By Dele Sobowale
“Once to every man and nation comes the moment to; in the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or the evil side” – James Russell Lowell.
For all of us in Nigeria today, this is one of those rare moments when we must stand up and be counted; either for the truth or for falsehood. There can be no sitting on the fence on this one. And, difficult as it seems, I will register my own views – without fear or favour. For one thing, the suspension of the Governor of Central Bank by President Jonathan is unprecedented in the history of Nigeria and that of most countries of the world. It is quite possible that nobody alive today will witness another episode such as this.
Predictably it has divided the nation along all its main fault lines. It has set a good part of the North against the South; Muslims against Christians; PDP versus APC; Ijaw are now ready to battle Hausa/Fulani. Even the lawmakers were at loggerheads on this issue. While majority of senators were in support; the majority in the House of Representatives were against the measure. Positions were taken right from the minute the breaking news hit the air waves. Those in favour announced it was long overdue; those against regarded it as unconstitutional and the closest thing to a declaration of war. At the moment, it is almost impossible to find anybody who could be regarded as objective on this matter. That, to me, is perfectly understandable; because this is not a contest between absolute good and total evil. If it is, the matter will be quite easy to decide. Rather it appears like a battle between two parties each half good and half evil. And, anybody pretending that this is a white or black situation is a bloody liar. Let me quickly explain.
The President charged the CBN Governor with several instances of financial recklessness as well as multiple cases of fraudulent practices; he also accused Sanusi and the apex bank of not maintaining proper book of accounts as prescribed by the International Financial Reporting Standards, (IFRS). All these charges were based on the 2012 audit report prepared by the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRCN) – whose existence is becoming known to millions of Nigerians and millions more worldwide for the first time.
Stakeholders should be asking where this body was when the NNPC and the CBN were operating as if they were governments within a government. Nevertheless, what had emerged from the audit report of the FRCN are grave charges for which the CBN Governor, if found guilty, could be dismissed, forfeit all his entitlements and be prosecuted and jailed as well. Based on these allegations, the President proceeded to suspend the CBN Governor from office and to forward the name of his successor to the Senate for confirmation – while at the same time appointing an Acting CBN Governor.
The very first question any objective person must raise is: “did the President follow the appropriate procedure based on the statute which established the CBN and the position of Governor? Failing to do that, or if the laws establishing the CBN were not explicit enough, did the President follow the procedure entrenched in the Civil Service? Obviously, if Jonathan had violated any of the laid down procedures for dealing with matters such as this, his action is not only illegal, it carries with it the taint of malice. The danger in that is that Sanusi might have been guilty of the crimes and misdemeanors listed but he will escape on technicalities because the President acted too previously and demonstrated his bias on the matter. That issue will eventually be decided by the courts. Certainly, this will go all the way to the Supreme Court irrespective of who wins in the lower court and Sanusi’s tenure would have ended by the time that happens. Unless a court restrains the Acting Governor from functioning, Sanusi, like retired Appeal Court Justice Salami, will not enjoy a send-off from the CBN. In fact, he will never return to his old office – except to evacuate his personal belongings. Perhaps that was the end Jonathan had in mind for somebody who had lately become a thorn in the flesh of his administration.
However, among the charges against Sanusi, one would, or should, not be decided by a court of law. This one is strictly for the court of public opinion – where every person is the judge. That is the charge of “financial recklessness”. Profligacy, while reprehensible, is not a crime – especially when our laws have been so badly drawn up as to give an official such latitude as the CBN Governor and the fellows at the NNPC enjoy. If asked if I think Sanusi was financially reckless, my answer will be “definitely”. But, I will quickly add, “Once we created a situation under which a Pope or Sheik would be tempted to spend our money like a drunken sailor or shore leave, we must accept the consequences”.
Why, definitely? Because the mandates of the CBN remain the same as those of all central banks in the world: management of exchange rate; interest rates and, if possible, promotion of full employment. All the activities of the CBN, including its budgets and expenditure, must aim to promote one or all those three objectives. It is not a charitable organization; neither is it established to rehabilitate refugees. Donating N100 million, or any amount to victims of violence, might be meritorious and humane, but, it is definitely outside the mandate of the bank. There should be no budget for that. The question to ask the CBN is: which of its core mandates does the donation to victims of religious violence promote? The answer, as we all know is NONE. Less important is the fact that the CBN has no way of knowing if the funds actually reached the victims or went into the wrong pockets. Donations are, however, not the only questionable expenditure – given the CBN mandate. Others are contained in the charge sheet Jonathan released and they need not delay us here. But, please remember, they are probably not fraudulent; just misguided and encouraged by the freedom given to our CBN Governors.
With almost total autonomy, every CBN Governor had become insulated within the virtually unlimited power that the position provided. The almost limitless powers of the CBN Governor, when exercised in a country where the National Assembly and the Presidency had been extremely negligent in the discharge of their duties, had created the opportunity for the occupant of that office to operate without the checks and balances required to ensure that no public servant operates as if he owned the estate. Sanusi, like Soludo before him, could spend, and probably spent, billions of Naira without seeking the approval of anyone. Remember re-decimalisation and the attempt to re-introduce coins; both monumental failures which gulped billions of unexplained Naira. No Chief Executive of a quoted company, anywhere in the world, could have survived those calamities. But, in Nigeria, it is just another minor episode.
In 2011, when the new Jonathan administration was still trying to find its bearings, I wrote a ten part series entitled, CBN ECONOMIC CZARISM AND ITS CONSEQUENCES. It is impossible for me to repeat, fully, what was said in ten articles almost three years ago. But, let me summarise everything in one sentence. THE CENTRAL BANK OF NIGERIA, AS IT NOW OPERATES, ENCOURAGES FINANCIAL RECKLESSNESS, BY THE GOVERNOR, IN A WAY THAT WILL COME TO HAUNT US.
Like all warnings issued to Nigerians and which were ignored at the time, we will soon find ourselves trying to bolt the farm gate after most of the cows have fled. Only God knows how many billions CBN Governors, not just Sanusi, have sent down the drain to our detriment.
The only thing not surprising about the reports coming through is that it had taken the President of Nigeria and all those overpaid slackers in the National Assembly so long to take notice.
To be continued…