By Jona N. Ezikpe
Dear Obazee, I congratulate you on your appointment as a Special Investigator (SI) by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency, Bola Ahmed Tinubu (GCFR), to look into the financial affairs of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). The letter conveying your mandate to carry out the assignment is specific in terms of the nature of your assignment. The letter made reference to the fundamental objective set forth in section 15(5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended). This section, has to do with fight against corruption and you have been asked to investigate corrupt practices in the CBN and Related Entities as a Special Investigator and as part of the Tinubu administration’s fight against corruption.
According to the letter, the complete Terms of Reference of your assignment as S1 shall be communicated to you in due cause. However, the letter required you to immediately do the following: (a) Take steps to ensure the strengthening and probity of key Government Business Entities. (GBEs). (b) Further block leakages in CBN and related GBEs. (c) Provide comprehensive report on public wealth currently in the hands of corrupt individuals and establishments (whether private or public). (d) You are to investigate the CBN and related entities using suitably experienced, competent and capable team and you are to work with relevant security and anti-corruption agencies. (e) You are to provide weekly briefs to the President and report to him directly without passing through an intermediary.
OBJECTIVE AND SCOPE OF ASSIGNMENT
Mr. Obazee, from the above, it is very clear that your primary assignment is to investigate corrupt practices in the CBN by conducting what is called in Accounting Parlance a “Forensic Audit”. Your work will extend according to your mandate to CBN related Entities which will include among others, Entities owned by the CBN, where CBN has interest of any type including domestic and international agencies.
WHAT THE ASSIGMENT DID NOT COVER.
Mr. Obazee, if I correctly interpret your assigment, it focuses mainly on tackling or discovering corrupt practices and loss of national wealth at the CBN. But it did not address the issue of restructuring the CBN to make it, a more efficient institution that will be capable to meet the challenges of the Twenty first century in the areas of operating efficiency, technological innovation and economic management.
NEED TO BROADEN THE SCOPE OF THE ASSIGNMENT.
There is need, therefore, Sir, for you to suggest to Mr. President, to broaden the scope of this assignment to include the restructuring of CBN. In my opinion, the major challenge facing the CBN has to do with the organizational structure it currently operates. The CBN Governor according to the present structure, is the head of the management team and also the Chairman of the Board of Directors.
In my newspaper article, published in The SUN of May 06,2023 and titled “The Need to Reform the CBN: A Template for Selecting the CBN Governor”, I argued that the excesses of former CBN Governor Godwin Emefile was due to the fact that he was the Chairman of the CBN Board of Directors and therefore, reported: (1) to himself and (2) directly to the former President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari who represented the collective interests of all Nigerians, the only shareholder of CBN. I suggested in the Article that the Chairman of CBN Board of Directors should be separated from the management. The Governor should be the head of the management team, while a respectable Nigerian should be appointed as the Chairman of the Board. In that case, there will be checks and balances.
Another contributing factor to the operating inefficiency and abuse of procedures in the CBN, has to do with how the Governors are selected. In the same Article of May 06, 2023, published in The SUN and other on-line media, I said that the current method whereby the CBN Governor is appointed by mere referral of a candidate to Mr. President by friends, family members and cronies and the candidate is not subjected to a rigorous selection process as obtainable in the recruitment of a CEO of a Deposit Money Bank (DMB), leads to appointment of mediocres. I suggested a Template for the selection of CBN Governor. One of the key elements of the template, is the Independence of the CBN from the Federal Government, the only shareholder and owner of CBN as represented by the Mr. President. That Independence however, can only be asserted by a Governor who has a strong character and can politely tell the President what the Act establishing CBN says and why he may not oblige any request that is against the statute. We have seen such a character in Mr. Lamido Sanusi Lamido former Governor of CBN.
Agenda for investigating corrupt practices and possible restructuring of CBN
Mr. Obazee, before I proceed to make my input on how you should go about carrying out your Forensic Audit of CBN, I would like to tell you how I view the 9 years of Emefiele on the saddle of CBN Governor relative to the last three CBN Governors namely: Mr. Oladele Joseph Sanusi (1999-2004), Professor Chukwuma Soludo (2004-2009) and Mr. Lamido Sanusi Lamido (2009-2014).
Emefiele, in my opinion, did not perform as I would have expected of him. My assessment is based on information that is available at the public domain and as an outsider. Here, am not talking about corrupt practices rather how he managed the CBN and its effects on the economy.
I will use two things to evaluate his performance namely:
a) The extent to which he adhered to lay down laws
b) How the economy performed under his watch by looking at certain indecies of economic performance such as the Interest Rate, Foreign Exchange Rate and Financial Sector Stability.
My appraisal of how Emefiele managed the CBN can be found in my SUN newspaper article published on Friday February 08, 2023 and titled “The Foundation of Emefiele’s Unorthodox Monetary Policy and the Fallacy of his Igbo Ethnic Identity Denial”.
The extent to which laws were adhered to
a) Emefiele directly or indirectly showed interest in the Presidential Primaries of a political party, All Peoples Congress (APC). As a sitting CBN Governor and a civil servant for that matter, the CBN Act prohibits occupants of such post from engaging in political activities. Emefiele did not resign his job before showing interest in the Presidential primaries of APC.
I expected his boss President Buhari to ask him to step down, rather he was commended by Buhari. President Buhari said I paraphrase, Emefiele’s Unorthodox Approach to Monetary policy has resulted in a better performance of the economy, hence he should continue with his job. This is not appropriate in my opinion as it will encourage flagrant abuse of law. Ministers serving in Buhari’s Government who wanted to participate in politics were asked to resign but, Emefiele a career civil servant was allowed to continue with his job.
b) Dr. Kingsley Moghalu, former Deputy Governor of CBN, wrote an article published in one of the Daily Newspapers alleging that Emefiele allowed the Buhari Federal Government to exceed the drawing limit from the Ways and Means as established by law. Ways and Means is the process by which the economic policy of a government as contained in its budget expenditure program is financed as approved by the Parliament or the National Assembly. In the Nigeria context, it represents the temporary advances the CBN extends to the Federal Government to meet short-term budget deficit. Section 38 (2) of the CBN Act states as follows:
“the total amount of such advances outstanding shall not at any time exceed five percent of the previous year’s actual revenue of the Federal Government”. The Act equally said that such advances should earn interest.
Odinaka Anudu May 29, 2023 in the Article titled How “Ways and Means” affects ordinary Nigerians and published in Dataphyte.com showed how President Buhari abused this borrowing window from the CBN. According to Anudu, within 7 years of Buhari administration, the balance in Ways and Means went from N856 billion to N23.8 trillion representing 2,635 percent increase.
Find below, a table that I constructed in an attempt to show the excess drawings of the Buhari administration through the Ways and Means.
Federal Governement of Nigeria Ways & Means excess drawings 2017-2022
Between 2017 and 2022 that is five years, Buhari and Emefiele allowed the Ways and Means to be over drawn by N20.49 trillion as against an approved limit of N1.12 trillion representing the aggregate of five percent of actual revenue of each of the preceding years. Total Ways and Means drawing 2017-2022 was N21.6 trillion, against the approved limit of N1.12 trillion.
This is another gross abuse of office where a civil servant that is paid by the tax payers would flagrantly flout the law. I know that CBN frowns at DMBs allowing their customers to exceed their approved borrowing limits. CBN may even impose sanction on the erring bank for such an infraction. CBN as the regulator of banks and other financial institutions is suppose to set a good example by demonstrating a superior prudential behavior. If the DMBs behave like CBN by allowing their customers to over draw their approved limits, the stability of the financial system may be compromised as the volume of non- performing loans would ballon, thus leading to a systemic problem in the system and possible failure of banks. In my Article of May 08, 2023 published in the SUN Newspaper, I suggested that the proposed CBN reform should make it a criminal offence by the CBN management for allowing the Federal Government to exceed its drawing limit. I also suggested in that Article, that any President of Nigeria that permits drawing above the statutorily approved limit, could be prosecuted after leaving office when the immunity he enjoyed as president must have expired. The National Assembly a day before the handover of government to President Bola Tinubu, I mean on the 28th May, 2023, hurriedly passed a law increasing the drawing limit from the Ways and Means from 5% to 15%. The Act probably would be back dated. I will suggest to President Tinubu’s government to critically, review the hurried increase in drawing limit of 15% to ensure that it is optimum to finance government programs and not necessarily, to cover the excesses of Governor Emefiele in managing the affairs of the CBN.
c). The third thing Emefiele did as Governor of CBN that made me to score his performance on the job low, has to do with the way and manner the Currency Redesign Program was handled. I do not know about any CBN Act that details how a new currency should be introduced into the financial system or economy hence, I cannot say whether Emefiele breached any law. However, I was really disappointed on the clumsiness, inefficient and unprofessional method of implementing the Currency Redesign Policy and the pain and anguish it inflicted on ordinary Nigerians who could not withdraw their hard earned money they gave to banks for safekeeping. Many people could not feed their families due to lack of cash and even collapsed at the banking halls. In the light of such development, Emefiele and his paymaster did not show any empathy or remorse. It took the directives of the Supreme Court of the land, for Emefiele and Buhari to reverse course. Mallam El Rufai, a former Governor of Kaduna State, openly on television, directed the residents of his State to continue to use the old currency notes which had ceased to be a legal tender in defiance of the CBN directives.
Management of the economy under Emefiele
The effect of Emefiele’s CBN management of the economy again is not something to write home about. We know that money has effect on economic activities. And the mandate of CBN, among others, is to ensure price stability and preserve the international value of the naira. If we use some macro-economic variables such as Interest Rate, Foreign Exchange Rate and Inflation Rate to appraise Emefiele’s performance, it will be difficult to objectively give him a high passing grade. For example, Monetary Policy Rate (MPR) which is the rate CBN charges banks for borrowing from its window, is 18.5% at the last count. When banks add risk premium to the MPR, the Prime Rate therefore may be around 30%. Tell me the type of business or investment one would undertake, to have your cost of funds at 30% plus other cost elements and still break even. Foreign Exchange Rate before Emefiele went on suspension was about N750/1$ at the Open market. I have always been an advocate of a single floating rate of the Naira which is being presently practiced by the current CBN management.
Foreign Exchange Rate in the parallel market is over N900/1$ now. However, it has to get worse before it gets better if the current CBN management and Tinubu Federal Government take genuine steps, to fund the Foreign Exchange Market. Emefiele practiced multiple exchange rates regime that created opportunity for foreign exchange Arbitrage. This Arbitrage opportunity bred corruption in the system such that sectors that needed the Foreign Exchange to support production and growth were denied foreign exchange.
Inflation Rate under Emefiele is also not something to write home about. Inflation, could not be brought under control because the economy has a large foreign sector that the foreign exchange flow was asymmetrical and skewed towards an outflow. Foreign exchange rate being a key determinant of the general price level in Nigeria, made inflation rate to rise due to the dwindling supply of foreign exchange mostly attributable to theft of crude oil, the main source of foreign exchange earnings for the nation.
Overall, Emefiele’s performance as CBN Governor relative to the last three CBN Governors before him namely: Joseph Sanusi, Chukwuma Soludo and Lamido Sanusi cannot in my humble opinion earn a good grade.
My advise to Mr. Jim O. Obazee
My dear Obazee, at this juncture, I feel I can honestly advise you on how to go about conducting the Forensic Audit of the CBN. Your assignment is to primarily, identify corrupt practices at the CBN and Related Entities. From your antecedent, I believe that you are professionally equipped to handle the assignment. If I am not mistaken, you kind of did a similar job under President Jonathan, when the former Governor of CBN Lamido Sanusi reported the non-adherence of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) in remitting the necessary Foreign Exchange earnings from oil sales to CBN as required by law. I do not envy your job, but it is a call to national duty and you should do it as professionally, objectively and unbiased as much as possible.
Recently, Emefiele has been portrayed in the electronic media as a criminal even when he has not been convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction. Such an image of Emefiele could create a bias in the minds of some people, thus making the investigators to have drawn some conclusions without doing a thorough audit or work. Please Mr. Obazee, discountenance the pictures you saw on the television about Emefiele being dragged about by the Security Agencies. Emefiele happened to be my student at the University of Nigeria Enugu Campus. As a matter of fact, he wrote his Masters Degree Thesis under my supervision, hence that bond between a teacher and student had been there. So I felt really bad, when I saw my student-son being humiliated. However, my advise is not based on my relationship with Emefiele as I have not seen or communicated with him since he became the CBN Governor, except the congratulatory message I sent to him when he was newly appointed.
Having said that, I will suggest you go about doing your work with the followings in mind namely:
1. To be objective rather than subjective or selective in your audit. An organization like CBN must have operating procedures that spelt out the dos and the don’ts.
In such a setting, it is not likely that one person will originate and conclude a transaction. In that regards, it will help if every person that is involved in any corrupt practice in CBN is mentioned in your report. No one person should be singled out, otherwise it would look like vendetta and it may start developing ethnic coloration. Let all the information be made available to the public about your findings. Everybody is watching including the Delta Press Boys.
2. The Emefiele I knew as a student and later as a colleague in the banking industry is not dumb. I suspect he must have obtained necessary approvals from either his Board, Supervising Ministry, or even the former President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari. You may not be surprised if some of the infractions if any, are traced to the door steps of the man chilling in Daura. In that case, Please report all your findings. Your duty is to objectively present the outcome of the investigation.
My advice to Mr. President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
His Excellency, I congratulate you on your election as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. However, am doing it without prejudice to the matters you have in court.
Having said that, I also commend your courage for appointing Mr. Obazee to conduct a Forensic Audit of the CBN and related Entities.
Mr President, I read in the Newspaper, where you were discussing with the Country Director of IMF and you told him that a Forensic Audit of the CBN would soon be done. That is a good move to reassure the International Community and our Partners of your resolve to tackle corruption head-on.
Mr. President, I hope you will implement the outcome of the findings of the investigative team without fear or favour. This is a sensitive assignment and everybody is watching including the International Community.
Your predecessor President Buhari was representing the collective interests of all Nigerians, the only shareholder/owner of CBN. From all indications, Emefiele had a good or cozy relationship with President Buhari as could be seen from the television and the praises Buhari bestowed on him. My concern is how you will navigate the outcome of the Forensic Audit if God forbid, your mentor Buhari who voluntarily handed over political power to you, if for any reason, he is implicated in any possible CBN malfeasance.
Sir, under such a scenario, your hands may be tied. For example, if you exonerate President Buhari and single out CBN Governor Emefiele, it would be given many interpretations, such as: (a) You are persecuting Emefiele because he dare showed ambition of being a President of Nigeria. (b) You wanted to get even because you believed that the ill-fated Currency Redesign, was a conspiracy of Emefiele and others to frustrate your Presidential ambition. Sir, I do not think you would like to begin your administration with such impression. On the other hand, if you decide to allow the report go down the dustbin of history as most Nigerian reports on corruption, the International Community would start doubting your credibility.
They may even withhold assistance that would help you revive the economy which I believe, is the main reason that led to the removal of fuel subsidy and Foreign Exchange market deregulation.
Mr. President Sir, this Obazee Forensic Audit is looking like Catch 22, hence, it requires deep thought and wisdom. I pray that God will give you the strength and wisdom to make the right decision that will be in the interest of least of all men.
Finally, I will suggest that the Forensic Audit and possible CBN reform, be concluded before June 2024 when Emefiele’s term would officially have expired and new CBN Governor appointed.
Dear Mr. Obazee, I would like to close this letter but before I do that, I would like to summarize the key points contained in it. They are as follows:
a) I believe that the President Bola Ahmed Tinubu GCFR made a right decision to investigate corrupt practices in CBN and Related Entities in the light of the rumors going round.
b) I equally believe that you are well suited to handle the assignment not necessarily because of your position as the head of the Accounting Watch Dog, but that you are professionally qualified and have handled similar assignment in the past.
c) I suggested that you tell Mr. president to also, include the restructing of CBN in your mandate if it is not included. The Forensic Audit is okay but it is not enough. CBN problem is more than capturing culprits, rather it needs strengthening the institution to enable it face challenges of monetary management of the Twenty First Century.
d) I told you to be objective and not selective in drawing conclusions and making recommendations to Mr. Present. It is very necessary that Emefiele be involved in the Forensic Audit. Where necessary, an Audit Query should be sent to him at the DSS Detention Center for his input. Every Staff, Management, Directors of CBN and external individuals and institutions involved in any form of corrupt practice should be included in your report.
e) I used this opportunity to commend Mr. President for setting up the Investigative Team. I also highlighted the tough decision awaiting him if for any reason, his benefactor, the former President Muhammadu Buhari is implicated based on your findings.
Finally, I wish you good luck in your assignment and pray for God’s guidance. Thank you.
• Dr. Ezikpe is former MD/CEO Mannybank Plc