By Rotimi Fasan
THERE is somethingÂ about the new Central Bank Governor, Lamido Sanusi, that reminds me of the former Chairman of the EFCC, Nuhu Ribadu. First there is that physical resemblance, a lanky, almost austere frame. They both look fragile and do not cut the burly picture of your typical Nigerian executive.
For a police officer, a hard-biting one at that, Ribadu looks fit, if a trifle like an ascetic- a monk or something like that. Sanusi also looks the very picture of activity- trim, fit and athletic. But for a bank executive, particularly Nigeriaâ€™s apex bank, Sanusi couldnâ€™t look â€œhungrierâ€.
And I wonâ€™t be surprised if some begin to interpret some of his recent decisions in terms of his dislike of comfort. The thieving tribe that pass for company executives in Nigeria look like overfed gorillas and measure their fitness (the very sign of good living, they say) in terms of their rhinoceros necks and elephantine waistlines. And so the likes of Ribadu and Sanusi are virtual misfits in the class of the well-to-do.
Yet, beyond the shared physical attributes between Ribadu and Sanusi is the more fundamental resemblance of emotional gravitas, courage and boldness. I cannot, for now, tell if Sanusi also shares Ribaduâ€™s parrot-like volubility. But one would not be far off the mark to say that he is someone not afraid to bare his mind.
We saw this during his screening for his present post, when he nearly knocked the bottom off the misconceived Seven-Point Agenda of his would-be employers, the Yarâ€™Adua government. He had advised them to prune down the unwieldy baggage to a manageable size of one or two goals. Others would have thought first of protecting their back.
Right or wrong, he seemed to know his stuff and has the right passion for it. It was that passion that saw him warning it was no longer going to be business as usual in the banking industry.
We might be seeing the direction he wants to go with the manner he axed five bank executives, several of whom were already seasoned bankers at a time when Sanusi was yet groping his way up the banking ladder. But in serving the Nigerian people, longevity cannot and should not be equated with efficiency or productivity, much less transparency.
And so it was that he took the axe to Intercontinental Bank Plc, Oceanic International Bank Plc, FinBank Plc, Afribank Plc and Union Bank Plc, cutting in one fell swoop the chief executives of these banks and their executive boards for engaging in practices likely to bring ruin to the Nigerian economy.
All of this in that same sector that Chukwuma Soludo, erstwhile Governor of the Central Bank, told us was immune from the â€œglobal financial meltdownâ€. Like the Titanic, our banks and by extension, our economy, was given a clean bill of health and declared â€œunsinkableâ€.
In retrospect, it is clear we were not being told the whole truth. Disclosures were neither full nor honest. The irony now is that as the rest of the world begins to inch their way out of recession, our economy is showing signs of going into a coma.
This came about as a consequence of the lack of transparency, the gross failure of governance and incestuous relations between bank executives and their organisations. Only a sadist wouldnâ€™t see that something had to be done about the excesses in the banking sector.
Hard-earned depositorsâ€™ funds were at risk. The voodoo practices that go for banking, a situation in which banks continue to declare huge profits where manufacturers and other services sectors of the economy have gone aground, should be cause for concern.
But regulators of the economy seemed to have gone to sleep, turning a blind eye to the unacceptable activities in the sector.
The banks have long ago abandoned their core service areas to join the gravy train of making quick bucks in the stock market, financing margin traders and other speculators in the downstream sector of the energy industry.
Their dangerous and unnecessary exposure fuelled by greed and an unscrupulous instinct to live above their compatriots hugely exposed them to grave risks that are now threatening to bring the house down on everybody. Four hundred billion Naira of tax payersâ€™ money is no childâ€™s play.
The same people who were responsible for this danger, making loud claims of demarketing by competitors, have no justification to expect to manage the huge funds that is being injected to rescue the banks.
It requires the courage of a leader, much more the knowledge of a risk manager like Sanusi, to take the decisions that had to be taken to make things right. Nigerians have a way of reading and misreading meanings into every action, including the latest by Sanusi which some are speculating is directed at certain persons and regions in the country.
If people from certain regions are responsible for the threat to our economy they should bear the consequences of their unconscionable acts. I am blind, deaf and dumb to the attempt to couch Sanusiâ€™s action in ethnic terms. Happily he has, himself, described himself as not just a detribalised but an â€œuntribalisedâ€ Nigerian.
There is nothing to suggest that he is not. He should be allowed to carry out his brief in good conscience. This is no time for any â€œselective justiceâ€ argument as some said of Ribadu even when those he was said to have singled out for prosecution for corrupt conduct couldnâ€™t swear they were innocent.
At least one or two of the affected bank executives make bold profession of their faith and they couldnâ€™t have forgotten too soon what the holy book says about unproductive branches: they should be cut and set alight! But not only were some of these executives not productive, they were negligent, and criminally so. They should, therefore, go.