The Central Bank of Nigeria under the leadership of Godwin Emefiele has come under attack recently. Reason? The CBN applied and obtained a court order to freeze the accounts of 19 individuals and a corporate entity in the wake of the recent #EndSARS protests across the nation. Many Nigerians had commended the youths for their peaceful disposition during the protests and for their organisational skill until it was hijacked by some hoodlums who turned it into a wave of fury and violence.
The likes of Emefiele and other highly placed Nigerians, including President Muhammadu Buhari, hailed the youths for exercising their fundamental rights to engage in peaceful protest. But the same Nigerians, including the law-abiding youths, also rose to condemn acts of violence and brigandage introduced in the protest by a few highly vicious persons. The introduction of violence, whether by omission or commission, took so much virtue from the protest and tarred it with a veneer of destruction.
For the period the protests lasted, there was movement of money including trans-border transfers. Such is expected during a national movement of the magnitude of the legitimate #EndSARS protests. While acknowledging the right of the youths to protest peacefully under the law, we must also acknowledge the unlawfulness on the part of those who resorted to violence, robbery, arson and wide-ranging destructive acts. Much more so, the illegality on the part of those who shot and killed fellow Nigerians (civilians and security personnel). The act of killing is condemnable no matter who is involved.
Yet in all of this, it is also unfair not to acknowledge the right of the CBN and indeed any of the relevant financial crimes agencies to undertake investigations into the behaviour of the bank accounts of any person, entity or group suspected to have experienced unusual financial transactions (inflow and outflow). This is the law. Indeed, the Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act, BOFIA, the CBN Act and even the Act setting up the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, confer on these institutions the power to red-flag any account. In banking parlance, it’s called post-no-debit-order. In plain language, it means a temporary freezing of an account.
The EFCC Act, for instance, empowers the anti-graft commission to issue a directive to any bank to freeze the account of any of its customers who is under investigation. What is key is that such directive must be made only after the EFCC has obtained an order of Court to that effect. Again, the Act provides that this order can be obtained ex-parte, that is, without informing the affected party. In the instant case of CBN vs the 20 #EndSARS entities, a court order was duly obtained by CBN from a court of competent jurisdiction. The freezing was for a period not extending beyond what the law permits, and it was only to enable the apex bank and relevant agencies undertake investigation. The CBN has only acted within the ambit of the law. Nobody has called anybody a money launderer. The #EndSARS protest was not only a rage against police brutality; it was a symbolic expression of angst against the misgovernance of the nation over the years.
One of the planks of the argument against misrule in the nation is the absence of the rule of law; the inability of the ruling elite and their cronies to submit to the law. As youths who want to show our failed leaders the path to nobility and good governance, we must not be seen to be above the law. What CBN has done is the norm everywhere in the world including in the advanced nations that we often cite as examples where good governance is entrenched. Everybody operates under the rule of law. The latest report that six Nigerians were convicted in the United Arab Emirates, UAE, for their roles in financing Boko Haram terror group, came as a consequence of investigation of their bank account transactions starting with freezing of such account. So far, the CBN has not acted outside the law. We can only begin to blame the apex bank if after 180 days it is still holding down the accounts of the involved parties without any justifiable reason.
But I wager that CBN under Emefiele cannot willingly stand in the way of Nigerian youths. On the contrary, Emefiele’s CBN remains one of the best, if not the best, youth-friendly institution in Nigeria. Aside its many youth empowerment initiatives and capacity building programmes cutting across all frontiers, its Anchor-Borrowers’ programme has refocused many youths to embrace farming with all its value-chain economics.
Add to that the recently launched CBN-financed Nigeria Youth Investment Fund (NYIF). This is an ambitious and progressive N75 billion youth-targeted project designed by the Ministry of Youths and Sports Development and financed by the CBN. The NYIF is a carefully designed initiative to improve access to finance for youths and youth-owned enterprises.
The target is to financially empower Nigerian youths within the age bracket of 18-35 years to generate at least 500,000 jobs in the country between 2020 and 2023. This year alone, a chunky N12.5 billion take-off seed fund would be made available. The Emefiele era at CBN represents the best moment for Nigerian youths. And this is not on paper. It’s evidential with measurable and identifiable results.
It’s therefore most unfair to label Emefiele anti-youths. He has been pro-youths far more than any CBN Governor in living memory. Lawyers and activists who have criticized the freezing of accounts of the affected parties condemn the resort to ex-parte motion which they argue negates the natural course of justice of “hearing from the other party”. Yet, that’s what the law says, to wit, that the CBN does not need to inform the affected party.
Therefore, rather than rail at CBN under Emefiele for acting in a manner we consider ultra vires even draconian, we should attack the law; not the institution that only obeyed such law. This has been the argument of some of us, that some of our laws, including the constitution, need a thorough rejig. We should mind the root cause of the sickness, not the symptoms.
But no matter, when this whole storm fades away, history will judge Emefiele as the best youth-friendly Governor of CBN. It’s a case of res ipsa loquitor (the fact speaks for itself).
Ugbechie writes from Abuja.