Fear grips CBN staff as high-profile sacks continue

For eight years, Lydia Haruna (not real name) worked as a senior manager in the Development Finance Department of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). She won awards for recovering over N16 billion from debtors who took cheap loans from the apex bank to farm crops from cassava to cocoa.  

The jocular CBN staff member does not have an average intelligence. A first-class graduate of Economics from Ahmadu Bello University, Lydia obtained her master’s degree from Princeton University, New Jersey, the United States, finishing with a distinction in the same discipline.  

On April 7, 2024, Lydia was summoned in an office at the CBN headquarters, Abuja, and handed a letter.  

  • “This must be a promotion letter,” she muttered, in excitement.  

For any CBN staff member who had spent six or more years, Lydia deserved multiple promotions.  

However, it was the direct opposite: a terse sack letter, thanking her for her services and relieving her of her job.    

No reason was given in the letter for her sack.  

Several others affected  

Lydia was not the only CBN staff who lost her job in a what experts call CBN Governor, Yemi Cardoso’s “whirlwind of retrenchment.” 

On April 8, the CBN sacked five to eight directors. Those affected were in Trade and Exchange Department, Securities Department, Development Finance Department, as well as Purchasing and Support Services Department, including Public Affairs Department, NewsTimes earlier reported.  The regulator equally retrenched 32 staff members the same day, striking fear in the staff.  

So far, the apex bank has sacked 117 staff members across its 27 departments, multiple sources said.  

There are fears that more members of staff will lose their jobs, as Cardoso plans to consolidate his position as a radical central banker. 

  • One CBN staff member said, “As we speak, no reasons have been given for the sack and no member of the CBN knows the criteria for these exits. We are afraid and no one knows whose turn it is next.” 

Twists and turns  

However, CBN insiders told NewsTimes that those who are victims of sacks are staff members who played active parts in management under the former CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele.  

Particularly the Development Finance Department which has been heavily affected by the sacks, insiders said those who have been retrenched directly or indirectly managed development funds such as the Anchor Borrowers Scheme (ABP), Real Sector Support Facility (RSSF), Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Fund (MSMEDF), Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme, among others. 

Insiders told NewsTimes that Cardoso is peeved at the way staff members betrayed the central bank in the management of the ABP.  

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) indicted the CBN management under Emefiele in March 2024 when it said that only 24 percent of loans collected by farmers under the ABP of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) had been repaid. 

NewsTimes reported in March 2024 that about N1.12 trillion was disbursed to 563 anchors, with only about N670.4 billion repaid under the ABP. 

Insiders in the CBN said an internal investigation conducted by the CBN Special Investigator, Jim Obazee, indicted several staff members who did not do due diligence before disbursing loans.

One senior CBN staff member, who cannot be mentioned because he is not authorized to speak, said several staff of the Development Finance Department approved loans for themselves or obtained loans on their companies’ behalf – which is clearly in violation of the CBN rule on conflict of interests.  

Also, some members of the Development Finance Department failed to investigate whether loan seekers even had physical addresses or businesses at all before giving out loans, the CBN official said.  

  • “Some of the people who obtained loans from the CBN said they would not pay back, describing their loans as ‘the national cake’.  Some refused to repay their loans just because their farms were flooded. The inability to recover the money due to the way the scheme was managed has angered Cardoso, who feels that there were several cases of abuse of office,” the official noted.  

The official said some staff members allowed portfolio farmers and politicians linked to them to have access to some of the CBN schemes without doing due diligence.  

But another CBN official said it is not totally true as several innocent staff members are victims of Cardoso’s sack. 

The central bank is yet to release the Obazee report to the public and some analysts say it may be appropriate to wait for the report before making public comments. 

Central bank spokesperson, Hakama Sidi-Ali, did not respond to a question sent via her phone regarding this development. Calls and WhatsAPP messages sent to her phone did not go through as at the time of filing this report. 

Bloated staff 

There is a major concern that the CBN is bloated and there are several staff members who are just redundant. The CBN has 27 departments and more than 10,000 staff members across the 36 states of the federation.  

In 2022 alone, it spent N155.63 billion on staff allowances and N40.66 billion in staff loans, according to the bank’s 2016-2022 financial statements released in August 2023.  

CBN insiders say recruitments into the bank have been done haphazardly and some of the entrants are least qualified to work in the apex bank.  

Economist and Chief Executive Officer of Centre for Promotion of Private Enterprise, Muda Yusuf, said though he does not have all the facts, there is a chance that people in power might have used the previous government to bring in their children into the apex bank.  

  • “There could also be issue of capacity gaps there. When there is too much nepotism in the system, capacity can be a problem. There have been cases where people who are being regulated are way ahead of their regulators. So, what is happening in the CBN could be a way to correct anomalies,” Yusuf said.  

In 2016, Premium Times reported criticisms against the CBN under Emefiele for recruiting children of politicians and the rich without publicly announcing the vacancies.  

  • “This tells us once more that there are two Nigerias: a Nigeria for the rich, the powerful, and the influential, and a Nigeria for those who do not have privileges, who do not have what it takes,” Achike Chude, Deputy Chairman, Joint Action Front, was quoted as saying at that time. 

Insiders say several CBN staff members “came in through the back door” and cannot be anywhere ahead of smart bankers who they are regulating.  

Stop these sacks 

In spite of reasons for the sacks, financial experts told NewsTimes that the central bank is unsettling the system and needs to close out the firing exercise. 

  • “The system needs to settle, and the staff need to be focused. The CBN needs to concentrate on what is already an enormous task on its hands,” said one financial expert, who does not want his name in print.  

A United States-based banker, Allwell Okoroafor, advised Cardoso to halt further sacks and “pay a closer attention to the monetary policy issues at the moment.”

  • “You can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Halt the sacks and allow they system to cool. You need to re-assure the staff that you have their interests at heart. They can sabotage you and make it hard for you to reach your vision.” 

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