Godwin Emefiele
Godwin Emefiele

The CBN’s forex restriction policy is for the country’s good, reckons Jackson Ugbechie

Have you noticed something lately about Godwin Emefiele, the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)? Perhaps, you haven’t. But if you check the headlines, you would see a resurgence in criticisms of his leadership style. You would observe an emerging pattern in a section of the media, all trying to malign the central banker who has summoned the boldness to tell Nigerians the truth.

Long before Nigeria suffered a huge drop in crude oil receipts, Emefiele has been crying like the Biblical lone voice in the wilderness, forewarning Nigerians to change their lifestyle of living off imported and exotic items. He had argued that for every imported item we indulge our lavish lifestyle in, it takes a toll on our foreign reserve. And he took steps to block the leakages.

He moved against dollar merchants. Emefiele shut the illicit business of forex speculators. Those who apply and obtain dollars for production of tomato puree but end up importing same. Those who obtain dollars in huge sums from CBN to produce toothpick but end up using same to import toothpick. Those who obtain forex to import machinery to boost rice production using their farms as fronts and collateral but deploy it to import cars and rice. For these categories of forex speculators, Emefiele was bad business.

Yet, while Emefiele represents bad business for the forex merchants and their foreign collaborators, the CBN governor represents good business for Nigeria and Nigerians. And if you notice that the criticisms against Emefiele heightened after his deserved reappointment by President Muhammadu Buhari for another five years, you would begin to understand why. Those who have worked so hard to kill our local industries, be it the once booming textile industry, agriculture especially grains production, fertilizer production among other items that we could easily produce at home, are incensed that Emefiele was reappointed for yet another five long years. They just can’t imagine how they could put up with this shrewd central bank governor who has come to pour sand in their garri.

Putting up with Emefiele’s fiscal responsibility demands is unimaginable for them. So, they must discredit the man and his mission. But Nigerians should by now know that without Emefiele’s ban on the importation of over 40 items about two years ago, the nation’s foreign reserve would have been completely depleted. Without his insistence on local production, there would never have been an assortment of locally-produced rice gracing our tables. Without his foresight to ban these items, the remnants of our textile factories would have completely disappeared. But today, thanks to his restriction in forex allocation, his preference to finance production rather than consumption, there would not have been the revival now happening in the textile industry, in the agriculture value chain and in the drastic reduction in importation of grains from all over the world. Emefiele sure deserves garland not the guillotine treatment that some unpatriotic elements and their foreign collaborators have decided to give to a man who only wants Nigerians to consume what they produce.

The latest media spin from Emefiele detractors is the unfounded, rather disingenuous tale that he was working to guarantee immunity for himself. This is the height of unreason. It’s even grossly unfortunate that an elite body of the status of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), is the one flying such flag of unreason. This simply mocks logic because all the issues raised about Emefiele weaving a coat of immunity for himself through the revision of the BOFIA Act are baseless. This is rather alarming because an elite group like the NESG is populated by highly enlightened men and women versed in the rudiments of basic rules of engagement and knowledgeable in all laws and associated statutes governing statutory bodies like the CBN, SEC, AMCON and NDIC. It bears restating that the issue of immunity for these bodies is not new. All extant laws setting up these agencies including the CBN have ‘Immunity Clauses, built into them to protect the agencies from day-to-day litigations. And these immunity clauses predate the emergence of Emefiele as CBN governor. This is as trite as it can be. Why then is this sudden gush of fuss and burst of needless anxiety? It’s rather beyond the ken of comprehension to imagine that a body like the NESG would feign ignorance of the existence of this clause in all the extant statutes of CBN and other agencies in the nation’s strategic economic sector.

For the avoidance of doubt, the provision of Section 51 which the NESG copiously cited does not purport to confer the type of immunity on the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria as we have with that conferred on elected state actors like the president and the vice president, governors and their deputies. Never!

On the contrary, the provision only seeks to protect the federal government, the Central Bank of Nigeria and their respective officials against adverse claims for actions or omission done in good faith in the exercise of powers under BOFIA and other specified statutes including the Central Bank of Nigeria Act and any other regulations allied to these.

Besides, the so-called immunity clause is already properly captured in section 53 of the extant BOFIA but was only listed on section 51 of the amended bill. It’s not the making of Emefiele and could never have been. The methodology deployed by NESG, willy-nilly, lends its intent to multiple interpretations including the imputation of both mischief and malice. A careful study of this section on immunity shows that the new bill recently passed by the National Assembly did not and has not proposed any changes to the extant act. Section 53 in the extant act only became section 51 in the amended bill. Nothing more!

Besides, a highly esteemed body like the NESG enjoys unfettered and unencumbered access to the CBN and its top management including the Monetary Policy Committee, MPC. Why didn’t the NESG deploy available channels of communication to confront or interrogate the CBN on the so-called perceived ‘wrong’? Rather, it opted to using the media to communicate its grievances.

CBN in an explanatory statement lucidly captured the essence of the immunity clause thus: “The import of the said provision is to set a threshold against which suits against public officers must be filtered, such that for a suit to be maintainable it must scale that threshold by proving bad faith on the part of the pubic officer. It is not a bar against action. Indeed, a review of the legislative history of BOFIA will readily show that the said provision also appeared as Section 49(1) of the then BOFIA of 1991. Further digging also readily show that the same law is employed in other legislations including the extant Central Bank of Nigeria Act 2007 (Section 52); the NDIC Act 2006 (Section 55); and the Investments and Securities Act 2007(Section 302). A similar provision is in the AMCON (Amendment) Act 2020, as it had been noticed that debtors and the like simply rush to court, obtain injunctions and stop orderly resolution of cases and proper implementation of the law.”

It’s all too obvious that the attack on Emefiele is beyond an immunity clause that far predates his emergence as CBN governor and much more, a clause which also exists in other laws setting up allied agencies in the critical finance sector. It’s about something else not far-fetched. Emefiele is up against a band of corrupt foreigners and their Nigerian co-travellers who have over the years made obscene billions from the nation’s loose forex market. They are fighting back. It’s natural. When you fight corruption, it fights back with fury and force. But the NESG must resist the temptation not to be seen as aiding those who have squared up against Emefiele and by extension against majority of Nigerians whom Emefiele’s forex restriction policy was set out to protect.

Ugbechie, a public policy expert, wrote from Abuja