre dance is probably what the president could not forget in a hurry.

Many analysts also point to how he pulled the country out of a debilitating recession, occasioned by poor earnings from oil, managed and got it delisted from the JP Morgan Bond Index, as well as raised its foreign exchange reserves from about $23 billion in October 2016 to nearly $48 billion in June 2018.

Despite pressure, Emefiele has remained steadfast in the putting 41 items out of reach for importation into the country despite taking all the flacks and arrows from some importers and stakeholders, thus bringing down Nigeria’s import portfolio from $665 million to $160 million, thereby restoring its current account to a surplus.

Another signature achievement which may not be forgotten in a hurry is the signing, in May, 2018, of the historic $2.5billion currency swap agreement between the CBN and the Peoples Bank of China (PBoC), a deal, said to have been reached, after over two years of “painstaking negotiations,” between the two countries.

Part of the benefits of the transaction, which is valued at Renminbi (RMB) 16 billion, or the equivalent of about $2.5billion, according to Okorafor, is to provide adequate local currency liquidity to Nigerian and Chinese industrialists and other businesses, thereby reducing the difficulties encountered in the search for third currencies.

The deal, is principally to provide Naira liquidity to Chinese businesses and provide RMB liquidity to Nigerian businesses respectively, thereby improving the speed, convenience and volume of transactions between the two countries, he said, adding that it would also assist both countries in their foreign exchange reserves management, enhance financial stability, and promote broader economic cooperation between the two countries.

Unlike his two predecessors who had courted some controversies, there are none associated with Emefiele for now. While Chukwuma Soludo, in his days, was accused of unduly hobnobbing with some bank executives, he was supposed to be checkmating their activities, thus, loosening his grip on some strict guidelines, which encouraged them to err, Lamido Sanusi, his immediate predecessor, was accused of unduly dabbling into external issues outside his brief, which drew unnecessary controversies that were injurious to the operations of the apex bank.

But none of these wrong character traits have been associated with Emefiele. Instead, the 57-year-old former Managing Director of Zenith Bank and the 12th CBN Governor, has remained largely the reclusive, conservative and reserved, rather than a flamboyant, impetuous and showy character, whose public and even private activities, attract controversies.

To many observers, the renewal of Emifiele’s appointment is surprising considering the allegations against Buhari. Few people believe the office would be returning to the South no matter Emefiele’s performance. Hence many Nigerians, including Reno Omokri, a known critic of the president, have filed out to praise him on the move.

While some take the purely performance angle and therefore hail it for rewarding merit, others see it from the purely political angle. Instructively, Buhari had immediately winning his re-election in February, promised Nigeria an inclusive government in his second term. Is this the first step? 

  • Igboanugo, a journalist, wrote from Abuja.