A creeping coup? By Segun Ayobolu

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It is amazing that with the next general elections barely a week away, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has not demonstrated the requisite will to decisively confront the fuel shortages and the current acute cash scarcity crises, which are clearly not designed to endear the party to the electorate in the elections. Even as the protracted fuel scarcity continued to bite harder, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele, came out of the blues to spring the surprise of the Naira redesign initiative on Nigerians with an impossible time frame for Nigerians in possession of the old notes to swap them for the new N200, N500 and N1000 notes.

To the consternation of millions of Nigerians, most of them who run small scale businesses in the informal sectors of the economy, the past few weeks have been ones of excruciating hell on earth. Most of the poor and vulnerable sections of the populace who thronged ATM points and banking halls to replace their old notes and collect the new ones discovered that there was insufficient number of the new notes to meet the upsurge in demand for the new currency.

It is clear that the amount of the new notes printed and pumped into circulation is grossly inadequate to effectively fund trade and other financial transactions in the economy. Yet, in spite of the glaring deficiencies in the implementation, Mr. Emefiele continues to double down on his entrenched and inflexible position that there would be no going back on the February 10 deadline after which the old notes will no longer be accepted as legal tender. The CBN governor has assumed the toga of ‘His Worshipful Majesty’ or ‘He who must be Obeyed’ no matter how flawed his policy judgments or his administrative acumen as governor of the country’s apex bank.

For instance, commenting on the queues of embattled and mostly angry Nigerians at ATM points and banking halls across the country, Emefiele submitted astonishingly that “On long queues at some bank ATMs and banking halls,, while some of these withdrawal requests are genuine, some are simply reprehensible activities of the miscreants who do not have intentions of making a withdrawal but seek quick earnings just to queue up and sell their space for money”. It is unfortunate that Emefiele would refer to the anguished victims of his rash and ill-conceived policies as miscreants virtually insinuating that they are frauds. Emefiele does not furnish us with any logical or empirical justification for reaching this bizare conclusion. All what one can surmise is that the CBN governor is severely and dangerously out of touch with reality. Mr. Governor Sir, please get out of your cloistered accommodations and begin to live!

Even worse, his insistence on the February 10 deadline for the old notes to remain legal tender was utterly contemptuous of the Supreme Court which, on February 8, gave a subsisting order that the old notes remain legal tender until the determination of the substantive suit before it filed by the governments of Kaduna, Zamfara and Kogi states on the Naira scarcity crisis. In the same vein, Emefiele seems totally oblivious of the unanimous resolution and recommendation of the National Council of State (NCS) which in its collective wisdom urged the CBN to allow both the new and old currencies to circulate concurrently until the latter can be systematically phased out without the severe hardship being suffered by millions of Nigerians.

Even the World Bank has waded in and called on the apex bank to extend the deadline for the complete replacement of the old notes pointing out that other countries that successfully carried out the demonetization and currency swap being implemented by the CBN carried out the exercise over a 12-month period. President Muhammadu Buhari in his address to the nation on Thursday also seems to have overruled the Supreme Court when he insisted that only the old N200 remains legal tender while the old N500 and N1000 notes have been phased out. It is unfortunate that any claims that Buhari may have about abiding by the rule of law, especially with regard to election outcomes, one of his strong legacies, will be badly dented and eroded in his last months in office by this decision. A great pity that is.

Not even when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman, Professor Yakubu Mohammed led his management team to remonstrate with Emefiele on the Naira redesign policy and the short time span for removing the old notes from circulation, given the implications of such a policy for the successful conduct of the elections, could Emefiele be persuaded to budge. Emefiele replied rather defiantly and arrogantly that the CBN would provide the electoral umpire with all the resources it needs for a free and fair election.

There have even been reports that many of the troops on the frontline in the battle against terrorism are psychologically distraught and de-motivated by reports from home that their embattled loved ones are suffering acutely due to their inability to access their own money in bank vaults across the country. None of these move Emiefele. It would appear that in his books man is made for the Naira re-design policy and not the policy made for man.

As I noted last week, Emefiele’s sacrilegious politicization of the very sensitive office of CBN governor reached its height when he paid N100 million through proxies to collect the ruling APC’s presidential nomination form and sought to participate in the primaries without first of all resigning his position. Fortunately, the presidency put paid to his ambitions in that regard. Before then, scores of branded vehicles with Emefiele’s logos for his aborted presidential campaign were featured prominently on national television. Against this background, any policy introduced by the CBN for as long as Emefiele remains in office for the remainder of his tenure will be tainted with partisan bias no matter how sound and sensible it may appear at face value. Emefiele is facing a crisis of credibility and integrity that will surely linger for his remaining years in office as CBN governor.

Mallam Nasir ‘El-Rufai and some other leading political actors have stressed that the fuel queues and Naira shortages have been timed so close to the elections to de-market the APC and hurt the chances of its presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, at the polls. Tinubu himself has said that shadowy, sinister forces close to the corridors of power have contrived both the fuel and Naira scarcity to possibly create widespread violence and large scale havoc in the country capable of destabilizing the polity and aborting the elections to facilitate the setting up of an interim government. It is difficult to dismiss these fears and apprehensions. But it would be unfair to question Buhari’s commitment to Tinubu’s ambition and his party’s electoral victory. This is demonstrated by his unqualified endorsement of Tinubu at those presidential rallies he has attended particularly in key northern states even though a school of thought believes he could have been more actively involved in the campaigns if he chose to.

However, it is also not easy to dismiss with a wave of the hand the fact that there is seemingly an ongoing creeping coup against democracy and democratic practice in Nigeria by clandestine cabals not necessarily working with the consent of the President. The aim of the creeping coup is either to replace the current democracy we practice with an interim government or in a worst case scenario prevent the victory of the APC in the election. Already, pockets of violence are being experienced in a number of states with the vandalization of ATM machines and the destruction of banking halls.

Those architects of the Naira redesign policy as well as the brains behind the fuel queues must be inwardly overjoyed with these protests. More widespread protests, violence and bloodshed will play into the hands of these fifth columnists and have serious consequences for our democratic evolution. This is why the electorate must heed the admonition of Tinubu to remain calm, refrain from violence and stay focused on the task of voting in a government which will proactively confront and redress these challenges.

In the aftermath of the 1979 elections that ushered in the Second Republic, the leader of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, on 22nd January, 1980, articulated what he described as a ‘Judelex coup’ largely responsible for the defeat of his party at the polls at a public lecture. In his words, “It was a Judelex coup de grace or, for short, a judelex coup. Judelex is a shortened form of judicial/electoral/executive”. Awolowo detailed the complex web of perceived conspiracies that involved the judiciary, the executive and the electoral commission that badly tainted the transition to the second republic and weakened its legitimacy from inception.

With the fuel crisis slowly abating but the Naira crisis getting more acute and intense by the day, what we have on our hands is not a Judelex coup as articulated by Awolowo but it is a coup nonetheless – even if a creeping one, unfoding in carefully choreographed stages. To its credit, the highest court in the land has acted creditably in this regard by ordering that the February 10 deadline initially given for the expiration of the old notes as legal tender be waived until its determination of the substantive suit brought before the court on the matter by the Kaduna, Zamfara and Kogi state governments. In the same vein, the INEC from all indications is striving strenuously to deliver free, fair and credible elections.

The purpose of the ongoing subterranean creeping coup is thus either to derail the democratic process paving the way for an illegal interim government or to employ underhand methods to facilitate the victory of a predetermined candidate. Whether the ongoing surreptitious attempts to frustrate the elections makes an interim government inevitable or it clandestinely utilizes state power to facilitate the victory of one party against the will of the people through the manipulation of the electoral process, a coup is a coup and the consequence in the face of the law is treason.

A coup, direct or otherwise, is a change in the power configuration of the state which does not flow either from the constitutive and regulative rules of the game as well as from the freely and fairly expressed will of the electorate at credible polls. Rather, power changes occur either through the barrel of the gun or the structural manipulation of polls to favour a political party irrespective of the will of the people. It is ironical that the greatest threat to APC’s otherwise assured victory in the February 25 election is not a crisis-ridden PDP whose campaign is yet to acquire the momentum it badly needs or a Labour Party that is so obviously losing steam after approaching a marathon as if it was a 100-metre dash.

Rather, the elements involved in the creeping coup are fifth columnists within the inner recesses of power at the APC-occupied presidential Villa who are taking advantage of Buhari’s famed aloofness, a highly political and partisan CBN governor, the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar Malami and a Section of the media that all too often sees nothing, hears nothing and thus says nothing. But there is no doubt that democracy will once again ultimately triumph emphatically over the forces of reaction and retrogression as has most often been the case in our history.

Source: First published in The Nation Newspaper

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