There are growing concerns over the whereabouts of Nigeria’s central bank Governor, Godwin Emefiele who has been outside the country since December 2022. His physical absence from work has led to some of his ardent critics asking if he may have been confined to working remotely, given the circumstances behind his vacation outside the country and the request to appear for questioning by legislators.
While these rumours may be widely untrue it is evidence of what happens when information from government officials is neither available nor trusted. Governor Emefiele was scheduled to return to work on Monday, January 9, 2023. Two days after, he is yet to be seen on duty (as of when this article was written).
It may be recalled that Mr. Emefiele had in December received presidential approval to proceed on vacation until January 9 but has not appeared in public since December 9, 2022, except during an appearance with President Muhammadu Buhari during a well-publicized trip to Washington DC, USA that ended on December 17.
An online media platform (not Nairametrics) reported on January 9, that the apex bank’s chief is still shuttling between the UK and the United States. “The situation is still not very comfortable for him,” the publication quoted a source it claimed is familiar with the matter.
According to the platform, sources say Mr. Emefiele would be willing to return to Nigeria if the president could offer protection from state goons at the SSS.
They also reported that allegations have flared that the covert police secured the backing of President Buhari and other high-ranking government officials to launch an attack against the CBN governor.
Recall, also, that Justice John Tsoho of the Federal High Court had on December 13, 2022, a ruling declined to authorize an arrest warrant sought by the SSS to take Mr. Emefiele into custody.
Mr. Tsoho said the secret police had failed to establish its claims against Mr. Emefiele, while also obscuring his identity in order to deceive the court into granting an erroneous motion.
Mr. Emefiele’s decision to redesign the naira and limit cash withdrawals, presumably intended to curb vote-buying at the 2023 elections, may have earned him strong political adversaries and landed him in a war with other loyalists of the regime.
Commenting on the situation, Dr. Felix Echekoba, a lecturer at the Department of Banking and Finance, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka told Nairametrics that even in the physical absence of Governor Emefiele, the bank has a structure that will allow operations to continue while the head of the apex bank is away for an extended period of time.
However, legal practitioner, Nathaniel Charles, argued that it was improbable that the apex bank boss would effectively and efficiently carry out his official duties while outside the country.
However, another online platform, Sahara Reporters, reported that Emefiele returned to Nigeria last Wednesday from the United States and is presently in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, but has kept himself away from the public glare.
“Emefiele is in Abuja. He arrived (from the US) on Wednesday,” SaharaReporters claimed the source affirmed.
SaharaReporters reported that two DSS officials familiar with Emefiele’s matter had confirmed that the domestic intelligence office of the DSS had deployed several officers to monitor the CBN Headquarters, Emefiele’s family residence in Lagos, and the Abuja home of businessman Christopher Emefiele, unrelated by blood (quoting another online source).Other media outlets had also reported that there were strong indications on Thursday that Emefiele was under intense pressure from some of the country‘s power brokers to resign.
Emefiele’sabsence is also coming at a time when new naira notes are being introduced and the cashless policy is being enforced on the Nigerian economy. The transition to the cashless policy is considered by many to be one of the most monumental exercises of the apex bank in decades, which should dictate Emefiele’s physical presence to monitor the exercise, experts opine.
Economists also say the absence of the CBN governor from his official duties during a transition time like this does not augur well for the economy. This is especially so as palpable hitches pertaining to the availability of new naira notes are surfacing.
Dr. Dan Atuma, an economist, and social affairs analyst told Nairametrics that Emefiele’s absence robs the cashless transition exercise of public confidence. It may send a wrong signal to the foreign investment community, he said.
Patrick Duma, another economist said in times like this the CBN governor is supposed to be giving the Nigerian public daily briefings of how well the process is progressing, with barely three weeks to conclude it. He said the process needs a face, and Emefiele is that face that is supposed to be assuring Nigerians of the transition process.
However, a legal practitioner, Effiong Ukong, said he believes a few big shots that will be affected most negatively by the naira redesign are doing everything to thwart the transition process. “Why did the DSS not accuse Emefiele of sponsoring terrorism until the implementation of the cashless policy?” he questioned.