By Femi Aribisala
ONE of the more annoying things about Nigeria is that our thieves are bad thieves. Conventionally, thieves operate at the night, out of respect for the homeowner and law-enforcement agencies. Not in Nigeria: thieves operate here in broad daylight in absolute contempt of everybody.
In Nigeria, thieves know they will not be caught. They know if they are caught, they will not be tried. They know if they are tried, they will not go to jail. Therefore, there is a culture of impunity in Nigeria which makes the country a holiday-resort for thieves and robbers.
Jail or dismissal?
Nothing speaks more eloquently about this culture of impunity than the CBN under Lamido Sanusi. Sanusi’s posture as CBN Governor is an insult to Nigerians. He ran the place as a personal estate. He flouted every financial regulation.
He gave away government money in a flagrant manner that would give pause to even billionaire Mike Adenuga. And then when he knew the game was up, he decided to blow the lid on NNPC financial indiscretions, in order to distract attention and attract public support and sympathy. Nigerians should not fall for this “mago-mago.” Lamido Sanusi should not only be sacked, he should be tried and, if convicted, should be jailed.
The government has called Sanusi’s bluff. In a sleight of hand, he has been summarily dismissed from office under the guise of suspension. This has created some brouhaha because the President needs Senate approval for the dismissal of a CBN Governor. But the president has found a way round that impediment. Sanusi has been suspended; he has not been fired. Surely, the president has the power to suspend a public employee for questionable conduct, pending the confirmation of his wrongdoing. If the allegations against him are found to be without substance, he can then return to his post.
However, since Sanusi’s term will soon expire, the president has gone right along to nominate his replacement. It is all politics, and not just Nigerian-style. Separation of powers is a judicious principle of federalist government, but there is something anomalous about a CBN governor transforming himself overnight into an opposition politician spokesman. There is also something unacceptable about the arrogance of Sanusi which makes him feel he is an untouchable. Under the circumstances, his suspension/dismissal from office is not surprising. Indeed, it is all the more imperative given the financial improprieties that have characterised his tenure in office.
The major sticking point with Sanusi’s “dismissal” is the widespread assumption that it is payback for him blowing the whistle about the whopping $20 billion missing from NNPC accounts. However, there is every probability that the opposite is what happened. The government was the first to query Sanusi about his financial improprieties. When he could not explain them, Sanusi went on the offensive by making public statements about missing monies at NNPC. This would explain why his allegations tuned out to be shambolic.
The last thing a country needs is a CBN governor who talks frivolously. The word of a CBN governor has implications for financial market volatility; therefore he must mark his words. He must speak with confidence and precision. Not so with Lamido Sanusi. Sanusi went public and made a monkey of his credibility. First, he said $49 billion was missing from NNPC accounts. Then he said it was $10 billion; and then it was $20 billion. What will it be tomorrow? How come Sanusi did not determine precisely the amount before broadcasting it to the world? It would appear that Sanusi’s reckless disclosures came out of the need for him to cover his tracks at the CBN. Knowing that the book would soon be thrown at him, he decided to lay the grounds for saying he was being accused of financial improprieties because he exposed those of others.
This is not to deny that there are, in all probability, huge financial improprieties hidden in NNPC accounts. However, the very fact that a CBN governor decided to go public with them is highly suspect. A CBN governor does not make such public disclosures as CBN governor. He resigns first. It is even more suspect given the fact that the very person who would have us believe he is taking the moral high ground with these disclosures is the same person we have now learnt has run the accounts of the CBN like a bull in a china shop. Sanusi is anything but a foolish man. He surely knows that those who live in glass houses don’t throw stones.
Sanusi knew something was up. Therefore, he decided to go on the offensive. What he has done is to curry favour the Nigerian public by raising alarm about missing monies, even when he did not have the full facts, in order to preempt the disclosures about his own financial improprieties.
This strategy has succeeded in part. Sanusi has immediately become the darling of the opposition APC party. Muhammadu Buhari, the self-styled apostle of anti-corruption, has come out in his staunch defense, giving us a taste of the kind of anti-corruption his APC has in mind. There is a déjà vu to this. It is the kind of hypocritical anti-corruption where the airports and seaports of Nigeria can be closed to everyone, but the Emir of Gwandu can bring in 53 suitcases under the escort of the aide-de-camp of the Head of State.
The financial atrocities in the CBN under Sanusi are simply outrageous. If this is how government agencies steal and mismanage public funds, then Nigeria is in more trouble than we have ever imagined. CBN accounts under Sanusi read like pure fiction. While crying foul about missing money in NNPC, Sanusi failed to account for missing monies in CBN. Investigating the CBN in April 2013, the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRC) discovered that ?38.23 billion was missing. The money was said to have been paid to MINT- a subsidiary of the CBN. However, MINT accounts showed no such money was received.
It is only in Nigeria that you can have a Central Bank governor spend government money anyhow at his own discretion. Sanusi did not just spend a few thousand naira whimsically. He did not just give away millions of naira like Aliko Dangote. He gave away billions. The government reveals that Sanusi gave away nothing less than ?163 billion in no less than 63 “intervention projects” in different parts of the country. Remember this: that is more than the entire 2014 budget of Edo State.
Just listen to this: the CBN is said to have paid ?38 billion to the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company (NSPMC) in 2011 for printing banknotes. However this is in excess of the total turnover of NSPMC that same year, which was only ?29 billion. The CBN claims to have paid Emirate Airline ?511 million for currency distribution nationwide in 2011 when the airline does not have a local charter service in Nigeria. It reports ?425 million was paid to Wing Airline, but the airline is not even registered in Nigeria. It also claims to have paid Associated Airline ?1 billion for the same purpose, but the airline did not have up to a billion-naira turnover in 2011.
In its 2011 account under “sundries” (i.e. unexplained expenses), Sanusi’s CBN reported an expenditure of ?1.1 billion. For legal and professional fees that same year, it claimed to have spent an amazing ?20 billion. This is simply mind-boggling. So mind-boggling in fact that naïve people like me don’t believe a word of it. These are just crooked details designed to mask the massive corruption and graft under Sanusi’s watch.
In 2012, ?1.2 billion was listed as expenses on “private guards” and “lunch for policemen.” Wow! These policemen must have been having caviar for lunch. Similarly, ?1.6 billion was spent on newspapers, books and periodicals alone that same year. Pull another leg. Who believes this kind of rigmarole?
Still in 2012, ?3 billion was spent on “promotional activities.” Pray, to whom was the CBN doing this promotion? Where did these promotional activities take place and to what purpose? Was it in Nigeria or in outer space? Which bank was CBN in competition with? Was it the World Bank or the African Development Bank? Was the CBN trying to attract depositors or customers? Or was it paying legislators so that its powers would not be curtailed?
Nobody should condone Sanusi’s financial recklessness. He also played Father Christmas with Nigeria’s money. According to the government, Sanusi’s CBN wrote-off loans to the tune of ?40 billion. Without board or presidential approval, Sanusi spent ?743 million of CBN money acquiring 7 percent shares of the International Islamic Management Corporation of Malaysia, contrary to the provisions of the CBN Act.
Off to Kirikiri
It is a big indictment of the Jonathan administration that this impunity was tolerated for this long and was only addressed after Sanusi became a political embarrassment to the government. The billion-naira question now is what is going to happen to Sanusi. Will he get away with these corrupt practices or will he be prosecuted to the full extent of the law? My position is that we need to chart a new course in the treatment of corruption in Nigeria. If Sanusi is truly guilty of these improprieties, he should be sent to jail; for a very long time.
However, the bet is on that nothing will happen to him beyond his dismissal from office. It appears nothing is also going to happen to Deziani Allison-Madueke, the Minister of Petroleum. The missing $20 billion at NNPC will also be swept under the carpet. All the signs of a cover-up are already apparent. The FRC indicted all the Deputy Governors of the CBN along with the Governor and asked that they all be sacked. However, not only were they not sacked, one of them has been made the new Acting Governor. In all likelihood, this culture of impunity will remain for the simple reason that it seems to go all the way to the very highest echelons of the Nigerian government.