By Dele Sobowale
“Let the CBN stop freezing the bank accounts of activists because it constitutes a gross infringement of the fundamental right to fair hearing and property. If the CBN does not desist from the illegal practice, our courts should turn down frivolous applications for freezing the bank accounts of activists and other citizens.” Chief Femi Falana, SAN, February 10, 2021.
The Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, has been responsible for minimising the economic disaster this country would have experienced since Buhari’s wrecking crew got into government. Without any economic blueprint and no fiscal policy, the Federal Government has stumbled like a bunch of drunken sailors on shore from one calamity to another. Only the CBN’s robust monetary interventions has so far prevented Nigeria from becoming a failed economy by now.
From late 2018 to the day he was re-appointed CBN Governor, I wrote at least four articles asking that he be retained in office. It was a position which placed me in private conflict with late Henry Boyo. If Henry had his way, Godwin Emefiele would not only have been sacked but charged for economic sabotage as well. I disagreed. Another friend accused me of being inconsistent when pleading for Emefiele’s re-appointment. Are you not the same Dele who keeps reminding us that “The graveyards are full of indispensable men?” What is so special about the CBN Governor that he cannot be replaced?” The reply was: “To every rule there is an exception. Emefiele is the one who had been saving Nigeria from absolute ruin since 2015. The “devil” we know is better than the saint we don’t.”
There was another reason I did not disclose at the time for standing by Emefiele. He was the only Igbo person holding a substantial FG position. I did not make that point in 2018-9 because it might have worked against him given Buhari’s hatred for Igbos. So, I kept that to myself. Today, almost two years into his second term, I still think he had done fairly well for someone playing on a losing Economic Management Team. His monetary and extra-ordinary interventions which, elsewhere in the civilised world, would have provided impetus for additional two per cent growth each year, had been like pouring water into a basket with this government. He runs the risk of leaving behind no legacy worthy of mention when he departs. Certainly, his investment in 2019 on the revival of the textile industry and cotton farming has now become an embarrassment quietly kept under wraps.
That said, the CBN and the Governor now run the risk of bequeathing two legacies which might haunt all of them for the rest of their lives. That is politicisation of the CBN and banking as a whole. What the CBN is doing now might be expedient, but, even granting the dilemma they face, it is dangerous in the long run.
“Those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it.”
George Santayana, 1863-1952, VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, p 93.
One of the reasons the global financial community has promoted the idea of independent Central banks is to shield the managers of the monetary sector from the whims and caprices of politicians in every country. Global investors are particularly reluctant to risk investing in nations where the central bank is too subservient to the government. Furthermore, banks and financial institutions are also protected from excessive intrusion by the nation’s bank. Thus, the Bank of England or the US Federal Reserve Bank cannot just order banks to freeze or close private accounts without court order. The court orders in turn are not frivolously sought and granted by judges in more civilised and just countries where rule of law truly prevails. But, Nigeria is close to being a Banana Republic with justices whose obligation is not to the constitution but to governments. The CBN has in two recent cases taken measures which will turn out to be counter-productive in the long run.
I had at first decided not to intervene in the matter when the accounts of the #EndSARS# activists were frozen in the belief that the bank would soon revisit the measure and conduct itself legally. It has not happened. Just recently, the CBN again asked all banks to close accounts of those trading in crypto-currency or Bitcoin immediately. That was several months after those accounts were opened and allowed to be operated by individuals believing it was legal to do so.
About $500 million is already invested in crypto-currency by Nigerians or in Nigeria. That is not a lot of money at the moment despite our relative poverty as a nation. But, it might grow if the CBN drives millions of people out of the banking system out of fear that they cannot predict what will lead to their account being blocked without warning. That is not how to run banks.
We can compare the CBN’s approach to that of the US Federal Reserve Bank since the invasion of the Capitol in Washington DC. Surely, nobody in Abuja will be foolish enough to compare the gravity of the #EndSARS# protest in terms of threat to overthrow a government with what happened on January 6, 2021 in America. People have been identified, arrested and charged to court in some instances. But, the US Justice Department, manned by solid legal professionals unlike our own incompetents, has not asked any court to grant an ex-parte injunction to block bank accounts and the Federal Reserve has not, and will not, assume those dictatorial powers in a democracy.
I will be surprised if Mr Emefiele claims he does not realise that what he had conspired with Malami to do was to punish people who have not been convicted of any crime. Malami has long shed the mask of being a Minister for Justice for all Nigerians. He pretends to be fighting terrorism by blocking those accounts. In reality, the Attorney-General of the Federation is in my opinion a Northern Fulani Muslim Minister and justice is not considered part of his brief. Otherwise, why is it that leaders of herdsmen – the Mayetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, MACBAN – who rank among the world’s five worst terrorist groups, have not had their accounts blocked? And they will never have their accounts blocked even if convicted because they have a Life Patron where it matters most in Nigeria.
There is another reason which might have escaped Emefiele why Malami is pushing for this illegal measure to be imposed. Almost all the youths involved in the protests against police brutality, extortion and extra-judiciary killings are from the South and the Middle Belt. They are the best educated and upward-mobile young people in Nigeria and they are gainfully employed. Some of them have hefty balances in their accounts. By contrast the vast majority of their compatriots from Malami’s part of Nigeria are uneducated, unemployed and have little or no money in their accounts. Envy constitutes an important reason for the closure – the Pull Them Down Syndrome. Unfortunately, the attempt to stop political activism by closing accounts is bound to fail – even if FG officials are not perceptive enough to understand why. I won’t let them into all the secrets; but here are a few for them to ponder.
First, what was blocked in many instances was not all the young people had. They have not been feeding on stale bread and water ever since their accounts were frozen. They have made more money which they no longer keep in Nigerian banks. CBN can keep what it blocked; but it will not get more. Second, the sudden rise in investment in crypto-currency was one response to CBN’s ham-handed approach to the matter. The latest move against Bitcoin will only ensure that the brilliant young people, our real economic leaders, will increasingly desert the banking system. If the CBN continues to allow Malami to politicise banking, even people like me might regret placing our faith in Godwin Emefiele.
TWO RELATED MATTERS
“An invasion of armies can be resisted, but, not an idea whose time has come.”
Victor Hugo, 1802-1885.
One, I will urge the CBN to resist the pressure to close the accounts of Sunday Igboho – even if charged to court for two reasons. Yoruba people will ensure he does not starve. Second, the bank(s) carrying out the instructions might face millions of withdrawals very quickly – perhaps enough to bring them down. I just hope the CBN will not commit an irreversible blunder and ruin banks.
Two, what on earth happened to the billions invested in 2019 to promote cotton farming and revive the textile mills? Was it all money down the drain? How much was flushed down?
OKONJO-IWEALA DOWN; MORE TO GO
“You can’t win everything.”
So Dr Mrs Okonjo-Iweala is on her way to the World Trade Organisation, WTO. I wish her all the best. It is good paying job and she gets to talk to world leaders a lot. I would have preferred her as the first female and Igbo Nigerian President. She would have served us better. As WTO Director General, she has only as much power as the major economic powers allow her. Otherwise, she will be just a well-paid figure head. She cannot do much for Nigeria as the Biden administration considers her an American of Nigerian descent. Her first loyalty is not to Nigeria; but Uncle Sam. In a conflict, she will vote for US interest.
That said, I am not done with Igbo Presidency 2023. I am now free to search for a suitable candidate to support. I am also now able to embark on another mission – getting as many women as possible to run for office. I prefer primarily older and more matured women who are well-educated and have years of working experience either in the public or private sectors.
In that respect, kindly meet Mrs Ngozi Nkiruka Chukwuka, retired Deputy Director, National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, who during her years at the Corps introduced several innovations which made the experience better for the corpers. I met Mrs Chukwuka on the pages of VANGUARD, which she read religiously, when she sent me the manuscript of her first book — INNOCENT NIGERIANS – for comments and corrections. All writers belong to a global community; so I had no hesitation in helping out. It was from that assignment that I got to know what a priceless addition she will be in elected office – as a motherly champion of the young at 60+. She is not alone. But, any political party in search of excellent women to field in 2023 should head for Awka….
IS THE EFCC PERMANENTLY ZONED TO THE NORTH OR ARE WE SEEING BUHARI IN HIS TRUE COLORS AGAIN?…..