Last week was very eventful with a screaming headline in one of the newspapers calling for the probe of Central Bank of Nigeria for the 500billion naira fraud.
This was a fallout of the leaked audio clip to the socio-media in the previous week, which happened to be the week the news of Godwin Emefiele reappointment broke.
As usual, there were many versions of the audio clip, at least I got two versions. I quickly dismissed the first version, which started with Godwin’s voice asking someone to step aside, apparently to pick a phone call and subsequently, there were incoherent voices here and there, obviously cloned to simulate and make up a story; a cock and bull story.
The first version I got was very short but to the mischief makers, it was to become the real Smoking Gun.
The following day, I got another version and I listened clearly to the audio, yes it was Godwin’s voice and in his usual style of hands-on management of “issue” in an utmost professional way, he was weighing the issue, unpacking it and guiding his team to stay within the limit of balance sheet structuring without breaking any accounting rules or ethics of banking. He defined the problems, he asked for the options his subordinates had. They told him there were accruals here and there totaling 20 billion nairas to absorb partly, the “item”. None of the options discussed and acceptable to Godwin was unethical and unprofessional.
He knew the “item” might have to be taken to Shareholders fund. In the leaked telephone conversation, Godwin warned them of the consequence of writing off the whole “item” against shareholders fund balance of 35 billion nairas because that could throw the Central Bank shareholders fund into a huge negative balance. Apparently, the whole “item” could be greater than the shareholders’ fund. Truly how can you explain this to the international community that a whole lender of last resort, Central Bank of Nigeria has a negative shareholders fund, hence his agonizing and lamentation in the phone conversation that his detractors have turned to their smoking gun.
To redefine the problem after the brainstorming session, Godwin asked for the remaining value of the “items” again, after setting it off against the accruals and the worst case scenario of the shareholders’ fund taken the hit. Which is normal and his subordinates said it would remain 110 billion to 115 billion nairas, without wiping off the shareholders’ fund completely. So if we back calculate, it was obvious the “item” ab initio can’t be more than 150 billion Naira or 170 billion Naira. So where is the 500 billion naira fraud coming from?. Fussy mathematics!! Could this be the intendment of the smoking gun and the weird caption of the leaked audio tape: “500b naira fraud”.
Detractors rose up and started asking the National Assembly not to confirm his reappointment and that CBN should be probed for the 500b fraud and/or the missing monies. Trust Nigerian politicians, the spinning of the issue started, “he must have helped the presidency to win the election, or he must have been reappointed to cover the 500billion naira fraud, blah blah blah” and hence the screaming headlines on this week newspapers asking FG to probe CBN. The 500 billion Naira was unthinking, yet the noise would not stop.
The press statement from CBN has cleared the air. The “item” arose when CBN was approached in 2015 to assist State Governments with Conditional Budget Support, in order to ensure that ordinary Nigerian workers got their salaries, pensions, and gratuities. However, in closing the Bank’s 2018 accounts, external auditors in their Draft Account erroneously classified about 150 billion nairas of these loans as bad, which negatively affected the Bank’s Balance Sheet and shareholders fund.
Obviously, it soon became clear that a State Government loan cannot be classified as “bad” or “irrecoverable”. The Bank then reached out to the Federal Ministry of Finance and they jointly gave comfort to the auditors who accepted in writing that these monies would be repaid. On this basis, the auditors reversed the negative entry and then certified that the CBN’s 2018 accounts were a true reflection of the State of Affairs.
The item is no more a bogey, it is a normal transaction!!
So there is no smoking gun anywhere, the God has won again; the reappointment of Godwin Emefiele has since been confirmed by the Senate for him to serve another five (5) years so as to continue to grow the country foreign reserve and to support the real sector growth without compromising foreign exchange stability.
As a prudent manager, I will expect him to continue to target inflation and maintain the positive real interest rate regime. Although he has attained the low side of the double-digit inflation rate, a single digit will be desirable for him to free more savings for investments and to create an opportunity to reduce the lending rate and to stimulate further growth of the economy.
Wale Bolorunduro Ph.D. is a former Commissioner for Finance, Budget and Economic Planning, Osun State, Nigeria. In addition, he is a former General Manager, Zenit Bank Plc.