You are currently viewing Emefiele, Bawa and Rule of Law, by Olusegun Adeniyi
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Former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Godwin Emefiele, took a very big gamble last year by seeking the presidential ticket of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) while still in office. He raised the stakes even higher with a Naira redesign policy that was either not well thought-out or done with malicious intent. Incidentally, a certain AbdulRasheed Bawa was an enabler in what became a Naira confiscation policy. The suspended Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Chairman told Nigerians at the time that “with this redesigning, dollar may massively fall, who knows, probably to N200.”

At the end, the Naira redesign exercise will go down as one of the most atrocious policies ever implemented in the country. The dollar did not fall as predicted by Bawa. Instead, the colossal cost in human suffering resulted in countless lives lost to hunger and deprivation. Such was the level of desperation by Nigerians that many were forced into trade by barter as a medium of exchange. The Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise (CPPE) estimated that the economy lost about N20 trillion to the scarcity of Naira. This despite warnings about potential pitfalls, including by the World Bank.

Risks are acceptable in policy decisions. But gambling can be dangerous. Borrowing from the thesis of the great German General Erwin Rommel, Robert Greene made a distinction between a gamble and a risk in his book ‘The 33 Strategies of War’. The difference, he wrote “is that with risk, if you lose, you can recover” while with a gamble, “defeat can lead to a slew of problems that are likely to spiral out of control”. Yet, as Greene also explained, “people are drawn into gambles by their emotions: they see only the glittering prospects if they win and ignore the ominous consequences if they lose. Taking risks is essential, gambling is foolhardy. It can be years before you recover from a gamble if you ever recover at all…”

That both Emefiele and Bawa took a gamble with the Naira redesign policy is beyond doubt. And my take on that was well documented on 16th March, in my column, ‘Nigeria: From Top to Bottom…’ President Muhammadu Buhari (always looking for ‘thieves’ to catch, even when they may be sitting close to him) owned the policy from the outset. He made a national broadcast in its defence and offered no attempt to hold anybody accountable. But Emefiele would have been wise to fall on his own sword the moment the Supreme Court declared the entire exercise illegal. Especially considering his earlier presidential misadventure. Notwithstanding, there is no reason to arrest and detain him without trial.

I am aware of the sundry allegations of unwholesome practices against Emefiele and Bawa. But until evidence is provided, we don’t have to dignify such tales. Meanwhile, unresolved issues regarding their fate remain. The first is whether President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has the power to remove them given provisions of the EFCC Act 2004 and the CBN Act 2007. Before I make my point, let me state that in 2014, during the controversy that trailed a similar suspension of Emefiele’s predecessor, Khalifa Muhammadu Sanusi II, I sided with President Goodluck Jonathan. Though I saw no justification for the suspension, I argued for the powers of a president, which Sanusi challenged at the time. And my position has not changed.

In the United States, from where we borrowed the presidential system of government, the Federal Reserve Chair (equivalent of our CBN Governor) is also insulated from presidential interference. The office holder reports to Congress. But in the campaign leading to the American 2012 presidential election, the stewardship of Mr. Ben Bernanke became an issue, especially among Republicans. Newt Gingrich and Herman Kane said they would fire the Fed Chair if elected president while Mitt Romney said he ‘wouldn’t keep Ben Bernanke in office,’ and would rather ‘choose someone of my own.’

I cited two US cases to buttress my position that they knew what they were saying, even when no Fed Chair had ever been removed before by an American President. One, suspension of Edwin M. Stanton as Secretary of War in 1865 by President Andrew Johnson after succeeding the assassinated President Abraham Lincoln (to whom he was VP) without recourse to Congress. At that time, the ‘Tenure of Office Act’ had restricted an American president from sacking any member of cabinet without the express approval of the Senate. I also cited the 1926 Supreme Court ruling in the Myers v. United States which affirmed the power of President Woodrow Wilson to remove Mr Frank S. Myers, a First-Class Postmaster in Portland, Oregon from office without congressional approval. Despite a federal law that expressly stated: “Postmasters of the first, second, and third classes shall be appointed and may be removed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate.”

In concluding one of the columns that I wrote on the Sanusi saga nine years ago, I referenced ‘The Second Treatise of Government: And A Letter Concerning Toleration’, where 17th century English philosopher, John Locke argued that the people sometimes allow “their rulers to do several things of their own free choice, where the law is silent…and their acquiescing in it when so done.” Whatever the law cannot provide for, according to Locke, “must necessarily be left to the discretion of him that has the executive power in his hands, to be ordered by him as the public good and advantage shall require…”

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Given the foregoing, I have no problem with the suspension of Emefiele “sequel to the ongoing investigation of his office and the planned reforms in the financial sector of the economy.” But arresting and keeping him and Bawa incarcerated indefinitely is the hallmark of military dictatorship. Under democracy and the rule of law, accused persons are presumed innocent until evidence is adduced in a court of law to secure conviction. Whatever the allegations against Emefiele, detaining him and subjecting him to street gossip and media trial without the ability to defend himself is unfair and illegal. The same goes for Bawa.

It must be stated that the Emefiele saga did not begin under the current administration. It started during the dysfunctional government of President Buhari. In an exclusive story in February this year, PREMIUM TIMES blew the lid on why the Directorate of State Security (DSS) was after Emefiele. The report referenced an affidavit deposed to before the Federal High Court last December, by Mr Umar Salihu, an official of the DSS. According to the affidavit, “there is reasonable suspicion that the respondent (Emefiele) was involved in terrorism financing, aiding and abetting acts of terrorism, economic crimes of national security dimension and undermining the security of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.” Salihu said the DSS made the application so that Emefiele could be detained for 60 days, “pending the conclusion of ongoing investigation …”

Although no details were provided, the main kernel of the allegations surrounded Emefiele’s presidential ambition for which he was said to have procured vehicles and disbursed funds. These resources, the DSS alleged, were “being channelled into funding of Unknown Gunmen, Eastern Security Network (ESN) and elements of IPOB, a proscribed organisation.”

It is interesting that the DSS made these damaging allegations against Emefiele as a sitting CBN Governor whose access to President Buhari was never at any point denied. That fact was not lost on the court. In throwing out the DSS’ application on 9th December 2022, Justice John Tsoho said the request being sought ought to have been preceded by arrest. “This is not the situation here, as Godwin Emefiele, the CBN governor was shown on television, even last night, having an audience with the President of Nigeria,” the judge said. “It therefore seems that the applicant (DSS) intends to use the court as a cover for an irregular procedure which is unacceptable.”

Like Emefiele, Bawa was suspended more than a month ago by President Tinubu “to allow for proper investigation into his conduct while in office”, following “weighty allegations of abuse of office levelled against him.” Bawa was subsequently arrested and has since been detained by the DSS. Till today, Nigerians do not know what those “weighty allegations” are. But let’s come back to Emefiele. Following a court order that he be properly charged or released, DSS has come up with the accusation of possessing a gun and 23 rounds of live ammunition, apparently just to fulfill all righteousness. Pray, how do these relate to terrorism and financial crimes on which the entire drama was initially premised?

Given the needless hardship to which Nigerians were subjected during the Naira redesign fiasco, it is understandable that there is little sympathy for Emefiele. But this issue is not about his person. At stake are fundamental freedoms of a citizen and abuse of power. Tuesday’s Twitter post from the DSS official handle mocking one of the lawyers defending Emefiele with incendiary comments can be described as nothing but bad faith. And it is unfortunate. One of the major tragedies of Nigeria is that officials and institutions that are ordinarily supposed to uphold the law most often see themselves being above the law. Yet, the rule of law is founded on the principle that every citizen, no matter highly placed and regardless of the position they hold, is subject to the law. The same goes for public institutions.

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No matter the offence for which a citizen may be charged, revenge is not the same thing as justice and state institutions should not be seen to be promoting such perversion. President Tinubu has spent the better part of his political career mouthing defence of fundamental freedoms for citizens. It would be tragic for the government he now heads to exhibit traits antithetical to those ideals. “He (Tinubu) was at the forefront as a NADECO man to chastise military governments for disobeying court orders. Now that power is in his hand, we will see whether he, himself will obey court orders,” a former Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) President, Joseph Daudu, SAN said last Thursday. I share his point of view.

President Tinubu’s disruptive policy measures may ultimately be for the good of the country, but his government needs all the support it can get at this most vulnerable period. Nigerians are going through a very difficult period. The inflation rate jumped from 22.4 percent in May to 22.8 in June, according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on Monday. By Tuesday, the pump price of petrol had gone haywire with a litre selling for between N617 and N630 thus increasing the woes of the ordinary people. Any suggestion of dictatorship will be most unhelpful under the present circumstance. In the public arena, as Senate President Godswill Akpabio reminded the new Governor of Akwa Ibom recently, “100 friends, not enough; one enemy, too many.” I hope presidential handlers can appreciate that.

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Emefiele may deserve a comeuppance for the choices he made as CBN Governor and for getting so caried away as to imagine he could use his office to secure Nigeria’s presidency through the backdoor. But those are issues for another day. What we are dealing with in this unfortunate saga is the abuse of due process of the law, an affront on the fundamental rights of citizens, and authoritarian impulses by a critical state institution. No matter how ‘weighty’ the allegations against them, and regardless of how we view their stewardship, Emefiele and Bawa deserve their day in court. Or be released from detention!

Chidi Amuta at 70 

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Come Monday, I intend joining the family of Dr Chidi Amuta and a few friends in Lagos at the dinner to mark his 70th birthday. We had to convince him before he agreed to the ceremony. Teacher, writer, journalist, and public intellectual, Amuta has been one of my most invaluable professional mentors from whom I have learnt a lot. He is also a member of THISDAY editorial board and a national asset.

Amuta started his career as a lecturer at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, in 1979 (he graduated from the University with a First Class) before moving to the University of Port-Harcourt in 1981 as a Senior Lecturer in the Department of English. He was at various times a Visiting Fellow, Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy, Boston USA; founding editorial board member, The Guardian newspaper; Director, Imo State Directorate for Rural Development (DIFRI); Group Editorial Adviser and Chairman Editorial Board, Daily Times; Managing Director, Post Express Newspapers and Executive Director, Tanus Communications. He has also authored several books, including ‘Towards A Sociology of African Literature’, ‘The Theory of African Literature: Implications for Practical Criticism’, ‘Prince of the Niger: The Babangida Years’ and ‘Writing the Wrong: A Collection of Articles’. Incidentally, at the public presentation of ‘Writing the Wrongs’ nine years ago, I was the reviewer. In that review, I spoke about Amuta’s attention to detail, his curiousity and sense of humour.

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I can recall some of his columns that distinguish him as a writer. ‘Give Us the Mad Cows’ for instance dramatizes the vexation in some countries about the mental state of some cows that were bound for the pots of soup anyway. And here is the opener: “…a veteran of the ‘tombo bar’ accosted me the other day. He had just heard about these mad cows from somebody who heard it from somebody who happens to know somebody else who has the unhealthy habit of reading newspapers. The Nigerian chain of information control and command, for your information, is a mixture of oral tradition and enlightened rumour in print. The subject was infuriating to him: that any group of rational adults should allow their public discourse and political energies to be hijacked by, of all subjects, mad cows…”

As Dr Amuta joins the elite septuagenarian club on Monday, I can only wish him happy birthday, long life and good health.

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