Nigeria 2023: Can Emefiele’s ‘powerful friends’ get him to Aso Rock?

By Akin Irede
Posted on Monday, 4 April 2022 11:47

Nigeria's Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele briefis the media during the MPC meeting in Abuja
Nigeria's Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele briefis the media during the MPC meeting in Abuja, Nigeria January 24, 2020. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

A group of Nigerian business tycoons known as ‘Friends of Emefiele’ have launched a massive campaign for the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari at the poll. Will these super-wealthy businessmen be able to push over the finish line?

The position of the governor of the CBN – the regulator of the banking sector – is one that was never envisaged for partisan politics. So important is the position that the drafters of the nation’s laws ensured that the appointment and the removal of the governor of the CBN follows the same process as that of the chief justice of the country.

The CBN Act also states that the governor of the apex bank “shall” devote his entire tenure to the service of the bank and shall not engage in anything that will be in conflict with or detract from his full-time duties.

In the last 10 weeks, however, it has become commonplace to see streets flooded with pictures of the CBN governor, which bear the logo of the All Progressives Congress (APC) party.

APC groups – wearing T-shirts and lifting banners that feature the words ‘Godwin Emefiele for President’ – have been staging processions in different parts of the country on a daily basis. At a recent national convention, several of them stole the show with colourful dancing, acrobatics and demonstrations, diverting attention from more popular politicians like APC stalwart Bola Tinubu and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo.

Branded campaign buses of CBN Governor Godwin Emefiele (photo: Twitter)

Although Emefiele has not formally declared his intention to succeed President Buhari, he has neither denied nor confirmed his purported ambition. Rumours however became rife when a group known as ‘Friends of Emefiele’ paid him an official visit to galvanise support for him.

Still, rather than clear the air on his purported ambition, Emefiele simply said he remained committed to his job and that he would leave Buhari to choose his successor.

‘Who are Emefiele’s friends?’

Although the ‘Friends of Emefiele’ have refused to reveal their identities, only signing off advertorials published in newspapers as well as posters, concordant sources tell The Africa Report that some of Emefiele’s supporters are among the richest men in Nigeria and abroad.

An insider says: “Those who are in support of Emefiele are some of the biggest capitalist businessmen, many of whom enjoy some form of monopoly or the other. They are contractors of the CBN or businessmen who have received some concessions from the apex bank. [They] have benefitted from the bank’s policies.

“Some of them have received billions of naira as loans for agriculture even though many of them have failed to repay the loans. They are ready to bankroll Emefiele’s campaign once he fully makes up his mind to contest.

“Some are also international businessmen who want pure capitalism in Nigeria, deregulation in almost every sector and the removal of subsidies and privatisation of government enterprises and assets.”

When people begin to perceive that the Central Bank has become too close to the government and [in] this case, too close to the presidency, it erodes business confidence around the country, it erodes investors’ confidence.

Emefiele is also part of a group known as ‘The 2022 Committee’, which comprises some of the wealthiest Nigerians like billionaire businessman Aliko Dangote; oil tycoon Femi Otedola; Nigeria’s second richest man Abdulsamad Rabiu; as well as banking gurus Jim Ovia (Zenith Bank), Herbert Wigwe (Access Bank), Fola Adeola (Guaranty Trust Bank) and Atedo Peterside (Stanbic IBTC).

The group, which claims its mandate is to ensure that Nigeria “gets it right” next year, met with Buhari at the presidential villa in early February.

The ‘The 2022 Committee’ is headed by industrialist Kashima Imam and Nduka Obaigbena, the Publisher of Thisday newspaper, who also happens to be Emefiele’s de facto campaign manager. Although about six governors were part of the committee, they reportedly withdrew amid claims that the group was surreptitiously working to ensure that Emefiele emerges as the next president.

Emefiele and politics

Although he is not known to have ever been active in partisan politics, sources say Emefiele has a deft political touch. Appointed in 2014 by President Goodluck Jonathan after the controversial removal of activist banker, Lamido Sanusi, the CBN – under Emefiele’s watch – facilitated the transfer of billions of dollars to the Office of the National Security Adviser, the National Intelligence Agency and some of the country’s oil subsidiaries. A chunk of these funds were said to have been used in the 2015 elections, according to court documents and witness testimonies.

However, Emefiele was able to get closer to Buhari and the powerful group of people that were calling the shots. The late industrialist Isa Funtua, who was a member of this insider club, received several contracts, including one of N30bn ($72.1m) to construct a modern car park for the CBN.

A top executive of the firm, however, told The Africa Report that it was not just a car park.

“It was an open bid and we won. It is not just a car park but an ultra-modern building which I am sure Julius Berger would have charged more to construct,” he said while asking not to be named.

Emefiele has also been able to help out the regime on several occasions. In 2020, he approached a Federal High Court accusing #EndSARS protesters of terrorism and got their accounts frozen in order to starve the protesters of funds. He has also heavily funded the president’s agricultural programme and has continued to be seen with the presidency in public.

Last year, Prof. Kingsley Moghalu (a former deputy governor of the CBN and now a presidential hopeful) lamented that the apex bank had become too close to the government in power.

“When people begin to perceive that the Central Bank has become too close to the government and [in] this case, too close to the presidency, it erodes business confidence around the country, it erodes investors’ confidence. This is also part of the problem,” he told local media while reacting to the forex crisis.

Emefiele understands the game of politics very well and this has contributed to his longevity.

In 2019, he became the first CBN governor to be re-appointed despite protests over his failure to effectively stabilise the country’s currency, which has led to an unprecedented inflation.

Speaking to The Africa Report, Kamilu Fage, a Professor of Political Science at Bayero University in Kano, believes Emefiele is being supported by a clique of powerful people, but he is only pretending not to be aware of the plot to make him president.

“I think it is just a clique that is trying to maintain their own hold on power. They are behind his stay in office. [Emefiele] served under Goodluck Jonathan and remained in office. These same people are coming out to campaign for him.

“Secondly, he is probably in the know because you cannot do this without someone’s permission. They are making it look as if he is not aware, but this is just a political gimmick,” he says.

Can Emefiele emerge as the APC candidate?

“Emefiele understands the game of politics very well and this has contributed to his longevity. On two occasions he was almost eased out of office, but he is like a cat with nine lives. Never underestimate such people. I know some governors are also supporting him along with the cabal,” says a chieftain of the APC.

Even so, will he be able to stave off competition from household names like Tinubu, given the fact that he is not a known APC member? The new APC constitution says waivers could be given to new members of the party who ordinarily ought not to qualify for the party’s ticket.

Section 31(3) titled ‘waiver’, says: “Subject to the approval of the National Executive Committee, the National Working Committee may, in special circumstances, grant a waiver to a person seeking the office of President, Vice President, Governor, Deputy Governor, Senator, member of the House Representatives, who is otherwise not qualified under this constitution if, in its opinion, such a waiver is in the best interest of the party.”

This means Emefile could be allowed to contest. However, Section 84(12) of the Electoral Act says any political appointee that seeks to contest in any primary must first of all resign, a provision which is now being challenged in court. However, this means Emefiele must resign if he wants to contest in the presidential primary that takes place in May. Will he take the risk by resigning as CBN governor to run for office when he still has two years left on his tenure? Analysts say he will only do so if he is 100% sure of getting the president’s support.

But while he has yet to declare his intention, the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) says it has had enough and the CBN governor should resign immediately.

“By engaging in partisan politics to the extent of appearing in APC campaign posters, Mr. Emefiele has knowingly and deliberately violated the provision of Section 9 of the Central Bank of Nigeria (Establishment) Act.

“Mr. Emefiele has also desecrated the sanctity of his office as CBN Governor, compromised the integrity of the apex bank, stripped it of the confidence reposed in it by Nigerians and the international community and as such, cannot legitimately continue to hold and function in that office,” says Debo Ologunagba, the spokesman for the PDP.

However, Dr Aminu Hayatu, a lecturer at the Department of Political Science in BUK Kano, says Emefiele is unlikely to get the APC ticket because the South-South region he comes from is a weak support base of the APC and doesn’t have a large voting population.

“I doubt if he can pull it off. The primordial sentiments in Nigeria will not let him […] get the presidential seat. This is the unfortunate [situation] our country [is in] currently. Even the zone he is representing is among the smallest in the country.

“I can tell you that as far as the Nigerian system is, money alone cannot get you the presidency. There are regional, ethnic and religious factors. All these come to play in Nigerian politics,” says Hayatu.

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