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Analysts Question Charges Against Nigeria’s Central Bank Chief 

FILE - Nigeria's Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele briefis the media during the MPC meeting in Abuja, Jan. 24, 2020.
FILE - Nigeria's Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele briefis the media during the MPC meeting in Abuja, Jan. 24, 2020.

Nigeria’s secret police are investigating Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele for alleged financial crimes, financing terrorism, and graft. But the banker’s supporters say the allegations are politically motivated, with politicians opposed to his currency reforms behind the probe. Nigeria's central bank late last year unveiled new currency to combat crime and rein in vote-buying, sparking debate just a few months ahead of February elections.

The charges leveled against Godwin Emefiele by the State Security Service (SSS) include the misappropriation of a multi-billion-dollar public lending program, and terrorism financing.

The secret police did not say when it started probing the central bank of Nigeria governor, but, according to a court affidavit, the agency has been trying to bring him in for questioning since December.

An Abuja Federal High Court in late December issued an order barring the secret police from arresting, detaining or questioning the central bank governor, and called the probe unwarranted and vindictive.

CBN spokesperson Osita Nwanisiobi did not respond to calls from VOA for comment on the matter.

But Emefiele has faced growing criticism of his policies at the central bank, including the redesigning of Nigeria's currency and introduction in December of limits for cash withdrawals.

The director at the Center for Social Justice, Eze Onyekpere, says Emefiele desecrated the independent position of the CBN governor by participating in partisan politics.

"In international laws and jurisprudence, central bank’s monetary policy authorities are supposed to be independent," he said. "For the chief executive of that same bank to now drag the CBN into a politically compromised situation, makes itself amenable to various or all kinds of insinuations. This would not have happened if the CBN governor had kept away from partisan politics.”

Emefiele withdrew from a possible presidential bid last May after President Muhammadu Buhari ordered public officials with political interests to resign from office.

In October, the president approved the central bank’s redesign of the country's highest currency notes in a bid to combat counterfeiters, promote more cashless payments and reduce excess cash in circulation.

Analysts say the new currency, which rendered stashes of the old currency useless, will also make it more difficult for candidates to buy votes during next month’s elections.

Public finance analyst Isaac Botti says Emefiele is being treated unfairly.

"The man is being witch-hunted, people are reacting particularly when this issue of currency redesign, cash withdrawal limit came up and a number of persons particularly those at the corridors of power are not favored, they feel that this guy should be taken off. If there are clear cases of financial crimes against him, then he should be relieved of his duty and properly prosecuted," he said.

Botti says the allegations against the central bank chief could dampen public confidence in the CBN and its policies.

But Onyekpere says the secret service must first present substantial proof of its claims against the central bank governor.

"They have not disclosed a genuine ground to move the court to support their course of action. From what is available to me, I do not see how they can sustain that charge," he said.

Emefiele was appointed head of the central bank in March 2014. In 2019, he was reappointed for a second five-year term that ends next year.