2023: Central banker or politician? Emefiele must decide what he is

All over the world, central bank governors are treated like special breeds. They are essential to the success or failure of national economies.

Their words and actions, direct or indirect, can move markets and affect economic performance. Therefore, central bank governors are traditionally orthodox, generally circumspect and circumscribed in what they say or do.

It is therefore absolutely unprecedented, totally inadmissible, for a central bank governor to be associated, even remotely, with nurturing presidential ambitions while he is still in office.

This is however what is happening in Nigeria, with the rumor of presidential ambition of Godwin Emefiele, governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

Over the past year there has been much speculation, recently reaching fever pitch, that Emefiele wants to run for president in 2023. Several individuals and groups have spent hundreds of millions of naira on a proxy campaign for him.

They have flooded major Nigerian cities with billboards and campaign posters, and recently ordered thousands of branded vehicles, emblazoned with Emefiele’s face.

More audaciously, on March 26, Emefiele supporters swarmed the national convention of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, beating the drum for his presidential ambitions, while President Muhammadu Buhari looked on seemingly approvingly, suggesting a form encouragement, if not approval, by the president and his party.

Can anyone imagine campaign posters for a sitting US Federal Reserve Chairman’s “presidential ambition” being displayed anywhere near the Democrats’ or Republicans’ National Convention?

Or can you imagine people carrying placards at the annual Conservative Party or Labor Party conference in the UK, campaigning for the Governor of the Bank of England to become UK Prime Minister? Totally unthinkable!

But anything is possible in Nigeria, a country where the rules and norms of civilized nations, the ethos of good governance, do not apply. I mean, think about it: even civil society organizations (CSOs), who elsewhere are the champions and advocates of good governance, have joined the call for Emefiele to run for president and have insisted that he remain governor of the CBN while harboring this ambition. What kind of people make up CSOs in Nigeria?

Of course, Emefiele himself is tacitly behind the campaign by proxy; and it swallows attention and adulation. Granted, he hasn’t officially declared that he will run for president in 2023, but there is no doubt that he has presidential ambitions.

Emefiele is testing the waters: if the coast is clear, if President Buhari, who holds the cards to become APC’s presidential candidate, gives him the right signals, he will throw his hat in the ring.

Surely, if Emefiele did not implicitly endorse the proxy campaign, he should have a) condemned, in the strongest terms, the activists and their faceless financiers; b) disassociated himself unambiguously from them and their campaigns; and (c) categorically and unequivocally renounced any interest in the 2023 presidency. But he did none of that; instead, he published sly statements that could only have fooled the most gullible.

For example, in February, Emefiele told a group called “Friends of Godwin Emefiele” that “it is President Buhari’s prerogative to plan his succession”, adding, “And since it is God who anoints the leaders , I will firmly leave my faith in God’s hands. Of course, this is not a categorical disavowal of presidential ambition.

In Nigeria, when someone denies having any political ambition, but says they are leaving their faith in the hands of God, you know they are actually having such an ambition. Emefiele’s calculation, based on political feelers, is that he could, by some quirk of fate, be President Buhari’s successor!

In his last statement, on March 28, Emefiele said: “My objective at the moment is a robust monetary policy and the fight against inflation…” That too is not a categorical denial.

The words “at this time” leave room for maneuver if, as someone has speculated, he should be “pressured to come forward” as a “candidate of South-South and Igbo descent”.

Recently, some newspapers quoted a Harvard economist who predicted that if the APC zones its 2023 presidential ticket to the South, Emefiele could “be the next Obasanjo”, which means he could become president even if, like Obasanjo , he had never held an elected office before. national office.

Leaving the so-called prediction aside, what is clear is that no one is ignoring speculation about Emefiele’s presidential ambition; many media, academics, and the general public believe that, luck permitting, he will run for president in 2023.

This is where the problem lies. Emefiele is constitutionally allowed to run for president, but he cannot use his position as “Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria” to pursue that ambition.

Around the world, central bank governors have held political office. In Nigeria, Clement Isong and, recently, Charles Soludo became state governors years after stepping down as CBN governors. In the United States, Janet Yellen, former chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, is now Secretary of the Treasury (Minister of Finance) in President Biden’s administration. But none of these central bankers harbored political ambition or engaged in partisan politics while in office.

Thus, Emefiele may have political or presidential ambitions, but he cannot, directly or indirectly, pursue those ambitions as sitting governor of the CBN.

Read also: Who funds Emefiele’s political campaigns?

Unfortunately, as I once wrote in this column, Emefiele is a deeply political Governor of the Central Bank, who watered down the independence of the CBN to kowtow to President Buhari, whose stock phrase is: “J ordered the central bank to do this or do that. ”. Indeed, under Emefiele’s leadership, the CBN enjoys virtually none of the different forms of independence usually associated with central banks: institutional independence, independence of objectives, independence of instruments, functional and operational independence.

Indeed, the CBN, under Emefiele, looks more like a national bank than a central bank. A national bank is controlled by the state, lacks independence from political interference, regularly finances federal government deficits and projects, and enriches special interests.

These are, let’s face it, the main concerns of the CBN under Emefiele’s leadership: arbitrarily printing money to fuel the deficit financing of the Buhari government with massive overdrafts; and supporting an inefficient agricultural sector with billions of naira, much of which benefits “political farmers” and other politically connected individuals, thereby enriching vested interests.

In contrast, take the real things that central banks should and should normally care about – inflation, employment, interest rates, the exchange rate, economic growth – the key indicators of sound economic management. . How did CBN perform?

Well, all the economic indicators have deteriorated to unprecedented levels under Buhari’s presidency and the CBN’s Emefiele government. Instead of engendering a healthy economy, the CBN under Emefiele is more interested in pleasing President Buhari.

Recently, during the commissioning of Dangote Fertilizer Plant, Emefiele gave a scathing speech, praising Buhari. “We have carefully studied, deeply assimilated and enthusiastically implemented your vision from day one of your administration,” Emefiele said, adding, “We will continue to work hard to protect your legacy and ensure that posterity will remember it.” of you for all you have done for our country. .”

It is beyond belief. Can you imagine the Governor of the South African Reserve Bank crawling before the South African President like this? Is it a central bank’s job to protect a president’s legacy? No, this is not the case. Emefiele should lead the CBN to achieve a liberal and stable economy rather than pandering to Buhari’s vision of a managed economy, with the misguided policy of import substitution, which has failed miserably in Latin America.

Well, academics are right: politically ambitious central bank governors tend to please a powerful president to gain favors. Emefiele runs the CBN largely to please President Buhari. He was rewarded with an unprecedented second term. He now hopes that Buhari will nominate him as his successor. Emefiele must decide what he really is: a central banker or a politician?

Happy Easter everyone!

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