Godwin Emefiele to seek asylum in UK as SSS intensifies threats ahead of January 9 vacation deadline

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Governor Godwin Emefiele of the Central Bank of Nigeria has concluded plans to seek refugee status in the United Kingdom over developing threats to his position and personal safety from the State Security Service, Peoples Gazette was told by people familiar with the decision.

“Since it is now looking impossible for him to return to Nigeria, the next move is to file for asylum in the UK,” a source said under anonymity to discuss the matter with The Gazette. “The UK is his first option for asylum, but he has not ruled out the United States, either.”

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It was confirmed that Mr Emefiele departed London on December 26 for the United States, where he remained as of Friday morning. It was unclear when he planned to return to the UK, but his strong family ties to Britain were said to be behind his decision to pursue asylum there. He has been afraid that things could grow more complicated for him should he delay his asylum application and risk being declared wanted by the SSS with extradition requests to his shelter countries.

The ongoing threats against Mr Emefiele have been the most potent he has faced yet as CBN governor. He resumed the job in June 2014.

Mr Emefiele has been weighing his options from abroad, where he has been forced to tarry amidst raging intrigues to rope him as a financier of terrorism. The CBN governor left Nigeria between December 9 and 10, according to people familiar with his schedules, and appeared with President Muhammadu Buhari during a publicised Washington trip that ended on December 17.

Prior to the trip, Mr Emefiele had received presidential approval to proceed on vacation until January 9, 2023, according to internal conversation. That date is now seen as the most crucial for the CBN governor and even the president himself, our sources said.

“January 9 to 10 will be the most critical period for everyone involved in this matter,” another source familiar with the matter said. “It is the date that the governor must be at his desk; the date that the president will have to take a decision if the governor fails to show up at the office.”

“So that is why I said it is an important day for both the governor and the president,” the source said.

Yet, Mr Emefiele continues to hold that only the president holds the power to make all the threats disappear overnight.

“The governor is absolutely sure that only the president can call everyone behind this senseless assault to order,” the second source added.

While Mr Emefiele would be willing to return to Nigeria if the president could offer protection from state goons at the SSS, only one manner of such guarantees can bring outright security that the CBN chief prefers.

“The president has to intervene and intervene publicly,”. “It is only if he intervenes publicly that the governor can be assured of his safety and economic stability can be restored.”

“Even if the SSS DG calls the governor and assures him he won’t be arrested, it won’t be enough,” the official said. “But either a public announcement of the SSS or, preferably, the president that the governor will not be arrested can be taken seriously.”

A spokesman for the president did not return a request seeking comments about whether or how Mr Emefiele might be assured of his safety in Nigeria. The SSS was unavailable for comments.

To support his asylum, Mr Emefiele would rely on the December 13 court order that rubbished the SSS allegations and effectively declared him a victim on a hatch job, The Gazette learnt.

“It is my respectful opinion that the ipse dixit of the applicant, standing on its own, is not sufficient evidence upon which to deprive a person of his liberty,” Justice John Tsoho of the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court said in the judgement. The SSS had brought the allegations to obtain a warrant against Mr Emefiele ex-parte — a judicial process that allows a judge to grant an order after hearing from one party. It is usually temporary.

“The court had only listened to the SSS version of the allegations and still dismissed everything as lacking any shred of evidence,” the second source said. “Now imagine what would happen if the governor is allowed to make his own case.”

Prior to the latest crises, which have blunted the capital markets, Mr Emefiele had long been seen as an influential figure in the current administration. He has helped the government to manage prolonged financial distress and stave off a stark collapse of the nation’s economy, officials said.

But his recent decisions to redesign the national currency and significantly limit cash withdrawals have been traced to his open involvement in partisan politics in defiance of extant federal regulations.

He made moves to seek presidential nomination earlier this year, but backed down after the president ordered all federal officials with political ambitions to step down from office.

Politicians nationwide were said to have stockpiled cash which they intended to deploy for voter inducement. But with Mr Emefiele’s decision to phase out major currencies in circulation by January 31, 2023, politicians will find it more difficult to successfully find the cash to bribe voters at the ballot box.

Mr Emefiele was widely criticised when he introduced the policy in October, and followed it with another controversial measure that sought to limit cash withdrawals to N100, 000 per week for Nigerians.

The CBN said more than 80 percent of the country’s currency in circulation could not be traced, but critics said the move was an attempt to loot public funds through contract awards for printing new notes.

Mr Emefiele denied the allegations, saying monitoring currency in circulation and limiting cash withdrawals would bolster the country’s economy because most transactions would be conducted through electronic channels that would make them traceable and taxable.

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