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By Oliver McPherson-Smith
It’s not very often that a sitting central bank governor is lauded by throngs of singing and dancing supporters, but backers of CBN governor Godwin Emefiele may have just made history at this weekend’s APC national convention. The political theatre, whether organic or facilitated, is a quirky tribute to a technocrat whose celebrity status usually doesn’t stretch past the Davos city limits. In a crowded field of candidates for the APC’s presidential nominee, however, it’s unsurprisingly necessary to pull out all the stops to get ahead of the pack.
Emefiele, for his part, has so far kept silent on whether he will formally run. While others are quick to throw their hats in the ring, the CBN governor appears to be taking the route of a diligent-but-humble public servant who may be pressured into running. Although that path above the fray is well-trodden, Emefiele’s powerful, current position has ruffled plenty of feathers. In February, Premium Times ran an editorial calling on Emefiele to either resign and run, or remain in his post and repudiate any electoral ambitions. Similarly, just days ago the main opposition party, the PDP, offered a 21-tweet salute accusing Emefiele of having “desecrated the sanctity of his office as CBN Governor.” If the governor were to formally enter the arena of partisan politics, there would be intense pressure upon him to resign his tenure as the country’s top banker.
Aside from his powerful post, why does Emefiele draw so much lightning? The APC is expected to select a candidate from the South for the 2023 ticket (some say the south west, specifically, but that remains to be confirmed). Born in Delta state, Emefiele is described as having “a candidature with South South and Igbo background.” His professional experience is also strong. He came to the apex bank with 20 years’ of experience in the private sector, most notably as managing director of the household name Zenith Bank. Additionally, appointed under PDP president Goodluck Jonathan in 2014, Emefiele has worked with (and survived in his post under) governments led by both major parties.
This mix of fortuitous zoning happenstance, noteworthy private sector experience, and political longevity at the height of national politics makes Emefiele a serious contender. But no one plays in the big league for that long without controversy. Over the years, Emefiele has faced accusations of impropriety, lawlessness, and mismanagement. And that’s all before he was considered a potential presidential candidate.
The glaring lacuna in Emefiele’s resume is electoral success. Rotimi Amaechi and Nasir El-Rufai—potential rival candidates within the APC—have both proven that they can win elections at the state-level. Is it necessary? Well, both Umaru Yar’Adua (Katsina) and Goodluck Jonathan (Bayelsa) won gubernatorial elections before winning the presidency. But both Olusegun Obasanjo and Muhammadu Buhari served in unelected national-level positions, before eventually prevailing in nation-wide polls. If the APC ticket will indeed be led by a candidate from the south, could Emefiele be the next Obasanjo?
* Oliver McPherson-Smith, an Harvard Economist, writes from the USA.