The Nigerian Bar Association and civil rights groups on Monday warned that Central Bank of Nigeria Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele’s involvement in politics was threatening the 2023 elections.
They also said his membership of the All Progressives Congress had eroded the credibility of the apex bank, where sensitive materials are kept, during elections.
Prominent Nigerians who spoke separately to The PUNCH condemned Emefiele’s APC membership and his failure to resign while allegedly plotting to contest the 2023 presidency.
But the Independent National Electoral Commission, in a statement by Rotimi Oyekanmi, the Chief Press Secretary to its Chairman, said it had taken notice of the latest revelation on Emefiele.
It added that it might move ballot papers from the CBN vaults.
The Chairman of the APC Ward 6 of the Ika South Local Government Area of Delta State, Mr. Nduka Erikpume, had on Sunday confirmed Emefiele’s membership of the ruling party, saying the CBN governor registered as far back as February 2021.
Three support groups had last week bought APC N100m presidential nomination and expression of interest forms for the CBN governor.
A source, on Sunday, told The PUNCH that Emefiele would on Monday (yesterday), at a Federal High Court in Abuja seek a constitutional interpretation on his continuous stay in office amidst his presidential ambition.
In a suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/610/2022 and filed on May 5, the CBN governor asked the court to declare that he could participate in any political party’s presidential primary poll and could only resign 30 days to the election.
In the suit filed by his lawyer, Mike Ozekhome, and has INEC and the Attorney General of the Federation as plaintiffs, Emefiele argued that he was free from section 84(12) of the new electoral act because he is a public servant and not a political appointee.
He is also seeking “an order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendants whether by themselves, their agents, servants or privies or any legal representative from hindering, stopping or precluding the Plaintiff from participating, voting or being voted for at the congress or convention of any political party of his choice for the purpose of the nomination of candidates for the election to the office of the president or any other office under the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria (as amended).”
The court on Monday refused the plaintiff’s request but summoned INEC and the AGF to appear before it on May 12 to show cause why the CBN governor’s demands should not be granted.
Currently, the National Assembly and the Peoples Democratic Party have appealed the judgment of a Federal High Court in Owerri, which ordered the removal of Section 84 (12) from the new electoral Act.
Shortly after Emefiele went to court and his membership in the APC came to the fore, INEC disclosed that it was reviewing its relationship with the CBN.
Emefiele: INEC reviews partnership with CBN, may move ballot papers from the apex bank
The Chief Press Secretary to INEC chairman, Oyekanmi, in the statement he issued in Abuja, stated that the commission would take action concerning sensitive materials which were being kept in the custody of CBN during elections.
He was reacting to the observation made by some critics including a human rights lawyer, Ebun-Oluwa Adegboruwa, on the implication of Emefiele’s ambition.
Adegboruwa had in a statement titled: ‘The comedy of Emefiele’s case’, raised the alarm over the safety of INEC materials in CBN vaults.
Oyekanmi said, “The strategic partnership between the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Independent National Electoral Commission which enables the commission to store its sensitive election materials with the CBN, has been in place for many years and beneficial in several ways.
“Indeed, there have been various reports that the CBN governor is nursing an intention to run for the office of President. But, he has yet to formally declare his intention to run for the office of president as of today.
“However, if and when he eventually does, the commission will look at the implications and take a decision on what becomes of the long-standing strategic partnership with the CBN.”
Adegboruwa said, “By the decision of the Supreme Court in Akinlade v INEC, there is no competent suit filed by Mr. Emefiele pending before the court for adjudication.
“The affidavit in support of the originating summons and indeed the affidavit of urgency were both deposed to by counsel on his behalf, in flagrant violation of Rule 20 of RPC.
“An originating summons cannot be determined in the Federal High Court without a competent affidavit in support thereof.
“By his status, Emefiele is an employee of the CBN. Any case to determine his status or eligibility should be filed at the National Industrial Court. So long as Emefiele earns a salary as a CBN employee, he should not dream of contesting the election while still holding on to his office. It is an insult to our collective psyche as a people.
“Sensitive election materials are always kept in CBN offices nationwide by INEC, unknown to Nigerians that Emefiele as Governor of CBN had been a politician all his life.
“The political party that owns the presidential ticket that Emefiele wants to grab is not a party in his court case, contrary to extant laws and practice.”
Emefiele’s participation paints picture of tainted elections – NBA
On his part, the National Publicity Secretary of the NBA, Dr. Rapulu Nduka, in a chat with The PUNCH, said the CBN governor’s involvement in politics had tainted the election process.
He said, “In as much as I don’t want to speak on the issue of the suit because it is already in court, I think that common sense will dictate that if a document or sensitive electoral materials are in the custody of someone and the person is also contesting an election, it speaks volume. Even if the person is righteous, has integrity, and is strict when it comes to keeping the materials, it still paints the picture that the process is tainted.
On the issue of whether Emefiele should contest or not, the NBA Spokesperson said, “I’ll leave it to the court to decide since a suit has been filed already.”
Asked if the NBA would like to be joined in the suit as a defendant, he said, “I believe that all the parties will do a good job in trying to hold their positions. So, I don’t think the presence of the NBA will make any difference or make whatever the Court decides to be skewed in one way or the other. The only thing is that everyone is watching, the whole world is watching. The judges are actually also on trial because everyone is waiting to hear and to see what they will make as their decision. The NBA will not be a part of the suit but we are also watching.”
Also, the Executive Director of Yiaga Africa, Samson Itodo, said INEC’s failure to review its partnership with CBN could cost the electoral umpire public trust.
He said, “The commission is justified in reviewing their relationship with the CBN. As a regulator, the CBN ought to be insulated from partisan politics and when you have the head of the institution being said to be a member of a political party or having a political ambition, it is very sad.
“INEC should as much as possible review its partnership with the CBN. This can potentially undermine public confidence in the integrity of elections in the country. And for our democracy, we need to do everything possible to boost public confidence. I join the public to call for the resignation of Emefiele. He has been enmeshed in a lot of controversies which is not good for a regulator that should be neutral and to a large extent non-partisan. “
The Executive Chairman, Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, Debo Adeniran, called for the resignation of the CBN governor, adding that the CBN under him could no longer be trusted.
He said, “Ordinarily, he should have resigned as soon as he became a member of the APC. He has no moral right to remain in office. There’s no way he will not favour his party and not do their biddings rather than that of Nigerians. He should leave whether he’s contesting or not; he should just leave. He has shown that he is biased. INEC can no longer trust in the CBN, they are an impartial arbiter they cannot deal with a partial arbiter.”
The Port Harcourt branch of the NBA condemned the action of the CBN governor.
The NBA Chairman, Port Harcourt branch, Prince Nyekwere, stated this while answering questions from one of our correspondents on the telephone on Monday.
“The action of Emefiele is really a surprising one because, under our constitution, you know the Supreme Court has given interpretation to the freedom of association and says civil servants are entitled to participate in politics to contest provided they comply with the timeline within which to resign their appointment.
“The CBN own is that it has a very special relationship. If you recall that sensitive materials of INEC are usually put in CBN’s custody.
“Now you have the head of that organisation where INEC’s sensitive materials are kept contesting the election.
“We lawyers say that the fair hearing must be abundantly seen. If you’re in such a situation that a bystander will say what do you expect,” he stated.
Nyekwere likened the action of Emefiele to a judge presiding over a case involving his son because sensitive election materials are usually kept in the custody of the CBN.
“INEC is right in reviewing its relationship with CBN because it will cast a serious doubt on the impartiality of INEC if it will give custody of its sensitive materials to an organisation whose head is in the contest.”
CBN can’t be trusted with sensitive materials under Emefiele – Groups
The Executive Director, Adopt a Goal Initiative, Mr. Ariyo-Dare Atoye, observed that the relationship between INEC and the CBN was institutional, adding that Nigerians should be worried that the head of the apex bank was interested in aspiring for a political office while presiding over the CBN.
He noted, “So, I will say that what Nigerians must do is to insist the CBN governor must resign to preserve the institution of the CBN and its neutrality. We cannot trust any other institution aside from the CBN to store sensitive election materials because it has the holding facility to assist INEC and no other institution in Nigeria has the storing facility that is spread all over the country.”
“ In fact, as the news is in the public domain that Emefiele is a member of the APC, we can no longer trust him with the two elections that are coming up in Osun and Ekiti.”
Faith Nwandichi of the Centre for Transparency affirmed that the governor should have resigned because he might compromise the electoral process.
“We will wait to see his reaction in a few days if he is going to resign because if he doesn’t resign, he compromises the entire process. It means that he will have access to the sensitive materials,” she stated.
An Abuja-based human rights lawyer, Pelumi Olajengbesi, also demanded the sacking or resignation of Emefiele.
According to the lawyer, Emefiele allegedly desecrated his office in the apex bank by showing interest in politics, especially the 2023 presidential election.
Olajengbesi, in a statement on Monday, said, “The Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, has desecrated his office in the apex bank and must resign now or be sacked forthwith by President Muhammadu Buhari.
“Emefiele as a civil servant cannot and should not think of contesting an election while still in office. The CBN governor contesting is like the INEC chairman running for a political post because he is a critical stakeholder in the country’s election.
“Emefiele is the custodian of all sensitive election materials in Nigeria as INEC uses the CBN as its vault. It is dangerous for Emefiele to continue holding CBN governor office because he is compromised and INEC materials are not safe with him. The 2023 election is presumed rigged should he continue to hold office as CBN governor.”
No fear over Emefiele’s ambition – Ex-INEC commissioner, Olurode
But former INEC National Commissioner, Prof Lai Olurode, in an interview with The PUNCH, said despite Emefiele’s interest in APC presidential ticket, Nigerians should not entertain any fear.
He said, “I think Emefiele is just an individual. Even if the current Chairman of INEC, Muhammad Yakubu, decides to contest as it is being rumoured, though he denied it, I don’t see why we should nurse a sense of trepidation.
“It is because we have not focused so much on institution-building. Once, we build institutions, there won’t be fear. Emefiele as a Central Bank governor has just a vote. We should begin to limit the role of an individual, otherwise, it will lead to dictatorship.”