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Random thoughts on democracy and resurgence of military coups in Africa, By Jideofor Adibe



Military coups became the norm in several African countries shortly after independence until the 1990s when the current ‘wave’ of democracy began. The contagion effect from the January 13, 1963 coup in Togo, the first in Africa, in which President Sylvanus Olympio was assassinated, soon spread like wildfire across the continent.

There have been over 200 attempted coups in Africa since the 1950s, with about half of these succeeding. Out of the 54 countries in Africa, 45 have had at least one coup attempt since 1950. Sudan has the most number of military coups – 17, out of which six succeeded. Burkina Faso is the most adept in planning and executing a military coup, with nine successful military takeovers and only one failed attempt.

After a period of relative democratic stability in the current ‘wave’ of liberal democracy in the continent, military coups are making a fast comeback, with the recent takeover in Gabon coming just one month after soldiers seized power in the Niger Republic. In 2021, there were six coup attempts in the continent, four of them successful. Of the 18 coups recorded globally between 2017 and 2022, all but one – Myanmar in 2021 – took place in Africa. This probably prompted the UN Secretary-General António Guterres to warn in 2021 that “military coups are back”. What does the resurgence of military coups in Africa tell us about the fate of liberal democracy in the continent?

There are several observations: One, the democratic space tends to be elastic. It can expand or contract without democracy necessarily being under a mortal threat. American political scientist Samuel Huntington who called the current round of liberal democracy in “the modern world”, a “third wave”, noted that each of the two earlier waves was followed by reversals. He pointed out that the first “long” wave of democratisation, which began in the 1820s, with the widening of the suffrage to a large proportion of the male population in the United States and continued for almost a century until 1926, leading to 29 countries in Europe and America becoming democracies, was followed by a ‘reverse wave’. This was when Mussolini came to power in Italy such that by 1942, the number of democratic states in the world had reduced to 12.

Again the second wave of democracy, which started with the triumph of the Allies in World War II and reached its zenith in 1962 (when 36 countries became democracies) was followed by a reverse wave from 1960 to 1975, which brought the number of democracies down to 30. In essence, it can be argued that liberal democracy oscillates between surges and reversals in accordance with the boom and bust cycles of capitalism. Even within national governments in the contemporary Western world, we see often an oscillation between right-wing authoritarians (Trump for example) and those on the left of the political spectrum (Joe Biden for instance). This raises a fundamental question of whether the current surge in military coups in Africa is the normal ‘reversal wave’ that follows a period of democratic surge.

Two, it must be pointed out that military coup – forceful seizure of political power by the military – is not the only threat to liberal democracies in Africa.  We also have constitutional coup-making whereby those elected to office change the constitutions of their country to elongate their tenure. Though 33 out of about 48 new constitutions in Africa enacted in the 1990s provided for term limits of two terms for the office of the president, nearly 30 countries contemplated the removal of term limits since 1998, with many succeeding. Electoral manipulations and rigging such that electoral outcomes are not believed to represent the wishes of the electorate also alienate voters from the electoral process and thus equally constitute a threat to democracy. In several French African countries, anti-French sentiments and the inability of governments to deal with some developmental challenges (such as defeating Jihadism) are yet another source of disillusionment that provides ammunition for the military to strike.

Three, a major difference between the practice of democracy in the advanced states of Europe and the USA and its practice in Africa is that while the basis of nationhood is already settled in the former, in the latter, even the basis of statehood remains contested in many countries. This poses severe challenges to especially two key components of democracy – freedom of speech and conduct of elections. Precisely because most of the states in the continent are just emerging from a prolonged period of dictatorship, the free speech guarantees of liberal democracy tend to facilitate the unleashing of bottled-up feelings from the authoritarian era. This aggravates the structures of conflict in the society, exacerbates inter-ethnic tensions and suspicions and complicates the nation-building process. In essence, while democratic reversals in the West do not, strictly speaking,  threaten democracy or the nation-state, in Africa, military coups could threaten the state system because it could be construed as an attempt by one or more ethnic groups (who share ethnic identities with the coup leaders) to gain undue advantage for their ethnic groups. The consequent resentment is bottled up but unleashed in several ways, including separatist agitations, whenever an opportunity presents itself.

There is a similar challenge with the conduct of elections. In virtually all  parts of Africa, politicians take literally the injunction by Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first Prime Minister and President, to “seek first the political kingdom and every other thing will be added unto you”. There are two major explanations for this: the first is that political power is seen as a veritable instrument of wealth accumulation. The second is a pervasive fear that any group that captures state power will use it to privilege its in-group and disadvantage the others. Elections, therefore, tend to be very anarchic, almost a warfare. Losing the presidential election could mean your ethnic group will be excluded from the dining table by the triumphant winning group or coalition.

This alienates the others from both the democratic process and the state system they feel marginalises them. Four, democracy in the continent suffers from an expectation crisis. Take for instance what Nigerians call ‘democracy dividend’. There is a presupposition that democracy will lead to economic development and an improvement in the standard of living of the people. The truth, however, is that there is no conclusive evidence in the literature that liberal democracy could offer such. On the contrary, many of the countries in Asia whose economies grew exponentially, including China, Malaysia and Singapore, did so under benevolent dictatorships.

People are also frustrated about the quality of leaders they get under democracy. Again democracy only promises to allow people to choose from those who presented themselves to be elected. Given that it is mostly  those who have the financial wherewithal and the necessary rough edges  to compete that present themselves for election, people often do not feel that the leaders they get  are the best available. This, coupled with the manipulation of the electoral system, and generalised feeling that the costs of running the democracy is not worth it, lead to a further aggravation of the disillusionment with democracy.

Five, what will be the option for Africa? In the immediate post-independence period, many African leaders – Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana, Nyerere in Tanzania, Kenneth Kaunda in Zambia and a host of others instituted a one- party state. Their basic argument was that political parties signified the institution of divisions, and therefore un-African. They also argued that Africa was in a state of emergency and, therefore, could not afford the luxury of institutionalising divisions. Others like Museveni, who came to power in 1986, claimed he was running a ‘no party democracy’. Then came the period of military rule in which the military was extolled as a modernising institution that hated the corruption, indiscipline and politicisation of primordial identities by the politicians.

Unfortunately, unlike in some Asian countries where benevolent dictatorship led to economic development and improvement in the general welfare, African autocracy of various hues proved incapable of being engines of economic development or nation-building. Frustrations with governance were in some cases transferred to frustrations with the state, with some groups clamouring to de-link from the state system while others seem to be in perpetual search for a political messiah to turn things around.  It seems a more realistic option open to Africans is to engage in robust conversations about how to adapt liberal democracy to its unique environment because it seems obvious that while Africans cherish the freedoms that democracy offers, they are generally disappointed by the governance systems in the continent.

Strictly Personal

From Experiment To Experience: Why the Nigerian Central Bank Needs its Traditional Navigators Back, By Chibuikem Ugo-Ngadi



Commerce Takes the Central Helm

If you’re tuning into this, you’re likely aware of Yemi Cardoso becoming the new chief of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). His appointment, following Godwin Emefiele’s exit, is notable for another reason: both are commercial bankers, and their leadership comes at a pivotal moment for our economy.

For those who’ve journeyed with my earlier piece, ‘A Call To Action,’ I won’t delve into the detailed statistics again. However, to give you the big picture, our economy is on shaky ground. The naira’s value keeps dwindling, now taking over N1000 to match a single USD. The task of steadying this precarious situation leans heavily on the decisions and actions of the CBN and its helm.

While the trend of appointing commercial bankers to lead the CBN brings forth concerns, it’s not a question of their competency in the banking sector. They excel there. However, piloting the Central Bank has its own set of challenges distinct from commercial banking. The differences and intricacies of central banking are profound, and that’s where my reservations come into play.

Different Worlds

At first glance, central banks and commercial banks might seem to operate within the same realm – the financial sector. However, their mandates, operational scopes, risk management practices, and utilised tools delineate two distinct worlds.

Central banks serve a broader public interest. Their primary objective is maintaining economic stability for the nation. This means they work to control inflation and ensure steady economic growth. On the other hand, commercial banks are primarily business entities. Their driving force? Profit. They focus on attracting customers, granting loans, and providing other financial services to ensure their bottom line grows.

Scope of Operation:
Central banks have a wide lens, monitoring the entire economy. They pay close attention to various economic indicators and global trends to make informed decisions that impact the nation. Commercial banks, however, operate on a more individualized scale. They cater directly to their customers, whether individuals or businesses, offering services that respond to specific financial needs.

Risk Management:
When central banks think of risks, they’re looking at the bigger picture. They’re concerned about large-scale economic threats that can affect the whole country. Commercial banks, in contrast, handle risks that directly impact their day-to-day operations. This includes managing potential loan defaults or keeping up with shifts in the market.

Tools and Mechanisms:
Central banks use tools meant for guiding the entire economy. They employ methods like adjusting the amount of money in banks or setting key interest rates to influence economic conditions. Commercial banks, however, use their tools in a more direct manner. They decide on loan interest rates, offer deposit schemes, and introduce new financial products to attract and serve their customers better.

Navigating Two Worlds: Profit vs. Policy

Merging the distinct worlds of central and commercial banks requires careful consideration. While central banks are dedicated to ensuring national welfare and economic stability, commercial banks have profit as their primary goal. As commercial banking leaders transition into central banking roles, there’s a vital concern: could they inadvertently favour their previous domain?

This is more than just an economic dilemma—it directly influences the trust that the public places in these pillars of finance. Central banks are guardians of our financial health, setting rules to foster a robust economy. In contrast, the profit-driven nature of commercial banks often sees them navigating these rules inventively.
Furthermore, the importance of relationships in the commercial sector can’t be understated, yet central banking demands unwavering impartiality. Introducing a leader from the commercial world might blur the lines of decision-making, raising valid concerns about whether the broader economic interests remain the focal point.

Bypassing Expertise

In the intricate dance of global finance, the choreography of central banking leadership remains crucial. We’ve explored how central and commercial banks dance to different beats. Now, let’s shine a spotlight on Nigeria’s recent break from tradition.

Over the recent years, Nigeria has embarked on what can be termed a ‘recruitment experiment’. The rhythm shifted recently as the trend favoured promoting commercial bankers directly into the central bank’s top role, a distinct departure from traditional appointments. The result: Nigeria’s monetary choreography seems to have missed some crucial steps, leading to disruptions in our macroeconomic performance.

One can’t help but think this isn’t just a twist of fate. While the federal government’s fiscal choreography has certainly added complexity to the central bank’s performance, decisions like the FX Swaps, Naira Redesign Rollout, and Ways and Means Lending resonate as tunes unfamiliar to the seasoned central banking ear. It’s like a skilled ballerina suddenly trying to lead a breakdancing performance.

“Those that are doing it, do they have two heads?” as often quipped in Nigerian households. Globally, it’s a rarity to see a central bank led by someone without deep roots in central banking. While commercial bankers in other countries do occasionally don the central banker’s hat, they usually do so after an extensive apprenticeship in central bank policymaking.

Consider Jerome Powell of the US Fed: his journey from corporate banking and legal practice to the helm of the Fed spanned several years, allowing him to immerse in the central banking culture. Or Andrew Bailey of the Bank of England, whose decades-long waltz within the bank’s corridors prepared him for the top job. Even in emerging economies, leaders like Pan Gongsheng in China and Shakitanka Das in India have risen after extensive experience in their nation’s policy tapestries.

So, while commercial banking insights might offer some flair, nothing replaces the deep, nuanced expertise of a career spent in central banking. As the world’s financial ballet continues, it’s time Nigeria reconsiders its lead dancer.

The Pillars of Traditional Central Banking

Grounded Knowledge in Monetary Dynamics:
Central banking goes beyond mere figures. It’s a complex interplay of strategies, forecasts, and responses. Those who’ve spent their careers in central banking have a hands-on understanding of these complexities. They’ve been in the trenches, navigating global economic shifts, balancing inflation, and setting interest rates. This isn’t just textbook knowledge. They’ve witnessed how policy decisions play out in the real world, equipping them with insights that are tough to replicate.

Objectivity at the Helm:
In the vast world of finance, varying sectors sometimes have clashing goals. Career central bankers stand out with their honed objectivity. Their journey within the policy-centric environment of a central bank ensures they approach challenges without any tilt towards commercial banking influences. This unbiased stance guarantees decisions made prioritize the nation’s overall economic well-being.

Steady Policy Hand:
A stable economy thrives on clarity and predictability. Enterprises, investors, and the general public all benefit when there’s a consistent policy direction. Central bankers, with their repository of past experiences and policy impacts, offer this steady hand. Their decisions aren’t hasty but are rooted in long-term objectives, reducing abrupt policy changes that can disrupt markets.

Built-in Networking:
Years in the central banking sphere mean they’ve forged essential ties. They’ve worked side-by-side with diverse teams, partnered with governmental bodies, and conversed with international peers. These connections are invaluable. When a new policy is on the horizon or when feedback is needed, they have a ready network to tap into, ensuring efficient and informed decision-making.

Charting the Right Course

As Nigeria stands at the precipice of an unparalleled macroeconomic tempest, the actions of the Central Bank in the coming months will either anchor us firmly or leave us adrift. While the allure of shortcuts in policymaking might seem tempting, it’s crucial to remember that the Central Bank isn’t just another institution; it’s our nation’s flagbearer in the global financial arena. It’s our voice, our representative, asserting our place on the world stage.
The Central Bank should be our sanctuary from the pitfalls that often plague Nigerian policymaking. It should be a beacon of steadiness amidst the chaos, guiding our economic ship through tumultuous waters with an experienced hand at the helm.

To mitigate the challenges ahead, it’s imperative we revert to the tried-and-true: placing the keys of the Central Bank in the hands of those who know its every corner, its every nuance. For the health of our nation, the vibrancy of our economy, and the future of our people, it’s high time we return the Central Bank to its rightful stewards: the career central bankers.

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Strictly Personal

Dr. Yemi Cardoso, welcome to the hottest seat in Nigeria, By Dele Sobowale



“When the going gets tough, the tough gets going.” 

Right now, nobody on earth has a tougher assignment than you. You have my sympathies. Because you lead a team of Deputy Governors, all new to the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, embarking on the nearest thing to “Mission Impossible”, I want to start by congratulating you on your appointment as Governor of CBN. The occupant of that seat is the Governor of Governors. None of the thirty-six elected Governors can impact our lives as the CBN Governor. In fact, once you are sworn in, you will become the second most powerful man in Nigeria — after the President. It is an awesome responsibility which will test your competence and character every single minute.

So, let me start by assuring you of support in the discharge of your duties — as long as you operate within the confines of your legal responsibilities. Despite the fact that you are Yoruba and from my Popo Aguda area of Lagos Island, I must inform you that it is the policy here to be objective and not allow ethnic sentiments to get in the way of the truth. You must agree that Nigeria’s interests demands nothing else. Incidentally, you are the second CBN Governor born and raised in our Lagos Island. Late Pa Ola Vincent, scion of the Vincent family of No.8, Vincent Street, Lagos Island, was CBN Governor from 1977 to 1982. I was not in the media at the time. From information available to me, Pa Vincent served without blemish. I wish you the same — whether one or two terms.

So, rest assured that you will receive support when it is the right thing to do irrespective of the number of those rising against you. You will also receive lessons in history of the CBN, and advice; whether you ask for it or not. That is one of the responsibilities of those privileged to write columns; dispensing views. As a matter of fact, you are about to receive a few now, which it will profit you to remember.

Short history of CBN.

“When an old man dies, you lose a library.” – Anonymous.

Because you are being thrown into the deep-end of financial crisis engulfing the CBN, you will not have the time to read the history of the bank. Let me summarise for you the crucial ones that must be remembered.

As you will soon get to know, I have been on this page since 1987 and have observed five CBN Governors at close quarters. Abdulkadir Ahmed, 1982-1993, was the longest serving Governor,  eleven years in all. He taught me a lesson about how powerful CBN Governors can be. He ordered me arrested and detained for more than twelve hours on account of one article written, titled ”CBN: Confused Bank of Nigeria”. I warned the Governor that a dual-exchange rate system would defeat the aims and objectives of the Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP, launched by the Babangida administration. I also opposed the weekly Dutch auction of foreign exchange to banks. Ahmed was furious. The affair ended peacefully by Divine intervention. He lived long enough to see SAP become a major problem for Ex-President Babangida, as all the banks engaged in round-tripping and steadily pushed up the exchange rate.

Dr. Paul Ogwuma, 1993-1999, and I actually worked together without meeting face to face. My article titled FUNNY MONEY, not only exposed how most of the banks were falsifying their Annual Reports and Accounts, it led to the promulgation of the Failed Banks (Recovery of Debts) and Financial Malpractices Act of 1994. I had pointed out in the article that virtually all banks, at the time were falsifying their accounts. It made no sense that banks would be declaring record profits and paying huge dividends to shareholders in an economy that was growing at two per cent and there was massive unemployment. Nineteen banks were specifically named among those I suspected distressed after analysing their returns for three years.

In the end, 17 of the banks went under. Two were saved by forced merger by the military government. I was warning the Abacha government despite two trips to detention under the regime. The bank crisis which started in 1994 resulted in the crash of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, NGX, two years after.

Chief J O Sanusi, 1999-2004, was the last CBN Governor to start and end his five years tenure without a major incident. Why he was denied a second term by Obasanjo remains a mystery. He was, however, the second Yoruba Governor of CBN to be appointed.

Professor Chukwumah Soludo, 2004 to 2009, was the first of three highly controversial governors we have had in a row. They include Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, 2009-2014 and Godwin Emefiele, 2014-2023. Before going forward, let me give you the first strict warning. Avoid radical changes and don’t tamper with the currency. Soludo was denied a second term in office because Banking Consolidation collapsed. From 25 banks approved in 2006, by the CBN, less than 12 were in good shape by 2009. More importantly, Soludo had to go because he had proposed re-decimalisation of our currency as a short-cut to taming rising exchange rates and inflation. The measure would have meant that our highest currency would have been N100; billionaires would have become ordinary millionaires; and millionaires mere “thousandnaires”. He had even minted coins for ten and five naira to replace bills.

He announced the reforms to a packed hall in the CBN Auditorium; and received polite applause. I was there; and that evening attended a meeting of highly influential people in Kano — where a call was made to Yar’Adua by one of them. “Soludo must go”; said the billionaire to the President. Thereafter, Soludo was only marking time.

“People with vision usually do more harm than good.”- —John Major, British Prime Minister, 1993.

Unfortunately, Soludo left one massive problem which has refused to go away. The Assets Management Company of Nigeria, AMCON, was the offspring of a Banking Consolidation failure. Soludo convinced Obasanjo that instead of 73 mostly poorly capitalised banks, what Nigeria needed were a few well-capitalised banks – and the sooner the better. We agreed with him on the need for bigger banks; but disagreed on the speed. Speed kills as Soludo would find out later. By 2008, virtually all the approved banks were hanging on the ropes. The global banking crisis of 2008, from which Soludo said Nigeria was insulated, and we disagreed, had caught the country unprepared. Banks, self-advertised as sound, award-winning chief executive officers, tumbled like castles built by children on the sea shore. Some ran away; some were jailed; all left a mountain of toxic loans — N6 trillion high — which the CBN had to acquire to avert total collapse of a sector Soludo promised to strengthen. Nigerians who invested in bank shares, when consolidation started, lost trillions to Soludo’s vision.

CBN has a bundle on its hands. That calls for the third lesson. Be careful with visionary changes; they are counter-productive more often than not. Soludo’s admirers stop the history where he launched banking consolidation. They are too ashamed to recall that First Bank shares sold for N75 at one time and Intercontinental went for N56. Where is Intercontinental now?

Sanusi and Emefiele teach different lessons

Because Sanusi Lamido Sanusi and Godwin Emefiele teach different lessons about the relationship between the FG and CBN, I will stop now.

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