By Oluwatobi Aworinde
A former Minister of Education, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, has expressed strong criticism of the naira swap policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
According to the economic policy expert, rather than focus on fiscal and monetary policy, the Federal Government is using the apex bank to target political “criminals it knows”.
Ezekwesili who made her position known on Sunday during a live appearance on Channels Television’s The 2023 Verdict, a special election programme.
Dissecting the controversial CBN directive touted as addressing vote-buying and illicitly hoarded funds, she argued that it was crucial for the apex bank to be thoughtful about “what are we solving for?”
If one is solving for less cash in “our society” as the medium of exchange, she says, the thing to do is plan properly for the transition.
“But there’s a second thing that we seem to be solving for which has now taken ascendancy over the monetary policy. We are using the central bank to solve the problem of criminality in our politics,” she stated.
“That’s an objective, but is it an objective that the central bank should be smack into? There’s something wrong with that because what has happened is, you have because of criminals that you know – the government knows the criminals, they are part of them.
“If it wanted to, in a transparent manner, get them, it would get them. But what it has done is it has basically discomfited the citizens, the poor women in the market, the people just barely eking out a living, and now struggling because of the criminality our politics.”
Speaking on how she would tackle the policy, the former World Bank vice president said there was no reason to roll it back, given the technological strides the African continent has recorded of late.
She however had reservations on the policy implementation by the CBN, explaining that going cashless is essentially more about encouraging the use of “less cash” than doing away with banknotes altogether.
“It does make a lot of sense for us to not be loading bags of money all over the place. But when you think of how the operational plan for this policy has been bungled, it just is appalling.
“And to think that it also happened so close to elections is a double whammy, as the Americans would say.”
In her view, it is evident that the banks are not ready for a full transition to a cashless society.
“Their technology is not upgraded to the point where they can actually respond effectively, so there’s a complete system breakdown. That is the principal thing that you think you’re solving for. There are very clear pathways to solving it,” she noted.
“By mixing all of it up, you’ve created this chaos. What is clear is that the politicians have again put their interests above that of the citizens,” Ezekwesili said.
Her analysis of the Buhari administration’s monetary policy is that it has “become so completely immersed in the politics of our country, which is such a disgrace.”
While admitting the existence of some element of political undertones of monetary and fiscal policy, she described it as “so sad” that what is “purely technical” had reached “the extent of what we’ve seen under President Buhari”.
She added, “Frankly speaking, I don’t even know whether there are economists left in the Central Bank of Nigeria.”
Decrying what she termed the “serial failure” to think through policies and policy timelines, she accused the current CBN of failing to interrogate policies on the basis of the evidence on the table, such that data helps drive decisions more than impulse.
Obi And The Weighting Of The Scores
Ezekwesili has not been shy about her support for the presidential candidate of Labour Party, Peter Obi, choosing the former Anambra governor over his counterparts of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar; and the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu.
Defending her choice, she said, “There’s no way I can cast a vote for an Atiku or a Bola Tinubu. They don’t check the box.”
The former minister noted that her framework of leadership is based on character, competence and capacity – or as she calls them, The Three C’s.
“So, when I use it and I do a weighting of the scores of each of the candidates around these three attributes that make up my framework of leadership – character, competence and capacity, the person who comes out with a score higher than that of the others because you’re not compromising character for competence, or compromising competence for character,” she said.