By Nnanke Harry Willie
In the age of instant information and rapid dissemination, the line between responsible journalism and sensationalism becomes increasingly blurred. The recent leaked news regarding Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor Godwin Emefiele and the alleged opening of 593 bank accounts in the UK, US, and China has thrust the country into a whirlwind of animated speculation and condemnation.
However, this is a dangerous trend as Emefiele could well be yet again the targeted victim of “trial by media”. We must resist the temptation to embrace narratives that lack the necessary substantiation and scrutiny.
In that same leak, former President Muhammadu Buhari has been cast in very demeaning light and an effort was attempted to delegitimise him in his presidential role regarding the Naira redesign policy. This is quite unfortunate.
In a previous ‘leak’, “The former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, reportedly refunded a whopping N4 trillion to the coffers of the Federal Government stolen while he was the at the helm of affairs of the apex bank.
It was alleged that: “According to a source close to the investigators, besides reportedly returning N4 trillion, Emefiele also allegedly gave up ownership of six banks linked to him.”
The allegations, however, have turned out to be false, but the objective of the executors of the unsubstantiated sensational news had already achieved their objective. That is, to savage Emefiele’s image beyond redemption.
The new allegation regarding the unapproved opening of 593 bank accounts by Emefiele among a slew of other sensational alleged wrong-doings allegedly attributed to the special investigator Jim Obaze, have taken center stage in the news cycle without the benefit of due process.
In the recent leak, President Bola Tinubu’s Special Investigator, Jim Obaze, reportedly uncovered a series of ‘shocking allegations’ against the former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Godwin Emefiele. According to Obaze’s report, titled “Report of the Special Investigation on CBN and Related Entities (Chargeable offences),” Emefiele illegally opened 593 bank accounts in the United States, United Kingdom, and China without the approval of the CBN’s Board of Directors and Investment Committee.
The main allegations against Emefiele include:
- Opening 593 bank accounts in the UK, US, and China without authorization from the CBN
- Depositing $543,482,213 in fixed deposits in UK banks alone without authorization by the CBN board and the Investment Committee
- Spending over N1.7 billion on legal fees for suits instituted against the naira redesign policy
- Paying N17.2 billion to 14 deposit money banks
These allegations, if proven, could have significant implications for Emefiele and the Nigerian government. The funds in question were meant to be used for the benefit of the Nigerian people, and the unauthorized use of these funds could lead to misappropriation of public funds. Furthermore, the fallout in the execution of naira redesign policy which caused significant difficulties for Nigerian citizens needs to be examined beyond the role played by CBN to the banks and politically exposed persons as the problems have suddenly resurfaced with Emefiele completely out of the system.
The investigation was conducted by Jim Obaze, a former Executive Secretary/Chief Executive Officer at the Financial Reporting Council , who has extensive experience in financial matters. His report provides a detailed account of the allegations against Emefiele, including the opening of 593 bank accounts in the UK, US, and China without authorization from the CBN
The report, however, also highlights the need for further investigation and legal action to address these serious allegations. this aspect of the report was apparently ignored before the leak.
The Need for Transparency
In light of these allegations, it is crucial for the Nigerian government to ensure transparency and accountability in the management of the nation’s funds if indeed the allegations are true. The government should provide Nigerians with detailed information on the status of these funds and the true reasons behind the decisions and actual cause of the failure regarding the naira redesign policy. This will help restore public trust in the government’s financial management and prevent similar scandals in the future.
There is inherent danger in passing judgment based on unverified leaks and unproven claims rather than carrying out further investigations as allegedly advised by the investigator.
Trial by media is a threat to justice and the rule of law. There is need for a fair and impartial legal process rather than a rush to judgment in the court of public opinion. It smacks of unbridled cunning and makes the discerning suspect the motives behind leaking such information without first presenting the case in a court of law, a venue designed to ensure the proper examination of evidence and the protection of the rights of the accused.
As the CBN Governor since 2014, Emefiele had been instrumental in navigating Nigeria through dire economic challenges. His policies, though subject to criticism by not a few, have played a crucial role in stabilizing the economy for about 9 years. The recent allegations, if untrue, would not only harm Emefiele’s reputation but also undermine confidence in the CBN as a Nigerian institution, which is still a going concern.
Could the CBN remotely be as useless, inept and corrupt as this barrage of sensational leaks is making it out to be? If anything, things seem to be getting worse in the economy and this institution since the new administration took over and arrested and ousted Emefiele. Perhaps, this is the right time to get down to brasstacks and let the law deal with Emefiele or let him go home to his family.
It is necessary to remind the public that allegations alone are not evidence of guilt, and Emefiele is entitled to a fair and unbiased legal process. The absence of any formal charges or court proceedings raises questions about the credibility of the claims made in the ‘Obaze allegations’ and the motivation behind the leak. The burden of proof is on those who made the leak. Obaze’s opinion cannot be equated to a judgment.
I urge fellow media practitioners and the public to exercise restraint and to approach the situation with a healthy dose of skepticism until concrete evidence is presented in a court of law. We must resist the temptation to become judge and jury based on unverified leaks and opinions, no matter how informed that opinion might set out to be. Obaze has done his job, let the law enforcement officers do theirs. I wager a guess that Jim Obaze may himself not be pleased the manner his work has been put to use.
In a society that values the principles of justice and the rule of law, it is crucial to allow the legal system to run its course before drawing conclusions about an individual’s guilt or innocence. As the media circus surrounding Emefiele continues, May we be reminded that fair and responsible reporting is essential in upholding the principles that underpin a just and democratic society. The pursuit of truth should not be compromised for the sake of sensational headlines and unfounded allegations.
In the absence of a formal legal process, it is premature and potentially damaging to treat these allegations as established truths. Emefiele, just like every other Nigerian deserves a fair trial, not a media circus.