THE NATIONAL MIRROR – Propelled by growing public sympathy and the provisions of the CBN Act, 2007 which insulates him from undue executive interference, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria insists on running out his tenure of five years, in what many see as unusual defiance to the position of President Goodluck Jonathan. How long will this fight last?
Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, governor, Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, may really not be liked by many, but there seems to be an aggregation of opinion that is currently pushing the tide in favour of the Kono prince.
Following the leakage of the September 2013 letter he wrote to President Goodluck Jonathan, in which he raised several issues bothering on the management of the country’s crude oil revenue, the CBN governor had more or less become an object of ridicule, particularly when he later apologized that the $49.8 billion he alleged was not remitted was untrue.
Last week, however, the issue took another dimension, as the presidency was said to have ordered Sanusi, whose tenure expires in June to resign immediately or proceed on pre-retirement leave allegedly on the account of the leaked letter.
Very reliable sources told Business Courage that hawks within the presidency had amounted ceaseless pressure on President Goodluck Jonathan to sack Sanusi on the grounds his leaked letter on the unremitted $49.8 billion oil revenue to the Federation Account provided the arsenal with which former President Olusegun Obasanjo used to attack President Jonathan in his now controversial letter.
According to a Presidency source, the hawks had succeeded in getting the president very angry to the extent that he was not prepared to allow the CBN governor proceed on his terminal leave in March, and had therefore, asked him to tender his resignation before the close of business last Tuesday.
But Sanusi had told the president that the letter was available in the Presidential Villa, Finance Ministry and the Central Bank of Nigeria, and wondered how he (Sanusi) could have leaked the letter, which was so widely circulated, to a former two-term president of Nigeria who has his people all over the place.
Sanusi also expressed surprise that the president could ask him to resign instead of him looking for those responsible for the non-remittance of the funds.
Sources say his response threw the president aback, degenerating into a heated exchange during which Sanusi reportedly told the president that as the Federal Government’s Chief Economic Adviser, mandatorily required to bring issues of critical economic importance to the attention of the president, he had done a patriotic duty to his country by his letter detailing his observations on the unremitted crude oil account.
Sanusi was even said to insist that it was necessary for the president to deal with the issues and not the letter that had been leaked since it has been established that it was not $49.8 billion that had not been remitted to the Federation Account, but $10.8 billion, which was still in dispute. “Sanusi felt he was being forced out for doing his patriotic duty to his country by drawing attention to the unaccounted funds. He only has two months to go, so this was a ploy to force him out and destroy his career and reputation. He knew this and for this reason, refused to throw in the towel as requested by the president,” a source said.
The presidency is reported to be worried that Sanusi has remained adamant in exposing the rots in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, by insisting that a proper audit of the account of the corporation be carried out by an external auditor, especially after the NNPC could not still account for $18 billion in crude oil sale between January 2012 and December 2013 in recent accounts reconciliation meetings between the CBN and NNPC.
However, angered by the president’s position, especially when he had severally denied been responsible for the leakage of the letter, Sanusi was said to have made it clear that he would not be forced out, except he is removed by two-thirds of the Senate.
In fact, sources say that part of the initial strategy, since Sanusi had refused to buckle was to announce his suspension, then prevent him from gaining access to his office by deploying security to the CBN office. By doing this, the he would be forced to seek court redress while the president appoints the current Deputy Governor, Financial Systems Stability, Kingsley Moghalu as interim CBN governor to oversee the affairs of the bank until a substantive governor is appointed in June.
However, during a meeting with top management officers of the bank on Wednesday on Wednesday last week, the CBN governor was said to have, contrary to speculations, expressed his determination to remain in office until the expiration of his one-term tenure of five years on June 2.
Ugochukwu Okoroafor, CBN’s Director, Corporate Communications who confirmed the development in Abuja, said the governor used the opportunity provided by the “family meeting” to clear doubts surrounding the expiration of his tenure.
“The CBN is an important organisation in the economy of this country and we have to be careful in whatever we do because our actions send a strong message to the economy as a whole.
“The governor had a meeting with officials of the central bank and it was like a family meeting; and in that meeting, he made it clear that he is not going anywhere until his tenure expires in June.
“He is not proceeding on retirement leave by March as being speculated; rather, he will be retiring on June 2 this year when he will be completing his five-year single tenure,” Okoroafor said, adding that the CBN governor will formally announce his retirement in March, when his successor is expected to be named.
A source close to the apex bank told the Business Courage last Friday that the position of the CBN governor was based on his understanding that unless he is removed by 2/3 of the members of the Senate, it would be practically impossible for the president to unilaterally remove him from office.
Another source said that both the president and the CBN governor may have been persuaded to sheathe their swords in order to stem the negative implication of such untidy departure of the CBN governor on investor confidence and the economy generally.
The CBN governor himself was quoted by a national newspaper on Thursday as saying that all issues between him and the Presidency have been resolved and he will continue to work together with the President whose office he respects, even as he looks forward to a smooth handover to his successor in June.
“Sometimes these things happen but are resolved quickly and I have the highest respect for the office of Mr President. I look forward to a smooth hand over and the President and I will work together to ensure that whoever he appoints to succeed me inherits the robust system we have worked to ensure in the last few years,” Sanusi Lamido said.
However, keen watchers of the unfolding drama insisted that though both parties may have been persuaded to soften their stands, they argued that Sanusi is standing on a higher moral ground, especially when the president is being accused of not doing much to stem the growing incidences of corruption in the country.
Besides, they also argued that Sanusi, having adequately sought legal opinion on the issue, may have decided to bank on the CBN Act 2007 which defi nes the tenure, appointment and removal of the CBN governor.
Section 11(2f) of the CBN Act 2007, says that “The Governor, Deputy Governor or Director shall cease to hold offi ce 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 disqualifi ed or suspended from practicing 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.
Expectedly, the alleged Presidency- Sanusi face off has continued to generating interesting discuss among various interest groups in the country.
A cross section of senior legal practitioners that spoke on the issue maintained that only a two-third majority of the Senate can validly sack the CBN governor from offi ce, adding that President Jonathan would be acting beyond his constitutionally guaranteed powers should he insist on relieving the CBN governor of his duties without recourse to due process.
Professor Itse Sagay, SAN, said that “The CBN governor was right in his position. Although, he was appointed by the president, however, that appointment was ratifi ed by the National Assembly. His removal is supposed to be ratifi ed by the same body.
“Meanwhile, from what we gathered, the government is making the move to remove the CBN Governor from offi ce because of the revelation he made on the non-remittance of oil revenue to the federation account by some government agencies.
“The CBN governor is due to retire in four months time, so what was the urge from the President to want to remove him from offi ce now by all means?”
Festus Keyamo also said that “President Jonathan does not have such powers. The CBN Governor can only be removed by two-third majority of the Senate. Therefore, President Goodluck Jonathan will be acting illegally if indeed there is any truth in the report that he asked the CBN Governor to resign.”
Another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Sebastian Hon, said that the President lacks the powers to compel the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, to resign. “However, if Sanusi wants to resign today he can do so on his own. He has his tenure of employment and the procedure for removing him from office must be followed.
“The President cannot ask him to resign, except for good reason; he cannot be removed from office. Even if the President eventually makes such request, the CBN Governor has the right to reject the directive and insist that due process of the law must be followed.”
Similarly, another SAN, Jubrin Okutekpa, stated President Jonathan has his fundamental right to expression, stressing that just the same way people have been asking him to resign, with others, asking him not to contest election in 2015, so also has he asked the CBN Governor to resign.
“As to whether or not he has the power to fi re the CBN Governor that will be a constitutional issue. Are we going to gag the President from expressing himself? No! He has a right to do so and I see the directive as a mere advice to the CBN Governor. Sanusi has a right not to comply with the directive.
“The President can say whatever he wants to say, but whether or not what he said has any binding effect is another issue. It is my view that the President asking the CBN Governor to resign has no constitutional effect on the CBN Governor. I see it as an advice that can be ignored.”
Ladi Williams, SAN, however believes that the CBN governor holds the office at the “pleasure of Mr. President; it is not an elective offi ce. The president is being polite, requesting for his resignation, and he too should do the rightful and resign honourably.
“For whatever reasons the President had for asking him to go, that is now left for the president to decide. Public offi ce is not office of anybody’s father, people come and go. Until people are forced to leave the office, they don’t do things honourably. As far as I am concerned, he does not need any ratifi cation from the Senate.
However, a political dimension was introduced to the Sanusi/ Jonathan saga last week as the All Progressives Congress (APC) also advised President Jonathan to tread softly on his reported plan to force Sanusi to resign, because of the impact such will have on the nation’s economy.
The party said that asking Sanusi to step down, on the basis of an allegation that he leaked the letter he wrote to the President, over the unremitted $49.8 billion oil revenue, does not bode well for an economy that is already on crutches.
The APC said suspending Sanusi would be a replay of the damage that President Jonathan did to the judiciary when he suspended Justice Ayo Salami until his retirement, and he could easily re-enact such a scenario if, for example, he feels that the INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, has offended him.
It said the party’s main reason for commenting on the planned removal of Sanusi, either through forced retirement or via suspension, is the impact that a crisis of confidence between the President and the CBN Governor will have on the nation’s economy.
‘’These include a loss of confidence in the economic management of the country, leading to uncertainty among domestic and foreign investors; as well as pressure on the exchange rate as foreign portfolio investors in government bonds and the stock market make their exit, and the corresponding fall in the value of share prices.
‘’Overall, a protracted standoff between the President and the CBN Governor will spell bad news for economic growth and employment and increase poverty. This is why we advise President Jonathan against precipitating a crisis in the economy, and we urge all Nigerians to advise him against such,’’ the APC said.
The party said that there was nothing wrong in a CBN Governor alerting the President to any discrepancy he may have noticed in the remittance of revenue from oil, which is the mainstay of the economy, adding that such action is expected from any CBN Governor who is worth his salt.