Tuesday, February 27, 2024

The Trials of Brother Meffy

In the past forty-eight hours, there has been a lot of noise about Godwin Emiefele’s alleged arrest by the State Security Services (or DSS). Now, what makes me feel “somehow” to the point of indignation is how the governor of the Central Bank is in the news nearly every day. This is the first anomaly. In contrast, the Federal Reserve Chair in the United States is rarely in the public eye. Hardly ever grants interviews and when he does, it is to announce new rate increases. The current chair and governor, Jerome Powell has only made a slight modification to the norm by periodically–in times of galloping–inflation–explaining updates on how the increased rates are fairing in relation to inflation.

On the contrary, Meffy Boy has been in the news, trouncing the sensitivity of his position.

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In the beginning…

In 2014, the Presidency and the CBN had a fallout over allegations that the Nigerian National Petroleum Commission failed to remit $20 billion to state accounts. Then CBN governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi later recanted but the damage has been done: many felt that he was pressured to recant. It led to his suspension and subsequent ouster by President Goodluck Jonathan who felt Sanusi was using his post to play politics and shore up his campaign to be Emir of Kano. He was not fired outright because according to the CBN Act, only a two-thirds majority of parliament can fire the CBN governor.

Emefiele took over from Sanusi later that year.

Spoiler: things got worse.

Jonathan lost the election in 2015 and the new Sheriffs in town had other ideas. Buhari’s guys are not your regular economically progressive gentlemen who Obasanjo brought from national obscurity. These were (and still are) economic terrorists who plundered the Central Bank for personal gains.

However, the manner in which Meffy responded to their demands absolutely would make a good study. There was a picture that circulated just before 2017 where Meffy Boy was leaning, notebook in hand, listening to instruction from a man with a northern aristocratic attire. That man was Isa Funtua, CEO of Bullet Construction Group and one of the driving forces behind the throne (he died of COVID not too long ago).

Basically, to ensure his survival and continued stay in office, Meffy cuddled up to not just Funtua, but also to his band of friends who not only got forex at a far cheaper rate than necessary but also got import monopolies. More importantly, Meffy was extremely loyal to Buhari. As a result, when his five years came to an end, Buhari did not even think twice to have him reappointed.

The summary is this: the Central Bank as an institution is supposed to be independent even of the federal government. Countries whose governments tinker with the Central Bank and hobnob with its head never end well. It does not augur well on a good day when the president changes finance ministers like bend down select pants or sanitary pads, let alone the Central Bank which is primarily tasked with monetary policy.

History has a prime example of this. L’etats c’est moi! (trust me, you should have paid more attention during French class).

France in the 1780s was facing mass social unrest due to its support for the Americans during their war of independence and general overspending, which left the state with huge debts. In the same period, a more politically insatiable population started to demand an end to the absolute monarchy of Louis XVI.

The negotiations–led by popular finance minister Jacques Necker on behalf of the government–dragged on. On 11 July 1789, the few hopes of a compromise left evaporated when the monarch Louis XVI dismissed Necker. This was widely seen as confirmation that the king wished to go on ruling as an absolute monarch like his grandfather Louis XIV before him. Three days later, crowds would storm the Bastille, showing that royal forces had lost effective control. In the period in which Necker was dismissed, Louis appointed three other finance ministers and sacked them in quick succession and only reappointed Necker to appease the mob.

I have to state this for emphasis: the sack of finance ministers during periods of economic downturn is often one of the quick resorts of governments facing a short life span.

Back to the present…

The current travails of Meffy stemmed from his decision to politicize his office and cater to certain political interests. As a result, when he rolled out his naira redesign policy, it was seen as an attempt to stop or reduce vote buying during next year’s elections most people who belong to this school of thought believe that its intended target is Bola Tinubu of the APC who, according to rumours, the Aso Rock “cabal” whose interests Meffy serves, do not like and neither want him to succeed Buhari.

(Just so we’re clear, I put cabal in inverted commas because I largely subscribe to Robert Conquest’s (perhaps apocryphal) third law of politics, which states that the simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies. I will not shalaye).

Right now, it is said that the EFCC agrees with Meffy’s policies but Tinubu’s guys have infiltrated DSS. It is also said that the point man in this Meffy chase is Muhammad Gudaji Kazaure, a House of Representatives member from Jigawa state who is on the trail of Meffy for not remitting N89 trillion in stamp duties.

Yesterday, on my way to the airport in Abuja to catch a flight back to Lagos, I listened to a programme on Berekete Radio where Kazaure alleged that Buhari gave him authority to “arrest” Meffy for diverting the money accrued from the stamp duties into personal accounts. In the first place, why is Kazaure fighting this battle alone? It is even worse when you remember that the speaker of the House of Reps has come out to say that Kazaure is on his own.

Secondly, granting a reps member leave to arrest a sitting head of a country’s Central Bank bears all the writings of a banana republic.

Third, the manner in which the DSS has gone about the issue, more than anything, spotlights the dangers of doing business in Nigeria and why Nigeria consistently ranks among some of the most risk-prone countries for investment. I particularly take into account that the judge who declined the ex parte motion said that the DSS is in a habit of arresting (or kidnapping, which is rather more succinct) citizens and running to the judiciary if they could be so bothered, to obtain motions to detain their victims indefinitely.

“The honorable judge also wondered why the name of the respondent was given simply as ‘Godwin Emefiele’ without a material disclosure that he is the same person as the CBN governor, a high-ranking public official who occupies an extremely sensitive position. “

For those of you who do not understand the full implications of not only accusing the CBN governor of economic crimes and financial terrorism but also arresting him, here’s a quick explainer:

●      Investor confidence will reduce sharply.

●      International and even domestic rating agencies will downgrade Nigeria further. They don’t even need to know whether the country can pay its debt or not.

●      Capital flights. Say bye bye to your already scarce foreign direct investment

●      The destruction of whatever institutional independence the CBN is supposed to have.

In the final analysis, it does not take a genius to understand that the series of very many interventions the CBN under Meffy Boy has carried out amount to economic terrorism, chief of which is the printing of money beyond the official required limit of 5% of government revenue (per the Fiscal Responsibility Act), in order to get the federal government to pay its domestic debt.

He is also guilty of being partisan to the point of attempting to run for president while in office as governor of the Central Bank. I think he should resign now. However, I take exception to the comical manner in which the political class whose pecuniary interests he is opposed to, have taken to usher him out. In their quest, so many laws and ethics have been broken, the bar has been set so low that it no longer exists, and they, including Meffy who is now in hiding, absolutely do not know when to stop.

This failure of leadership and the anyhowness that is the dominant theme of everything goes in Nigeria does not help anybody, not even the elites in the long term. But then, let them all be stupid together.

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