The Central Bank of Nigeria fired back at the NESG following a Businessday report that accused the bank of seeking immunity for CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele in the proposed Banking and Other Financial Institution (BOFIA) Bill.
In a press release published on the website of the central bank, it addressed wide-ranging claims made against it by the National Economic Summit Group (NESG) which purportedly leaked to Business Day, a newspaper in Nigeria. In the article published on Tuesday, the newspaper alleged “business leaders opposed bill to give CBN Governor immunity” according to section 51 of the proposed bill.
“Section 51 of the Bill which grants immunity from judicial intervention to the Federal Government, the CBN, or any officer of the Federal Government or the CBN from any action, claim or liability to any person in respect of anything done in the exercise of their duties under the Bill.”
What section 51 actually says
“neither the Federal Government nor the Bank nor any officer of the Federal Government or the Bank, shall be subject to any action, claim or demand by or liability to any person in respect of anything done or omitted to be done in good faith in pursuance or in execution of, or in connection with the execution or intended execution of any power conferred upon that Government, the Bank or such officer, by or under this Bill or the CBN Act or any rules, regulations, guidelines or directives issued thereunder or pursuant to any other relevant laws,”
CBN fires back
The CBN retorted that the section claimed to be granting immunity to the Governor of the Central Bank already exists as Section 53 in the old Act long before Emefiele became Governor.
“On the revisions to the BOFIA Act, there are many reasons why we see a total ignorance or malicious intent on the part of the NESG. First, the provision they refer to as being currently conceived as part of the new BOFIA already exists as Section 53 in the old Act, which is now Section 51 in the amended Act passed by the National Assembly. The current bill has not proposed any changes to that section at all.”
The CBN also explained that the provisions in section 51 do not provide any immunity to the CBN Governor as it would for elected Governors of States of the Federation but rather it protects the apex bank and their officials against litigations brought forward against it for actions it may have taken in good faith.
“Second, contrary to their misleading anxiety and associated reportage, the provision of Section 51 does not purport to confer immunity on the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria like that which obtains for State Governors. Rather, this provision protects the Federal Government, the Central Bank of Nigeria and their respective officials against adverse claims for actions or omission in good faith exercise of powers under BOFIA and other specified statutes including the Central Bank of Nigeria Act and regulations made thereunder.”
In the Businessday report, it cited a quote from an unnamed CBN Governor who wondered why the bill would include such a provision alleging it was to provide immunity for the Governor.
“What would a governor of the central bank need this immunity for?”, asked a former governor of the apex bank who spoke to our reporter….you already have in BOFIA a section that requires anyone to first write the governor before he or she can sue the governor. The governor does not need the kind of immunity we are talking about and I do not think there is any sensible country in the world with a provision like this. What do we do if it happens that a governor contravenes the very law establishing the bank”?
It also quoted the NESG reporting that it “also kicked against granting immunity to the CBN and its officers from judicial review of acts undertaken in the exercise of their administrative duties.”
Who is on the right track
Reading between the lines, one does not need a lawyer to explain that the provision in the passed bill is not new and surely was not introduced by the current governor to protect himself from immunity. The provision has been in BOFIA (the existing law) and is also included in other laws setting up regulatory bodies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), AMCON, NDIC, and even the CBN.
The provision basically protects regulatory bodies from being sued indiscriminately by parties to whom they may have carried out action against. For example, in the case of sacking the board of a failed bank, the directors may sue to get an injunction against the central bank curtailing its powers to take swift action where necessary.
It appears critics are now throwing the kitchen sink at the CBN Governor for actions they deem “unpopular” even if it means raising false alarms. Since 2015 when Nigeria’s economic crisis begun, Godwin Emefiele has come under severe criticisms in his handling of monetary policy and management of the exchange rate.
Thus, no matter his intent, critics view his actions with skepticism and caution suggesting a lack of trust between them and his leadership of the CBN. Despite a deluge of criticisms, he remains in favour of the current government after his second term was renewed. He is the first CBN Governor to serve two terms since Abdulkadir Ahmed whose term ended after 10 years in September 1993.