The testimony of Zerubbabel
I must warn my gentle readers that this is a rather personal essay. But it is of public interest. Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel was among the ancient Hebrew exiles who returned from Babylon to rebuild Solomon’s Temple and the fallen walls of Jerusalem. As the legend goes, Zerubbabel became famous after winning a quiz on the question: What is the strongest power on earth; wine, kings, money, women or truth? Zerubbabel, who later became governor of Jerusalem, wisely declared truth to be the greatest force on earth.
I felt like Zerubbabel when, in May 2005, I was posted on secondment to the CBN from the African Development Bank Group. I took a salary cut to serve my country as CBN Deputy Governor. I arrived in the middle of the banking reforms and the historic negotiations with the Paris Club of international creditors.
In early October of 2006 the Governor proposed to the board to allow our banks participate in foreign reserves management instead of leaving it exclusively to foreign players such as J. P. Morgan and others. We were drunk with the dizzy wine of success at the time. The banking reforms had been a success. We reached a debt liquidation deal with the Paris Club. The economy was booming. Our foreign reserves had grown from a lowly US$10 billion in 2004 to an impressive US$38 billion in 2006. They later reached a peak of US$62 billion by July 2009. We had just launched the FSS2020 project which aimed to position our country as the financial hub of the continent by 2020.
As I recall, there was a lively debate on the matter. On the face of it, it seemed a good idea to allow our banks to have experience of managing our external reserves as a means of socialisation into the complex world of financial engineering and global financial markets. I had a modicum of doubt, but, alas, could not voice it. Our boss was a Mister Know-All. Moreover, he always brandished his closeness with Aso Villa like the Sword of Damocles to neutralise any dissent. There was a whispering campaign about me being “the black sheep” that would not play ball. The majority carried the day.
For the avoidance of doubt, let me emphasise that at no stage did anyone get even the remotest impression that it was meant to be a loan, bailout or forbearance. The funds were being placed under management, in which principal and interest were to be returned at a future date on an agreed tenor. Fourteen banks were to share a total of US$7 billion, which came down to US$500 million each. I was, however, never privy to the details of the transaction.
On 26 March 2007, while busy at my desk in the afternoon, news came on national radio that I had been moved to the Presidency as Special adviser on a 419 portfolio on “Political Economy.” I resigned myself to the will of God. I had worked alone in the office up to midnight of 31st December 2006, struggling desperately to meet the liquidity targets under the IMF Special Support Instrument. With the benefit of hindsight, I have good reason to feel that some of my colleagues deliberately sabotaged me because they had somebody else lined up to take over my job. That must have been the pretext for sending me to Siberia. I later got to know that late President Umaru Yar’Adua, having studied my dossier, had instructed that I be reinstated immediately. Unfortunately, that same week, he went into coma, never to recover. His directive was never implemented.
From October 2006 when the reserve funds were allocated to the 14 banks to the time I left in March 2007 was only slightly over five months. The Directorate for Economic Policy which I headed is the most important function of any central bank. But it is the one Directorate where we do not handle money. It deals mostly with computable models for monetary policy and statistical analytical research which support the work of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC).
I was, therefore, surprised when, two weeks ago, a friend in the security services sent me a circular emanating from the Villa in which my name had been included on a new travel ban list under Executive Order No. 6, dated 11 December 2018. It was signed by the chairman of the Special Presidential Investigation Panel (SPIP), Okoi Obono-Obla. I managed to trace their office to a sprawling Orwellian, nondescript building on the outskirts of Asokoro. There, I met a squadron of investigators who gleefully clamped down on me. I was detained for questioning for the whole day and had to fill wads upon wads of paper about a “missing $US7 billion” during my time at CBN. It was an astonishing scenario. Without the benefit of my lawyer, I wrote what I knew. Later that same evening, they followed me home to confiscate my passport.
The following day the same charade continued. At some point I asked them if this is not a political witch-hunt. One of them made the Freudian slip of asking why I would not join Buhari and the APC so that “everything would be alright.” I retorted that I myself was wondering why Buhari and APC would not join my party, the African Democratic Congress (ADC), to save themselves from contumely. I also demanded to know why I, who was responsible for a Directorate that had nothing to do with the transaction, was being subjected to such questioning, while the people who had more direct responsibility as heads of External Operations, Banking Supervision, Currency and Finance were not being similarly treated. As I understand it, none of those who were questioned had their passports confiscated. I am left with no choice but to read religious, ethnic and political coloration involved in the manner in which I have been mistreated. Interestingly, the forms I was required to fill were those of a “witness” rather than a “suspect.” But my treatment leaves me feeling more like the latter rather than the former.
Without prejudice to the ongoing investigations, my position is that whatever monies that were placed under commercial banks’ management must be retained on the basis of fiduciary care and full public accountability in line with global best practices in the investment management industry. It cannot be anything more or less. For my part, I am happy to help the panel with their investigations in terms, informing them of all I know as a dutiful citizen and certified patriot. But I refuse to be treated like a criminal suspect.
The whole saga evokes bitter memories. My time at CBN was one of the worst in my entire professional career. There were attempts to bribe me in connection with the banking reforms. I am proud of the fact that, like Caesar’s wife, I remain above reproach. I was to discover only after I left that my coffee was doused on at least three different occasions. It is a miracle that I survived. After I left, I developed a strange illness that left me paralysed for almost a year. I recovered miraculously, thanks to Jehovah Rapha. As I recovered, my beloved son went down with a strange, very evil sickness. The poor boy is still suffering to this day. My wife’s car was fired at in broad daylight in the heart of Abuja. They obviously thought I was in it. The bullet hole is still on the body of the car, in case anybody cares to know.
I have spent most of my professional life outside Nigeria. My most recent job was as Chief of Staff of the 79-member African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States in Brussels. I coordinated a portfolio of more than ?50 billion of development and investment funds. Throughout my sojourn abroad, I have no police record for a traffic offence, let alone financial fraud. It is a sad irony that it is in my fatherland that I am being treated so shabbily. Some of my parting entitlements at CBN remain outstanding. I was meant to perish, were it not for the grace of God. My family have paid a heavy price. But I do not wallow in self-pity. I come from a long line of warrior kings. I fear no man on earth. I fear only the Lord.
My story is a long one, but we leave it for another day. This is why I want to serve our people as president of Nigeria. I am the servant-leader that this country has been waiting for. I have the solutions to the political, economic and financial challenges facing our nation. “Touch not my anointed and do my prophets no harm,” says the Lord!