There is a common trait among all Homo Sapiens who belong to that elite class of individuals that run our lives, otherwise known as politicians: self-preserving, conniving, manipulative and self-serving. The epiphenomenon of this DNA is the political class’s short-sightedness and wont for short-termism in policy formulation. Who wants to put forward an economic growth plan whose benefits will be visible in 10 years, long after their mostly four-year tenure had effectively come to an end? This type of thinking raises a second order problematic.
Since most countries are run by politicians, why would businesses that thrive on stability and clarity place confidence in an ambiguous policy environment through investments? The resolution of this wicked problem is what has led to the rise of non-majoritarian or Independent Regulatory Institutions(IRIs) in developed polities. These institutions, like their names connote, are made up individuals who are not elected but wield enormous powers such that their actions constrain the behaviour of political actors significantly.
The independence of these institutions ensures that they are free from the manipulations of the political class thereby instilling investor confidence in the sector that they regulate. Independence also helps to insulate the institutions from unfair attacks by opposition politicians since it is usually assumed that their actions are taken in the interest of the country and not those of the party in power.
Conversely, and in keeping with the regime of independence conferred on it by the political class, the IRIs are expected to be neutral competent, staring clear of partisanship. Late in the Brexit debates, Mark Carney, Chairman of the Bank of England (UK’s version of CBN), came under fire for expressing the Bank’s preference for a “Remain” vote. He argued that since the outcome of the Referendum would affect monetary policy, he had a responsibility to advise the nation and her policy actors. However, opposition politicians saw that as meddlesomeness and called for his resignation. This example underscores the importance of political neutrality by IRIs. To achieve this aloofness, IRIs are usually overseen by technocrats and highly competent individuals whose loyalties are not to any vested interests within the polity.
For this to happen, the recruitment process of these individuals is subjected to the highest form of transparency and best practices. At the end of the selection process, the recruits represent the best from the best that a country can offer, leaving no one in doubt about the quality of policies that will eventually emanate from the said organisations. Some countries like the UK sometimes look beyond their borders in search of the best individuals that would assume these sensitive positions. Mark Carney, for instance, is from Canada. The recruitment process also instils investor confidence in the country and her potentials. The scenario I just painted may seem too idealistic to many of our folks. Why? The lines of independence of many, if not all IRIs in the country have become so obscure that IRIs are merely the annexe or extension of the presidential office, serving at the mercy, delight, and whims of the party in power.
Let us take the Central Bank of Nigeria as a classic case study. One of the many reforms the Olusegun Obasanjo administration instituted in the financial sector was adopting the international best practice of independent central banking. With this action, the previous practice of the governor of the CBN serving at the mercy of the president and the CBN itself a mere parastatal under the Finance Ministry was over. The CBN Act of 2007 made firing the Governor of the Bank a difficult task that must get the overwhelming support of 2/3 majority of the National Assembly. The reason for this is simple: The Head of the CBN or any other IRI is supposed to take unpopular decisions; in making these decisions, the individual needs not be concerned about the safety of his job. Also, because monetary policy as a financial instrument can be easily manipulated for short-term gains by the political class, it is only sensible that it is left in the control of an IRI to inspire investor confidence and free that policy instrument from the vagaries of political uncertainty.
However, like so many things in our clime, on paper, the policy of independence of the Central Bank cannot be faulted, but almost always, the line of independence gets blurred. The bridging of neutral-competence in the selection of the Bank’s employees leads to an inappropriate collaboration between the government in power and officials of the apex bank that was not intended by the legislative process which conferred the Bank with its autonomous status. While I concede that an inadvertent cooperation will necessarily exist between the CBN and the government given its role as the economic adviser to the government, no part of that responsibility ought to undermine its independence. A strong-willed Governor of the CBN knows when and where to draw the line; sadly, the political class always hunts for individuals with subservience flowing through their veins. The Governor either conforms or quits. And, since our country folks rarely resign from public office on principles, it usually culminates in the abuse of the economic adviser role to the government.
The Jonathan administration was the first to undermine the independence of the CBN when it illegally fired the then Governor of the Bank, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi in 2014. In replacing him, Jonathan, against wise counsel, opted for someone from within the banking sector. Stories have been told of how Godwin Emefiele became the Governor of the CBN. While everyone attests to Emefiele’s pedigree as an accomplished banker who rose to become the Head of one of Nigeria’s most successful banks, there is a preponderance of opinion that he mostly was a sidekick to the more astute Jim Ovia, the founder of Zenith Bank. I am yet to read of his sterling intellectual acumen and nuanced contributions to banking and regulatory scholarship. The recruitment was bungled, and this was to have severe implications for the Nigerian economy.
As information continues to unfold about the horrendous allegations of crass stealing, avaricious accumulation and criminal rape of the nation’s resources allegedly masterminded by the former National Security Adviser(NSA), Sambo Dasuki, under the guise of a war against Boko Haram insurgency, one is left to wonder why no CBN official, particularly Emefiele, is undergoing trial with him. Emefiele’s CBN superintended over the massive pilfering of the nation’s treasuries. In a gross abuse of every known financial control, the CBN sanctioned the withdrawal of sums running into several billions of Naira and Dollars for agents of the then government. In one instance, the CBN contravened its own rules on withdrawals by issuing Dollars against a Naira denominated account operated by the NSA with the Bank. The CBN became an Automated Teller Machine of the ruling party and actively allowed the illegal withdrawals to go on without putting up any known objections or resistance. The Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo recently revealed that the Jonathan administration withdrew $286 million and N100 billion in one day, a few weeks to the 2015 Elections. A responsive, responsible and accountable CBN would have asked relevant questions about the reasons for the hurried withdrawals. Not Emefiele's CBN. The ATM kept dispensing.
Nevertheless, it was expected that with the advent of a new administration, a paradigmatic shift from impunity to accountability, transparency and best practices in managing the monetary policies of government would be the norm. Not this CBN, again!!!True to type, a flagrant and most contemptuous round-tripping scheme, last witnessed under the Abacha administration is suspected to have resurfaced. Sometime last year, a citizen journalist alerted the nation to an alleged Dollar racketeering scheme being perpetrated at the apex bank and involving many of its hierarchy. This journalist was arrested and detained indefinitely in breach of existing rights laws. Not even court granted bails would get the police authorities, acting ominously under external influence, to free this reporter. However, evidence that this reporter was onto something started emerging when news reports in March of 2017 alleged that the EFCC had arrested some top Directors in the CBN for Dollar racketeering and economic sabotage. In fact, the stories quoting sources within the EFCC, pointedly accused these CBN officials, working in cahoots with other top officials in the Bank, of being responsible for the contrived scarcity of the dollar in the formal markets and its availability in the parallel or ‘Black Markets’. Of course, the CBN promptly denied that any of its Directors were arrested or under investigation.
This bold-faced lie could not stand for long. A few months later, newspapers were awash with a query purportedly issued to Emiefele by the not so squeaky clean AGF, Abubakar Malami. Malami, relying on evidentiary attachments to petitions against the CBN’s forex policy, asked the governor to explain why there were different levels of exchange rates for different customers. The AGF wondered why there were as much as five different exchange rates by the same Bank in a policy that was perhaps, meant to reward cronies and the most favoured cartel closely linked with the nation’s power matrix. Typically, the AGF’s involvement was not going to yield any positive outcomes even if the query presented a superficial alibi of national interest. The CBN understood that the AGF was not one of those that could be taken too seriously in matters of accountability and due process and therefore, was not bothered by that distraction in the form of a query. However, it took steps to rope any reluctant elite cartel members into its vortex of corruption.
Perhaps, in a bid to shield itself from further meddlesomeness, the CBN orchestrated one of the most sinister and conniving elite conspiracies against the long-suffering masses that this nation has ever witnessed. Despite crunching unemployment, the CBN secretly arranged employment for children, wards, relations, concubines and mistresses of influential serving and former government officials. The list of beneficiaries of this employment Bazaar was like an A-list party of Who is Who in Nigeria’s politics. Individuals who had stolen so much from this country and can afford to put their wards on salary for life hence, creating spaces for those who need the jobs were all giving slots. Family members of many “Excellencies”, “Distinguished”, “Honorables” past and present, not forgetting family members of the president and his coterie were all accommodated in that employment windfall. When you throw-in the CBN engineered voodoo economic miracle (what the brilliant economist, Bismarck Rewane calls “scoring an own goal, equalizing and then applauding your effort”) of taking Nigeria out of recession, Emefiele and CBN had bought themselves time to institutionalise impunity on a grand level. And this they have commenced in full scale. But who can stop them? A president whose understanding of contemporary economic thought begins and ends with his cattle ranch in Daura (apologies to former president Olusegun Obasanjo)? Or a finance minister who is more adept at pronouncing economic lexis with a fake accent than the actual grasp of the management of a developing economy?
While a nexus may not quickly be established between the sudden silence of the AGF and the employment scam, it is instructive to note that the Bank has since grown a thick skin to any public criticisms of its operations and acts with reckless abandon on issues that deserve some circumspection. Nigerians should be worried that the government has captured the institution in charge of the nation's monetary policy that it was meant to relate with delicately. Capture? Yes! The fact that the CBN is being deprived of rigour in the filling of vacant positions within its Board is an indication of the illicit intimacy between the Bank and the government which will further weaken the performance of the Bank.
Granted, the CBN does not determine who the president nominates to fill positions into the Board, but, anecdotal evidence suggests that it may have played a more than passing role in the calibre of individuals chosen for such jobs. The nomination of Aisha Ahmed as one of the youngest ever deputy governors raised a lot of dust last year. Some commentators have insisted that Ms Ahmed was given more than a nudge by the influential members of the president's courtier to benefit from a system that was adjusted, manipulated and skewed to absorb her into the Bank despite her glaring lack of the prerequisite experience expected of occupants of that position. However, the recent nomination of Mr Edward Adamu, a recently retired Director of Human Resource (DHR) in the Bank is not only befuddling but foregrounds the suspicions of a capture of the Bank.
If ever folks were irked by the secret employment of relations of many within the political class into the CBN, Mr Adamu’s resumé in that regards is impressive. First, this individual as DHR supervised the illegal and secret employment uncovered in the CBN in 2017. Is his nomination a reward? Has Adamu not been rewarded enough? Rejecting his appointment, a CSO last week sent a petition to the Senate and made mind-boggling allegations against this individual. The CSO alleged that Adamu, using his position as DHR employed close to 40 members of his immediate family into the CBN. His wife’s family alone has about ten members employed by the CBN. For students of public administration, this is a classic case of abuse of Office requiring strong actions against it and not a reward of higher Office. Was the former DHR alone in this nepotistic recruitment scheme? Can a government whose pervasive secret police maintains a dossier on everyone and everything that moves claim not to be aware of the gross deficiencies of this character to nominate him for an exalted position as this?
The implications of a lack of merit-based recruitment into sensitive government positions are the ongoing national embarrassment that the government is subjecting the image of Nigeria to in dithering on its position on the Continental Free Trade Area(CFTA). I shuddered in disgust when the government announced that it needed two weeks to get experts to review the Agreement and advice it on steps to take. Pray, what was Nigeria’s delegation doing during all the negotiations since 2012 when the 18th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union adopted a decision to establish a CFTA by a tentative date of 2017? After collecting millions or may be even billions in hard currencies in estacodes, Duty Travel Allowances, and First Class flight travels and five-star hotel reservations to “negotiate” the terms of the CFTA in the last six years, the government’s announcement that it has set up an Expert Group to advice it in two weeks leaves a sour taste in the mouth. This is what you get when you substitute merit-based recruitment with cronyism, nepotism, and other such mundane and primitive considerations that has no place in a sane society. But ours is not a rational society. In fact, Adamu might be a lesser devil if Sahara Reporters revelation that the Buhari administration’s Buccaneer-in-Chief, Abba Kyari, had tried to influence the nomination of Hassan Usman Katsina, a person whose case with the EFCC is still ongoing, into the CBN board is believed.
Instructively, the world’s richest man, Bill Gates, has just informed the government in very nice diplomatic legalese, that its flagship and much vaunted economic blueprint, the ERGP is not worth the paper it is written on. Gates insisted on a people focused approach to development. What he was merely saying is: develop your people and let the best hands, those who have been trained for it run the economy. However, with the economy, especially the monetary component, in the hands of a seemingly roguish Central Bank, whose top decision-making body is likely going to be constituted of folks huddled together, not based on their capacity and capabilities to achieve ends, Nigerians should brace up for stormier economic times ahead.
Dr Chima Amadi is a 2016 Chevening Scholar at the London School of Economics and can be followed on Twitter @Amadichima .