When President Bola Tinubu in July 2023, appointed Jim Osayande Obazee, a former CEO of Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria, who was sacked by former President Muhammadu Buhari in 2017 on allegations of corruption, as Special Investigator to probe the activities of the Central Bank of Nigeria and “other entities”, some financial experts expressed deep concern that the target of the probe was, indeed, Mr Godwin Emefiele, immediate past Governor of the CBN. Their fear, which also mirrors public concern, is that the investigator will likely work from the answer to achieve a predetermined goal, that is,  to indict Emefiele at all cost. The President’s letter to the Special Investigator and his team was clear.  Among other things, it drew Obazee’s attention to the presidential directive to suspend Emefiele on June 9, 2023.               

With Obazee’s Report, and its raft of far-reaching recommendations already submitted to President Tinubu last month, those who foresaw that the Special Investigator was on a ‘personal, political witch-hunt’ against Emefiele may have been vindicated. A detailed look at the report shows the special Investigator went on a voyage of witch-hunt, outright lies and smear campaign.  Which is why a pressure group, the Concerned Northern Forum, recently cautioned the President to avoid walking on a minefield if it goes ahead to implement the report. The group urges the President to ignore the report, saying, except for personal witch-hunt, Obazee had no business investigating the CBN or any other financial institution for that matter. This, it says, is because of his antecedents that eventually led to his removal as CEO of the Financial Reporting Council  by the former President Muhammadu Buhari. Obazee was alleged to be at the centre of the corruption scandal that rocked the agency following accusations of  sundry offences, including allegations of “awarding contracts to proxies and acquisition of luxury properties that his salary could not justify”.                                 

He denied all the allegations, but that didn’t stop his sack  in 2017. He stepped on many toes, having indicted some bank CEOs, including Mr Atedo Peterside for alleged breach of the council’s reporting rules without concrete evidence. The implication of Mr Peterside suspension from the Financing Reporting Council, at the behest of Obazee, meant that Peterside, a frontline banker and founder of Stanbic IBTC, would not be able to append his signatures to all Financial reports of the bank during the period of his suspension. Apart from Peterside, Obazee, as  CEO of FRC, also suspended the then Managing Director of the Bank, Sola David-Borgha . The bank later sued the council, which eventually lifted the suspension in 2016.                                       

 Perhaps most controversial of Obazee’s decisions as FRC boss was his recommendation that heads of religious organizations,  churches and Mosques, should have a maximum tenure of 20 years, and no more . That forced the General Overseer of Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye to step down, and appointed Pastor Joshua to takeover in his place. It was speculated that Obazee had an ax to grind with the leadership of the church, an allegation he denied. That was the last straw that prompted Buhari to throw him out as FRC CEO. That is part of his “antecedents” that his critics are alluding to, in his latest assignment as special as into the affairs of the CBN under Emefiele, prompting many Nigerians to ask President Tinubu to be wary of the report that has been submitted to him.

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    Undoubtedly, most of the recommendations in the report are already stoking controversies. The report has recommended the prosecution of Emefiele, and at least 13 others, including the four former Deputy Governors of the CBN who worked alongside Emefiele, for alleged “gross financial offences”. The report also claimed to have uncovered “593 bank accounts”,  in the USA, UK and China, in which it alleged that the the CBN under Emefiele ,”kept Nigerian funds without authorization by the Board and Investment Committee of the Bank”. Emefiele has since denied any involvement in the opening of the said accounts in the countries mentioned, describing the Obazee’s report as “misleading, barefaced lies”, and calculated attempts to smear his character “to serve the selfish interest of the private investigator”.                                 

Emefiele has threatened legal action against Obazee.  Besides, the Obazee report claimed it uncovered how billions of naira were “stolen by Emefiele and other officials from the CBN’s accounts”to, including a “fraudulent cash withdrawal” of $6.3million(about N2.9bn) at the official exchange rate of N461/$ . Beyond that, the report claimed it “identified several other chargeable offences” for which Emefiele may be asked to defend himself in court. These include alleged N26.6trn Ways & Means, $6.23m withdrawal from the vaults of CBN to pay foreign election observers during the 2023 February presidential and National Assembly polls, as well as many other CBN intervention programmes during the 2020 COVID-19 . There are other trove of unproven, unsubstantiated allegations contained in the report, one of which is  the  that the Naira Redesign policy in  2022  “was   neither recommended by the CBN Board nor approved by President Muhammadu Buhari, contrary to section 9(1) of the CBN Act, 2007”. Contrary to the claim by the special Investigator, Emefiele, had in a statement last week refuted that, the policy received presidential approval, and the same approval letter was handed over to Obazee during the process of his investigation in the presence of some senior CBN officials and the investigation team. The question is: Could  this be a “sin of omission” by the Special Investigator or a deliberate attempt to defame the character of Emefiele?  If it’s, a  sin of omission is as bad as a lie told to get at a perceived enemy to achieve a predetermined end.       

This is so because, former President Buhari, had on many occasions issued  statements, to the effect that the Naira Redesign received his complete approval. Buhari is still alive to confirm or deny this.  That laid to rest  earlier statement attributed to  former Finance Minister , Zainab Ahmed that the currency redesign didn’t have presidential approval. All considered,  there appears to be a clear desperation to nail Emefiele at all cost. The script is clear: If one plot fails, try another. That is what is playing out now, using the Obazee’s report as a foil. Before now, one of the accusations levelled against Emefiele was anchored on a N6.9bn  contract procurement fraud with,  one  Mrs Yaro, an employee of the CBN, through a firm known as April 1616 Investment Limited. In the charge, Emefiele is accused of “conferring unlawful advantages on  himself and his associates”  through fraudulent vehicle contract. The offence, if proved, attracts at least five years imprisonment. The case is still pending in court.                         

Keeping Emefiele in detention for  months  without diligent prosecution and disobedience to court orders before he was released on bail recently, looks pretty much like political victimisation taken too far. It speaks volumes of why Nigeria continues to be perceived(perhaps rightly so) as a nation not measuring up to democratic best practices. Recall that the President Tinubu had cried out during the electioneering campaign that the Naira Redesign Policy was targeted at him. The Special Investigator report seems choreographed to teach Emefiele a lesson of his life, and maybe, avenge the perceived “wrong” done to Tinubu during the campaign. But can the Obazee’s stand any test in court?    We wait and see. It’s for that reason that a civil society group  the Nigeria Citizen Watch for Good Governance, has faulted the report, saying it contains ‘errors’ that discredit its entire recommendations. A statement last week by its Director, media, Mr. Mayowa Ajibade said Tinubu made a mistake by appointing Obazee to head such sensitive investigation, as the report contains “many events that never happened, and many of the names mentioned in that report have since come out publicly to debunk and reject what the investigator has written in his recommendations”.  It’s most unlikely that the President will heed the advice. As English writer Agatha Christie, known for her detective novels said, “good advice is certain to be ignored…”, but it must be given, nevertheless. President       

President Tinubu should heed calls from concerned groups across the country and jettison the Obazee’s report. He must tread with caution. There should be a limit to political vendetta.  Recently, a Federal Capital Territory High Court, sitting in Abuja slammed the federal government and the EFCC with N100 million as damages for the unlawful detention of Emefiele without trial. The presiding judge, Olukayode Adeniyi granted the order when he ruled in the suit filed by Emefiele against his prolonged detention, a violation of his rights, personal liberty, fair hearing and freedom of movement.  Though the EFCC says it will appeal the decision, the FCT High Court decision should be seen as a cry for justice in Nigeria,  and the repeated human rights violations and utter disregard for the rule of law in our land. It is a clear message that political witch-hunt should not take the place of due process of law and justice.