Nigeria’s embattled Central Bank Governor, Godwin Emefiele, quietly returned to the country on Wednesday, sources in the apex bank and the presidency have told PREMIUM TIMES.
Mr Emefiele has been out of the country for several weeks amidst fears he would be arrested by operatives of the State Security Service (SSS) who are investigating several allegations against him, including corruption and terrorism financing.
A presidency source, however, told PREMIUM TIMES that the CBN governor got President Muhammadu Buhari’s permission for two weeks of leave which expired Tuesday.
“His holidays finished yesterday so he has to report to work today,” our source said.
PREMIUM TIMES also learnt that Mr Emefiele is planning to leave the country again very soon, afraid the secret police could eventually arrest him amidst the continuous power play at the highest levels of the Nigerian government.
“He is trying to leave within the next few days on the pretence of attending the annual World Economic Forum,” our source said.
Senior Special Assistant to the president on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, and the spokesperson of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Osita Nwanisobi, did not respond to calls and text messages put across to them regarding the matter as of press time Thursday morning.
SSS seeks arrest
PREMIUM TIMES reported how, in December, the SSS secretly sought a court order to arrest Mr Emefiele. The Federal High Court, Abuja, however, rejected the SSS request.
In the application, the SSS wanted the court to order the arrest of the CBN governor over alleged “acts of financing terrorism, fraudulent activities and economic crimes of national security dimension.”
The SSS filed the application marked FHC/ABJ/CS/2255/2022 at the court on 7 December 2022. Mr Emefiele was the sole defendant in the suit which was filed ‘ex parte’, meaning Mr Emefiele was not notified of the suit.
But the judge, John Tsoho, in a 9 December ruling, rejected the application on the grounds that the secret police failed to provide sufficient evidence to warrant the issuance of an arrest warrant against Mr Emefiele.
This newspaper reported how the judge said the depositions in the affidavit filed by the SSS in support of its application “purport that preliminary investigation has revealed various acts of terrorism financing, fraudulent activities perpetrated by the respondent and his involvement in economic crimes of national security dimension.”
In rejecting the application, the judge said: “These are no doubt grave allegations, but which the applicant has not presented any concrete evidence to support.”
Mr Tsoho also accused the SSS of deceit, saying the secret police failed to indicate that ‘Godwin Emefiele’, against whom the order was sought, was the same as the CBN governor.
“The respondent in this application is named as ‘Godwin Emefiele’ without disclosure of his status or position anywhere; not even in the affidavit,” the judge said.
Mr Tsoho ruled that considering the sensitive position held by Mr Emefiele, the permission of Mr Buhari ought to have been sought before the bank chief is arrested.
“It is left to speculation if the ‘Godwin Emefiele’ is the same person as the serving Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. If it is, then he is unarguably a high-ranking public official in Nigeria and indeed occupies a sensitive position as one of the key drivers of the nation’s economy.
“Therefore, an application of this kind should have evidence of the approval of the respondent’s boss, that such measures are authorised to be taken.”
Emefiele gets lifeline
Meanwhile, about two weeks after Mr Tsoho gave his order, Mr Emefiele got another reprieve from a separate court.
The Federal Capital Territory High Court granted a request by a civil society organisation to prevent the arrest of the bank chief.
A judge, Muslim Hassan, of the FCT court ruled that based on Mr Tsoho’s earlier ruling, “any continuous harassment, intimidation, threats, restriction of movement, abuse of right of office, surreptitious moves to arrest, and humiliation” of Mr Emefiele, over “trumped up allegations of terrorism financing and fraudulent practices” was illegal and unconstitutional.
The judge also restrained the SSS “from instigating the arrest or arresting, interrogating and detaining” Mr Emefiele in respect of any matter or policy decision on the Nigerian economy “or for any connected purposes except by an order of a Superior Court.”
Emefiele’s controversies/ policies
Mr Emefiele has been in the news for the wrong reasons in recent times.
Amidst Nigeria’s worsening economic situation, partly due to wrong CBN policies, including violations of its own laws, Mr Emefiele decided to go into active politics while holding on to his office.
He not only joined the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) but sought to be the president of Nigeria on the party’s platform. Mr Emefiele thus became Nigeria’s first CBN governor to be openly partisan and seek elective office.
Although he got the APC nomination form, he had to pull out of the presidential race, after allegedly spending billions of naira including on publicity, due to public outrage and allegedly failing to secure President Buhari’s support for his ambition.
New Naira notes
Mr Emefiele has also faced criticisms for the CBN’s recent policy of redesigning the country’s highest currencies: N200, N500 and N1000. The apex bank also set a 31 January limit for the validity of the old notes.
However, a few weeks before the expiration of the deadline, Nigerians have continued to lament the implementation of the policy as the new notes are scarce while banks continue to issue the old notes.
Mr Emefiele’s controversial absence from the nation has been a source of worry for stakeholders in the banking sector ahead of the CBN’s first Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meeting of the year scheduled for 23 January. The CBN boss chairs the MPC meetings in which key monetary policy decisions are taken as part of the apex bank’s efforts to control inflation, regulate banking operations, and stabilise the larger economy.