The year 2023 is just three months old but two names that have had much impact on Nigerians in such a short time are those of Godwin Emefiele, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, and Mahmood Yakubu, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. Emefiele and Yakubu, within a very short period of time, have etched their names unto the subconsciousness of many Nigerians. Some sleep and dream of the duo, particularly the CBN governor.
The two Nigerians, though not of the same ethnic stock, have impacted the lives of the average Nigerian due to their policies and how they have conducted the functions of their offices in the last three months. While Emefiele is from Ika South Local Government Area of Delta State, Yakubu is from Bauchi State. Though born nine months apart, with Emefiele claiming the bragging rights to seniority, both have come a long way in service to their fatherland and are at the peak of their respective careers.
Emefiele, as a young child, chose the banking world as a field after his heart and pursued it diligently. Yakubu, on the other hand, fell in love with the study of history, and his path was cut early for him to become a teacher, albeit a history teacher. He attended Teachers’ College, Toro, Bauchi State, and from there, proceeded to the University of Sokoto, now Usmanu Danfodiyo University on a federal government scholarship. A lucky child, his master’s degree programme at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom was also on the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust Scholarship. Again, his Ph.D. at the University of Oxford was also on the same Commonwealth Scholarship, and with it, he obtained his Doctor of Philosophy degree in History in 1991. Today, Yakubu is no longer teaching graduate students the History of Nigeria and that of the whole world within the four walls of a university, but presiding over the conduct of elections in Nigeria.
Emefiele, on the other hand, though from Delta State, grew up in Lagos and could be regarded as a Lagos boy. He attended Government Primary School, Victoria Island, a school that was formerly known as Ansar-ud-deen Primary School, Igbosere, Lagos. His secondary education was at Maryland Comprehensive Secondary School, Maryland, Lagos, before proceeding to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, for his Bachelor’s Degree in Banking and Finance in 1984 and a Master’s Degree (MBA) in Finance, winning the Best Graduating student Award in 1986. A former managing director at Zenith Bank, Emefiele now calls the shot at the Central Bank of Nigeria, where he manages the nation’s economy.
He, alongside his principal, Muhammadu Buhari, embarked on a naira redesign policy late last year that has left a lasting impression on Nigerians. In fact, many are still trying to cope with the policy. Under the policy, Nigerians were given less than two months to swap their old notes with new ones. By January 31st this year, the old notes of N200, N500, and N1,000 ceased to be legal tender in the country. The Minister of Finance, Hajia Zainab Ahmed heard of the policy like any other Nigerian – on the radio and television. Perhaps, it was one of the best-kept secrets in the country. She wanted to raise dust but was told that Emefiele and to a large extent, the CBN, do not report to her office and that if she is in doubt of who is in charge of managing monetary policy in the country, she should get across to her principal – the President. She got the message and kept her cool.
The secrecy and rush, we were told was to make it impossible for politicians who had stock-piled billions of naira notes at home in specially-built vaults to use it to influence the 2023 general elections to swap it for the newly introduced designed naira notes. Nigerians heaved a sigh of relief, believing that politicians have been beaten to their game. Many Nigerians quickly keyed into the policy and took their old notes to the banks but to their shock, new notes were nowhere to be seen. It was a like a scene in a horror movie. Naira swap became naira confiscation. Nigerians were told to embrace a cashless policy. We can also use our ATM cards for transactions or other online channels for payments. But the IT infrastructure was not there to accommodate the deluge of transactions taking place across the country. Nigerians were left stranded. But Emefiele was not bothered by our distress. Cashless, it must be. Our CBN governor took out over N2 trillion from circulation and reprinted just about N400 billion. Naira notes then became an essential commodity, forcing Nigerians to start using naira to purchase naira. The almighty dollar was relegated to play a second fiddle in the country. We now spend N3,000 to get N10,000 cash from POS operators, thereby creating a new class of opportunists making money from the misery of others.
Unknown to Emefiele, our banking system has been set back by over four decades by his policy. Nigerians started going to their banks as early as 3am to pick numbers. Yet, those banks don’t open for business until 8am. A video soon hit social media showing people who actually slept in front of a bank ATM in the hope that bank workers would load the machine with new cash the following morning and they would be able to make withdrawals. In other viral videos, people strip half-naked in banking halls out of desperation for cash. A retiree cried bitterly and cursed those punishing him in old age. Baba was at the bank to collect his meager pension but was told that there was no cash.
In Delta State, where Emefiele hails from, a bank customer actually slumped and gave up the ghost after spending several hours on the queue on an empty stomach.
With the President unperturbed by the suffering of his compatriots, some state governors took up the battle. They sued the Federal Government at the Supreme Court, seeking a declaration against the exercise. The Supreme Court bought their argument and declared the naira swap and currency redesign as illegal and directed that the old N200, N500, and N1,000 notes continue to exist side by side with the new ones until December 31st of this year.
Since last week when the Supreme Court made the pronouncement, there has not been a word from our President, and neither has Emefiele directed the commercial banks to resume the use of the old notes as pronounced by the apex court. The matter was left for individual bank’s MDs to choose as they please. And confusion continues to reign in the land. Some banks started paying their customers with old notes while some refused to pay. Traders and commercial bus operators behave as they please, with some accepting the few old notes in circulation while some don’t.
Frustrated by the turn of events, Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, in a state-wide broadcast had to plead with his people to start accepting the old notes as he assured them that the notes are still legal tender in the country. I still don’t know if the people of Ondo State will listen to their governor.
It is yet to be seen how the policy has affected the politicians against whom the policy was aimed. During the last presidential poll, politicians were indeed, unable to induce voters much, and it is widely believed that this was a determining factor in the process that produced the most popular candidate as the winner of the contest.
This is where Emefiele’s junior brother (Yakubu) came into the picture. As the head of the electoral umpire for the country, Yakubu declared Bola Tinubu as the winner of the election. But some Nigerians are up in arms against that declaration. They have termed Tinubu’s victory as a flawed one and have continued to describe him as INEC’s president and not the people’s president. To them, he is not the elected president of the people. In the election conducted by Yakubu’s INEC, three of the candidates are laying claim to victory. This is the first time such a scenario would be created in the country. In the past, it used to be a two-horse race. But now, both Atiku Abubakar, candidate of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, and Peter Obi, the flag-bearer of the Labour Party are both contesting the election victory of Tinubu. The main plank of their argument is that the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System, BVAS, which should have been used to transmit the results of the poll electronically and in real-time, was not used by the INEC.
This, according to the duo, is in flagrant disregard of the Electoral Act. The court is there to make the necessary pronouncement on the legality or otherwise of their case. One major fallback of the elections so far is the postponement of the Governorship and State Houses of Assembly election that should have been conducted last weekend but was shifted by a week. The court case by Atiku and Obi delayed the reconfiguration of the BVAS machines as INEC needed five working days to complete the process. Hopefully, the governorship elections will hold this Saturday without more hassle.
Many Nigerians who have slated their social events for that day are now in a quandary. Being the last Saturday before the beginning of this year’s Ramadan fast, a lot of social dislocation has been caused by the postponement of the election. But we hope that Yakubu and his team would do much better than they did during the presidential election.
This is why many Nigerians have been ‘praying’ for our seasonal characters, Emefiele and Yakubu. Many Nigerians won’t forget them and the roles they played at this moment in time, in a hurry. We simply hope and pray that their actions and inactions would not spell doom for the well-being of the country. We pray that history will be kind to Yakubu, a student of history, who later became a teacher of history. If he succeeds in managing the 2023 presidential elections well in a cash ‘confiscation’ era tagged cashless policy, supervised by his brother, Emefiele, then the INEC chairman would have written his name well in the history book of Nigeria.
See you next week.