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Sanusi, Jonathan: Between the prince, the president

By Rotimi Fasan
IS somebody surprised that Sanusi Lamido Sanusi who was until Thursday, last week, Governor of Nigeria’s Central Bank finally had to vacate his exalted office before the end of his five-year term? Are there Nigerians confused that his exit had such direct presidential link, as there was no ambiguity to the statement announcing his removal by presidential spokesman, Reuben Abati?

There was no pretence that his ouster came directly from the President who just couldn’t wait to see the back of the Kano prince before his projected exit in June. The presidential order announcing his removal had no slight hint of the usual courtesy, gratitude and good wishes often extended to public officers, even those apparently sacked, for their services to the country.

President Goodluck Jonathan and Lamido Sanusi
President Goodluck Jonathan and Lamido Sanusi

Abati’s statement was brief, brusque and full of accusation. In the eyes of President Jonathan, Sanusi not only went beyond his brief as CBN Governor but also abused his office. He was disrespectful of his employers, violated laid down procedures and the oath he swore to on his appointment. With such strongly-worded statement from the Presidency in a country where it is routine to provide very soft landing even for confirmed public thieves, Sanusi ought to be made more answerable for his term in office.

But did Sanusi really abuse his position in the manner given out by Abati? And if so, would he be prosecuted? What would be the outcome of such prosecution? Or is there more to Sanusi’s removal than Nigerians have been told?

Certainly, there is more to Sanusi’s removal and many Nigerians would say so. His sack is most unusual. It is a record in its own right. Although for a public officer of his rank, Sanusi can neither be hired nor fired without presidential assent.

But there was too much of presidential angst in Abati’s announcement to go unnoticed. The President must have personally felt affronted by this particular officer, an appointee of his predecessor, that his spokesman had to be clear that Jonathan personally wanted him out.

This, I say, shouldn’t come as a surprise to Nigerians. That the announcement came when the former CBN Governor was abroad on official assignment also couldn’t have been by chance. It was a coup against him, a way to rub it in that he occupied his office at the pleasure of somebody, a boss who could send him home like an erring school boy.

Relations between Sanusi’s CBN and the Presidency have gone sour in recent times. If one must put it starkly, it was a psychological battle or it’s been made to look like there was one between President Jonathan and Lamido Sanusi.

There couldn’t have been any love lost between the two since the contents of a letter Sanusi wrote to Jonathan last September found its way to the public, particular the public letter written to Jonathan by his estranged mentor, former President Obasanjo. Sanusi had in that letter alleged that about N50 billion of oil revenue due to Nigeria had not been paid into the Federation Account by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.

Until Obasanjo alluded to this episode in his letter, there was no hint of any kind that Jonathan paid any attention to Sanusi’s allegation against the NNPC. But it was a sore point in the letter Jonathan was forced to write in his response to Obasanjo. It would become a major point of public discourse and has remained so since December 2, 2013 when Obasanjo released his bombshell of a letter to Jonathan.

Rather than the issue thrown up by the trio’s letters dying down, it has proven a major weapon and talking point in the arsenal of opposition parties in the run-up to the next presidential elections. The crises in the PDP in which there have been scores of defections have been made worse by spin-offs from the initial allegation by Sanusi.

Sanusi’s whistle-blowing has exposed Nigerians to the rot being perpetrated by players in the downstream sector of the Nigerian oil industry, especially the NNPC in collusion with the Finance Ministry which has tried to control the damage caused by Sanusi’s exposure. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has tried to ‘reconcile’ the NNPC account with that of the CBN by telling us all that only N10 billion could not be accounted for by the NNPC.

It was an unconvincing argument that has since attracted the attention of the National Assembly and is now the subject of parliamentary probe. The Jonathan administration, indeed President Jonathan himself, has not been looking too clean in these series of investigations.

Both Okonjo-Iweala and her Petroleum Ministry counterpart, Diezeani Allison-Madueke who many Nigerians would not be unhappy to see go, have been summoned severally to the National Assembly to state their sides of what they know of the so-called missing N50 billion.

The investigations have dovetailed into investigation of how presidential orders have been violated by the NNPC and so-called subsidy has been paid on kerosene even when Nigerians have not enjoyed a kobo of it. Indeed, Allison-Madueke made the outstanding claim that the presidential order to stop ‘subsidy’ on kerosene was not a law that the NNPC was bound by and so was summarily ignored. Yet, no Nigerian buying kerosene has benefitted from the subsidy money her ministry was happy paying middlemen and other touts of the Nigerian oil sector.

Sanusi has not kept quiet in all this. He has continued to provide information on the scams going on in the oil industry and neither Okonjo-Iweala nor Allison-Madueke could claim they still see Sanusi as their friend anymore. Together they had tried to sell Nigerians on the baloney that buying fuel, which has again been scarce in the last two weeks, at high prices is the only way out for Nigerians to put an end to the corruption in the oil sector.

Iweala had in fact contradicted Sanusi at one of their recent outings at the National Assembly. Sanusi’s disclosures have looked like a battle between him and Jonathan represented by his fronts in the NNPC corruption saga, namely, Diezeani Allison-Madueke and Okonjo-Iweala. These are ministers seen as very close to the President, people he wouldn’t and, perhaps, couldn’t sack from office.

In exposing the rot going on under the watch of these ministers, Sanusi would seem to be fighting President Jonathan.

The muscle-flexing between him, his former friends and the President would take a foolish turn weeks ago when it was said that a telephone conversation between the President who had asked for Sanusi’s resignation and Sanusi degenerated into a shouting match. Sanusi, Nigerians were told, had rebuffed the President.

This all makes Abati’s announcement of Sanusi’s removal while away on an ECOWAS meeting in Niger look like Jonathan asserting his power. But is he right?



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