When Godwin Emefiele became governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in 2014, Africa’s largest economy stood at the brink of a historic change of power between the widely-derided pro-market incumbent president and his wannabe Robin Hood-type challenger.
After five years of paper economic growth, Nigerians were ready to dispose of president Goodluck Jonathan who was perceived as a bumbling centrist and replace him with Africa’s answer to a 20th century Latin American left-wing firebrand. In Muhammadu Buhari, voters saw the saviour – a man with a number of views to the left of Hugo Chavez and an odd habit of appearing in public throwing up Nelson Mandela’s fist salute.
He was the guy to upset the established order, fight corruption and spread some of that 7 percent GDP growth around for the benefit of the impoverished Nigerian masses. Desperate to keep his job following the election, Emefiele allowed himself to become Buhari’s rubber stamp for the next four years. What happened next should be studied and used as case study material for decades to come in high school Economics textbooks.
While Buhari is hopefully guilty of none of those things, he certainly did nothing to challenge his reputation as an arrogant statist and an unrepentant tribalist. He set the tone for how he would govern over the next four years during a 2015 interview in Washington DC, where he openly stated that those who gave him 97 percent of their votes and those who gave him 5 percent of their votes “cannot in all honesty be treated equally on some issues.”
In time-honoured African dictator fashion, Buhari was letting the world know that he had no idea how to actually deliver on his “Unicorns For All” left wing populist campaign, and so he would do what all left wing populists do – deflect attention from his performance by inflaming ethnic, religious and class tensions so as to rule by division.
As oil prices tanked from 2015 through 2017, taking a disastrous toll on the Nigerian Naira, Buhari’s solution was to fix an unrealistic official exchange rate and attempt to shore it up by banning the imports of just about anything he could get his hands on. Emefiele complied, and the CBN in 2016 released a list of 41 items that it would no longer release forex for. The list, which was the socialist government’s Big Idea for arresting the Naira’s slump, included everything from foreign currency bonds to tinned fish, and – for some reason – Indian incense.