Emiefele: Buhari’s ‘Assurance’ reward to a faithful ally

By Sunny Igboanugo on 13/05/2019

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A few weeks ago, news suddenly broke of how President Muhammadu Buhari had sacked the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele. He was said to have been directed to proceed on his terminal leave as the nation’s number one banker by a letter from the President, thus, ending his one-term stint with the apex bank, abruptly.

But that was not the case. It took the bank’s Director of Corporate Communications, Isaac Okorafor, to pour ice on the already burning story, when he told the first person that bothered to get to him for clarification that – The Governor is in his office, working.

A top-flight journalist, Okorafor’s, taciturn, professional and usually controlled manner of managing information at the apex bank, worked magic in deflating the build-up.

However, for the period the report lasted before it was debunked, the entire social media space, had caught the bug. Opinions and commentaries became as diverse and divergent as those making them, bordering in the main, on the ethnic, political and religious fault lines in the country.

The speculation that Buhari intended to replace Emiefele with a northerner, once again, opened a floodgate of verbal war, laced with all manner of primordial arguments between known social media warlords.

As usual, the discourse, was bereft of the nuances of job proficiency or lack of it, of the CBN boss, but heavily-decked with the usual invectives, curses, hate-speech and all that have become major character of the vital social marketplace.

It is against this backdrop that Buhari’s re-appointment of the CBN governor for a second term, assumes its current meaning. Today, he holds the record of being the only person so honoured since Nigeria returned to independence in 1999.

Ordinarily, commentators and observers ought to be examining the development purely on the template of competency and performance. But these are no ordinary times. Thus, the motive of the President’s action is as important as the impetus of the decision.

No doubt, the President has killed the axiomatic two birds with a stone. On the one hand, he has been able to deliver a major political masterstroke and on the other entrench a new order of consistency that would certainly be critical to the economic performance of his government in the next four years and even beyond.

It is no hidden fact that a large dosage of whatever achievements Buhari’s government lays claims to in terms of managing the Nigerian economy, since his coming, in 2015, is attributable to the apex bank.  

Today, rice production, has become the pride of the Buhari government, following the policy of diversification into agriculture as the major strategy for jolting Nigeria’s economy back to buoyancy. A major factor of that rice revolution, which the government never fails to tell anybody who cares to listen had led to 90 per cent of the rice consumed in the country, being grown locally, is Emefiele’s CBN. Through the bank’s Anchor Borrowers Programme, thousands of Nigerian peasant farmers, are said to have accessed from the billions of Naira the scheme provides for massive rice production, which led to the present feat.

Indeed, never given to whimsicality, Emefiele, since his appointment in 2014, has demonstrated a lot in doggness in pursuing policies geared towards stabilising the Nigerian economy and growing it with a rare single-mindedness and unwavering mindset. With him, wavy and inconsistent policy directives, appear quite distant.

Even when many Nigerians went into a panic mode as the economy appeared to be collapsing due to the crazy rise in the cost of foreign currencies, and other tell-tale signs of economic woes, Emiefele maintained a sober and constructive mien, an attitude, which obviously came handy in arresting and stabilising the situation, such that from the almost N600 exchanged for a dollar, the rate crashed and has remained stable at about N360.  

That the CBN governor, was able to save Buhari that nightmare in the parlous foreign exchange macabre dance, is probably what the President could not forget in a hurry.  

Many analysts also point to how he pulled the country out of a debilitating recession, occasioned by poor earnings from oil, managed and got it delisted from the JP Morgan Bond Index, as well as raise its foreign exchange reserves from about $23 billion in October 2016 to nearly $48 billion in June 2018.

Despite pressure, Emefiele has remained steadfast in the putting 41 items out of reach for importation into the country despite taking all the flacks and arrows from some importers and stakeholders, thus bringing down Nigeria’s import portfolio from $665 million to $160 million, thereby restoring its current account to a surplus.

Yet, analysts also credit him with the current rise in bank profits, where his insistence to strict discipline and tight monetary policies, have led them to posting huge returns while reducing bad loans substantially.

Another signature achievement which may not be forgotten in a hurry is the signing, in May, 2018, of the historic $2.5billion currency swap agreement between the CBN and the Peoples Bank of China (PBoC), a deal, said to have been reached, after over two years of “painstaking negotiations,” between the two countries, which largely fell on the CBN Governor’s shoulder.

Part of the benefits of the transaction, which is valued at Renminbi (RMB) 16 billion, or the equivalent of about $2.5billion, as Okorafor explained then, is to provide adequate local currency liquidity to Nigerian and Chinese industrialists and other businesses, thereby reducing the difficulties encountered in the search for third currencies.

The deal, is principally to provide Naira liquidity to Chinese businesses and provide RMB liquidity to Nigerian businesses respectively, thereby improving the speed, convenience and volume of transactions between the two countries, he said, adding that it would also assist both countries in their foreign exchange reserves management, enhance financial stability, and promote broader economic cooperation between the two countries.

Aside all these achievements, Buhari, appears to share some personal character traits with the CBN Governor in terms of a disciplined lifestyle.

In fact, unlike his two predecessors who had courted controversies to themselves, none seem to have been associated with Emefiele for now. While Chukwuma Soludo, in his days, was accused of unduly hobnobbing with some bank executives, he was supposed to be checkmating their activities, thus, loosening his grip on some strict guidelines, which encouraged them to err, Lamido Sanusi, his successor and the incumbent's immediate predecessor, was accused of unduly dabbling into external issues outside his brief, which drew unnecessary controversies that were injurious to the operations of the apex bank.

But none of these apparently wrong character traits have been associated with Emefiele. What is more? The 57-year-old former Managing Director of Zenith Bank and the 12th CBN Governor, has maintained an austre life style similar to the Buhari’s.

He has remained largely the reclusive, conservative and reserved, rather than a flamboyant, impetuous and showy character, whose public and even private activities, attract controversies.

So, it is supposed that whatever criticisms he might face, would be strictly on his job performance, which is quite normal, because like intellectualism, debates are the oil with which economic issues are eaten.

For as long as economics is a science, there always seems to be divergent opinions it. Put a hundred economists in one room, they are likely to have different opinions on the same subject matter.

Emefiele, in this instance, appears to have done well to stay within his main brief and the approach to his job.

As he himself clearly states in one interview: “We will be professional, we will be apolitical. We will not go into politics. What we will do is to focus on our banking business and use our skills to support the efforts of government in creating jobs for the people, to support economic growth and development for the country.”

At the Man of the Year Award, given to him by The Guardian, last year, Emefiele had captured his achievement in office with these words: “Nigerian economy is experiencing a cyclical upswing and consolidating its recovery. There is a fall in headline inflation from a peak of 18.7 percent in January 2017 to 14.3 percent in February 2018. There is stabilisation and convergence of the exchange rate around N360/$ today from about N525/$ in February 2017.

“There is increased foreign exchange supply with over $20 billion inflow to the I&E window since inception in April 2017; strong recovery of the external reserves, which recorded increase from just over $23 billion in October 2016 to over $46.7 billion as of March 29, 2018; and improvement in the World Bank’s ‘doing business’ indicators, with Nigeria progressing by 24 notches.”

To many observers, the renewal of Emifiele’s appointment is certainly surprising, considering the allegations against Buhari. Not a few people believe the office would be returning to the South, no matter Emefiele’s performance. It is therefore not out of place when the same Nigerians, including Reno Omokri, a known critic of the President, have begun to cheer the President for this singular move.

Even as some take the purely performance angle and therefore hail the Buhari for rewarding merit and others see it from the purely political angle, the point to be made is that not a few Nigerians see this as a departure from the norm in the last few years, which is good for the polity.

Instructively, Buhari had immediately winning his re-election in February, promised Nigeria an inclusive government in his second term. Is this the first step? Nigerians can only wait and see.


Igboanugo, a journalist, wrote from Abuja



Source Whirlwindnews.com

Posted on May, 13 2019

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