I have no regrets; I have no ill-feelings and with no sadness. I’m happy; I’m proud of what I have done.”
These were the words of Lamido Sanusi as he reacted to his suspension as the Central Bank of Nigeria governor by President Goodluck Jonathan on Thursday.
Although it was learnt that he might challenge his suspension in court, Sanusi reminded the Jonathan administration: “You can suspend an individual but you can’t suspend the truth.”
Sanusi, who added that his suspension did not bother him, said his “biggest concern is for the system .”
He was attending a meeting of the West African Central Bank Governors in Niamey, Niger Republic when the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, announced his suspension.
Abati, in a statement in Abuja, said Jonathan took the decision because Sanusi’s tenure had been characterised by acts of financial recklessness and misconduct.
The presidential aide ,who claimed that such acts were inconsistent with the vision of the Jonathan administration, said the most senior CBN deputy governor, Dr. Sarah Alade, would act as the governor of the bank.
But the President later sent the name of the Group Managing Director of Zenith Bank, Godwin Emefiele, to the Senate for confirmation as the new CBN governor.
Abati said that Alade would remain in charge until the conclusion of ongoing investigations into breaching of enabling laws, due process and mandate of the CBN levelled against Sanusi.
Abati’s statement reads, “Having taken special notice of reports of the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria and other investigating bodies, which indicate clearly that Mallam Sanusi’s tenure has been characterised by various acts of financial recklessness and misconduct which are inconsistent with the administration’s vision of a central bank propelled by the core values of focused economic management, prudence, transparency and financial discipline;
“Being also deeply concerned about far-reaching irregularities under Mallam Sanusi’s watch which have distracted the central bank from the pursuit and achievement of its statutory mandate; and
“Being determined to urgently re-position the CBN for greater efficiency, respect for due process and accountability, President Jonathan has ordered the immediate suspension of Mallam Sanusi from the Office of Governor of the CBN.
“President Jonathan has further ordered that Mallam Sanusi should hand over to the most senior Deputy Governor of the CBN, Dr. Alade, who will serve as acting governor until the conclusion of ongoing investigations into breaches of enabling laws, due process and mandate of the CBN.
“The President expects that as acting governor of the CBN she will focus on the core mandate of the bank and conduct its affairs with greater professionalism, prudence and propriety to restore domestic and international confidence in the country’s apex bank.
“The Federal Government reassures all stakeholders in Nigeria’s financial and monetary system that this decision has been taken in absolute good faith, in the overall interest of the Nigerian economy and in accordance with our laws and due process.”
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe, also defended Sanusi’s suspension saying it was neither a witchhunt nor a deviation from the anti-corruption drive of the Jonathan administration.
He said that there were several grievous issues bordering on impunity, incompetence, nonchallant attitude, fraud, wastefulness, and gross abuse of and noncompliance with provisions of the Public Procurement Act 2007 by Sanusi.
These, Okupe said, caused the President to issue a 22-paragraph query to the suspended CBN governor on May 4, 2013.
He added that a written explanation by Sanusi was forwarded to the President on May 22, 2013.
He explained that after painstaking analysis and examination, the response was forwarded to the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria for further scrutiny and professional advice.
The FRCN, according to Okupe, thereafter forwarded a 13-page response to the President with various critical observations and far-reaching recommendations.
One of the recommendations, according to him, states thus: “ Your Excellency (Jonathan) may wish to exercise the powers conferred onyou by Section 11(2) (f) of the CBN Act 2007 or invoke Section 11 (2) (c) of the said Act and cause the governor and deputy governors to cease from holding office in the CBN.”
The section states that “a person shall not remain a Governor, Deputy Governor or Director of the Bank if he is; guilty of a serious misconduct in relation to his duties or is removed by the President,provided that the removal (of the CBN governor) shall be supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate praying that he be so removed.
• I’m not surprised, says Sanusi
But unfazed Sanusi, whose tenure would end in June, said he was surprised that his suspension took too long to come.
He also said he would challenge his suspension (in court).
“Well, I don’t know what they are talking about. … I don’t think there’s any issue that’s being raised that has not been raised before; but you know we all know what this is about. This is about the consequences for the changes that I have made and this (suspension) is something that is long overdue. I’m surprised it took them so long,” he told the CNBC Africa.
“When I come back, I’ll see what those allegations are,” the Kano State-born banker added.
He claimed that the Financial Reporting Council looked through CBN’s audited accounts some time ago and asked a few questions which were sent to the President, who gave no feedback.
Highlighting low inflation, stable exchange rate, a reformed and well governed banking system, robust reserves, financial inclusion and independent central bank as some of his achievements, Sanusi said he hoped the CBN’s integrity would be protected.
He said, “Basically, my biggest concern is for the system and I hope that the Nigerian economy will not be hurt by this. I also hope the integrity of the central bank will be protected … I’ve been fortunate to have had an opportunity to do some good work on the bank on stability. I would not want to see all of that unravelled and no individual is worth it.
“You can suspend an individual, but you can’t suspend the truth. If this is all about the concerns around oil revenues in the oil sector, if this is going to bring back the $20bn unremitted oil money, then that is fine.”
Sanusi, in an interview he later granted an online news portal, Sahara Reporters, said he considered the allegations against him “ridiculous.”
He said,” I have not seen the details of the allegations but some of what I’ve read is very ridiculous . The CBN, as an institution, will respond to all the allegations because we’ve always operated in line with the rule of law.
“A week ago for example, the NNPC(Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation), came out on national television and agreed that they have spent $3.5bn on kerosene subsidy without appropriation. Nobody has called that financial recklessness but the CBN is audited every year.
“In fact, we have just concluded the audit for 2013. We are supposed to submit those accounts within two months of every financial year; we have a board meeting to approve the audited account on February 27, and to submit on February 28. This has been happening since I became CBN governor.
“The NNPC has not been audited since 2005 and yet nobody talks about financial recklessness in the corporation. Since I became CBN governor, I have constantly reduced operating cost and increased operating surplus.
For instance, the year before I became governor in 2008, the CBN contributed N8bn to the federal budget. By 2012, I contributed N80bn.
‘This year, I’m contributing N159bn, that is 20 times what was being contributed. For me, this is not something that comes as a surprise, the President has asked me to resign and I refused. I knew there was going to be a backlash. The important thing is that I don’t want to present myself as the focus. The issue on the ground is that between January 2012 and July 2013, there is $20bn that the NNPC sold crude oil and has not come back. I am questioning the NNPC’s right to keep that. I will challenge my suspension not because I want to go back.
“I have done everything expected of me; I have written letters and I have given all the documents. This is $20bn in 19 months period; we have not even talked about 2011 and 2010. We have to be sure we know what we are saying. I think people should be more angry about theft happening.”
• Abati justifies Sanusi’s suspension
But as controversy followed the suspension of the CBN governor, Abati told those against it that “he who hires also has the power to fire.”
He told State House correspondents that the CBN Act that some critics of the President’s action rely on, only talks about removal and not suspension.
Abati said there was a clear difference between removing a CBN governor and suspending him.
He said, “I am aware that some people are saying ‘oh, this is illegal.’ But it is not.
“People who talk about illegality, they are referring to Section 11 (2) of the CBN Act. Now under that provision, the reference is to the removal of the CBN governor by the President and there is a qualification there saying that provided that removal is supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate.
“But what the President has done is not removal, it is suspension. You know you do not read the provisions in isolation, you read them together and the interpretation Act. If you read all of these provisions together, the trite point is that he who hires can also have the power to suspend.
“So if you have the power to appoint, you also have the power to suspend. What has happened is not removal, it is suspension and that is perfectly within the purview of the law.”
Abati also said Sanusi, as a Nigerian, was free to approach a court of competent jurisdiction if he was not comfortable with his suspension.
He said, “If he goes to court, he is a free citizen. The country is governed by law. An individual has the right to express himself under the constitution. So we will not speculate about what has not happened.”
He also said the President’s decision had nothing to do with Sanusi’s current position on the missing $20bn.
Abati said, “The question has also been raised on whether this has to do with the ongoing appearances in the National Assembly by the suspended CBN governor. I will like to state very clearly that this has nothing to do with that. I have given you the background so that you can see that this is the process.
“And indeed, we look forward to a situation whereby Sanusi will continue to assist the legislature in their investigations and will continue to testify because what government is interested in really is transparency and accountability and anything that will further promote that objective is perfectly welcome.”
The presidential spokesman said under the enabling Act, where an indictment is established, the law will take its course.
Abati explained that the process leading to Sanusi’s suspension started in May 2013 when he was queried over the financial statement of the apex bank.
He said the President decided to suspend Sanusi as part of attempts to strengthen the CBN to ensure that it continued to be a symbol for prudence, integrity and accountability.
He allayed the fears that the suspension would lead to anxiety capable of affecting the nation’s economy.
Abati said despite the decision, the country’s monetary policy remained the same and there was stability in the system.
Abati said the decision was taken only with regard to internal governance issue within the apex bank.
He urged investors not to exercise any fear.
• How Sanusi’s travails started
The presidential spokesman explained that the issues of financial recklessness and unprofessional conduct levelled against Sanusi were not a sudden development.
He said, “It is not as if this is a sudden development, but that it’s been a long process dating back to last year.
“Last year when the CBN submitted its financial statement for the year ended December 31, 2012, a query was raised about some of the issues in the financial statement and the CBN governor was asked to offer some clarification with regard to these issues. This was around first week in May 2013.
“A response came from the CBN which was then forwarded to the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria. And the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria by its Act is empowered to review the accounts of the CBN and if there is a couse for investigation to be conducted . And if there is need also to invite other bodies to further investigate, the law makes allowance for that.
“And that took place. And some of the outcomes of that process relate to the issues raised about financial recklessness.
“If I may just draw attention to a few of them: the persistent refusal and negligence to comply with Public Procurement Act in the procurement practices of the CBN; unlawful expenditure by the CBN on intervention projects across the country; deploying huge some of money as the CBN did under the watch of Mallam Sanusi without appropriation and outside the CBN’s statutory mandate.
It is said that the expenditure of public funds by any organ of government must be based on clear legal mandate, prudent constraint and overriding national interest.
“And then financial infraction and act of financial recklessness committed by the CBN and reflected in its audited financial statement for 2012.
“The review by the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria rather than allayed the fears of government, further confirmed concerns about the untidy manner in which the affairs of the CBN were conducted.”
Abati said it was on the basis of all of these and to allow for further investigations that the CBN governor was suspended.
• Justification for replacement
On why the President forwarded the name of a replacement for Sanusi to the Senate when his retirement would take effect in June, Abati said there was nothing untidy about it.
He said, “I do not see untidiness in this. You know there are two vacancies, the suspended governor is due to retire in June and with the retirement of a former deputy governor, Tunde Lemo, there was also a vacancy at the deputy governor’s level.
“In many countries of the world, you do not wait till the last minute before you appoint successor, particularly into a position in such a strategic institution as the CBN.
“With regard to the position of the CBN governor, I think announcing the nomination for that position is good for the market; it builds confidence and reassures the market that there is no crisis.
“It has nothing to do with the CBN governor.As I told you, there has been a process of investigation with issues raised with regard to internal governance system in the CBN.
“I think if anything, the President should be commended for immediately making these nominations to show that the institution remains strong and in very good standing.”
On the seeming delay in taking action against Sanusi since his travails started in May 2013, Abati said, “I spoke of investigation. Investigation is a process. It is not that you raise a query and that query is answered and then you immediately take a decision.
“And of course, even with the report from the Financial Reporting Council, I told you that investigations are still continuing because there are so many issues from the FRC runn- ing into pages upon pages with annexus.”
Before Abati defended the President’s action, officials of the State Security Service were reported to have seized Sanusi’s passport shortly after he arrived in Lagos from Niger Republic.
He was said to have been accosted by some operatives who detained him briefly and insisted he must surrender his passport.
Sanusi’s associates and friends, including a former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nasir el-Rufai, were at the airport to welcome him. They drove out of the airport in a convoy.