For a few months, there has been a raging fire in the Nigerian political sphere due to the allegation by the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi that about $20billion has not been remitted to the Federation Account by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) whom he also accused of running an illegal and fraudulent kerosene subsidy scheme.
Last week, President Goodluck Jonathan decided to pour more fuel on the fire by the suspension of Sanusi, which he claims is his action upon investigations by the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRC) since June 2013 where the CBN under Sanusi was accused of “financial recklessness and misconduct and far reaching irregularities”.
Expectedly, this action has raised a lot of talk across the country and even in the international media, going by the fact that the Sanusi is not just the Governor of the Central Bank, but also one who has consistently been celebrated in the global view.
The popular opinion, and one which I align myself with, is that the President has made a serious error of judgment in suspending Sanusi, and it is hard for one to not see it as political witch-hunting.
The action raise more than a few questions: if the FRC had submitted this “damning” report on Sanusi to the President since mid-2013, why did the President wait eight months before taking action? His supporters have tried to spin this as due to a temperament of the President that he is many times slow in taking action on sensitive issues while he measures all options and takes the best one.
However, the facts say otherwise: for example, when his party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) split into factions and the rebel faction including five governors walked out of its Special Mini-Convention last August, it took the President all of two weeks to sack nine ministers from his cabinet, many of them from the states of the rebel governors who nominated them and seen as being loyal to them.
Even if one is to believe that indeed the President was taking his time on taking an action on Sanusi, can one also excuse a blatant lack of common sense in the timing of the decision? He of all people ought to know that taking such action at this time looks in every way like a political witch-hunt where a top government official blowing the whistle on a possible high-level, multi-billion dollar scam is shown the way out.
Let us look at it: the FRC submits a report of financial impropriety at the Central Bank, a report which itself admitted that was a preliminary investigation and that a more thorough one should be conducted; the President sits on the report until months later, the Central Bank governor causes him great embarrassment by exposing a possible scam. He then decides that the FRC report be unearthed and used to show the CBN governor out, knowing very well that he will not be able to muster the necessary two-thirds of the Senate to sack him. A very convenient manner of easing Sanusi out, knowing that even if it is challenged and reversed in court, by then, Sanusi’s tenure will have elapsed.
But what exactly was Sanusi’s crime? Is it the fact that he blew the whistle? Or is it the fact that the allegation provided the President’s critics and political opposition with ammunition to attack him?
Let us look at it again: just as he had acted on the FRC report, the President sat on the letter Sanusi wrote to him about the possible scam in September 2013. He did not take any action on it until December when his former ally and predecessor, Olusegun Obasanjo made reference to it in his open letter.
So is this based on the suspicion that Sanusi leaked the letter to Obasanjo? I beg to differ. Every government has its leaks and a letter that was copied to four offices within the government is not going to be immune to leaking, which could have been from anywhere. For example, ThisDay columnist Olusegun Adeniyi disclosed in an article of his that he saw the letter a full month before Obasanjo’s open letter, meaning it was circulating. One cannot blame the opposition for using this against him; indeed, Jonathan would have done same if in their shoes.
If anyone is to be blamed more for allowing the opposition to politicize this issue, it is President Jonathan himself whose inaction on the allegation allowed it to fester like an open wound. He had an opportunity, a head start which he should have taken advantage of by immediately launching investigations into it. Who can now be blamed if the assumption of his involvement in the said scam is made?
The message that has been sent by these events is that this government is intolerant of criticism, especially when it comes from within, and that it expects people within it not to rock the boat. It also portrays the President as unwilling to clamp down on high-level corruption in his government.
Ironic enough, the same Sanusi that stuck his neck out for the President during the fuel subsidy crisis has been suspended because he is attempting to expose corruption within the same sector.
From all indications, it seems Sanusi has been removed from office because his loyalty to the President is not sure and solid. However, the President forgets that loyalty to the nation is above and beyond loyalty to one individual.
The action of the President definitely reeks of a tolerance for corruption and vindictiveness on the wrong person when the whistleblower is being punished and the ones implicated are walking around free, or in the official words of the government, till an independent audit is done.