By Obi Nwakanma
A great drama is currently playing out in the federal government which might yet define the Jonathan presidency. It is a powerplay between the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and one of the most flamboyant public servants of the moment, Mr. Sanusi Lamido, Governor, quondam, of the Central Bank of Nigeria. On Thursday, the president, through a letter signed by the Secretary to the Federal Government, Mr. Pius Anyim, suspended Mr. Lamido from office as the Governor of the apex bank.
The suspension of Mr. Lamido has long been in the making and brings to culmination, the disagreements between the Jonathan administration and the Governor of the Central bank of Nigeria over critical policy, and recently, over differences in the reconciliations of the accounts of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. Last week the “Orbit,” explored the substantive issues of that disagreement between the chief of Nigeria’s bank of records and the ministries of Finance and Petroleum over a missing $20 billion from the oil accounts.
It will not do to rehash my argument here, but I will just simply summarize the basic issues, to wit: Sanusi Lamido’s stubborn insistence that the Jonathan administration needs to account for that whopping shortfall in the Nigerian oil revenue accounts has pushed the administration into seeking to hire, the minister for Finance has said, “Forensic auditors.” Sanusi has done us all a favor by holding the government’s feet steadily to the fire, and his position gives hope that we are rebuilding the institutions necessary for civil government.
The CBN is the banker of the government. If Sanusi says $20 billion is missing, then Nigerians ought to take such a claim seriously, until it is proven that he is either mischievous or subversive. But his is not a claim anyone could dismiss very easily or off-handedly. That is the Sanusi challenge. The law backs him too to make such critical assertions, provide fearless policy coverage for the Federal government, and in plain talk, speak truth to power. I think the Jonathan administration became too uncomfortable with Lamido Sanusi, who from the beginning of his term as Govenor CBN, made it clear that he had nothing to lose, and that he intended to carry out his functions within the terms that gave his office latitude and independence.
He made many a provocative statement, and pursued many an independent path, away from the administration’s direction. He forced critical changes in banking regulation, and he helped to stabilize the federal government fiscal policies. Needless to say that Sanusi Lamido had many admirers, and he had his own bully pulpit, and in so many an instance, his independence felt as though there were two captains on the ship of the Nigerian state.
Last month, the president demanded his resignation from the Central Bank and he who promptly rejected the president’s demand on the clear principle that he had four months to complete his term as determined by law, and that the president did not have the constitutional authority to make such a demand of him. In other words, the CBN Governor defied the president.
Sanusi Lamido’s stance was viewed by many as courageous. Yet there were many who felt it unbecoming of a public servant to ignore the president’s wishes. Many there were who felt that Sanusi Lamido should have heeded the president out of respect for his office, and resigned as requested. There were some who felt that Lamido’s defiance of the presidential order stemmed from a personal animus and disdain for a “southern minority president” by one who once claimed that he regarded being Emir of Kano a far greater honor than being Governor of the Nigerian Central Bank.
It was interpreted in many quarters as the arrogance of a “born-to-rule” prince over a usurper and weak president; weakened by the internal disorders staged soon after his election by interests that were northbound. Lamido has basically dismissed such mindsets and insisted that he has been acting within his principled conviction as a guardian of a key institution of the federal government and in accordance with his professional obligations to the nation.
But it seems that the president had enough of Sanusi Lamido already, and it is also quite obvious in the strategic reshufflings both in the National Armed Services, the Police, the National Intelligence Agencies, and in his cabinet as well as in his personal staff in the last three weeks, that President Goodluck Jonathan is repositioning his government leading towards 2015.
He wishes to dispense with the image of a weak president. His administration has been bruised powerfully by reports of ministerial and embedded corruption, and Sanusi Lamido’s unrelenting pursuit of the allegedly missing $20 billion from the federal coffers must be distracting and irritating, and it seemed that the Jonathan administration had to take the bullhorn from Mr. Lamido Sanusi forcefully.
Removing Lamido from his position may have been calculated to achieve two things: (a) reinforce the president’s power and the authority of his executive mandate, and thus make it clear that he was no weakling, and (b) attempt to weaken Sanusi Lamido’s voice in what is clearly becoming an embarrassing campaign over at worse, a misspent $20 billion which ought to be in the national coffers, and for which if verified as true, might lead to the impeachment of the president and the imprisonment of officials involved in any missing money.
Sanusi’s guaranteed position as CBN governor gives greater legitimacy to his campaign, and may be significantly weakened without the coverage of the apex bank. The president has made his move in removing the CBN governor, but it is a foolish move because it is now more likely to draw greater attention to Sanusi’s claim.
But more importantly, the act of parliament establishing the office of the Central Bank governor is clear: the president does not have the constitutional authority to remove the CBN governor before his tenure elapses, without the support of the Senate. Sanusi Lamido is thus right in challenging the president’s constitutional powers, because not to challenge it leaves the office vulnerable to the whims of a serving president. The law protects the independence of the CBN governor for a reason, and until the expiration of his terms, Sanusi Lamido, the courts should grant, remains the CBN governor.
The president should also be called to order on this matter or face the wrath and serious reprimand of the legislative branch for unilateral and unconstitutional power grab. That is what it really is: in suspending Sanusi, the president is making a power grab that expands the powers of the presidency to the point of tyranny. We fought the military precisely on account of these kinds of overreach. The president must be warned.