The Nigerian ruling class, the “owners” of Nigeria, those who run the nation like the boardroom of a conglomerate have once again sounded the “drums of war.” This time, the drum is in the form of what has become the currency redesign and swap imbroglio. As usual, ever guilible Nigerians, not seeing the woods for the trees have taken sides in the war. They have dug trenches, ready to claw at each others throats on the streets.
The reality however, is that it is not war but subterfuge, a deflection carefully designed and calibrated to take our gaze off the ball while the ruling class hides under haze of the needles chaos caused by the disruption to the social fabric to manipulate the process to their advantage. It happens every general election circle. It always come in one form or another. Militancy, banditry, terrorism, religious unrest, ethnic insurrection and even corruption has been used in the past. This year, is Mr. Godwin Emefiele’s CBN turn to be ably assisted by another highly emotive issue of our national life, the perennial and intractable issue of artificial scarcity and cost of petrol.
This election season plan was kick started far back in early May, 2022 when the Central Bank Governor, in an unprecedented move, openly joined the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC and went ahead to purchase the Party’s nomination form to contest the Presidential primary of the party. Many considered the move scandalous and opined that for someone at the helms of such an important national institution constitutionally designed to be independent, Mr. Godwin Emefiele aught to have resigned his position before joining partisan politics and many did call for his sack. And considering the role that money play in our national politics, the entrance into the contest by the very man who holds the keys to the national treasury, was considered by the opposition to confer undue advantage on the ruling party and this was held out as evidence of plans by the APC led federal government not to conduct free and fair elections come 2023. Somehow, just as it came, the wave of Mr Emefiele’s entry into the Presidential race waned as he withdrew from the primaries.
Fast forward to October 2022, the CBN Governor announced out of the blues plans by the apex bank to redesign the higher denominations of the Nigerian currency notes and gave a timeline to phase out the old ones. This was just less than six months to the next general elections which has been scheduled to begin from February of the following year. The Central Bank Governor in briefing the nation, eloquently gave very sound reasons why the issuance of the new notes was necessary at the point in time. The reasons amongst others included but we’re not limited to curtailing of vote buying, cutting-off of terrorism financing and shoring up of the value of the Naira. He also gave solid assurances that the excercise will be hassle free. Nigerians, tired of the issues the policy was purportedly designed to address, especially that of vote buying, hailed the apex bank’s decision and queued up behind him. Anyone who dared to dared to speak against the policy was considered and enemy of the people.
But the red flags were there from the beginning. However, the euphoria of the moment of “a Daniel has come to judgement” made most of us to lose sight of them.
First of all, we all forgot that this same man, as a sitting Central Bank Governor had five months earlier sought to vie for the Presidency of this nation but had to withdraw his ambition due to the public outrage that followed his announcement to run. Perhaps the fundamental question that should have been asked of him, with the benefit of hindsight, while he was so eloquently reeling out the benefits of the policy should have been “would you have redesigned the nation’s currency at this point, if you had won your party’s ticket to contest the Presidency?”
Secondly, we failed to consider the logistical challenges of distributing the new notes to the over two hundred million Nigerians who dwell in every nook and cranny of this country and getting them to return their old notes to the banks within the time space allocated. If the policy considered the educated people in the cities, it certainly didn’t consider the unlettered and rural dwellers, in their millions who have no access banks and internet.
Thirdly is the CBN Governor’s imposition of a ridiculous amount an individual can withdraw. This in an election season when political parties are expected to mobilise people, hold rallies, hire venues and engage in petty logistic expenditure crucial for campaign related activities. Some of these activities cannot wait for bank transfers that are most times, at best epileptic in places where network exist talk less of places where there is network and such places abound in this country. In a recent meeting with INEC officials, the CBN Governor promised to make cash available to INEC to overcome some of these challenges. I dare say that the same privilege be extended to the political parties for they too need cash to overcome similar challenges as the ones to be faced by the electoral body during the elections.
There were several other issues that should have invited our attention to the role the CBN Governor was procured to play in the 2023 elections. They include the plan by the Directorate of State Security, DSS, to arrest the him. The secret police had in another unprecedented move of the season approached a Federal High Court to seek an order to arrest the CBN Governor for the offences of corruption and terrorism and financing, the very same issues which Mr. Emefiele told us, his currency redesign was meant to stop. His sudden disappearance for weeks, ostensibly to evade arrest and reappearance without any explanation to a bewildwered nation were all part of the elite power game to determine who takes the reign of power come 2023. The sad and unfortunate thing is that the poor are always the ones who bear the brunt of these elite power games couched as policies. I see no members of their class amongst the queues at the banks and petrol stations across the country.
There is however one disturbing thing about this power games, which the ruling elite, benighted by the inordinate quest for power are too blinded to see. And that is that sooner, or later, they will not be able to control the outcome of the game and when this happens Nigeria may never be able to recover from such outcome(s)