By Babajide Komolafe & Elizabeth Amihor
Former Head of State, Genral Yakubu Gowon has risen in defense of the autonomy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) saying the apex bank should not be subjected to legislative or executive control.
Speaking at the 4th Memorial Lecture of the Clement Isong Foundation for 2012, Gowon said, ”I firmly believe that the independence of the CBN should be preserved and that the CBN should not be subjected to control by either the legislature or executive so as to grow the economy.”
He reinforced his view with an experience with the late Dr. Clement Isong, who was Governor of the apex bank from 1967 to 1975.
He said, “Clement Isong was one of the few officials of government cleared to speak with me on the ‘hotline’, a red phone with a secure line that is only to be used in real emergency situations.
“He called me on a busy day to request audience with me but declined to discuss the topic on phone. He almost frightened me with his insistence on coming to see me; I, therefore, promptly cancelled my pending engagements in case there was need to call in other advisers, for I wondered if something had terribly gone wrong with the CBN.
“Before his arrival, I had begun to worry about how we would be able to meet our international obligations, pay public servants or implement other programmes in the event that the CBN crashed. When he stepped into my office, he wore a very broad smile.
“Governor, what’s the problem?’ I asked. Then he told me: “Your Excellency, I’ve got so much money, I don’t know what to do with it.” You can imagine my shock. Then I said to him, ‘’if you have so much money, why don’t you pave the streets of Lagos with it?
“Let us not miss the import of my exchange with my Central Bank Governor. At the time, we had put in place the 3rd National Development Plan, 1975 – 1980, which would have ensured the rapid transformation of Nigeria to a politically and socio-economically strong nation.
“There was so much to do, but the abandonment of the Development Plan by successive administrations turned it to a missed opportunity for development. What was regarded as ‘so much money’ then is mere pittance today. For a fact, Clement Isong would never have allowed this money to be frittered, just as I would never have permitted the squandering of the common wealth.
“I have recalled this anecdote to reinforce my fundamental belief in the independence of the Central Bank of Nigeria, whose current Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, by some happy coincidence, is the Guest Speaker at this event.
Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, always a newsmaker and ever full of surprises, really stunned everyone with his robes of Dan Majen Kano, which he wore to office on Wednesday. Perhaps, he is giving us a dress rehearsal for life outside of CBN.
“The CBN, under such eminent Governors as Aliu Mai Bornu, Clement Isong, Mr. Ola Vincent as well as new generation Governors like Prof. Charles Soludo and Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, have at various times creditably discharged the onerous responsibilities of their office. I also commend the courage of the current Governor for speaking out in defence of the independence of the CBN.”