This week, there will be a stampede in Nigeria. Stampede for the new Nigerian currencies. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN’s) policy of currency change has been variously lauded for its power to purge the system of slush funds warehoused for election purposes. However, its symptom as a vengeful political weapon manifests as preparations towards the January 31 expiration of old notes reach their crescendo. This reveals the rump of this very shoddy policy.
The new Naira notes are nowhere in circulation. They are however scattered at weekend party venues and in the warehouses of politicians. The currency change system is so inept that politicians are weaponizing its effeminacy. Through commercial banks, they use the change as an opportunity to mop up the new notes of Godwin Emefiele, Nigeria’s ex-assumed fugitive Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, known in underground circle as Meffy. In Emefiele’s Nigeria, there is weird politics among functionaries of a government that is immersed in and is a victim of its own incompetence. It is the ordinary woman selling fish in the market and the poor who will suffer this weird politics being played between the taciturn megida – Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari – and Meffy, his sidekick, as well as the strange birds which have made for themselves a comfortable nest in the inept system.
Did you see the photograph that adorned the front pages of some Nigerian newspapers last Friday? It was that of Emefiele. He was locked in a hand-pumping pose with his principal, Muhammadu Buhari. In the photograph, the duo were shawled in what appeared to be a slapstick, titivating session. It was one you would find among folks who had just won a million dollar tombola. Or the unconscionable camaraderie during signing of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT). Or where a recipient had just been invested with membership of the biology of Alfred Nobel, through being inducted into the highly prestigious Nobel Hall of Fame.
The said picture clearly disguised the infamy that undergirds it. Or the grits of what it innocuously advertised. Those days when cigarette smokers puffed at their stick, in disdain of those who mocked them, Yoruba equalized the puffed smoke as akin to the smoker ensuring that a sparkle of fire flared over the smoker’s enemies’ head – o gbe’na g’ori ota. That handshake shared similar unspoken victory paraphernalia with those smokers’ grandstanding. It reminds one of singing sensation, Kizz Daniel’s highly sought after buga won song track. Enveloped together in this camaraderie at Aso Rock, something akin to clinking wine glass cups to mark a full denouement of a grisly drama, the two also had the Chief of Staff to the president, Ibrahim Gambari, Borno governor, Babagana Zulum and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama.
That picture purely disguised the crises that signpost the life of Nigeria. Or the bedlam that is the country’s economy and finance. If you are a student of semiotics and are conversant with the politics of meaning in Nigeria’s journey to the 2023 election, the import and purport of Meffy and his boss’ kindergarten pose for a photo-op would dawn on you in its rawest manifestation. If you needed a perfect fit to the ancient image conjured by the saying that Nero fiddled while Rome burns, look no further from this infamous photograph.
Why does a man who had just returned from “an annual leave” and is meeting his principal, ostensibly to brief him on what had transpired during his holiday abroad, need to pose for a public photograph with him? Why was the mood celebratory, with a convergence of the inner machine of Aso Rock giving the photo-op a life that is as large as a dinosaur’s? The reality oscillates in the firmament of the darkest minds of Nigeria’s I-don’t-care governance apparatus. It is an apparatus that preferences brackish politics at the expense of the people’s welfare.
A few kilometers from the Aso Villa where that celebration was taking place, Nigerians were gnashing their teeth in petrol queues. Nigeria is currently embroiled in one of the most grinding petroleum scarcity rituals of its existence, with government advertising an apparent lack of manhood over the matter. Till date, the Buhari government will not tell anyone why we have been having to spend more than half of our day in petrol queues, months after. At petrol stations at the moment is a live dramatization of the chaos that Buhari will bequeath to the next administration.
If the DSS does it job as it should, Buhari and Meffy would, last Thursday, most probably not be lost in that miasma they wrongly saw as the celebration of their victory over their political enemies. They would most probably be busy finding solutions to the economic drift in Nigeria. Petrol stations are today where the greatest treason against a sitting government is committed, without any scintilla of care in the world. The stations advertise Wole Soyinka’s season of anomie and a government without direction.
At those petrol stations, people freely and openly singe this government’s flesh; a government they see as the worst in the history of Nigeria. Again, at petrol stations is where you will find the strongest manifestation of class in Nigeria. Nigerians who do not experience the dual tyranny of Buhari and Meffy and who know none of their joint pains go buy their fuel as high as N300 a liter while the ordinary Nigerians queue at major petroleum distribution marketers’ stalls in serpentine, multiple kilometer lines. They are in search of a commodity that is domiciled in the bowels of Nigerian soil. Gone are the days when petrol stations wait for government to announce price hike before advertising this on their meters. Today, in underscore of the effeminacy of the government in Abuja, various meter prices are advertised without any fear. It is where you will find out that there is no government, no governance but photo-ops.
When I see such governmental castration of fervor and ability as demonstrated by the bedlams at petrol stations, what my mind hovers over is that favourite South African short story of mine entitled The Dube Train. It was authored by Drum magazine journalist, Can Themba, one of the collectives of Apartheid journalists that included Nat Nakassa, who blended journalism with creative writing. This they used as social commentaries against the ills of the white government and the crass disconnect of government from the pains and pangs of the people.
In the said Themba story set in a busy train coach heading for Dube Town on a Monday morning, a woman is physically assaulted by a tout called tsotsi and the passengers say nothing. A woman then spanks the men “Lord, you call yourself men! You poltroons! You let a small ruffian insult you. Fancy, he grabs at a girl in front of you….you might be your daughter…if there were real men here, they’d pull him off and give him such a leathering he’d never sit down for a week.” The tout pulls a knife, stabs a man who nonetheless hauls him out of the train, to his death. The passengers winced, without a whimper. The ending that Themba gives the story is what fascinates me here and in which I find a corollary with the Nigerian situation under Buhari and Meffy: “it was just another incident in the morning Dube Train” as “the crowd is greedily relishing the thrilling episode.”
Like the passengers in that Dube Township train this Monday morning, Nigerians no longer bother about the absence of governance in their lives. Indeed, they are relishing the grisly episode and waiting for the affliction to expire in May. With cost of living hitting the firmament and food prices a whiff off the cloud, the prayer is that Nigerians do not hit that macabre and astonishing narrative of what happened in the biblical chapter called the Kings. It is a ghoulish narrative of two Israelite mothers who, hungry and unable to endure the pangs, agreed to mutually devour their children for supper. It was a very challenging, governmentally rudderless time in the city of Samaria which was under siege and embroiled in an unprecedented food scarcity. This resulted in these mothers’ cannibalism. Already in Nigeria, the economy is pushing the people to Samaria. We witness the extreme of crimes that even criminologists find no corollary to in crime literature. Pastors are faking their own kidnaps so that they can extract illicit profit from their congregation; sons are killing their parents for rituals. It is like Samaria, here we come.
Yet, Meffy and his boss are, like a voyeur, relishing the 2023 election politics, with so much aplomb and Gothic pleasure. That Villa photo may be saying all that with an unspoken magistracy of the power the two think they wield. You ask how? All right. You will remember that since the president’s political party, the All Progressives Congress, (APC) concluded its primary last year, throwing up a man who the presidency’s disdain and disavowal for were known to even babes and suckling, Aso Rock was said to have gone the route of its notorious ethnic politics? Is that still convoluted?
Emefiele was said to have been drafted into that odious rat race by the cabal. That selfsame Aso Rock consort got depleted by one, with the passage of that media mogul who Meffy was pictured with – a photo that went notoriously viral – in a groveling posture. The consort, which holds the key to the heart of the presidency, was said to have been propelling Meffy like a marionette since he became the CBN governor. It was the one that asked him to throw his hat into the ring of the APC presidential contest and was miffed that its lapdog lost to its adversary. This then should explain why Meffy was so audacious in his awkward quest for the presidency while he was yet the CBN governor. He was even so audacious as to sneak to his Ward 6 in the Ika South Local Government Area of Delta State to register as a card-carrying APC member. This much was confirmed by Nduka Erikpume, chairman of his ward, who confirmed it to the press last year. This is in violation of Section 9 of the CBN Act, 2007, to wit that, “The Governor and the Deputy Governors shall devote the whole of their time to the service of the bank and while holding office shall not engage in any full or part-time employment or vocation whether remunerated or not…”
When this noxious presidential ambition crumbled, like a hunting dog in fruitless pursuit of a mongoose, Meffy, defeated, wagged his tail cowardly and retreated into his CBN cage. No sanction from the system for this impunity. And he lived happily ever thereafter.
Knowing that the overall boss lacks a mind of his own, but apprised of his disdain for the party fellow, the remnants of the cabal struck a deal with one of the contenders for the office of the president. If you are in doubt about this, ask Nyesom Wike. You remember the Rivers governor’s famous or infamous volley of diatribes last year against those who he alleged – and I paraphrase – “because someone in Aso Rock promised you presidency, you can look down on others!”? All right. Meffy is alleged to be in cahoots with these folks and, in street gossip, has benefitted this clan with billions of dollars through the duplicitous exchange rate policy. He is thus rumoured to be inside the cocoon of the cabal’s ethnic politics, an information that is in the hand of the APC party folk. So, the role of Meffy, as the Chancellor of Exchequer, in this ethnic power expansionism, is to muzzle the party folk, money-wise, in the build-ups to the February 25 polls.
The drama, where Meffy stars as main cast, is thus a political rebound from the flank of the party folk. His target is to pay back the CBN governor in his own coins. The DSS is easily an anvil of this vendetta. It had filed an ex-parte application to have Meffy detained for what panned out to be the whole period of the elections, on allegations of fraud and terrorism financing. In the application, it claimed that preliminary investigation revealed that Emefiele was involved in acts of terrorism financing, fraudulent activities and involvement in economic crimes of national security dimension. While dismissing the application, the Federal High Court said it would not be stampeded into hounding “an innocent man” and subsequently issued an order restraining the DSS from “arresting, detaining or questioning” the CBN governor.
At the outset of this plan to get him arrested, and aware of it at its infancy, Emefiele jumped on the presidential airplane ferrying his principal godfather to the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit in Washington DC which held between December 13 and 15, 2022. However, told that his assailants were still on the prowl, Emefiele turned self into a temporary fugitive, so much that while Buhari returned to Abuja a day after the conclusion of the summit, Meffy was nowhere to be found.
An online newspaper claimed that as he returned to Nigeria from his temporary exile last Monday, a detachment of military police escorted him from the Abuja airport and that the security that enveloped him on that day was bigger than that of the president.
However, while it is within his presidential power to buga in a “detractors, go to hell!” victorious photo pose with Emefiele, moral authority convicts Buhari for not at least attempting to investigate the pot-pourri of allegations against this financial sidekick of his. Never in the history of CBN governorship had any of its heads been totally enveloped by an odious and scandalous tarpaulin of financial malfeasances as this. While we may be eager to dismiss the allegation of financing terrorism against Meffy as trumped up vendetta, allegations that he has humongous stakes in twelve banks are confounding and needed to be dispensed with. This is followed by similar allegation that he has turned the CBN into an Alaba market of Stone Age prebend exchanges where personal rents are haggled as they do in a fish market. But, not Buhari. He doesn’t have a history of auditing his appointees for wrongdoings. He rather abets them by his weird silence.
Where then will this Emefiele grotesque drama end?