LAST month, Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Olayemi Cardoso revealed, perhaps to no surprise to anyone, that security agencies, including the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Department of State Services( DSS), are currently investigating ‘questionable’ foreign exchange(FX) allocations and forward contracts previously estimated at $2.4 billion during the tenure of immediate past Governor of the apex bank, Godwin Emefiele. Forward contracts are contracts between the bank and customers in which the exchange/conversion of currencies would take place at a future date, and at a rate of exchange in advance under the contract. It can be used for hedge or speculation, although its non-standardised nature makes it apt for hedging. However, the snag in forward contracts is that financial institutions that initiate such contracts could be exposed to greater degree of settlement and default risk compared to contracts that are marked-to-market regularly. Some financial analysts have argued that the CBN investigators may be working from the answer to achieve a predetermined outcome. The latest development, the CBN Governor told journalists shortly after last month’s 294th meeting of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) followed the conclusion of the audit report of $7 billion debts allegedly ‘inherited’ by the current management of the apex bank from the one headed by Emefiele. Mr Cardoso went further to say that the security agencies probing the FX transactions have been briefed to unravel what went wrong. He had already declared that the CBN under his leadership has found the FX transactions under Emefiele’s as “invalid and illegal”. Deloitte, a renowned global accounting and auditing firm was hired by the CBN to audit the FX transactions in question. When the firm was hired, was not clear, neither was the amount paid for the services made public. Sources familiar with such engagement of foreign auditing consultants, say the amount must have run into millions of hard currency. But it all was shrouded in secrecy. Meanwhile, explaining what he called the “gravity of the FX transactions” under Emefiele’s tenure, the CBN Governor, according to The Punch newspaper report of March 27, 2024, said it has been “determined that a number of those FX transactions did not qualify, and not valid to be paid” to the buyers. It bears repeating that, before now, about four different agencies of government had investigated Emefiele since he was suspended from office and his appointment as the apex bank Governor terminated by President Bola Tinubu, last year. Almost all the reports of the investigations could not find any substantial, actionable charge against him. Senate President, Godswill Akpabio was perhaps right when, during one of his over the top comments, said in February during a Thanksgiving event in Koroma in Tai Local Government Area of Rivers state, said that the federal government has been at a loss, and indeed, not exactly sure, of what to charge Emefiele of in his ongoing trial. Beyond that, anybody with a fair knowledge of how Forex allocations in CBN are processed and disbursed, ought to know that the process is not done by one man. In other words, Emefiele couldn’t have single-handly disbursed forex or corrupted the process. But this is the cross Emefiele alone has been compelled to carry. From all accounts, it appears no living CBN Governor has been pummeled and humiliated to withstand the kind of litany of multidimensional investigations that Emefiele has been subjected to in the last nine months(and counting). It is a desperate smoking gun to find him guilty at all cost. That’s maybe, why court, after court, has found sufficient legal ground to grant him bail. The latest happened last week in Lagos, with a N50 million bail. His ordeal in the hands of security operatives must have been quite emotionally draining for him and his family members. When his trial started last year, an ugly spectacle broke out at the premises of the Federal High Court in Ikoyi, Lagos, between officials of the Custodian Centre and the operatives of the DSS, over which agency should take custody of once the highest banker in the country. The DSS officials had their way. The question remains: Is Emefiele a victim of official witch-hunt and political prosecution? Or has his trial not become a travesty of justice, a clear evidence that corruption is still looming large despite assurance of the present administration that it has been checked? The plain truth is this: no one is against any trial of any public official for any wrongdoing. But such trial must follow due process, and prosecution must done diligently according to the law. Many believe the trial of Emefiele has been, to say the least, untidy. From the beginning till now, it has been a conspiracy-soaked witch-hunt against Emefiele. No false theories, no layer of plots and vendetta have been left unturned to deal decisively with the man, his family and business associates. The script is like this: if one plot fails, try another. And they are coming in torrents. Despite multiple court orders debunking some of the allegations against him, and granting him bail, government’s agencies appear bent on blaming him for everything that has gone wrong with the apex bank in the nine years that he was at the helm . For example, in July last year, President Tinubu appointed Jim Obazee, a former CEO of the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria to probe the CBN during Emefiele’s nine-year tenure. That was in the wake of his suspension. Obazee submitted his report last December, and accused Emefiele of “gross financial offences”, among other allegations, some are still contentious issuesof court proceedings . The president had, in a statement by his Media Adviser, Ajuri Ngelale, lauded Obazee for what he described as “his dedication and professionalism in handling the complexities of the critical assignment” But, according to legal experts, some of the alleged infractions contained in the Obazee report won’t stand strict court scrutiny. The spin isn’t quite sticking, but it’s growing in intensity every passing day. For the government, it’s like a do-or-die moment to nail Emefiele on the cross at all cost. It will be recalled that on Feb 8, this year, EFCC declared Emefiele’s wife, Margaret, and three others, wanted for alleged money laundering. They were accused of having conspired with Emefiele to “convert huge sums of money belonging to the Federal Government”, and thereby committed felony. That has not been proven, and may not be proved beyond any ‘reasonable doubt’, Emefiele’s lawyers have said. Also, last week, a certain dispatch rider named Monday Osasuwa, claimed before a Special Offences Court, sitting in Lagos, and presided by Justice Rahman Oshodi, that he collected $3 million cash in tranches for Emefiele when he was the MD of Zenith Bank several years ago. The dispatch rider said he got “no reward”, but admitted on oath that Emefiele brought him to CBN as a ‘contract staff’ in 2014. Some people who were in court to witness the trial say it is looking like a ‘huge joke taken too far’; where all manner of witnesses are brought to court to just testify against Emefiele. The Deloitte Investigators may be summoned next to come give evidence against him. That’s what smoking guns do. To blame everything that has gone wrong with the economy on Emefiele is making the government and the CBN to take their eyes of what necessary action plans that are needed ramp up economic growth. Late last year, documents on the CBN website on the bank’s Development Finance activities under Emefiele detailed how he successfully managed interventions in different sectors of the economy. Clearly, CBN interventions in the real sector, for example, is to achieve a variety of economic targets, such as the need to address the issue of financial exclusion and create easy access to credit and give impetus for development of priority sectors and segments. The impact was felt beyond the scope and limits that even his harshest critics could imagine. Altogether, the unhealthy fixation on Emefiele is not helping the economy. It is rather hampering growth and discouraging potential investors. Will the witch-hunt against Emefiele end anytime soon? Maybe, only time will tell. It’s time for the judiciary to assert its independence and avoid any interference from any quarter in the trial of Emefiele. Public confidence in the judiciary has become so critical at this time of our democracy. Democracy runs together with dispensation of justice. It’s equally important that Cardoso- CBN be as transparent as possible on the report submitted to it by Deloitte management consultants. CBN should be able to withstand pressure from anti-Emefiele camp as it relates to the alleged multi-billion FX transactions. One is inclined to believe the CBN Governor’s assurance that if findings later show that some of the Forex transactions were validly done, the right step should be taken. That’s why the law enforcement agencies should take a very hard look at the details of the Deloitte report, and not rush into hasty conclusions as had happened in the past. Though the CBN says it has cleared the payment of some of the backlog of FX transactions, some businesses under the aegis of the Organised Private Sector of Nigeria have argued that the process was not transparent. Nevertheless, the domestic and international markets are keenly watching how the trial of Emefiele goes and its possible outcome. For now, the question is: Is Deloitte yet another investigator to nail Emefiele by all means? The world is watching.

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