The move by the Department of State Services (DSS) against Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele, was on Wednesday raised in the British House of Lords by Daniel, Lord Hannan, the Baron of Kingsclere. Hannan stressed the need for adherence to the rule of law and independence of the central bank as Nigeria moves towards crucial elections next year.
DSS had recently sought to implicate Emefiele in a terrorism financing scheme, in what was widely dismissed as trumped up on purpose to oust the head of the all-important institution following the bank’s latest monetary policies.
But Hannan said Nigeria must ensure independence of its critical institutions ahead of next year’s general election.
Similarly, the Centre for Financial Surveillance and Illicit Transaction Tracking Group (CFSITT) expressed concerns over the move against Emefiele. The member of Egmont Group, a 164 countries membership forum, said the likely suspension of Nigeria was one of the consequences of the terrorism allegation against the CBN governor by DSS.
In a statement by its Director, John Dimu, CFSITT said Nigeria would have been suspended if DSS had succeeded in framing Emefiele for terrorism.
CFSITT provides financial units with a platform to securely exchange expertise and financial intelligence to combat money laundering and terrorist financing, among others,
However, bowing to pressure from its cash withdrawal policy since it was announced, the central bank announced an upward review of its cash withdrawal limits across all payment channels by individuals and corporate organisations.
The House of Representatives resolved Wednesday to admit a Deputy Governor of the CBN in charge of Financial System Stability, Mrs. Aisha Ahmad, in place of Emefiele, to brief the lawmakers on the recent monetary policies of the apex bank, especially the cash withdrawal limits.
Nevertheless, former Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, also yesterday, advised security agencies in the country to be wary and avoid being manipulated by politicians as the 2023 elections draw nearer.
On same day, the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), in conjunction with the Coalition of National Civil Society Organisations (CNCSOS) and the National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN) threw their weight behind Emefiele, in the recent move by the DSS to arrest the CBN governor.
The Coalition of National Interest Defenders (CNID) had raised the alarm over an alleged plot by DSS to implicate Emefiele in terrorism.
DSS had, through one U. S. Gambarawa on December 7, 2022, brought an ex parte application before the Federal High Court, Abuja, seeking the court’s order to arrest and detain Emefiele over alleged terrorism financing, among others. The court, in its ruling, declined to grant the request by DSS to arrest Emefiele. It said sufficient evidence was not brought before it to warrant the granting of the order.
Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice John Tsoho, who delivered the ruling, had held, “These are, no doubt, grave allegations, but which the Applicant has not presented any concrete evidence to support.”
However, Hannan stressed that the rule of law and the independence of the central bank must be respected.
In a question he raised in the House of Lords, yesterday, Hannan stated that due process and the independence of public officials mattered in democracy.
“They bind us together as Commonwealth nations,” the British lawmaker explained.
He stated, “I am not Nigerian. It is not for me to say whether it was time for a redesign of naira notes, or whether such a change will make elections cleaner. But I do feel that friends of Nigeria, and friends of Nigerian democracy should defend the rule of law there.
“At a time when democracy is in retreat globally, we all have a stake in Nigeria’s success. The country is Africa’s greatest economy, Africa’s greatest population and Africa’s greatest hope. That is why I have raised the issue of the attempt to detain the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, in Parliament.
“And that is why I hope that democrats on all sides will join Nigeria in supporting the independence of its institutions in the run-up to the 2023 election – including, of course, the central bank.”
CFSITT stated that Nigeria risked being blacklisted by global financial bodies due to the DSS’ allegations. The group added that suspension of Nigeria from the group, if it happened, would be embarrassing given that the country had been suspended in 2017 over lack of legal framework and autonomy.
Part of the statement read, “We received with disappointment the reports of discovery of a suit secretly filed by the State Security Service wherein it accused Mr. Godwin Emefiele of terrorism financing as well as other crimes it described as economic crimes of national security dimension.
“The allegation that the DSS embarked on this plot to remove the CBN governor for political and pecuniary reasons, is not only a huge shame, but against the ethics of the Egmont group which Nigeria is a member.
“Recall that the group had suspended the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, an arm of EFCC, after its plenary in Macao, China, on July 2, 2017.
“The group suspended Nigeria as a result of its lack of a legal framework and autonomy.”
It stated further, “It is quite shocking that the DSS could be found being part of this illegal move. We advise DSS to focus on its mandate rather than becoming lapdogs for politicians.”
Aisha Ahmed, CBN Deputy Governor to Brief Lawmakers
The House of Representatives resolved to admit Ahmed in place of Emefiele to brief them on the recent monetary policies of the apex bank, especially the cash withdrawal limits.
Emefiele had on Tuesday told the House, which summoned him last week, that he was outside the country.
The communication necessitated a re-invitation of the governor for appearance before the House either in person or by proxy on Thursday.
But at Wednesday’s plenary, Emefiele wrote the House that he was still abroad, adding that he was attending to some health challenges and would, therefore, delegate Ahmed to led a committee to the briefing.
Reading the letter, the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila said, “The Clerk has just received a letter and his letter says ‘We refer to your letter of December 20, 2022 on the above subject matter inviting the governor of Central Bank of Nigeria to appear before the House on Thursday, December 22.
“Regrettably, the governor is out of the country on official engagement as well as attending to some health challenges. He is, therefore, unavailable to attend this briefing.
“Giving the urgency associated with the briefing, the committee of governors led by Mrs. Aisha Ahmed, deputy governor, Financial System Stability, is prepared to brief the House”.
Buttressing the point, Gbajabiamila pleaded with his colleagues to allow Emefiele’s representative to brief the House.
He said, “Honourable colleagues, at this stage, we have to rise above certain things and not make it personal anymore, in the sense there is a very critical issue, which is the issue of this new cash policy.
“If the governor has said he is out of the country and in good faith, he is attending to health conditions, if that is the case, would it serve this House to continue to insist on his physical appearance? Two, would it serve the interest of the country to say we will wait whenever he comes back in January, because a lot would have happened between now and then?
“But if he’s asked somebody who’s fully equipped with all the facts, who can be questioned by the House, who’s the deputy governor, Financial System Stability, which is what this is all about, and who is coming with the committee of governors, I think the point has been made.
“Let’s hear from her because if we hear from her, we are hearing from the governor. It is akin to me going somewhere and I ask the deputy speaker to represent me and they said no, deputy cannot come.
“I think under the circumstances, if he had said he was in Nigeria and could not make it, that will be unacceptable. So, I think we should consider it. Whatever the resolution of the House, we will go with it.”
But the House became divided, with some agreeing to Gbajabiamila’s position and others suggesting the representative briefed the House Committee on Banking and Currency instead of the whole House.
Hon. Segun Odebunmi, who made the suggestion, said, “It will not augur well with the institutions of the House. I want to suggest that if that is the opinion of the House, then we refer them to the committee of the House.”
But Hon. Olajide Jimoh said it was not out of place to allow Emefiele’s representative to brief the House.
Similarly, Chief Whip of the House, Hon. Mohammed Monguno, in his remarks, said it was the resolution of the House on Tuesday to allow the representative.
In his contributions, Deputy Speaker, Hon Idris Wase, appealed to members to allow Emefiele’s representative to appear for him.
Deciding on the matter, Gbajabiamila said the representative would brief the House at 10am on Thursday.
Gbajabiamila said, “I don’t think there is any question to put. So, we will expect the team, the committee of governors led by Mrs. Aisha Ahmed, deputy governor, Financial System Stability, tomorrow at 10am to brief the House on the new cash policy as prescribed by the CBN Act,”
Let Nobody Politicise Security, DSS Operations, Says Saraki
Meanwhile, Saraki advised security agencies in the country to be wary and avoid being manipulated by politicians as the elections got nearer.
Saraki, in a statement from his Media Office in Abuja, signed by Mr. Yusuph Olaniyonu, stated that what led to the moves by the secret service against the CBN governor at this point needed further clarification so as not to create misunderstanding and wrong perception about the motive.
The former senate president was reacting to the recent court case in which the DSS accused Emefiele of terrorism and other charges while seeking a court order for his arrest
Saraki added that without holding brief for the CBN governor, whom he believed should be able to defend himself, as he was not above the law, his concern was that as a victim of a similar wrong and politically-motivated accusation, he felt there were clouds around the DSS court action. That was more so as it came two months to the general election, particularly at a time the apex bank introduced tough guidelines on the cashless regime and change of currency, which could work against those who had planned to resort to vote-buying in the election, Saraki stated.
Saraki said in the statement, “As somebody who had been wrongly accused of involvement in the Offa robbery by political opportunists and manipulators before their evil plots now began to unravel in the court of law, I feel that a similar intrigue is being weaved by those who are bent on sabotaging the 2023 elections, as the obvious outcome is not going their way.
“In this court case in which the CBN governor is being accused of terrorism through a suit, which the Federal High Court has now described as frivolous and without concrete evidence, my position is not to support Emefiele, but to support democracy, which is being targeted by the plotters.
“With all due respect that I have for the DSS as a very professional security agency, I still found it very difficult to understand what led to the charges, why concrete evidence that will enable the court to take a good decision was not provided, and why the department gave room for suspicion and speculations, as the case file had gaping holes, as noted by the Honourable Judge John Tsoho.
“One of the suspicions this case has raised is that it is part of a grand plot by those who want to undermine and sabotage the coming general election because their calculation on vote buying, rigging, and excessive use of money is falling apart.
“The new CBN regulation on a cashless regime in which individuals can only withdraw N100,000 a week and N20,000 per day is sure to frustrate the partisan fraudsters, the mischievous politicians and unpatriotic elements who aim to win the election at all costs even when they are being rejected at the polls.
“The CBN guidelines have derailed the plan of those who believe that they will not allow the ‘one man, one vote system’ in which the electorate freely choose their representatives in a fair and peaceful atmosphere. I urge the DSS, police, NSCDC, the military, and all security agencies to be wary of political manipulators, despots, and anarchists who may want to use the case to derail the free and fair election regime that the new Electoral Act, INEC and President Muhammadu Buhari have promised.
“These same undesirable elements in the political process have attempted to use the National Assembly to scuttle the electoral process by frustrating the provisions on electronic transmission of results, use of Biometric Voters Accreditation System (BVAS), the new guidelines on currency change and cash withdrawal.
“They failed. They have also put pressure on the presidency to reverse some of these innovations. They did not succeed. Now, they are resorting to the use of the judiciary.”
According to the former KwaraState governor, the desperate resort to the manipulation of the judicial process and the use of security agencies should remind Nigerians of the antics of the Association for Better Nigeria (ABN), which was used by anti-democratic elements during the military transition programme in the early 90s.
Saraki urged the security agencies to distance themselves from anarchists and anti-democratic elements masquerading as democrats or political players.
He said, “With the current situation in the country, all the citizens, national institutions, residents, and foreign friends of Nigeria should commit to the goal of having free, fair, peaceful, and credible polls in 2023.
“It is my prayer that next year’s election should provide a positive turning point for rebuilding, refocusing, resetting, redeeming, restructuring, repositioning, and revamping our country.”
CNPP, CSOs, NYCN Back Emefiele
CNPP, in conjunction of the CNCSOS and the NYCN, yesterday, threw their weight behind Emefiele on the plot to arrest and detain him by DSS.
The group also described the latest move by the DSS as a plot orchestrated by some politicians of interests who had been largely affected by the recent central bank naira redesign and cash withdrawal limits.
They commended the federal government on the ban on cash withdrawal from public accounts, describing it as one of the measures in the fight against corruption.
“Nigerians on the streets will vehemently resist any attempt to derail the cashless policy of the federal government of Nigeria,” they added.
Speaking at a World Press Conference in Abuja by the National Convener, CNCSOs, Chief Willy Ezugwu, which had in attendance, representatives of the CNPP and NYCN, the coalition urged Buhari and the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), to put in motion an investigation to unmask those behind the plot to remove Emefiele through the backdoor.
Ezugwu said a situation where, “members of a particular group revealed that the DSS had even gone to the extent of approaching the court to obtain a warrant to arrest Godwin Emefiele without the consent or knowledge of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, calls for serious concern.”
According to him, “The Coalition of National Interest Defenders, which brought the development to the open, went ahead to allege that the plot was to keep Mr. Emefiele for at least 60 days until after the general election next year.
“This should ring a bell when we recall that this alleged plot is coming immediately after the redesign of the naira notes and the review of the cash withdrawal limits for both individuals and organisations.”
He wondered why Nigerians had initially commended “the cashless policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria such that even the corrupt politicians who are opposing the cash withdrawal limits acknowledged that it is the way to go, but that the timing was wrong.
“However, the same persons also sought to get waivers for election spending. Why are they looking for waivers? he asked, adding that the only reason could not be far from the motives, “to use stolen money to buy votes.”
The group also commended the federal government, saying, “The stoppage of cash withdrawal from all public accounts is another legacy in the war against corruption and electoral fraud by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration.
“The ban on cash withdrawals and subsequent directive to public officers to immediately open domiciliary accounts in foreign and local currencies ahead of the commencement of the cash withdrawal policy will deepen the gains of the cashless policy of the federal government through the CBN.”
Ezugwu continued, “In view of the current revelation, we are afraid that the State Security Service is derailing from its statutory role to becoming a tool in the hands of desperate politicians. This is dangerous for the country and must be discouraged at any cost.
“Those who want to receive and spend money without any traces are those who have been kicking against the cashless policy of the CBN. If you have legitimate money, why are you afraid to wire the money through bank transfers?
“Why are you afraid of cash withdrawal limits? There is no limit to the amount you can transfer through the bank, but because they are having our stolen money, they don’t want to make traceable transactions and that is the sin of Godwin Emefiele.
“That’s why they want him out of the way before the election so that someone who can do their biddings is appointed to reverse the cashless policy implementation.
“We must note that President Muhammadu Buhari has shown maximum support for the economic stability and reform efforts of the CBN Governor and that was probably why they wanted to remove him from office without the consent of Mr. President.
“At this juncture”, he said, “we hail the Nigerian judiciary for refusing to be used for the planned hatchet job. It is unfortunate but it happened.”
According to him, the move by the DSS operatives is not only suspicious but also unlawful, and could cast the country in bad light before the international community.
He said, “In view of a reasonable suspicion that some politicians may have influenced the State Security Service in the plan to arrest of Godwin Emefiele, we join well-meaning Nigerians and groups to the call on President Buhari and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami to immediately put in motion the processes of suspending and thoroughly investigating the circumstances surrounding this national and international embarrassment.
“The attempt to obtain a backyard order to remove a high ranking officer of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for obvious political reasons should be of serious concern to all Nigerians as we don’t know who will be the next.
“By virtue of Section 150(1) and Section 174 (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended, the Attorney-General of the Federation has the powers to institute and undertake criminal proceedings against any person before any court of law in Nigeria.
“Therefore, nothing stops the Attorney-General of the Federation from exercising his powers in this matter to send a clear signal to the international community that Nigeria is not a banana republic, where anything goes.
“If public office holders who err are not appropriately sanctioned, it will send a wrong signal to foreign investors and project Nigeria as a country without rule of law.”
Sunday Aborisade, James Emejo, Udora Orizu, Emameh Gabriel in Abuja and Nume Ekeghe in Lagos