By Simon Kolawole
I spoke too soon, didn’t I? Last week, I painted a scenario: imagine Olusegun Obasanjo, as president, asking the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria to resign. Imagine the governor telling him to his face: “No, I won’t!” The rebel would walk away from Aso Rock, I imagined, dressed in cold handcuffs. My conclusion was that we are now operating under a more liberal atmosphere – which I considered a positive development in the democratisation of Nigeria. Dear reader, I humbly apply to take back that conclusion. Jonathan has borrowed yet again from the Obasanjo Manual, showing a ruthless side that belies the impression that he can only bark and not bite.
The exit of Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi as CBN governor has, not surprisingly, drawn mixed reactions from Nigerians. Opinion is sharply divided. To one divide, Sanusi is a victim. He exposed corruption in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), they say, and paid the ultimate price. Most foreign media reports link his sack to his allegation that $20 billion oil money is “missing”. Many Nigerians also think Jonathan fired Sanusi because of his closeness to opposition figures such as Malam Nasir el-Rufai and Senator Bukola Saraki. Jonathan allegedly believes that the opposition has been manipulating Sanusi to undermine his government.
On the other side are those who support his removal. Sanusi is the most confrontational CBN governor ever, they reason, and his arrogance towards Jonathan bordered more on contempt and partisanship than professionalism. They also point to his conflicting figures on the “missing money” as a clear indication of an attempt to look for scandals by all means just to embarrass the president. He moved from $49.8 billion to $12 billion and finally settled for $20 billion. Therefore, the allegations of fraud, in their opinion, were designed to damage Jonathan. Interestingly, some think Sanusi should not have confronted the president, since his own hands were not clean too.
Where do I stand? Very uncomplicated: I am against the suspension or sack of Sanusi. I concede that Sanusi has been political. I even suspect that, indeed, he may be part of a political game. I accept that he talks too much for a CBN governor. I will even go to the extent of saying he lacked discretion on many occasions (I criticised his donation spree and other matters several times). But I still oppose his suspension.
One, the man had just a couple of months to go, so why the haste? Two, why suspend him in the middle of a probe? Three, we now seem to completely forget the laudable impact of Sanusi during his tenure. Was he such a bad governor?
Like him, hate him, but you could never – in all fairness – dismiss his positive impact on the banking industry. Many Nigerians have easily forgotten that in this country, banks have gone under before and depositors lost their life savings, some losing their lives. In 2009, the financial sector was on the precipice yet again. Many banks were going down. The so-called billionaires had held many banks hostage, owing them billions of naira and still living lavish lifestyles. The most distressed banks were perpetually on life support, jumping from interbank borrowing to the CBN expanded discount window – trying every trick in the book to keep up an appearance.
More so, corporate governance had become untidy, with CEOs approving loans that had been turned down by their boards. Bank executives were pillaging depositors’ funds to buy property home and abroad. These guys had become uncontrollable. They were gods. They were walking on our heads with impunity. Then Sanusi came to the rescue. And you know what? Without the rescue of the distressed banks, the depositors would have lost their savings and died in instalments. We seem to forget so easily the history of bank failures in Nigeria. We were in this country when Allied Bank, Savannah Bank, SGBN, National Bank and others failed. We know what happened to the depositors. Many had stroke as their blood pressure exploded. Some died. Some were impoverished for life.
I still remember a time you would go to a bank to withdraw N10,000 and the cashiers would beg you to withdraw just N2,000 because there was no cash. Yes, it happened in Nigeria. When the worst happened, the bank executives always walked away with their loot. They never lost a dime. It was always the poor people that carried the can. Can we ignore the fact that Sanusi restored some sanity to the banking industry? Can we ignore the fact that the so-called billionaires, who were heavily indebted to the banks and living like kings were exposed? Can we ignore the fact that, although it cost us heavily, no bank was allowed to go down and no depositor lost one kobo during the crisis, unlike in the past?
Or can we ignore the fact that the rogue bankers are now facing trial, even if their crafty lawyers and the judiciary are working against justice? Can we ignore the successful intervention of Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON) which, under Mr. Mustapha Chike-Obi, has done a good job of cleaning up the mess created by these rogues? Can we deny that the stock market is now back to life and this is a major achievement of the Jonathan administration? Can we deny that inflation is now at single digit and the naira has been stable – owing to CBN’s macro-economic management? Like him, hate him – but don’t say Sanusi was rubbish. I agree that his foray into NNPC was not well articulated. But there was more to Sanusi than that.
If I were to advise President Jonathan, I would tell him not to waste this great opportunity to install and instil accountability in the oil industry. It is tragic that we sell so much oil but cannot account for every kobo that comes in. We give NNPC 440,000 barrels per day when it can only refine 80,000. We then engage in questionable swap deals that apparently short-change us. The NNPC dips its hands into funds that should go directly into the federation account. These are serious issues. In my opinion, we can fault Sanusi’s method but we should never fault the message: NNPC is a disgrace. This has been going on for decades and has to stop. If this controversy will serve as the turning point for the oil industry, so be it.
I wonder: when Sanusi’s name is mentioned in the future, how would you remember him? The CBN governor who dared the President and got his fingers burnt? The activist inside government who exposed the rot in the oil industry and got fired? The man who shook the financial sector and touched the lords of the manor who had hitherto been above the law? The man who introduced “cashless society”? The man who walked from one controversy to the other with his public statements?
As for me, I would pray to remember him as the man who, wittingly or unwittingly, instigated a revolution in the accounting system of the oil industry. Am I daydreaming?
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And Four Other Things…
SUSPENSION AND SACK
Since President Jonathan sent the CBN governor, Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, on suspension, Nigerians have been exchanging brickbats over the legality of it. They say the law does not recognise suspension, only a sack that has to be approved by the Senate. The House of Representatives has condemned the suspension. APC has rejected it. Kano Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso has denounced it. However, we should not lose sleep over the matter. Let Sanusi go to court and let the judiciary make a pronouncement on it. Democracy has an inbuilt mechanism to correct itself. That’s the beauty of it.
The rate at which Boko Haram is killing villagers in Borno State has set me thinking again –there is an absolute intelligence failure. Our security forces seem to have successfully pushed away the insurgents to the margins of our border – hence we hardly hear of attacks in Kano, Kaduna, Abuja and Plateau like before. At the rate the militants were going years ago, they would have overrun the entire North by now. However, the vulnerability of Nigerians at the border shows that even within the limited territorial space, we still cannot track the insurgents. Time to wake up.
I was surprised to hear that the Supreme Court just validated the victory of Capt. Idris Wada as the governor of Kogi State on Friday. The case brought by Alhaji Jibril Isah “Echocho” on Wada’s candidature is more than two years old! In fact, I am not sure how many Nigerians knew that there was still a case in court. For me, it was a purely technical matter: a simple issue of interpreting the law if Wada was the bone fide candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party. If a simple case takes two years, murder cases will last for decades!
BYE BYE, BALAT
Former Minister of State for Works, Senator Isaiah Balat, was someone I could call my “friend”, even though we never met. We regularly spoke on phone, most times on my column. Either he disagreed with me or supported my viewpoint, we always had a good discussion, and he often spoke to me in flawless Yoruba. The last time we spoke, I promised that I would finally see him anytime he was in Lagos. He died suddenly last week. An amiable politician with a smile permanently etched on his face, Balat was someone I had come to like so much. Adieu.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Simon Kolawole/Thisday