Abuja, Nigeria – Over the weekend, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu announced the appointment of Folashodun Shonubi as the interim governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
Shonubi’s appointment followed the suspension and arrest of former Governor Godwin Emefiele by the secret police, with the presidency citing an “ongoing investigation of his office and the planned reforms in the banking sector”.
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Nigeria’s eurobonds have been bullish as investors and analysts viewed the suspension of Emefiele and the appointment of Shonubi as the interim governor as a reset towards a more traditional economic path under Bola Tinubu who was inaugurated as Nigeria’s president on May 29.
Emefiele, who launched an unprecedented run for the presidency in 2022, had been the bank’s chief for nearly a decade and his tenure had teetered towards partisan politicking favourable to Tinubu’s predecessor, Muhammadu Buhari. First appointed to office in 2014, he was the first central bank governor to serve more than one term since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999.
A banking titan
Until his elevation to central bank governor, Shonubi had been deputy to Emefiele and was in charge of operations at the institution. He also represented Emefiele as a member of the board of the Federal Inland Revenue Service – a role he held since December 2019.
The 61-year-old has had a stellar career in Nigerian banking with a combined experience of over three decades in the banking and engineering sectors.
Shonubi holds three degrees, including two master’s degrees – in business administration and mechanical engineering – from the University of Lagos.
He began his career in engineering, but pivoted to focus on the financial industry in the mid-1980s.
He had a three-year stint at Citibank Nigeria Limited in the ’90s, holding the position of head of treasury operations and also worked at a number of Nigerian commercial banks including First City Monument Bank (FCMB), Ecobank Nigeria Plc and Union Bank of Nigeria Limited.
Between 2012-2018, he was head of the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System Plc – which regulates infrastructure for inter-bank payments – from where he joined the CBN.
Another political web
The appointment of the new bank chief has been heralded by many in the business community as another decisive move by Tinubu, who has also cut controversial fuel subsidies, signed a new act to boost electricity generation and also introduced a student loan regime within his first 15 days as president.
On the campaign trail, Tinubu also criticised a botched cash swap policy by the CBN that led to cash shortages and frustration among the populace before the presidential election in February.
But for Ikemesit Effiong, head of research at Lagos-based SBM Intelligence, Shonubi’s appointment could be indicative of the president’s intention to influence policy more subtly.
“Considering how Emefiele has demonstrated the power and far-ranging role the central bank can play in setting the country’s economic agenda, the president will like the bank to be run by someone who is simultaneously perceived as malleable to his agenda and low profile so he doesn’t hug the spotlight,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Emefiele, at times, seemed larger than life in his role. Shonubi is set up to be a different kind of governor,” added Effiong.
An official of the bank told Al Jazeera anonymously that Shonubi was reportedly at odds with Emefiele and was a vocal opponent of the former governor’s agenda within the bank. That stance, the official said, was seen as attractive to the president who has wanted to reshape the economy and unify the exchange rates.
President Tinubu is said to have bypassed the other three deputy governors who all outrank Shonubi but are seen to align with Emefiele’s ideas, according to three different sources including insiders in the presidency, already drawing Shonubi into a political web before his first decision as governor.