By Babatunde Obele
Social trust is the underlying foundation of relationships among individuals, groups and other components of the society, including public institutions. Social trust also plays a strategic role in the evolution of nations. As observed by Aristotle, “human beings are by nature, social creatures’’, and societies are held together, in part, by their ability to come together around some hallowed public institutions, which serve as custodians of the common good.
Considering that these public institutions guarantee social stability, it becomes important that their occupants must remain apolitical to safeguard social trust. Trust in public institutions is eroded by both actions and inactions of their officials thus eliciting cynicism and opprobrium from citizens.
Historically, the nexus between the fixation of office terms and political neutrality has been a subject of discourse amongst public intellectuals. For instance, late Jerome Udoji, prominent Nigerian civil servant who rose to the apex of the service, described political neutrality as “the quid pro quo of the career service”. In other words, the justification for the permanence of their positions is that civil servants should remain politically neutral.
This need for neutrality was also underscored in one of The Guardian’s editorials when the influential newspaper held that: “Politicians come and go. But the civil service remains to provide stability. Once a civil servant is a party member, he is partisan. Thus, where civil servants belong to political parties, an acute instability of tenure will arise”.”
Far back as 1949, the (British) Masterman Committee on the Political Activities of Civil Servants appreciated this problem and rightly stated in its report that “the public interest demands the maintenance of political impartiality in the civil service, and confidence in that impartiality is an essential part of the structure of government”. The committee then warned that “any weakening of the existing tradition of political impartiality would be the first step in the creation of a ‘political’ civil service.… Such a system would be contrary to the public interest and, in the long run, the civil service itself”.
It is in the light of the above that one finds disquieting the news that Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr Godwin Emefiele has joined the race for Aso Rock on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), while still serving in that position. Expectedly, that news generated so much opprobrium, which shows that it is not just a joke taken too far, but also an insult to the collective intelligence of Nigerians, especially Mr President, who gave him the rare opportunity of a second term as at the expiration of his first five-year tenure.
President Muhammadu Buhari insisted on reappointing Emefiele for the second time in his determination to maintain social trust and stability within our financial system despite tremendous pressure from some members of his party that the position be given to a core APC loyalist shortly after its victory in 2015. The President took the tough decision because he understood that any attempt to weaken the existing tradition of political impartiality in some of our key public institutions would be the first step in creating ‘political’ public institutions, which would be contrary to public interest. Through that single decision, President Buhari proved that he is a statesman, to the admiration of many.
In fairness, Emefiele has not disappointed Mr President in terms of delivering on his job as CBN Governor. When one considers his daring philosophy of economic nationalism, his courageous stand against the dictates of Washington Consensus and the interventionist policies which he has introduced within the Bank, especially in the agricultural sector, one can understand why Mr President approved his second term.
It was that approval that some power brokers within the Presidency misconstrued as an endorsement of Emefiele’s candidacy by Mr President and marketed to the Governor, which in his naivety, he is buying at a price too expensive for our common good. If Emefiele had resigned before deciding to throw his hat into the ring, he would have been commended by many. But the fact that he is now aggressively competing with other party members for the APC presidential ticket is an apparent insult to our national psyche.
Through these unfolding acts, he has undermined the same principle of political neutrality that Mr President considered before retaining him in that office and thus, committed the greatest sin any public official can commit, which is to undermine the social trust of the office which one is serving in. With this action, Emefiele has gone down in history as the first CBN Governor who dared to compete amongst other aspirants for the presidential ticket of a political party while still serving in office.
Just a few days ago, the Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission declared that the commission would no longer entrust our apex bank with the safe keeping of sensitive electoral materials. This shows how damaging Emefiele’s action is to the prestige of the Bank. No other Central Bank Governor in the world had so lowered the esteem of the institution.
Emefiele’s flagrant partisanship despite the CBN Act prohibiting him from running for elective office while still holding the office is a betrayal of President Buhari’s confidence in him. It has also provoked public mockery of the APC. People now say they would not be surprised if the INEC Chairman also decides to pick the expression of interest form for the Office of the President. It is, indeed, a pity!
Obele, a sociologist, wrote in from Abuja