EMEFIELE, THE CABAL AND THE CURRENCY ENTANGLEMENT S BY USSIJU MEDANER

The beginning of the Buhari Administration also marked the beginning of another era in the nation’s politics: the era of the cabals. The nomenclature cabal has, for as long as the present Administration, remained in the media space, even though most Nigerians would either not comprehend fully what it represents and the people who constitute the cabal. The cabal has been linked to everything that went wrong with Nigeria in the last seven years thereabout; to every attempt to hoodwink processes and policies to the end of achieving selfish personal and group goals. The present Administration has witnessed many secret plots by elements within; the covert clique, as may be used, who have been derailing public plans and skewing public decisions to their favour.

In the attempt to understand what a cabal represents and why it would receive such negative attention, I consulted far and wide, searching for understanding of the term including its existential meanings and influences. I found out that in the simplest explanation, the word cabal refers to the contrived schemes of a group of persons secretly united in a plot to overturn existing government policy and program pathway to selfish ends; and of course, also to a group engaged in such schemes.

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Wikipedia defines the term as a group of people who are united in some close design, usually to promote their private views or interests in an ideology, a state, or another community, often by intrigue and usually unbeknownst to those who are outside their group. Whatever way it is defined or interpreted, cabal and its usages would always carry huge negative connotations of political purpose, conspiracy and secrecy.

A quick perusal of history has tremendously helped to submit that the concept of clique formation to influence public discourse to personal ends is not new to our age. It is a perennial abnormality that has traveled through ages and space, among people of all races and continents, and obviously would continue to have a place in all political settings.

A December 28, 2015 article by the New York Times in the United States talked about a small group of powerful people in Minnesota, who were not elected, but were running the affairs in the larger America. The article wrote “From their borrowed perch on the 38th floor of an unnamed but identifiable Minneapolis skyscraper, the Itasca Project’s [sic as they were called] goal is to shape regional economic policy through direct collective influence on lawmakers. The group has successfully pushed through a gas tax increase to fund transportation infrastructure, state support for local businesses, as well as a government agency to attract new companies. Soon, they want to get involved in education reform, shoving McKinsey consultants and their rubrics on public schools. Schwartz credits the Itasca Project with a peculiar kind of friendly Midwestern ethic, but their behavior isn’t so strange. It’s just what capitalists do.”

This cabal were capitalists who had formed a clique and would use their positions of influence to redirect public policies, not because they care about the public but to aid their belief in capitalism and to benefit from the same. That is the summarised nature of the cabal wherever they are found, whether in the Americas or Nigeria.

Here in Nigeria, the cabal at the national level has not been given real faces overtime; we know they exist, that they are powerful unelected men and women always close to the position of power; and using the same to exert influences that hurt national affairs at the expense of the returns they expect and obtain. Now, for once, there is a face attached to the cabal in the country, and that face is Emefiele, the governor of the Central Bank of the country; and his game at using the influence of his office as the governor of the country’s apex bank to subtly dictate the outcome of an election says it all.

The decision to redesign the nation’s currencies would remain controversial; and given what we have all seen so far about it, we would find it most difficult to subscribe to the genuineness or otherwise of the monetary policy decision at the last lap of a sensitive election year. Is it in the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians, or is it a selfishly packaged decision to deliver personal and group desires. Is the target the expulsion of hoarded notes to save the naira against its falling strength, or is it a cleverly designed plan to influence the presidential election in favour of a certain candidate as being seen in many quarters. All indices point to the latter; the timing of the change, the speed and stubbornness or the policy responses to the hardship created by the change, all point to the handiwork of a clique set out for a nonnegotiable premeditated end.

So many questions begging for answers; why now? Why the rush? Why refuse to budge even at the height of glaring mass suffering? What really is Emefiele after? Is he bent on getting the electorate angry enough at the ruling party to effectively affect the APC chances at the presidential poll or what exactly could push him this much? In taking the huge decision, did CBN satisfied the extant provision of the nation’s Decimal Currency Act of 1971, Section 3 to be precise which stipulates the approval of the Minister of Finance in the design of the new currencies OR is there an act of the National Assembly for the repeal of the said Act?

To what extent did the CBN stick to its own rule book? Is there no infringement on the CBN Act? There are two issues under consideration here. One is the right of CBN to call in currency and the other is whether the apex bank has the right to fix a deadline in the manner it presently goes about it. The interpretation of the CBN Act Section 20 subsections 3, 4 and 5 would suffice here. The Section while empowering the apex bank to retrieve old currencies while issuing new ones also binds the regulator to continue to redeem the old notes even after it ceases to be legal tender and upon given a reasonable notice to the public: the section says “ Notwithstanding Sub-sections (1) and (2) of this section, the Bank shall have power, if directed to do so by the president and after giving reasonable notice in that behalf, to call in any of its notes or coins on payment of the face value therefore and note or coin with respect to which a notice has been given under this sub-section, shall, on the expiration of the notice, cease to be legal tender, but, subject to section 22 of this Act, shall be redeemed by the Bank upon demand.” Has a reasonable time been given? Why are ordinary citizens who have been dutifully going to the banks with their old notes within the given time that is clearly infeasible not given the new notes by the majority of the banks – that were stocking their ATMs with the same old notes that purportedly has a deadline? Why is CBN not dishing sanctions against a glaring infraction by licensed commercial banks right under its statutory supervision?

Another issue for consideration would be the question: does the President enjoy the unilateral power to approve the redesign of currencies as he may deem it fit without consultation with both the Federal Executive Council which has its legitimacy under the Ministers’ Statutory Powers and Duties Act and the National Economic Council given that we now practice a democracy since the birth of the Fourth Republic and no longer in a military dictatorship? If yes, the CBN may be right with its naira demonetisation policy, but if NO, the president and by extension, the apex bank may have erred in legality and processes and the entire activities has run afoul of legality and therefore must be stopped. If there are such records of consultations, the Cabinet Affairs Office should educate the public accordingly; otherwise, it will confirm the aforementioned policy design errors.

It suffices that we also look at Section 148(2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as altered) (1999 Constitution) and raise a pertinent question: does the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (the President) ‘mandated in the exercise of his executive powers to hold regular meeting with the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Ministers (Federal Executive Council) to;

(a) determining the general direction of domestic and foreign policies of the Government of the Federation;

(b) coordinating the activities of the President, the Vice-President and the Ministers of the Government of the Federation, in the discharge of their executive responsibilities; and
(c) advising the President generally in the discharge of his executive functions other than those functions concerning which he is required by the Constitution to seek advice or act on the recommendation of any other person or body?’

It also has to be tested in the court of law whether or not by the provision of paragraph 19 of Third Schedule, Part One thereof of the Constitution, the President has no power to approve any recommendation concerning the economic affairs of the Federation unless such advice is considered by the National Economic Council? Otherwise, why is the body constituted?

And again, given Section 148 (2) of the 1999 Constitution and paragraph 19 of the Third Schedule thereof, can the President unilaterally without recourse to the Federal Executive Council and the National Economic Council, respectively, approve the Central Bank of Nigeria, for the redesign of N200, N500 and N1000 note and recall the old currency within three months? We are not a military or fascist dictatorship but a nascent democracy where healthy deliberations are expected.

Another pertinent question to ask is that in taking such a very critical decision, was there a budgetary provision for the demonetisation policy in the approved 2022 CBN Appropriation by the National Assembly? If not, the manner in which the policy has been conceived and being implemented goes against the Appropriation Act which calls for further legal and legislative queries.

And again, did CBN make consultations with NCC, NITDA and the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy with regard to the adequacy of telecom infrastructure density and citizens’ digital literacy to accommodate a cashless policy at this material time? Given that CBN has no control nor jurisdiction over these critical regulatory bodies, proceeding in a rash manner to enforce cashless policy despite the obvious infrastructural gap – which the World Bank in a recent publication noted – puts to question whether it is in the interest of the nation or personal interest.

And above all, was Emefiele and the CBN he presides over oblivious of the realities of the Nigeria nation to the point that they act based on book theories without regard for pertinent realities of our people and system? Access to Banking facilities and active bank users in Nigeria are respectively 122.3 million, majorly 24 commercial banks and while the Nigerian population stands at 221 million. However, England with a population of 63 million has over 357 commercial banks. South Africa with a population of 60.3 million has 63 commercial banks and Ghana with 33.5 million people has 23 commercial banks. The import of this data is simple: Nigerian commercial banks have limited capacity to handle the high traffic of Internet banking for over even a mere 30 million daily hits and will have to collectively increase their infrastructure to comfortably handle higher traffic. Internet connectivity in Nigeria is grossly below par with limited access and which is predominantly in urban settlements and major cities. The interiors and the rural areas have been largely unconnected. Also noteworthy is the deployment of 3G and older generation networks by telecom operators to rural and suburban settlements while 4G network is reserved mostly for the capitals and big cities; one implication of this which is largely ignored is that transmission from a 4G network to a 3G or 2G network and vice versa will be fraught with challenges.

Since a fortnight ago, currency shortage across the country has become acute, while the nation’s internet connectivity capacity has been exposed to be far below par with what is required for effective functioning of a digital economy as proposed by the apex bank. There has been recorded consistent challenges with bank transfer USSD codes, mobile app and web app usages causing transaction debits from source without subsequent crediting of target accounts – or the severe delay of such – as a result of poor internet connectivity on one hand, and more worrisome, the inaccessibility of the three main electronic channels, USSD code, mobile app and web app in most cases because of the same reason. Across the country, traders have resolved against accepting fund transfers as payment modes for transactions because of the challenges and that has made life more difficult for the citizens. Considering this challenge, it has become obvious that the country is not yet ripe for a digital economy. This has given the ubiquitous POS operators the power to extort exorbitant charges and make life even more difficult for Nigerians who have to pay as much as 20 percent as charges per withdrawal in most cases, and that is even if the cash is available.

One will think that with the growing tension and uncertainty across the country, that the deadline will be extended or the policy suspended; instead, some undisclosed individuals reportedly have approached a court – that most likely lacks jurisdiction on the matter – to obtain an order – not a judgement anyway – to not extend the deadline. Who are these individuals? Are they being sponsored by the CBN regime?

Another angle to consider penultimately is that our commercial banks are foremost, business oriented and apparently not some extension of public bureaucracy. They have their prime customers and of course, wealthy, active politicians are inclusive. Wouldn’t a profit making enterprise like a commercial bank choose first to attend to its prime customers who mostly are willing to play ball – and I don’t mean football – to get the new currencies while ignoring the rest customers who are mostly ordinary Nigerians? If the CBN governor with a long career in the local banking industry would fail to see this scenario, then, it would either mean he is grossly incompetent to not foresee it and recalibrate his demonetisation policy. Or could it be that he foresees it but does not care for the ordinary Nigerians who will, and indeed are now suffering because of his policy; or it may be just what he wants to stir the general public at the hit of the election campaigns against the ruling party which leads to the final consideration.

Is there not a political undertone to create nationwide protests in the manner of the 2020 ENDSARS protest? There are already viral reports of vandalisation of some commercial banks’ premises, attacks on bank staff and public threats to escalate the unrest across the country as a result of the nationwide shortage of cash. Why is the CBN governor still adamant over these glaring worsening crises across the nation? Can there be adequate supply of the new notes to the general public before 10th February 2023? And as the situation drags on towards Election Day, who benefits from these crises if not the leading opposition party? Could it be that some vested interest wants to push for an interim government by disrupting the election with the tortuous policies of fuel and cash scarcity to the general public? If the policy is not working or cannot work as it seems, is it not better to suspend and rework it for later implementation because we are at a critical point where the next leadership of the nation is to be determined in a matter of a few weeks.

God Bless The Federal Republic Of Nigeria!

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