(BACKPAGE) ‘Minister of Other Government Affairs’

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LEKAN SOTE

By acting in ways incongruous with their schedules, some public office holders demonstrate a lack of focus. If they do, they may be deliberately creating, for themselves, opportunities to spend public funds inappropriately.

Governor Yemi Cardoso of the Central Bank of Nigeria delivered two million bags of fertilisers worth N100bn to the Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Abubakar Kyari, as some Corporate Social Responsibility.

Also, Accountant-General of the Federation, Dr. Oluwatoyin Madein, who should embody prudence, organised a workshop for state Commissioners of Finance at the Hilton Hotel in Tony Kensington, in London, United Kingdom.

These acts justify suggestions by critics that the team led by President Bola Tinubu has no notion of how to remedy the eight years of medieval misrule of Nigeria by former President Muhammadu Buhari.

While justifying the assault on the CBN Act 2007, Cardoso claimed that the donation of fertilisers agrees with the fundamental objectives of the CBN. Nothing can be further from the truth. He turned the text of the CBN Act on its head.

Cardoso’s argument is no more than an attempt to stretch the definition of the fundamental objectives of the CBN, which is, to stabilise the financial system, by controlling inflation, interest and exchange rates.

Section 2 of the CBN Act says, “The principal objects of the (CBN) shall be to: ensure monetary and price stability; issue legal tender currency in Nigeria; maintain external reserves to safeguard the international value of the legal tender; promote a sound financial system in Nigeria; and act as banker and provide economic and financial advice to the Federal Government.”

To be honest, the runaway interest, inflation and currency exchange rates that Nigeria is currently experiencing cannot be solved by monetary policies alone; they will require an overhaul of current fiscal and macroeconomic policies and structures, which are in the ballpark of the Federal Executive Council.

If the President and the ministers of Finance; Budget and National Planning; Trade, Industries and Investments; Agriculture and Food Security; and Power do not get their macroeconomics acts together, whatever the CBN does will amount to desperate wild kicks of a dying horse.

Cardoso is following the bad example of his two immediate predecessors: Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi embarked on a spree of CSR projects in some Nigerian universities. Governor Godwin Emefiele embarked on the much-storied Anchor Borrowers’ Programme scheme that failed woefully.

There is no basis for the CBN to engage in fiscal, macroeconomic or CSR matters, the way Emefiele did with his illegal, ill-executed and ill-advised Anchor Borrowers’ Programme that practically threw money away.

Emefiele probably used the special intervention facility that the CBN earlier granted to the near-comatose textile industry through the Bank of Industry to justify his wayward and reckless Anchor Borrowers’ Programme.

And just as many of the textile companies that took the intervention loan could neither service nor repay the loan, so-called farmers who took loans through the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme were unable to ante-up too.

Lamido was said to have cited Section 31 of the CBN Act to donate N100m and N40m respectively to victims of bombings in Kano, Kano State, and Madalla, near Abuja. Section 31 says nothing about the CBN as a do-gooder philanthropic organisation.

One may ask if these wrong CSR interventions of Lamido, Emefiele and Cardoso in areas outside the statutory responsibilities of the CBN had budgetary approvals of the National Assembly.

The CBN and its governors should pay heed to Section 34 of the Act that says, “The Bank shall not engage in, or otherwise have a direct interest in any commercial, agricultural or industrial undertaking…”

This fishing for relevance is not limited to CBN governors. In the twilight of the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, reportedly flew into Chibok, Borno State.

She bypassed Supervising Minister of Education Nyesom Wike to lay the foundation stone for the construction of a new school to replace the Government Secondary School that was vandalised by Boko Haram insurgents who abducted more than 200 school girls in 2014.

Not too surprisingly, after Dr Okonjo-Iweala left the office of Minister of Finance in May 2015, neither the Federal Ministry of Finance nor the Federal Ministry of Education, under President Muhammadu Buhari, returned to the project.

It’s not too clear if the project was to be executed by the laudable (but now invisible) Safe Schools Initiative that she initiated to ensure security (especially) in Northern Nigerian schools, and for which she got an international consortium of donors, led by former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

“There is no basis for the CBN to engage in fiscal, macroeconomic or CSR matters, the way Emefiele did with his illegal, ill-executed and ill-advised Anchor Borrowers’ Programme that practically threw money away.”

It was only in 2020, five whole years after the foundation laying, that Governor Babagana Zulum visited, and ordered the Borno State Ministry of Education to commence the promised rehabilitation work of the beleaguered Chibok school.

Was Dr Okonjo-Iweala’s intervention a suggestion that Minister Wike was shirking his responsibilities to the people of the North-East region, to the extent that she found it necessary to go beyond her brief?

Cardoso’s argument that “Food prices are a crucial component of inflation, especially considering that a substantial portion of household expenditure in Nigeria (or anywhere else in the world, for that matter), is allocated to food and non-alcoholic beverages,” is true.

But when he added that the donation of fertilisers by the CBN “reinforces the critical need to address food inflation as a pivotal aspect of managing overall headline inflation,” he hinted that he realised that he might have taken the CBN away from its core responsibilities.

He explained the illegal CSR act of the CBN with the lame excuse, “We (only) want to extend our support and closer ties with Ministries, Departments and Agencies that bear this mandate. And we aim to enhance our partnership with the agriculture ministry to enhance food production and security.” No law empowers the CBN to engage in this kind of project.

The Federal Government seems to have a crop of bureaucrats who take joy in misleading unwary political officeholders by making asinine suggestions that can only be embarrassing at best. They use their know-all attitude to impress on the outsider appointees to follow their lead.

They take advantage of those political appointees whose naiveté and gullibility are so obvious that they can easily be misled to do things that are unnecessary and inappropriate. What has the CBN got to do with donating fertilisers?

A former minister once admitted in a private conversation that political officeholders, including ministers, often show, by the way, they fall to the wiles of bureaucrats, that they do not know how government works.

Though Hadiza Bala-Usman’s job as Special Adviser to the President on Policy Coordination is to monitor the performance of ministers, the President may have to extend her internal control brief to include agencies like the CBN that seem to be scouting for what to do.

Maybe Tinubu should consider sending Cardoso to join his buddy, Finance and Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy Wale Edun, as Minister of State. Together they could formulate the macroeconomic policies that seem to be of interest to Cardoso.

Anyway, Cardoso should leave macroeconomic policies alone, face his monetary policy assignments and not transform into Minister of Other Government Affairs, as he seems to prefer minding other people’s business.