My own Governor, it gives me tremendous pleasure to have been requested to give this tribute to you as you achieve your Diamond Jubilee anniversary. With due modesty, I believe I am so very much qualified to give such a tribute having known you since your days at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka during your undergraduate days when you studied Banking and Finance. You were amongst the group of students that came on a short excursion to the United Bank of Africa where I was then the Manager in charge of Strategic Planning at the Bank. Our paths crossed severally after that time after you graduated and joined the banking industry, particularly during the period when you were the Deputy Managing Director at the Zenith Bank.
We have been together upon till the wonderful development when you were announced as the 10th indigenous Governor of the Central Bank. We were all as should be expected over the moon; in a celebratory mood as should be expected. I recall the morning I received your call to break the good news to me that you would want me to join you as you resume at the Bank as a Senior Adviser and was I so joyous! In your very words; ”When I go to the Bank I would like you to be by my side wherever I go.” But as the situation evolved this intention had to be altered due to exigencies just before your resumption and it was then no longer practicable for me to resume with you as earlier desired. But to the glory of God, you did not abandon me to be an orphan. And we give all thanks, honour, and glory to God Almighty.
My Governor, you are most welcome to the sixth floor of life; to now qualify in every sense to be addressed as an Elder. I know it is a good feeling, particularly when you cast your mind back to recall many others you know who have not been so privileged. We must learn to count our blessings always. Particularly as you celebrate in apparent robust good health with chubby rosy cheeks looking none the worse for stress. And it has pleased God for this event to occur not too long after you were reappointed for an unprecedented second five-year term by a President who inherited you as a Governor and who has been severally accused as not known for his broadmindedness on such matters! My Governor, it is not a mean achievement and we must continue to thank and glorify God for his bountiful mercies.
Let us go down memory lane to recount some of the landmark achievements you achieved in your sojourn so far at the Central Bank. What is remarkable for me is how you managed to weather the many stress at the Central Bank. In fact, in the initial years, some of us at your corner were genuinely concerned for your health. The outcry and criticism were so much as Nigerians bay for your blood heaping all the problems of the Country on you as you were expected to pull out the magic wand to make circumstances change overnight particularly with regard to the falling rate of exchange.
The fact remained that from the period you assumed office the oil market which is the goose that lays the golden egg for Nigeria as far as the inflow of foreign exchange is concerned went soft as the price went southwards. This is in stark contrast to the situation when your immediate predecessor was in office. And therefore it was a battle to keep the rate of exchange stable. Unfortunately, most Nigerians on the sidelines are all professional “economists” who always feel they know better than any other person and are prepared to pontificate what they think should be the preferred policy response. And if you do not follow their cue you are dubbed as clueless!
But you did not hide your intentions regarding your stand on how the rate of exchange will be managed under your watch. You made it clear I recall during your maiden press conference to launch your five-year agenda for the Central Bank under your watch that you do not believe in currency devaluation. As you explained because devaluation should not be embarked upon for the mere sake of it or because of pressure no matter from whichever sources even be it from multilateral Finance Institutions.
As you rationalized, devaluation as a policy makes sense only in the context of export promotion strategy. Otherwise one ends up importing price increases leading to a spike in inflationary pressure and galloping prices which is detrimental to the well-being of the generality of the population. Fortunately, President Buhari shared your views and it was, therefore, easier for you to stand your ground. But my Governor you must agree with me that it has been a hard job and must have given you nightmares of sorts the task of grappling with keeping the rate of exchange of the Naira stable in an economy that is lacking in productivity coupled with the fact of the insatiable appetite for the consumption of foreign goods and services amongst a generality of the population.
It was also thought by some commentators that allowing market forces to determine prices was eminently better instead of administrative controls and we agree. But My Governor the problem as we all know is that there is no market for foreign exchange in Nigeria. You cannot have a market situation with one dominant supplier of the commodity with so many other economic agents not playing any meaningful role but piling up demand pressure. You were accused of knee-jerk reactions as policy thrusts were often changed as you frantically searched for solutions to stop the slide in the value of the exchange rate. Despite your best efforts, we have what it is today mainly because of a lack of productivity in the economy.
My Governor, we must commend you for having the courage of your conviction. You took a decision not to extend official foreign exchange to some carefully selected items and once again all hell was let loose; we must not allow demand management! But the reality is that you courageously stood your ground and today we must admit that the country is the better for it as import bills come crashing down. What most compatriots do not realize is but for your efforts in trying to stabilize the rate of exchange the floor could have fallen off the Naira making it almost worthless.
The struggle with managing the rate of exchange as should be expected remains a work in progress as you have only recently courageously refused to continue to extend official foreign exchange to Bureau de change operators that have constituted themselves as channels for the draining of foreign exchange supply as they have kicked aside their original mandate of playing at the retail end of the market to become big-time players competing with the banks as they make themselves channels for the movement of illegal funds and money laundering in the economy in the process contributing an unfair quota to the attempt to dollarize the Nigerian economy.
But my Governor you have scored the bull’s eye with your efforts with extending development finance to deserving sectors of the economy. You have the cake on this as no other Governor will claim to have come anywhere near what you have done and achieved. Of course, the nay Sayers have been at it. He has left the mandate of the Central Bank to be pushing other matters but your mandate is clear on this matter and you are very much on course. You have done quite a lot in this respect which is well advertised that it might not be necessary to recount them here.
But as far as I am concerned two issues exemplify your efforts in this regard; the Anchor Borrowers’ program that has made the country self-sufficient in rice with other items in the queue and your efforts as Nigeria confronted the pandemic. Without the contribution of the Central Bank Nigeria most certainly could have been thoroughly lost. When the fiscal authorities launched the Economic Sustainability Plan but for the loan, you extended it could have been a different ball game. You not only did that, but you also proceeded to put your plan in place which ensured that the stability of the financial system was not endangered by extending various accommodations both to the banks even as you extended interest charges relief to agents that have borrowed from the Central Bank.
You extended attention to other important areas such as the development of local capacity for the manufacturing of vaccines. Not too long ago INFRACO Company meant to enlist private capital for the urgent improvement on available infrastructure in the economy was officially launched by the President signing off on it and appointing key players. I am on record to have observed objectively that if we are looking for one institution that has been accountable for the country’s quick exit from the pandemic to resume growth, that it must be the Central Bank under your watch even if some will claim that you only fulfilled your responsibility.
What more can one say after we have heard the President admit openly that it was one of his best decisions in office to have reappointed you as the Governor of the Central Bank for a second five-year term. Thank you for returning the Central Bank to the path of professionalism avoiding all those controversies that were gradually becoming the hallmark of the Central Bank before your assumption of office.
My Governor thanks for remaining essential the Godwin Emefiele we all know even if it is now very difficult for obvious reasons having an audience with you. We bless God for the life you have lived and beg him to walk with you as your strength to enable you to do even greater exploits in the years ahead at the Central Bank to his glory and the better interest of the generality of our population.
My own Governor congratulations and many more Spirit-filled happy returns in robust health, wisdom, understanding, prudence, charity, joy, serendipity and above all else the fear of the Lord. Remain in God’s Love. Amen.
Dr. Boniface Chizea
August 2, 2021