Cardoso: Old Headmaster, New Taskmaster, by Abdulrahman Abdulraheem

CBN Governor, Olayemi Cardoso
CBN Governor, Olayemi Cardoso

Cardoso: Old Headmaster, New Taskmaster, by Abdulrahman Abdulraheem


The word ‘Headmaster’ has a reputation in Nigeria for being associated with a stern, tough, extremely disciplined, uncompromising and no-nonsense individual who people find difficult to break or bend and who will always insist on the right things to be done for the common good irrespective of what individuals and vested interests want. From the colonial days to the post colonial period, the education system in Nigeria has emphasised the existence of one big man called ‘Headmaster’ who is more feared than loved and whose roar sends jitters down the spines of teachers and other school officials.

When pupils sight his conspicuous eye glasses, coat, shoe or cane from a kilometre way, they scale fence, run into their classes or just disappear out of desperation to seemingly stay alive. This is why the first set of kids to experience this in Nigeria grew up and nicknamed their tough or extremely disciplined colleague, boss, spouse or neighbour ‘Headmaster,’ and the the tradition has endured for decades.

Not many persons know that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, Olayemi Cardoso, also earned himself the distinguished title of ‘Headmaster’ when he served as Commissioner for Budget and Planning in Lagos. He didn’t earn the title due to the size of his head or the fact that the head is always shining. He earned it because even in the star-studded cabinet that Governor Bola Tinubu assembled, Cardoso was a superstar. He distinguished himself as a forthright public servant with emphasis on transparency, probity and accountability.

Cardoso was charged with several responsibilities, including heading important cabinet committees that birthed landmark agencies in the state. He was known for enforcing strict budgetary discipline that contributed significantly to the overall success of the Tinubu administration in Lagos. He refused to authorise the release of funds for projects or programmes that had no budgetary head, hence, he was nicknamed the ‘Headmaster’

New Taskmaster

There is a popular adage that says if a child has not visited another person’s father’s farm, he would always think his own father’s farm is the biggest. After successfully dealing with party-going fun seekers in Lagos some of whom didn’t know the difference between government money and private funds, and contributing significantly to put the state economy on a sound footing, Cardoso must have told himself that he could never have a more formidable challenge in his glittering public service career.

But when he moved to Abuja and saw the books at the CBN headquarters, and realised how his predecessor supported other undertakers to run the economy aground, Cardoso knew he had his job cut out for him. He pinched himself and told himself the bitter truth, that had to transit from a ‘Headmaster’ to a ‘Taskmaster.’

The CBN boss realised early enough that he had to get tough on some characters within and outside the CBN who believe the country belongs to them and they can kill it and wake it up anytime, depending on how their mood dictates to them.

He had to move to rein-in the rising foreign exchange rates and particularly achieve an appropriate value for the Naira, which he believes has been undervalued.

Cardoso, with the support of other relevant security and intelligence agencies, has been fighting all underhand dealings like round tripping and crypto racketeering that affect the value of the Naira. He has also sent a circular to ensure that all diaspora remittances are received in Naira by the Nigeria-based beneficiaries, among other measures to regulate the activities of the International Money Transfer Operators (IMTOs).

Brimming with confidence even in the face of pressure, Cardoso spoke recently in Abuja at the opening of the 2024 First Plenary Assembly of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBN) and expressed optimism that despite all the difficulties, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

“As a result of some of the recent reports from the CBN, over the course of the last week, about $1.8bn came into the markets.

“As long as the country can sustain a positive trajectory, Nigeria will get out of its economic woes and the foreign exchange market will begin to moderate itself,” he said.

Cardoso said an attempt to merge the official rate with the black market rate had been made, adding that the difference between the two is now significantly lower.

“There is a positive outlook on that. The positive outlook comes from the fact that a series of reforms have been made by the federal government and the Central Bank, which are now paying off in such a way that international investors are coming back in again,” he said.

Predictable Positive Outcomes

The first indication that recent CBN policies are working is the fact that the Naira has been on a steady rise in the last 10 days or so and the indications are pointing to the fact that it is not a fluke. A lot of efforts have been put in place and they are now yielding results. During the worst days, Dollar was moving towards N2000 but after the recovery of the Naira began, it has not looked back as it is now moving towards N1000 to a Dollar.

Another indication of success is the that the country’s external reserves rose to 34 billion dollars in February 2024 from over 32 billion dollars the previous month.

“Gross external reserves stood at US$34.51 billion on February 20, 2024, compared
with US$32.23 billion at end of January 2024. The improvement was driven by reforms in the foreign exchange market and an increase in oil production
among others,” the CBN governor said at the recent Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) briefing.

No Peace for the Wicked

Despite appreciable progress in the foreign exchange market, value of the Naira, external reserves, inflow of foreign investments etc, the CBN governor has however said he won’t remove his long legs from the necks of evildoers who are holding the economy to ransom for selfish gains.

“What we are doing at the moment is a collaboration between the CBN and law enforcement agencies to ensure that we understand better what is going on in the market and where these infractions are taking place, they are speedily dealt with.

“Now I must say that as far as CBN is concerned, we are moving to a very aggressive regulatory environment where those policies and regulations must be complied with.

“People will have to comply and those that do not will face the consequences for not doing so. As we look at what has happened in the past, I can assure you that a very thorough exercise is going on to identify what needs to be done.

“In the meantime, we are going to continue to make the market more liquid and to ensure that those who are genuine and really want to abide by the rules and regulations that have been set by the CBN will be free to do so. Those who do not should be ready to face the consequences,” he said during the MPC briefing.

Cardoso also said the apex bank is working with Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to rid the forex market of all illegalities. He said the CBN was ready to clampdown on crypto exchanges — including Binance.

“We are concerned that certain practices go on that indicate illicit flows going through a number of these entities, suspicious flows at best,” Cardoso said.

“In the case of Binance, in the last one year alone, $26bn has passed through Nigeria from sources and users who we cannot adequately identify.

“There’s a lot that is going on now as a result of collaboration between the different agencies which includes EFCC, the Police, and of course, the office of the NSA,” he added

He added that the apex bank will ensure that this “type of infraction” does not take place.

On February 20, 2024, the CBN and the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) announced a partnership to investigate and penalise those involved in illicit activities within the FX market and since then the wicked people who have been working round the clock to truncate the Nigerian dream or turn it to a nightmare have not rested.

Last Line

There is no doubting the fact that some persons feed fat on the misfortune of the overwhelming majority of Nigerians and they will want the status quo to remain till eternity. But this Headmaster turned Taskmaster has proven to be more than a match for them. The apex bank’s collaboration with the ONSA and security agencies are yielding the desired results.

Officials of the CBN and their partners in other government agencies must continue to not only work to apprehend all culprits and stop all underhand dealings affecting the economy negatively, they must also keep the issues and progress in the front burner of public discourse through the media so that the Naira can continue to gain and investors can continue to come.

Abdulrahman Abdulraheem is the author of “eNaira Revolution: A Peep into Nigeria’s Cashless Future.”