GEJ versus Sanusi, the whistleblower , By Mohammed Haruna

Mohd Haruna new pix 600Last Thursday’s sack of Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi as Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was a bombshell even though it was hardly surprising. From the moment the former CBN boss was issued a query three or so years ago by then National Security Adviser to the president, late General Andrew Owoye Azazi – a query he rightly ignored because it did not come directly from the president himself – for a remark he made abroad linking Boko Haram insurgency with what he said was the financial neglect of the North by Abuja, it was obvious that if the authorities had their way, they would’ve fired him long ago.
What apparently stood in their way was the CBN Act which said its governor and his four deputies cannot be fired without the support of two-thirds of members of the Senate the president needs to hire them in the first place, something he could not be sure of, given the uncertain political terrain that has lately confronted his ruling party. From his defensive answers in his media chat two days ago over his firing of the governor, it is obvious that the president must have been advised, more like misadvised, that he could go round this obstacle by announcing that he was merely suspending the governor.
Trouble is, the law is completely silent on whether or not the president can, short of firing them, suspend those he’d hired. I am told by some of my legal expert friends that a cardinal principle of law is to give the benefit of doubt to an accused where a law says nothing or is ambiguous about the issue in contention.
A more satisfactory solution for everyone in such cases is to resort to the courts for interpretation. Obviously, this would’ve taken more than the four months or so Sanusi had left to serve out his five-year tenure. It seems the way the man started running his mouth about corruption in high places in the oil business foreclosed the option of allowing him to end his tenure quietly since there was no telling how much more damage he could do if he continued talking with the authority of a governor of the CBN.
The president claimed in his media chat that he has “absolute” powers to suspend the governor. Perhaps he does. However, it remains no more than his opinion until the courts agree with him. Happily, Sanusi, as irrepressible as ever, has said he will go to court to challenge his suspension and has already gone to court successfully to stop the authorities from unleashing their law enforcement and intelligence forces to arrest or detain him.
Try as he may the president and his team are highly unlikely to ever win the propaganda war between himself and Sanusi. And it’s not just because the former CBN governor, in sharp contrast to our generally incoherent and bumbling president, is as eloquent in speech and in writing as they come from anywhere in the world. It’s also not because the president does not at all have a case against Sanusi. The president may have overstated it when he accused Sanusi’s CBN of being “characterised by various financial recklessness and misconduct” but it seems to me, at least, that in going to equity the former CBN governor did not do so with clean hands.
In an interview with Metropole magazine after his sack which Daily Trust of last Monday reproduced, Sanusi rejected insinuations by the magazine’s editors that his latest accusations of corruption in the oil business against the authorities was like taking out an insurance against being fired for the charges of recklessness and mismanagement that had been levied against him. “You can never,” he said, “have any insurance in life. What is insurance? The only insurance you have in life is to try to do the right things.”
As CBN governor, Sanusi did many right things. If nothing else, he, as I said on these page on August 26, 2009, barely a couple of months after taking over from Professor Charles Chukwuma Soludo, cleaned up the mess his predecessor created after he had done a good job of creating 25 mega-banks in place of the odd 80 that were in existence, most of them no better than glorified family automated teller machines. Soludo had virtually ruined his good job by becoming too chummy with the bosses of the banks he was supposed to supervise and regulate. The result was a financial crisis which led to a near-collapse of the economy, and certainly of the stock market where you and I bought and sold shares of companies, including those of banks.
By putting a stop to the casino capitalism which the new big banks had fostered while Soludo kept assuring us that all was well when it wasn’t, Sanusi brought back stability and integrity to the financial market. If that was all he did, the man deserved praise as CBN governor for his courage and competence. But that wasn’t all. His exposure a few years ago of the magnitude of the huge remunerations the federal legislators decreed for themselves in violation of our Constitution, and his refusal to back down from his charge in the face of intimidation by the law makers, if nothing else, served to underscore the public’s concern about how we’ve spent more, much more, of our annual budgets on recurrent items than we have on capital goods since the return of civilian rule in 1999.
There are even more right things he’s done as CBN governor than these two, but even these alone suffice to show that his tenure has, on balance, done more good than bad to our political-economy.
The trouble with Sanusi, however, was that he did not measure up to what he had led the public to expect of him as someone who had consistently spoken truth to power before he became CBN governor, and which he continued to do even after.
The report of the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) which the president has relied upon to suspend the governor has listed his many alleged transgressions including the award of no-bid contracts in billions of Naira, the spending of billions on his own and his management’s creature comforts, overpaying legal and public relations consultants and donating hundreds of millions of Naira to victims of natural and man-made disasters without board approval, etc.
His defence has been that he has the president’s approval for some of the expenditures he’d incurred and that with things like donations he was not the first governor to do so. He also says he has constantly reduced operating management costs since he became governor.
The governor’s self-defence may well be tenable. But this is beside the point, which is that as a long standing social critic he should’ve known better than to give those in authority sufficient ammunition to impugn his integrity and credibility. And this is exactly what the FRC report has done, even if only a fraction of its charges are true. The specific nature of the FRC report means it cannot be easily dismissed with the waive of a hand.
That he built a one billion Naira car park at his official residence, as is common knowledge, and the fact that he was always accompanied by a huge and expensive retinue of bank staff, friends and hangers-on alike, to receive awards and honours abroad and here at home, were enough to suggest he did not act with the degree of prudence and integrity his crusade for good governance and transparency demanded of him.
Sanusi’s alleged transgressions as CBN governor notwithstanding, he clearly has the upper hand against the president in the war for public sympathy and support. The reason is obvious; his alleged transgressions are small beer compared to what the oil thieves and their partners in government have been stealing with impunity.
So long as the president is seen to be incapable and/or unwilling to take on these mega-thieves, so long will anyone who poses as a whistleblower against corruption in governance win public sympathy, whether his own alleged transgressions are true or not.
It is, of course, not realistic or even sensible to expect the authorities to fight all cases of corruption or none at all. But when they are seen to ignore cases more deserving of their attention than those they are pursuing, they will find it hard, if not impossible, to convince the public that a case like Sanusi’s is a fight against corruption not a witch-hunt.

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