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Relocating CBN From Abuja to Lagos: Matters Arising

Pending when relevant protocols shall be completed, several key departments of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) will be relocated from Abuja its present headquarters to Lagos, which was its former base until the 1980s. That was when the institution joined the migration of all national institutions in the process of moving the country’s capital from Lagos to Abuja. Slated for relocation to Lagos are its critical line departments such as Banking and Supervision, Other Financial Institutions Supervision, Consumer Protection, Payment System Management and Financial Policy Regulations. This development is an initiative of the new governor of the CBN Olayemi Cardoso, citing several reasons. However, that the initiative has met with a brick-wall of protests from sundry quarters – including the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), is less surprising than the reasons given to justify it in the first place.

Among the reasons given for the seeming ‘return to Lagos initiative’ is the issue of security scare among the regularly travelling staff of the apex bank, who need to travel across the country to inspect and supervise banks. Given the escalating state of insecurity on Nigerian roads, even the most lion-hearted road-user in the country needs to exercise utmost caution in moving around Nigeria. Moreover, the various travel alerts from the Nigerian Police Force, and the same from the embassies dictate that vigilance and proactive measures to save lives ahead of likely risks to life and property, spell wisdom for both individuals and corporate organisations whose jobs entail exposure to frequent travels on the country’s roads. And for sure, the CBN ranks as one of such organisations.

A second reason offered by the CBN is that its Abuja office precincts which is reportedly designed to accommodate 2,200 staff now has under its roof more than 4,000 personnel. Yet another reason cited borders on need to cut costs and physical stress faced by the complement of field staff who have to travel out of Abuja ever so often, to supervise the nation’s banks – most of which have their head offices in Lagos. The argument by the apex bank is that by relocating the scheduled departments to Lagos, the designated officers will be closer to their operating terrains and at reduced costs.

However while the arguments by the CBN may be convincing in some respects, they fall short of addressing some other more compelling considerations that bother majority of Nigerians in this matter. For, taking up the initiative in proper context, it throws up the challenge of juxtaposing national interest with the convenience of the CBN staff who of course deserve to be availed the most appropriate conditions for doing their jobs. This is not to raise the issue of regionalisation of the institution.

Seen from an operations perspective, the need exists to consider the impact on the country in moving these very defining departments of the institution from Abuja to Lagos, just to pander to trumped up considerations of tendentious nature. The question that springs up here is, without these departments at the CBN Abuja headquarters, what else will make the institution relevant and remain in Abuja?

Meanwhile, beyond the functional incongruity of the envisaged relocation, there are other factors that make the move suspect and trouble prone. For instance, on a more disturbing note, the ‘return to Lagos’ agenda also suffers in some context from the unfortunate coloration of ethnic bias in favour of the South West geographical zone, given that all the authorities that are in position to initiate and drive the agenda are from the South West. Nigerians who belong to this school of thought cite the facts that President Bola Tinubu, Chief of Staff to the President Femi Gbajabiamila, Minister of Finance Yomi Edu and CBN Governor Oluyemi Cardoso are all from that region. Hence the opponents of the initiative who include the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), have a genuine concern that needs to be considered in the national interest, given the spectre of tacit regionalization of the CBN.

Also, from a historical perspective the initiative breaches the primary objective of relocating the nation’s capital from Lagos to Abuja, which was justified on two grounds being the need to decongest Lagos, as well as to provide for centrality of national institutions relatively to all parts of the country. If spatial expansion of the institution to Lagos alone were a credible solution what happens to other parts of the country? Will they also be considered in the relocation exercise?

Meanwhile, there is also another consideration that questions the apparent dismemberment of the bank which this initiative may usher into its operations, instead of consolidation and upgrade, as is the vogue in better organized climes. In particular, this school of thought indicts the bank as still fixated in ancient times and practices whereby it now rests its hope for better services, mostly on spatial expansion.

Of note is that while the CBN has hardly impressed Nigerians with it poor performances in terms of supervising the country’s financial system, its focus should by now be how to get on top of its act, including resolving its internal challenges of corporate incontinence and leadership mal-practices. There is therefore already a consensus that what the institution needs now is hardly a dismemberment which the ‘return to Lagos agenda conjures fears about.

Meanwhile, given the seeming fixation of the CBN leadership on spatial expansion with the ‘return to Lagos’ agenda, comparisons with other wide area operational institutions like the World Bank offer insights into the lack of ingenuity in the gambit by the apex bank. For instance the Word Bank which has projects and offices with complex operations in every part of the world, runs much of its entire administrative and financial services delivery not from its capital in Washington, but from its office at Chenai (formerly Madras) in India. The Chenai operations of the World Bank are so efficient that all parties to the businesses of that institution all over the world get their payment, administrative alerts and any other relevant service as and when necessary. In comparison, if the World Bank which has offices in almost 200 countries and thousands of locations across the world – each with its own dpeculiarites in culture, language, as well as economic and political systems, can be so efficient through deploying relevant ICT capacity, why not the CBN which has a much lesser operational brief to address.

As things stand, the challenge is for the CBN, to think out of the box and do the needful. In citing as a post script, a famous quote from celebrated playwright Ola Rotimi that “the god’s are not to blame’, this is telling CBN Governor Oluyemi Cardoso that his arguments for tacitly relocating the CBN to Lagos from Abuja are not to blame, but paucity of appropriate corporate strategy.