ISSUES | Central Banks, Intelligence Agencies and Cash – By Ogannah Austyn
By Ogannah Austyn
Watchers and followers of American history would readily admit that one of the most enduring scandals of the Ronald Reagan Administration was the clandestine sale of arms to Iran, at the time a sworn enemy of the US, with some of the proceeds sent to a South American Rebel group in cash. This scandal, generally referred to as the Iran-Contra Affair, led to an unreserved apology to the American people by President Reagan on 13th August 1987.
In a slightly related circumstance, about 3 months to the end of the Barack Obama administration, news broke that the US administration had ferried over $1.7 billion equivalent in foreign cash to the Iranian government. The monies drawn from the Federal Reserve Bank, the equivalent of our Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), were paid in “Swiss Francs, euros and other currencies”, the department of Treasury later confirmed.
The covert payment to Iran was also used as leverage to guarantee the release of four American prisoners.
One can also recall the scandal that broke in February 2000 when it was alleged that about US$20 million was paid in cash from Germany’s intelligence agency, known as the BND, to the favored political parties from 1974 to 1982 while Helmut Schmidt, a Social Democrat, was chancellor.
It is open knowledge that elite intelligence agencies like the CIA, MOSSAD, MI5 and others, mostly prefer to fund their operations in cash for ease and also so as not to leave money trails. It doesn’t matter what the operation is – whether it is to topple a foreign government, protect the homeland or counter-terrorism, etc., the mode of transaction is preferably cash. This is why their budgets are called black budgets – there dealings are opaque – no records – no receipts – It is that simple.
I have never read or heard in the news where the central banks of these governments are being vilified and hounded for funding these duly approved cash requests except of course lately in Nigeria. Why is this so? Your guess is as good as mine – the politics of power.
The Central Bank of Nigeria is the banker of the federal government and its corresponding agencies. The relationship we have with our banks is same one that these government agencies maintain with the CBN. For example, if I write you a cheque and you take it to the bank for payment, the teller will simply pay you, if my account is funded and the signature(s) match. In fact, sometimes you are asked, “How do you want your money – N1000 or N500 notes”. The teller is not going to ask you what you intend to do with the money nor will they ask the account owner why he/she is giving money to the person withdrawing.
I am using this simple analogy to highlight the disgraceful and dangerous plot being executed by some powerful but disgruntled persons to continue to taint and discredit an institution as sensitive as the CBN because it made duly authorized payments to security agencies for clandestine operations. Even though the cash payment being investigated now occurred during the administration of Goodluck Jonathan, reliable sources within the intelligence and financial industry confirm that this practice of paying cash to intelligence agencies such as the NIA, NSA, SSS, and Defence Ministry, is so routine that it has undoubtedly continued under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. If indeed this administration found it so horrible that the CBN pays cash to these agencies, why did it continue this practice? Your guess is as good as mine—politics? Giving a dog a bad name so as to kill it?
The disgraceful infighting amongst our so-called elite security agencies which has led to washing of their dirty linens in public is a huge embarrassment to not only the federal government but to Nigerians in general. (Let me leave this for future discuss but suffice it to note that the Osinbajo Panel and President Buhari should heed the warnings of Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi on this matter).
For those who have not read the Sunday piece by the respected foreign affairs professor and former Foreign Minister, let me quote some paragraphs:
“External intelligence officers, otherwise called spies, do not operate under the same operational penalties as domestic intelligence officers.
“Under no circumstances should the report of the panel in as far as it relates to the activities of the NIA be made public and no more leaks from the panel… Normally, foreign intelligence activities are shrouded in secrecy, and not in the glare of publicity.”
“… Countries go to incredible lengths to hide the identities of their agents both domestic and foreign and their operations. No receipts get issued. Budgets are called black budgets because they are never publicly acknowledged.”
The CBN since its founding in 1958 has been paying out cash to government and its agencies to fund various operations whether they are covert or otherwise. This practice has been standard under all Presidents including this one. The CBN since the past leadership of Roy Pentelow Fenton through Clement Isong, Adamu Ciroma, Paul Ogwuma, Lamido Sanusi and now Godwin Emefiele at various times have paid out millions of dollars in cash to the federal government and security agencies to fund one operation or another. In fact, I gathered that Nigeria’s last intervention in The Gambia that led to the eventual peaceful ousting of strongman Yahyah Jammeh from power in January was funded by tens of millions of dollars in cash provided by the CBN to the Defence/NSA.
My point is, we must stop this silly culture of destroying the integrity of our revered institutions because of selfish interests and agendas. If any person or group wants to take up issues with how Nigeria’s funds are being spent then it must channel that effort to the right office and not the CBN. The CBN is just a bank – it has a civic and constitutional duty to pay when a mandate is presented with all approving signatories verified and of course with the account holders’ account funded accordingly.
Ogannah is the publisher of THEWILL newspaper and an advocate of governance.
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