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Central Bank Chief Joins Nigeria’s Crowded Presidential Race

Godwin Emefiele, governor of Nigeria's central bank, speaks during the Nigeria Capital Markets and Banking Forum in London, U.K., on Friday, Oct. 27, 2017. The Nigerian government is looking to plug a 2017 budget deficit that it forecast at 2.3 trillion naira, or 2.2 percent of GDP following a revenue shortfall caused by the decline of output and price of oil, its main export.

Nigeria’s central bank governor, Godwin Emefiele, has joined the race to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari, according to a ruling party spokesman.

Emefiele, who’s headed the Central Bank of Nigeria for almost eight years, acquired a form on Friday permitting him to compete to become the All Progressive Congress’ presidential candidate, party spokesman Joseph Morka said by phone.

The APC’s presidential nomination forms cost 100 million naira ($240,000). At least 17 candidates have so far paid for the forms so far out of about 30 aspirants that have indicated an interest in running, according to local media reports.

The primaries to choose the nominee are scheduled to take place from May 30 to June 1 ahead of nationwide elections in February next year. While a new electoral law signed by President Buhari in February requires all presidential appointees to resign before the primaries, it isn’t clear if Emefiele will do so as the law is being challenged in court.

Read more: Africa’s Biggest Oil Producer Has a New Presidential Contender

Nonetheless, he may be required to resign if he wins the ruling party’s ticket as the law establishing the central bank in Africa’s largest economy requires the governor to devote the “whole of their time to the service of the Bank while holding office.”

Following months of speculation, Emefiele, 60, is joining a field that includes political heavyweights such as Bola Tinubu, the APC’s national leader and former governor of Lagos state, and Yemi Osinbajo, who has served as Buhari’s vice president since 2015.

A spokesman for Emefiele didn’t immediately respond to questions, including about whether he intends to resign his central bank position.

As governor, Emefiele, a former executive at Zenith Bank, has focused on keeping the Naira stable against the dollar. He has maintained multiple exchange rates despite entreaties from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to scrap the practice.

The bank’s efforts at maintaining Nigeria’s foreign exchange reserves has led to dollar shortages for businesses trying to pay foreign suppliers and lenders, and long waits for portfolio investors trying to repatriate funds and exit the country. Still, the local currency has lost more than half its value since 2015 after three devaluations and two economic contractions.

In a bid to diversify the economy from its dependence on crude exports, Emefiele introduced lending programs to rice, cotton and oil-palm farmers, as well as nomadic cattle herdsman and the Nigerian film industry Nollywood. His supporters argue that the central bank’s interventions helped the economy recover faster from two recessions and boosted domestic food production.

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