The legal ambush against the governor of the central bank indicates the Buhari administration’s propensity for abuse of process, writes Bolaji Adebiyi
It had all the trappings of fake news as it made the rounds in the Social Media space in the early hours of Monday. The story was that the Department of State Services, one of the nation’s ubiquitous secret police establishments, had lost a surreptitious legal battle to have Godwin Emefiele, governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, kept behind bars for long days.
The disbelief was amplified by the reference to an unnamed source as the basis of the story that a whole governor of the nation’s central bank had been fingered as one the heavyweights behind the terrorists that had made the lives of Nigerians a living hell. But as the story began to find its way into the online versions of the mainstream media it began to make sense, donning the toga of real news that had been hidden for days.
By the time the full details emerged in the afternoon, it became clearer that the secret police were up to one of their usual antics of meddlesomeness in politics and had bungled a legal ambush to have the nation’s chief banker incarcerated. The DSS had filed a criminal suit behind Emefiele’s back on 7 December 2022 and sought the court’s leave to have him arrested and detained for alleged terrorism financing and economic crimes of national security dimension.
John Tsoho, the chief judge of the Federal High Court, decided to assign the case to himself and upon listening to the lawyers of the DSS two days later refused the application for the incarceration of Emefiele on the ground that it was not only fishy but was also procedurally flawed. He said the secret police played hanky-panky by not disclosing the status of the accused in order to cover up their attempt to bypass established protocol for the prosecution of such a high official of government whose incarceration could be of substantial consequence for the nation’s economy.
“It, therefore, seems that the applicant [DSS] intends to use the Court, as a cover for an irregular procedure, which is unacceptable. In the light of the foregoing reasons, I decline to grant this application ex parte,” Justice Tsoho said, adding, “If the applicant believes that the evidence available to it so far is sufficient, then it can as well arrest and detain the applicant, even without the order of this court.”
But giving the DSS some breathing space, he stated, “If however, the applicant desires to still pursue this application, then it should place the Respondent on Notice, considering the sensitive public office that he occupies. This application as presently constituted is refused.” Curiously, the secret police have not taken up this challenge to bring forth their evidence to confront the central banker in the open court. Maybe they are still gathering more evidence.
It is curious that it took 10 clear days for a sensitive case with the potential for monumental consequences for the national economy to come to public knowledge. As the judge correctly noted the entire process was unusual given the DSS and its sister intelligence agencies’ proclivity for drama before and after criminal suits are filed. Tsoho’s suspicion of mischief in dismissing the ex parte application has since struck a common chord with many social commentators, particularly legal and political minds who think that the state security service may have acted based on politics rather than security concerns.
This is unfortunate because this kind of misconduct erodes public confidence in the ability of state institutions to discharge their assignments professionally and efficiently. Happening at a time of serious security challenges in the country, except the DSS steps up with clinical evidence of Emefiele’s alleged wrongdoing, more Nigerians that it is mandated to protect might retain great doubts about its capacity to discharge its responsibilities responsibly. The consequence of this might be a worsening resort to self-help.
Already, not a few Nigerians, particularly the less favored politicians, think that the central bank governor is being harassed for the bank’s recent steps to expand the frontiers of its cashless policy. They apprehend cash-for-votes politicians as the masquerades behind the perceived plot to push Emefiele out and install a malleable replacement that would do their bidding. Would any reasonable person blame them for harboring this perception?
The nation’s security services and law enforcement agencies are notorious for raising dust without concrete substance and have been severally found to act in aid of political rather than national security objectives. In 2016, the DSS raided the houses of some justices of the Supreme Court and high court judges. The operations were carried out at midnight and the agency played them up the next day in the media. The judicial officers were accused of sundry corrupt practices. The service even claimed that a cache of foreign currencies was found in some of the jurists’ houses during the raid. But after years of trial, the service could not sustain a single conviction in court.
Three years after that incident, it was the turn of Walter Onnoghen, the chief justice of the Supreme Court. Thought to have sympathies for the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, the administration could not risk having him in the saddle to preside over petitions that might arise from the presidential race in the offing. He was hauled before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, an essentially administrative panel that by the 1999 Constitution as altered could not remove him from office. Completely against the run of play, the CJN was suspended from office on the strength of an ex parte order of a quasi-judicial entity of the executive. He eventually had to resign to pave the way for a preferred Ibrahim Mohammad. The rest of this story is well-known.
However, there are those who think Emefiele is bobbling in his own hot pot of soup. Obtaining a second term of five years, a rare feat in recent history, he is thought to have pandered too much to the Buhari administration’s whims, reportedly advantaging its lackeys with much of his bank’s development finance handouts. Feeling sufficiently protected, he even surreptitiously attempted to enter the presidential race on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress until he was outmaneuvered in the delicate and extremely conspiratorial power game.
Perhaps, he should not have veered into politics as it appears that those who edged him out of the presidential run now think that he is having his pound of flesh with his bank’s redesign of some currencies and restriction of over-the-counter withdrawals, a policy that is sure to undermine their fiscal strategy to win the impending 2023 electoral contest.
This, however, cannot justify the seeming intervention of an intelligence and security service in essentially political contestation.
Adebiyi, the managing editor of THISDAY Newspapers, writes from email@example.com