Relocation of CBN, FAAN: Stakeholders emphasize imperative of operational pragmatism over political discord

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CBN

Nigerians have unanimously condemned the barrage of attacks on President Bola Tinubu from some northern elites that trailed the relocation of some departments of the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria to Lagos.

The Chief Whip of the Senate and a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, Ali Ndume, was the first high ranking politician from the north to attack the President, threatening him with the 2027 general election as the consequences for the relocation which he claimed was influenced by ‘political cartels’ within the government.

Senator Ndume, representing Borno South, said the ‘political cartels’ are offering wrong advice to President Tinubu to mislead him on implementing some policies.

“All these Lagos boys who are thinking that Lagos is Nigeria are just misinforming and advising the president wrongly.

“Those political cartels that are in the corridors of power are trying to misinform the president and we will tell the President. The President will take action,” Ndume said.

His attack followed the barrages from the Arewa Consultative Forum which had earlier condemned the policy claiming that the decision was to further under-develop the northern part of the country and that of the Northern Senators Forum which threatened legal action against the federal government if the relocations of the offices were not reversed.

Their claims being that Nigeria’s capital was moved from Lagos to Abuja on December 13, 1991, during the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida but there were strong accusations that President Tinubu has plans to move the nation’s capital back to Lagos at the wake of the relocation of the CBN and FAAN to Lagos.

Even when the presidency has debunked it, saying there’s no such plan, Ndume noted that the relocation of the CBN offices and the headquarters of FAAN from Abuja to Lagos will brew a political crisis in the country.

While the Senator and his cohorts continued to progress in their attacks and threat, a lawyer and social commentator, Johnbosco Ayuba has called for caution to such inflammatory statements coming from high ranking politicians and groups saying that it’s an expressway to anarchy.

“We are in a country where all is not well and we should not pretend. Security is zero, the economy is very sick, nothing seems to be working at all and still people who should be thinking outside the box are busying themselves with positions very capable of throwing the country into deep chaos. Yes, it’s in the news that the President muted the idea of relocating some offices of the CBN and FAAN to Lagos. The first thing expected of these people attacking him should have been to ask what benefit it would be to getting the country out of the woods, not looking at it from the angle of north and south or we and them. From all indications those attacking the President have no economic background or knowledge of what will help Nigeria in this mess we have been plunged into. All they are interested in is their selfish benefits. Most of them have their children working in these offices not even on merit but they are children of so and so politicians.

“Do Katsina Elders have the right to speak on behalf of Northern people? How can the elders who failed to support the President and their own, the former President Muhammadu Buhari to win Katsina State, make such a reckless statement on behalf of the Northern people?”

“When you look at their arguments against the relocation, they are centred on impoverishing the north and enriching the south and I want to ask, since 1991 the Babangida regime moved capital of Nigeria from Lagos to Abuja has Abuja or any state in the north done better than Lagos in terms of internally generated revenue (IGR)? The answer is no. So what are they claiming and why the noise about impoverishing the north just because the government believes one of the solutions to our bastardized economy is to relocate some vital offices to Lagos for effectiveness and economic benefits?

“Just few days ago the Minister of Aviation, Festus Keyamo, told Nigerians that the relocation of FAAN will earn the country N500m monthly. How can anybody, even from the same political party Nigerians have been suffering under their inhuman policies oppose such a move? It’s happening because of ethnic and religious sentiments that have destroyed the pillars of our united Nigeria and it’s very pathetic,” he said.

A prominent figure in Ohanaeze Ndigbo worldwide, Goody Uwazuruike, threw his weight behind the Federal Government’s move to relocate select offices of the CBN and FAAN to Lagos emphasizing that the decision aims to enhance efficiency and reduce operational costs.

Uwazuruike, a legal practitioner, believes that this strategic shift will streamline processes, bolster efficiency, and positively impact Nigeria’s banking sector.

He underscored the importance of this relocation as a pragmatic step forward, emphasizing its goal of optimizing time and resources rather than mere geographical repositioning and highlights the necessity for the CBN governor to convene periodic meetings with bank executives, citing the logistical advantage offered by Lagos for facilitating such interactions efficiently.

The Ohaneze chieftain further emphasized that the relocation serves to empower CBN’s supervisory role, particularly in conducting unannounced visits to banks and urged against politicizing the decision, advocating instead for its recognition as a measure aimed at enhancing operational effectiveness.

Uwazuruike paralleled the move to the potential relocation of international oil companies to the Niger Delta, emphasizing the importance of decision-makers being well-acquainted with local dynamics to facilitate efficient governance and called for moderation in opposition to the relocation, emphasizing the imperative of prioritizing operational pragmatism over political discord.

In an open confrontation to President Tinubu’s administration, the apex northern sociocultural group, Arewa Consultative Forum, said the CBN’s decision was not an isolated or normal administrative action to fix some logistics problem, but that it rather fits a disturbing pattern of antagonistic actions often taken by certain federal administrations against the interests of the North and other parts of Nigeria.

The ACF claimed that the management of the CBN recent announcement of plans to relocate some of its key departments from Abuja to Lagos has sparked a wave of anxiety and outcry from many Nigerians, especially Northerners who obviously would be most adversely affected by the exercise.

The ACF, in a statement signed by its national publicity secretary, Prof. T. A. Muhammad-Baba, said it viewed such decisions “as if deliberately designed to be made public in drip-drip fashion, a leaked letter to the Minister of Aviation from a contractor, AVSATEL, became public, wherein the company sought permission to relocate the project for refurbishing Airport Rescue and Fire Fighting Vehicles (ARFF) from Katsina to “the south” or Abuja, but sneakily mentioning Lagos, Ibadan or Enugu. AVSATEL sought to rationalise its suggestion on issues that should have been in the scope of the works when the company bided for the job but which it clearly ignored then.

“It is easy to ignore such planned actions by the CBN and FAAN (and AVSATEL), but it is impossible to fail to see in them a clear pattern of thinly disguised marginalisation of the North, nor is the grand strategy entirely new. President Obasanjo’s first action in office in 1999 was to order the relocation of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) from Abuja, the Federal Capital, to Lagos.

“Today almost all agencies and institutions responsible for the marine economy, and especially the sea ports, are concentrated at Lagos, which retains undisturbed monopoly over port operations and sea traffic in and out of Nigeria, even as Calabar, Uyo and Port Harcourt offer as much if not better facilities.”

The statement noted that it was only the successful discovery and exploration of oil along the Kolmani River, in Gombe State, that discredited the propaganda that oil does not exist in the North.

“Given all of the above and more, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) remains unconvinced that the government agencies trying to relocate to Lagos will be doing so on any noble grounds.”

The ACF called on the Federal Government and the National Assembly to call on those agencies to retrace their steps and apply other honest means of addressing the alleged over-crowding in offices, adding that, against the situation in Lagos, there is plenty of land in the Federal Capital Territory for expansion of office and other infrastructural facilities and such factors should not be used to obfuscate sinister motives.

“ACF wishes to remind all concerned that decades ago, the seat of the capital of the Federal Republic was moved from Lagos to Abuja for reasons that remain valid, it is constitutional even more so today, constitutionally so, although, of course, a section of the country never liked the decision,” it added.

Corroborating the ACF stance, Katsina Elders Forum Secretary Aliyu Mohammed, had, while briefing journalists in Katsina, said Tinubu was being ill-advised by those he called enemies of Nigeria who didn’t want the unity of the country by the relocation of the offices.

His words, “Therefore, we are warning Mr. Bola Ahmed Tinubu, as long as he is interested in coming back in 2027, as long as he is interested in the votes of the Northerners, to reverse these unconstitutional decisions. Whoever is advising him to take such decisions is an enemy of the country.

“Such a person is not interested in the Nigerian project. And the North is not afraid of telling Tinubu to his face that we are not ready to re-elect him in 2027 once he starts moving all these critical departments to Lagos,” the forum had said.

Interestingly, Minister of State for Defence and immediate past governor of Zamfara State, Bello Mohammed Matawalle has said the statement by the Katsina Elders Forum asking President Tinubu to reverse the decisions on the relocation of some offices of the CBN and the FAAN to Lagos or risk losing re-election in 2027, does not reflect the views of the generality of the people of the north.

The KEF, had, in a statement, warned that the relocation of some departments of the CBN and the headquarters of FAAN to Lagos as well as the Umaru Musa Yar’Adua International Airport expansion project would cause the president’s reelection in 2027.

Countering the stance of KEF in Abuja, the minister said they cannot speak for the north, especially on a weighty issue like the 2027 presidential elections.

He condemned their utterances and said it was wrong for the Katsina elders to make such a wild and mischievous declaration on behalf of the people of northern Nigeria when they knew well enough that it wasn’t the popular view in the region.

According to him, “The statement by the KEF was contrived to cause hatred and disunity, and pitch the people of northern Nigeria up against their brothers and sisters in other parts of the country.

“Do Katsina Elders have the right to speak on behalf of Northern people? How can the elders who failed to support the President and their own, the former President Muhammadu Buhari to win Katsina State, make such a reckless statement on behalf of the Northern people?

“Katsina Elders have forgotten how they betrayed Buhari and President Tinubu by their failure to ensure that President Tinubu wins the majority of votes in their state in the 2023 presidential election.

“Is the protest by Katsina Elders during the 2023 presidential election against former President Muhammadu Buhari who asked them to support President Tinubu not embarrassing enough?

“Did the Elders forget that Allah says, ‘Power belongs to Him and can give it to whoever He wishes at any time He so desires?

“Yet another question for the Katsina Elders is why they did not warn the former President to stop the carnage against the people of Northern Nigeria when banditry and other security challenges persisted. Why were the Elders silent on the failures of their own over terrorism and large-scale corruption?

“Let me also draw the attention of the Katsina Elders’ Forum to the fact that when former President Buhari’s Minister of Transportation decided to locate the Transportation University in the former President’s hometown, Daura, other Nigerians did not protest against that decision, as they believed it was in the interest of unity and peaceful coexistence of the country.

“I, therefore, strongly advise the Katsina Elders to think twice and stop heating the polity, but rather concentrate on what binds Nigerians and Nigeria as an entity for the development of our dear country.”

Matawalle said what northern Nigeria needed now is the security of lives and property of its people, which he said Tinubu was committed to providing.

He also warned that attempts to truncate the nation’s democracy and set the North against other regions would not be tolerated by the government.

The former governor said Tinubu is the president for all Nigerians and has no interest or agenda against any of the six geopolitical zones of the country, adding, “The Renewed Hope Agenda of President Tinubu, is geared towards setting things right for the realisation of maximum economic development, security, and welfare of the citizens.”

In further discordant voices with some of the Northern views, Managing Director, APT Securities and Funds Limited, Garba Kurfi, described the apex bank’s decision as the best for the national economy development and blessing to Lagos given the CBN’s existing but decaying infrastructure in the city.

“While the administrative headquarters of major commercial banks are located in Lagos, it prompts consideration whether it is administratively rational for the CBN to execute transactions or perform functions from its Abuja head office, rather than leveraging existing structures in Lagos”

Kurfi, an economy and investment expert, emphasized the potential positive impact if the CBN operates efficiently, stating, “If the CBN works efficiently, it is better for the economy because they are the monetary policy of the economy. Whatever they think will be better for their system and the economy, at the end of the day, should be encouraged to be.”

He pointed out that Lagos State would benefit from increased tax revenues due to the relocation of CBN units and departments, as more people are paid salaries within the state.

Kurfi highlighted the overall benefits, stating, “Since the overall benefits outweigh the costs, let it be. It is not the immediate cost that you look at, but the overall benefits.”

He justified the move, citing the CBN’s need for more operational space and the concentration of banks’ head offices in Lagos.

On the legal aspects of the CBN’s actions, Kurfi emphasized an employer’s right to deploy staff for greater productivity.

He suggested that if an employee disagrees with such decisions, resignation is an option, emphasizing the availability of job opportunities for others.

Speaking in the same vein, Principal Partner at Intel Solicitors, Ademola Salami, said, “The Central Bank of Nigeria functions effectively as a bankers’ bank and holds the flexibility to operate optimally from any region in the country. The deployment of CBN staff to various parts of Nigeria aligns with operational needs and is conducted without external interference.

“While the administrative headquarters of major commercial banks are located in Lagos, it prompts consideration whether it is administratively rational for the CBN to execute transactions or perform functions from its Abuja head office, rather than leveraging existing structures in Lagos.”

Salami maintained that the recent agitation from some quarters against the CBN’s actions seems unjustified, lacking support, and devoid of legal merit, particularly given that no staff were retrenched due to the decision noting that it is essential to recognise that the CBN and its workforce operate as a cohesive unit.

A top staff of the CBN who pleaded anonymity told The Point that the decision to relocate some offices of the apex bank to Lagos is the best any administration has taken concerning the bank in recent years.

Our source said the bank has been crowded which turned it to a civil service in such a way that the staff now see themselves as civil servants with drastic reduction in output.

“I want to tell you that the relocation is the best policy to happen to the bank and its operations. This will definitely enhance productivity and return the bank to its original status as bankers’ bank. So, it is a welcome development. Nigerians should embrace it rather than criticizing it on the basis of north and south.”