Governing Nigeria’s Central Bank and managing the commercial banks are tasks that should never be reserved for bumbling faint-hearted men. The past few weeks have shown clearly what could happen in a country without leadership, a country in which the governor of the Central Bank now stands, speaks and behaves as if he was the elected President. The Central Bank governor, Godwin Emefiele, and chief executives of commercial banks, have demonstrated lack of capacity to make informed decisions and to stick with those decisions.
Look at how easy it is to disrupt the social fabric of our society and the lives of citizens when financial and economic decisions are made on the run by the bungling senior management of the Central Bank who expects commercial banks to comply. Nigeria is seating on the edge of disintegration. It could explode with unprecedented violence any moment from now. There is certainly a limit to which citizens could be frustrated, provoked, stressed out, harassed, hassled, starved, dispossessed of their hard-earned personal income and encouraged to endure. Every day, many people live a terrible nightmare in the country.
Every decision made by the Central Bank since that silly and sudden decision to re-design certain denominations of the local currency and withdraw existing versions within weeks has been a disaster, a decision made on the run and a judgment call made without critically reflecting on what could possibly go wrong. What a tragedy.
Emefiele and senior officials of the Central Bank are complicit in plunging the country into the current state of anarchy and despair. It was a mindless decision to re-design certain denominations of the naira and to withdraw the existing currencies from circulation within three months without putting in place effective mechanisms to forestall or cushion any adverse effects. The Central Bank could not have expected to achieve such a farfetched objective within a tight deadline in a country with such a large population.
Emefiele endorsed that decision and, therefore, must take full responsibility for inviting anarchy into the banking sector and indeed into the lives of many Nigerians. Immediately the announcement was made about the re-design of the currency, many people panicked, while others took actions that could have been avoided if there was sufficient public information campaign to sensitise the citizens to the processes that would be involved in re-designing the naira. In their response, the privileged class unlocked their private vaults to showcase millions and billions of naira they stockpiled for future use.
The confusion instigated by the Central Bank’s poor decisions has generated palpable fear that Nigeria could implode sooner rather than later. The gunpowder has been mixed and ready for the trigger to be pulled. There is now a deadly combination of extraordinary anger across the country over rising prices of petroleum products, outrage over inability of voters to collect their permanent voters’ card (PVCs) and the indignation that the Central Bank could not produce sufficient new naira notes.
Consider the irony of life in Nigeria. Ordinary people have money in their bank accounts but they cannot withdraw their own money. The banks have exceeded their powers by denying people access to their money. Financial institutions are expected to assist people to improve their welfare, their wellbeing and their socioeconomic conditions. They have no right to impoverish their customers.
These problems have been magnified by the extraordinary situation in which people find themselves struggling to access new naira notes that are nowhere to be seen. Life would be meaningless if ordinary people cannot get cash to buy foodstuff and to do their daily business. These challenges have the potential to damage the mental health of many citizens.
The moral character of bank officials in Nigeria has been sullied by their unethical and dishonest activities. There is unassailable evidence to substantiate this view. Just look at how the commercial banks have been sabotaging the Central Bank’s directives on how they should dispense or release the new naira notes. While the entire country is heating up because of scarcity of cash, other more privileged Nigerians have been throwing the new notes on the faces of people making merry at marriage ceremonies, birthday parties or child naming ceremonies. Nigeria is a country with different laws for different sets of people.
The idea that bank officials could release the new notes to people who are close to them speaks volumes about the integrity of bank officials, their refusal to operate within the law and the unauthorized methods they use to dispense the new naira notes. These bank managers must be treated as economic saboteurs doing everything to undermine the development of the country. But the bank officials are not faceless. They can be tracked. They can be identified. They can be arrested. And they can be prosecuted. Surely, the ICPC and the EFCC have the capacity to apprehend and indict bank managers who operate outside the rules. No one is above the law in Nigeria.
Activities that undermine the nation’s economy must be condemned in the strongest language. They have made life in Nigeria intolerable. Amid these disruptions, no one is talking. President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to address the nation on the difficulties that citizens are experiencing because of the naira re-design.
While it could be said that Nigerians are alive, the quality of that life is demeaning. When people have no cash to buy food to eat, water to drink, and to fulfil their basic obligations to their families, the purpose of life must be questioned. If citizens cannot get cash to do things that will keep them alive, and if people cannot afford the high cost of petrol to operate their vehicles or travel to different destinations, effectively, the people could be described as alive but no better than the deceased.
While Buhari is silent and apathetic, state governors have become dumb. Ministers of the Federal Republic, including the loquacious Information and Culture Minister, Lai Muhammed, have disappeared from the public sphere. The scenario is like that of a country deserted. Nigeria is now a country in which no one has a responsibility to the people. It is a country in which elected officials, from the President to local government workers, are not accountable to citizens.
It is at a time like this that true national leaders stand up to be counted. But we don’t have genuine political leaders. Our politicians are driven essentially by their personal interests. They aspire to grab what they can get from the national treasury. Rather than serve the people, these politicians prefer to be served by the people.
The current economic deprivations confronting Nigerians ahead of national elections kickstarting on February 25 have trumped all other problems besieging the country before now. For example, bandits and kidnappers who dominated news headlines for years have gone relatively quiet. They no longer operate on the same callous scale as they used to before the new year.
When some people say that Nigeria is making progress amid many challenges, it is important to put that claim into proper perspective. The current depreciation in people’s standards of living does not support that claim. If there is any progress at all, it must be the negative form of progress that ultimately leads to Armageddon. The search for a credible presidential candidate is approaching D-Day. The winner of that election will, hopefully, steer the country out of its numerous predicaments.