By Chibuike Ohaegbulam
Once upon a time, there was a man called Godwin Emefiele who lived and worked in a country known as Nigeria. Emefiele was a banker and rose to be the Group Managing Director of Zenith Bank. In 2014, Emefiele was appointed the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). He became very powerful. Very influential that he discarded his old friends and benefactors.
While rumour mills had it that Emefiele would be sacked when a new Government took over in 2015, he, instead, consolidated power. He made new friends and patronised them. He was in charge of the country’s vault. He could dispense favours in any way he wished. From N150 per dollar when he took over as CBN, the foreign exchange shot up. As people complained, Emefiele paid deaf ears. No one mattered. He was not answerable to anyone except to the President and his men. Emefiele grew wings. He became so proud. He was so insensitive to the cries of the common people.
Emefiele came up with an idea; an idea that favoured his friends and cronies. He created an unnecessary arbitrage for the foreign exchange. He had two rates; one for the ordinary people and those who did not have access to him and the other for the powerful, his friends and beneficiaries. All it took for any of such to be an overnight Billionaire was knowing Emefiele or being in his good book, just get dollar at a cheaper rate from the CBN and off load in the black market. Banks were starved of FX. Nigerians cried. Businesses suffered. Foreign Direct Investment was zero. International trade was in total collapse. Emefiele became a household name for the wrong reasons. He conjured many diversionary policies namely anchors borrowers, rice farmers association etc etc.
An African adage has it that those who the gods wish to kill, they first make mad. Emefiele became larger than life. He had other ideas. To crown his pride, Emefiele began to nurse a bigger ambition. He wanted to be the President of Nigeria. He organised his associates or they organised themselves. A Presidential ticket was procured for him with the whopping sum of a hundred million Naira. Opposition rose against him. He went to Court. Barefaced arrogance! Nigerians roared. Protests erupted. And citizens were told Rice Farmers Association bought the Presidential form for him. Emefiele or his supporters also procured several Sienna buses for the presidential campaign project. The buses were well adorned with his pictures. Was it possible a sitting CBN Governor would throw in his hat to become President, citizens asked. People watched, in surprise, how that would materialise. Emefiele was eventually stopped or he stopped himself. But he stopped. Measured reason prevailed. Emefiele went back to his work. It was said that Emefiele retreated mischievously.
As preparations for the elections went by, Emefiele devised a means seen by many as ways to scuttle the process or stop certain persons from winning. He started a redesign of the country’s currency. He gave short notice. He disobeyed Court orders; even Supreme court orders. He had the buy-in and support of the then President, called Muhammadu Buhari. Emefiele told him the policy would check vote buying. But it did not. Emefiele spoke to Nigerians very arrogantly. He talked tough. He discarded every advice. Nigeria went up in flames. People died. Some went naked or fainted in Bank halls. There was hunger. People started doing trade by barter – exchange of goods and items. People exchanged what they had with what others had that they didn’t have. POS operators became masters. Sick people could not buy drugs. Transport fares went up. Rural dwellers called their relatives in the city to send them help. Both old and new currencies became scarce. Children could not take food to school. Only those who knew Emefiele or those that knew such persons enjoyed. The President at that time, even made a broadcast to beg Nigerians. He pleaded for their understanding. There were several violent demonstrations. Everyone except Emefiele was agitated. Emefiele had the army. They gave him protection from everything – from arrest, investigation or anything. He was larger than life.
Eventually the election held. Emefiele and his cohorts did not stop it. One man named Bola Ahmad Tinubu won the election and was inaugurated as the President. Before then he had cried and said some persons wanted to stop him from winning even though it was his turn. He shouted “Emilokan”. He was to later declare that he was seized by the spirit and courage of Emilokan, it is my turn spirit.
About two months after Tinubu was sworn in as President, he suspended Emefiele due to financial reforms he wanted to carry out. Nigeria’s domestic intelligence service (some call it SSS and others, DSS) arrested Emefiele. Controversies trailed his arrest. Remember, Emefiele became a man of means having spent nearly 10 years as CBN Governor. He had deep pockets. He could buy anything. He was even flying in private jets. So due to his immense wealth, he “bought” everyone. Emefiele began to dramatize his arrest.
Story had it that all those who were once his critics started showing support for him. They even rumoured that a group of persons called Obidients and Atikulated were his core supporters. They never liked anything Batified. These groups turned Emefiele’s supporters overnight. If Emefiele was bad, they did not care. Politics took over Emefiele’s arrest or any effort to bring him to justice.
In the judiciary, lawyers who never had business with him came to his support. Civil society groups started singing his praise. There was a story that the day he was taken to court, some prison officers were falling head over heel to have his attention. The people of Nigeria said the prison officer in charge (an equivalent of a Police Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), did not explain why he was personally in court that day. Or was he aware the Judge would hand over Emefiele to prison authorities? People wondered if there was a conspiracy between prison authorities and Emefiele. Why should the prison fight for custody of someone? Was there a deal? There was even a gossip that prison people wanted to take Emefiele away for, at least, a night to get “something” from him. Many questions were asked! Were prison warders supposed to take someone they did not bring to court? All the episodes looked every inch organised.
It was told how Emefiele divided people because he had money. His trial lasted long. He scandalised everyone. He hired strong and well-funded Senior lawyers called SANs. He built a mob. His sympathisers were part of this mob. His sympathisers started to argue that possession of gun for which he was temporarily charged was not a crime. People who were once maltreated by Emefiele started to defend him. Everywhere you went – Radio, Tv, paper reviews and news rooms it was in defence of Emefiele. Power of money, they said. Power of reach, we were told. Emefiele had bought everyone. He had bought over same people who did not want him to be President and condemned him for trying to contest. His supporters became blind to reason and truth. They would not accept contrary views. Those who had long knives drawn against Tinubu hid under Emefiele. Strange alliances surfaced. Money spoke. Several otherwise sane people were at the beck and call of Emefiele. Those who benefited from him were in the amorphous crowd.
This shall be the storyline of the Emefiele saga. Children of today and those yet to be born will be told of the story of a man who was desirous of taking over his country and when he failed, used his allies to recruit enemies against the State and patriotic citizens. But let this not be the story. It must never be said that all Nigerians forgot easily soon or turned a blind eye to such gross travesty. It is largely said in local parlance, that if you fight corruption, it will fight back. Is the current situation a realisation of that saying? Is Emefiele fighting back by procuring disloyal elements who have loaned their conscience for a bite of what is left of his big purse? For a few pennies, they will defend even a dog who scratches the owner’s baby. Shamelessly, they and others alike feel that it is their turn to fleece off a bite of his pudding. So, they campaign aloud against further scrutiny of Emefiele’s actions in hopes that authorities would cave in and their pay master is left off the hook.
But it is important to recognize that the fight against corruption is often a complex and challenging endeavour. Of course, those who stand to lose from exposure will attempt to muddy the waters and sow doubt. However, the Nigerian people must not succumb to the distracting tactics employed by a man who inflicted unprecedented and unimaginable hardship upon them nor to the baits of his cohorts and lost sympathisers who have traded their principles for personal gain. Resilient citizens, desirous of the Nigeria of their dreams, must ensure that the country moves toward a future free from the shackles of corruption, thus must continue to press in demanding accountability, justice and transparency from leaders. The Emefiele saga, rather than being a mere tale of power struggles and manipulation, can also become a testament to the strength of a nation determined to hold its leaders accountable. The story can evolve into one where the citizens unitedly stood against attempts to derail justice and where the principles of fairness and integrity triumph over personal gain. Let the lessons of this saga inspire generations to come to be steadfast in their pursuit of a just and equitable society, where no one is above the law and the well-being of the nation takes precedence over individual interests.
Chibuike Ohaegbulam is a commentator on public affairs.