Sanusi’s Suspension: Right or Wrong?

Better Days... (L-R): Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, Goodluck Jonathan

Better Days…

Today, the 20th of February 2014, the President’s Spokesperson, Dr Reuben Abati, announced that President Jonathan had suspended Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, and had appointed an Acting Governor in his place. Sanusi’s first tenure of 5 years ought to have ended in a few months’ time and he was widely reported not to be interested in a second term, to which he would ordinarily have been entitled.

The announcement of his suspension follows recent reports of turbulence between the erstwhile CBN over several issues, including, allegedly, Sanusi’s insistence on the existence of a huge financial remittance deficit by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.

Does the President have the power to suspend or otherwise remove the Governor from office? Well, sorta, kinda. Section 11 of the CBN Act of 2007 states as follows –

11(1) A person shall not remain a Governor, Deputy Governor or Director of the [Central] Bank [of Nigeria] if he is –

(a) a member of any Federal or State legislative house; or

(b) a Director, officer or employee of any bank licensed under the Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act.

11(2) The Governor, Deputy Governor or Director shall cease to hold office in the Bank if he –

(a) becomes of unsound mind, or owing to ill health, is incapable of carrying out his duties;

(b) is convicted of any criminal offence by a court of competent jurisdiction except for traffic offences or contempt proceedings arising in connection with the execution or intended execution of any power or duty conferred under this Act or the Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act;

(c)  is guilty of a serious misconduct in relation  to his duties under this Act;

(d) is disqualified or suspended from practising his profession in Nigeria by order of a competent authority made in respect of him personally;

(e) becomes bankrupt;

(f)                is removed by the President:

Provided that the removal of the Governor shall be supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate praying that he be so removed.

(3) The Governor or any Deputy Governor may resign his office by giving at least three months’ notice in writing to the President of his intention to do so and any Director may similarly resign by givingat least one month’s notice in writing to the President of his intention to do so.

(4) If the Governor, any Deputy Governor of Director of the Bank dies, resigns or otherwise vacates his office before the expiry of the tem for which he has been appointed, there shall be appointed a fit and proper person to take his place on the Board for the unexpired period of the term of appointment in the first instance if the vacancy is that of –

(a) the Governor or a Deputy Governor, the appointment shall be made in the manner prescribed by section 8(1) and (2) of this Act; and

(b) any Director, the appointment shall be made in the manner prescribed by section 10(1) and (2) of this Act.

If we look at 11(2)(f), which was highlighted, I believe we can conclude that the President has taken a legitimate first step in removing Sanusi from the position of Governor. However, the removal is what we lawyers like to describe as “inchoate” until it is ratified by a two-thirds majority of the Senate. Can Senate President, David Mark, deliver a two-thirds majority to the President, to rubber-stamp Sanusi’s removal? One is confused with all the defections and cross-defections in the National Assembly of late, but we will just have to wait and see.

Of Bullies and The Fickle

In our country, there is a customary acclamation that follows the writings of some people, regardless of the depth (or otherwise) of their summations. Such writers are usually either people who have paid their dues in theie profession (or the public eye) and whose reputation therefore precedes their publications; or they are people who generally produce populist material (populism, of course, isn’t necessarily a bad thing but that’s probably a discussion for another day). I think that in Chief Dele Momodu, we may have a combination of both. The good Chief’s most recent piece on the “bully” that is the Central Bank Governor, in my opinion, fully supports my belief.

The article starts with the propositions that Mallam Sanusi is a poor student of history and that Nigerians are fickle (these may very well be so, but that is not my grouse with his piece). He proceeds to recount Nigeria’s political upheaval from Shehu Shagari to the second incarnation of the Obasanjo presidency, to illustrate how today’s political darling is tomorrow’s scorned lover. Thereafter, the article places Mallam Sanusi firmly in its cross-hairs and fires salvo after salvo at Sanusi’s character, with absolutely no effort made at any analysis of the policies being decried.

According to Chief Momodu, Sanusi is all of the following – lord of a fiefdom, a reckless spender [on outlandish projects], academically brilliant but unbridedly radical, someone who does things in the extreme and lacks the tolerance to persuade others, a loose canon, a sword of Damocles against his foes, vainglorious, rabblerousing, sharp-tongued, attention-seeking, a bully. Of course, in the traditional way that one public figure criticising another usually does, he pays him a (nearly paradoxical) compliment – Sanusi is also princely and charming. Awwww.

We are then treated to an encyclopaedia’s definition of “bullying”, which as most people now know, is a faux pas in academic documents as well as those of the rather serious nature that public commentary is. It is insightful too to read that while Sanusi “[took] on and sacked otherwise brilliant bankers” (emphasis on ‘otherwise’ mine), Chief Momodu also refers to him as “… a Sanitory Inspector in the cesspool of banking mess.” (So, which is it?) Finally, the article ends with Chief Momodu’s opinion on why the N5,000 note palaver has reached its current position, which is the issue that precipitated the article.

I believe that a man who would be president needs to make a more strenuous effort at public/economic commentary. We can surmise from the good Chief’s summation that he disagreed with Sanusi on the N5,000 note. However, because all we see is a list of what he perceives as Sanusi’s character defects, we can only conclude that Momodu disagrees with the N5,000 note because of Sanusi’s character; because Sanusi is an unbridled radical (or attention-seeking, or rabblerousing, or any of the other choice words he used).

There is also the suggestion that that Sanusi did not gauge the mood of Nigeria before embarking on his “N5,000 note misadventure”. For me, this is the most worrying line in the article. Apart from side-stepping the statutory corporate governance structure of the Central Bank (and making this a wholly Sanusi issue), I disagree that a regulator must only use its statutory power in line with the public mood. Think of the stagnation and anti-development this would cause in immigration or taxation or enforcement of health and safety standards, for example. Being a good leader sometimes requires making the unpopular choice.

 

The truth is that, by law, the CBN has a Board of Directors “responsible for the policy and general administration of the affairs and business of the Bank.” The Board comprises the Governor (who doubles as its chairman), four Deputy Governors, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance and five directors. The five directors are to be appointed by the President of Nigeria and each of them is required to be “a person of recognized standing in financial or banking affairs”.

In matters of the country’s currency, the CBN Act states that “Currency notes and coins issued by the Bank shall be in such denominations of the naira or fractions thereof as shall be approved by the President on the recommendation of the Board.” This suggests that before the announcement of the dates for the introduction of the new currency was made, the Board must have recommended it to the President and President Jonathan must have approved it. I am therefore surprised at the direction in which populism has steered discussion on this policy.

Am I suggesting that every government policy should be accepted? Of course not. Do I think the introduction of the N5,000 note would have been good for Nigeria? I am not an expert in economics and my personal feelings are irrelevant, although I cannot help but notice the deafening silence and lack of suggested alternatives to the CBN’s clear and present cash handling and cash management issues and costs.

When people who do not know better ask dodgy questions such as “how do you reconcile the cashless/cashlite CBN policy with the N5,000 note?” I say, leave them, for they do not know any better. Educate them, if you will. However, when a figure of Chief Momodu’s stature, history and leanings doesn’t separate the character of the CBN governor from whether or not we have an efficient vibrant central bank today, then more than the plaudits that followed that piece, eyebrows must be raised and questions asked.