By Nnanke Harry Willie
Every leader seeks to build and leave a legacy that would resonate with his people. President Buhari’s last-gasp legacy-building project is clearly to deliver perhaps Nigeria’s best-ever elections.
After finally signing the new electoral act into law, he set his sights on a policy that would ensure things go according to plan and stamp his anti-corruption credentials in bold relief in the mind of every Nigerian.
To achieve this, President Buhari found a trump card in the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele.
If there was one thing that Nigerians strongly believed that Buhari could deliver as president, it was the fact that he could eliminate or, at least significantly reduce corruption to his barest, minimum in Nigeria.
One of his greatest selling points was that he was incorruptible as encapsulated in his very spartan lifestyle and austere disposition. However, Nigerians had been sorely disappointed as his government did not bring any new ideas to the table. In his attempt to use existing templates and structures, Nigerians instead began to witness ‘galloping corruption’.
With less than a year to leave office, it was becoming clear that the anti-corruption war was all but lost for the Buhari administration. Rather than corruption abating since Buhari came into office in 2015, corruption had rather blossomed, moving from arithmetic progression under Goodluck Jonathan’s administration to geometric progression.
It became so bad that about 50% of Nigeria’s mainstay, crude oil, was being stolen for years in plain sight and Buhari appeared very helpless in tackling the problem. This made Nigeria unable to meet its production quota from OPEC and recorded huge losses when all other OPEC members made huge excess profits from the windfall occasioned by the Ukraine war.
As if that is not enough, the fuel subsidy payments, which Buhari had claimed was a scam just before he came into office became an even bigger scam rising to over N5 trillion in 2022 and almost N4 trillion for 6 months projected for subsidies in 2023.
It was indeed strange that under Buhari a whole lot had been going on even in the area of budget-padding in the MDAs, the justice system, and more. But it appeared, he didn’t smell the coffee enough or was too helpless to turn the tide until the recent primaries of the 2 legacy parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
It was a show of shame as Buhari’s anti-corruption headache became a throbbing migraine when he witnessed firsthand the effects of dirty money. It was apparently very difficult for him to believe that candidates who were jostling to take over from him as president of the federal republic of Nigeria could spend such obscene and humongous amounts of US Dollars to buy delegates’ votes.
The mad scramble for the US Dollar from the Bureau De Change operators (BDCs) by the candidates led to the painful crash of the Dollar by almost 100% from about N500 to almost N1000 to the Dollar in the build-up and aftermath of the primaries. Buhari was convinced that no one who made money through the hard and narrow path could lavish it in such a manner in a supposed bid to serve his people. Buhari had had enough!
The President believed he needed to do something about corruption, and he needed to do it quickly…before the 2023 elections. If it was the last thing he would do, he would ensure that no one could use dirty money to buy votes, influence officials, and get an undeserved victory at the 2023 polls.
He also reasoned that it would be a good place to start to bequeath a new culture of probity and transparency in the finances of every Nigerian and thus bequeath an enduring legacy for himself by delivering credible elections and creating a sustainable path to a lower corruption index in Nigeria.
After a series of sessions with trusted officials in his government and his inner circles, Buhari discovered he had a trump card in the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele.
Apparently, having looked at all the options, it made a lot of sense to target already stashed loot and make them redundant and useless. This would be in addition to introducing monetary policies that would make it almost impossible to use and deploy dirty money in the same way it had been used before his very eyes. There was no one better to get the job done than the man in charge of Nigerian money… enter Godwin Emefiele as President Buhari’s new “Blue-eyed Boy”.
Buhari understood that if you cut off the ability for people to hide and enjoy their stolen wealth, then you would reduce corruption to the barest minimum. One way of doing this is, of course, by ensuring that all the resources hidden in various hideous crevices, luxury homes, grey bank accounts, ubiquitous farmlands, water tanks and various dug-out pits should be brought into the banking system. Those with unseemly large amounts would of course have to explain their sources.
Obviously, the failure of any individual to bring in such monies meant that the money would be useless to the person for life. Buhari believed that this was a masterstroke, almost too good to be true.
Next, of course, was the introduction of various amounts of cash withdrawal limits from the banking system. This, naturally, meant that if this was all well planned and applied, then there wouldn’t be any need for so much cash to be floating around in the first place chasing the dollar, real estate, unbridled pleasures, and many unnecessary imports into the country.
There is no doubt that this would come with collateral damage for innocent and long-impoverished citizens in the short term. It is already happening by way of a lack of access to adequate cash and exploitation by POS operators. It has led to upheavals in some states believed to be orchestrated by elements in the targeted political class.
President Buhari acknowledged these birthing pains of the citizenry in his address to the nation Thursday and has apologized, promising that more will be done to make more cash available as well as reintroducing the old 200 Naira note as legal tender for another 60 days.
The push-back across the political divide has been frenetic and desperate. Suddenly, Governors and political leaders who had remained docile and ‘understanding’ as the people cried out over unfavourable federal policies, actions and inactions have ostensibly become latter-day advocates of their people but Buhari knows better.
Emefiele has also faced the greatest media and institutional assaults in his career as he takes the bullets on behalf of his boss in the heat of this policy implementation. As they say, “it comes with the territory.”
Clearly, the CBN was initially lax in its supervision of banks’ cash deployments and disbursements; unwittingly allowing room for the same set of people Buhari is targeting to quickly mop up the limited cash and hoard same as alleged by the CBN. Emefiele must get to work as directed by President Buhari and liaise with the anti-corruption agencies to identify those in the banking and other financial institutions responsible for these alleged acts of economic sabotage and bring them to account.
Since introducing these new monetary policies, it has become clear that things are looking up from various indices. Major of which, of course, is the fact that the naira has begun to regain its strength against the dollar even as other indices begin to brighten up.
President Buhari has listed the gains of the new monetary policy to include: “Lowering of Inflation as a result of the accompanying decline in money supply that will slow the pace of inflation; Collapse of Illegal Economic Activities which would help to stem corruption and acquisition of money through illegal ways; Exchange Rate stability; Availability of Easy Loans and lowering of interest rates; and Greater visibility and transparency of our financial actions translating to efficient enforcement of our anti-money laundering legislations.”
On his part, Emefiele has said “Redesign policies are designed by countries to strengthen the performance of key macroeconomic parameters and equally combat social improprieties. Chiefly, adding that it was expected to reduce the amount of cash in the underground or illicit economy, truncate the activities of racketeers, and obliterate rent-seeking businesses in the black market”.
In the following days, it is expected that President Buhari’s trump card and the pains of the transition to the new notes and new policies will begin to transform into gains for the citizenry and the nation starting with historic free and fair elections devoid of deployment of dirty money. This is Buhari’s wish. It is Emefiele’s job. It is the people’s hope!