AN earthquake hit Nigeria’s financial sector yesterday.
President Goodluck Jonathan suspended Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi from office, appointed Dr Sarah Alade as Acting Governor and named Zenith Bank Managing Director Godwin Emefiele as governor – subject to the Senate’s confirmation.
The naira dropped six kobo against the dollar, the Stock Exchange closed and there was outrage over the suspension. President Jonathan was under attack for suspending a whistle-blower.
Sanusi, who is due to step down on June 2, was suspended precipitately due to “various acts of financial recklessness and misconduct”, according to a statement by presidential spokesman Reuben Abati.
But Minister of Finance Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala assured all that the CBN’s monetary policies under the suspended governor would continue.
The statement suspending Sanusi, released while the governor was attending a meeting of central bank governors in Niamey, Niger Republic, said:
“Having taken special notice of reports of the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria and other investigating bodies, which indicate clearly that Mallam Sanusi Lamido 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 away from the pursuit and achievement of its statutory mandate; and
“Being determined to urgently re-position the Central Bank of Nigeria for greater efficiency, respect for due process and accountability, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has ordered the immediate suspension of Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi from the Office of Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria.
“President Jonathan has further ordered that Mallam Sanusi should hand over to the most senior Deputy Governor of the CBN, Dr Sarah Alade, who will serve as Acting Governor until the conclusion of on-going investigations into breaches of enabling laws, due process and mandate of the CBN.
“The President expects that as Acting Governor of the Central Bank, Dr. Alade 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 of Nigeria 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.”
But financial analysts, political leaders, lawmakers, and other Nigerians criticised the action.
Most of them said it was to preempt full investigation into Sanusi’s allegation that $20 billion oil money is missing. Besides, he blew the whistle on illegal kerosene subsidy.
Financial analyst Bismark Rewane said Sanusi’s removal is “very disruptive”. He warned of “a very difficult time” for the naira and the Nigeria financial market in the near-term.
The opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) described Sanusi’s suspension as “patently illegal, poorly thought- out and in bad taste”.
It predicted negative consequences for the economy.
Lagos lawyer Bamidele Aturu said the presidential action is “a desecration of the rule of law”, adding: “It is unsurpassed in its blatant illegality and immorality”.
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar urged Sanusi to challenge in court the legality of his suspension.
In a statement, he said Jonathan lacked the power to suspend a CBN governor.
Former World Bank Vice President (Africa) Oby Ezekwesili faulted Sanusi’s suspension in the midst of the ongoing probe of the “missing” $20billion oil cash.
She said Nigerians would not trust President Jonathan’s rationale for suspending Sanusi.
Mrs Ezekwesili said: “For the CBN Governor to be suspended when serious issues of ‘missing’ $20billion that he raised remain unresolved shows intolerance for accountability.
“I hope the President knows there is a dark cloud of distrust in his suspension of the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. Three things cannot be sent on suspension, the sun, the moon and the truth.
“The issue of mismanagement of oil revenue should not be personalised. Everything about the suspension of Sanusi is wrong; the timing is wrong. We cannot personalise issues of governance.”
Responding to a question, Mrs Ezekwesili said: “It is possible Sanusi may have issues to account for, but to sack or suspend the CBN governor in the midst of public hearing, what signal does it portend? What signal does it send to everybody and to the world? We are saying that it is okay for impunity to reign.
“If not for disagreement over figures, we would never have known that these letters were going on. My goodness! I don’t understand our nation.”
The ex-World Bank VP insisted that the suspension of Sanusi would not distract the nation from asking questions about oil revenue.
She added: “A thoughtful primary school child can figure out that the mathematics of our oil revenue in a season of oil boom does not add up at all.
“You do not need a genius to know that all is not well with our oil industry, especially our earnings. Let us compare ourselves with other OPEC countries benefiting from high oil prices.
“Majority of the OPEC countries have built up reserves and savings. Our savings have reduced significantly; we must ask questions.”
Mrs Ezekwesili said ideally she had no basis for defending Sanusi because the CBN Governor had joined forces 18 months ago to dispute issues she raised in a convocation lecture at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
But she said she does not believe in personalising governance issues.
“If I had a mindset that focuses on persons and not issues, I would not raise a voice for Governor Sanusi, considering the fact that he also disputed my UNN speech, she said, adding:
“The fact remains that the questions I posed in my speech 18 months ago at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka are staring us in the face and need to be answered…they will not go away.
“Nation building is not about individual likes and dislikes. Democracy will never mature if we stayed with proclivity to personalise governance.
“We need to build institutions; we need to build our democracy. Commitment to public accountability is part of building institutions.”
Mrs Okonjo-Iweala assured the economic community that Sanusi’s suspension will not change Nigeria’s economic policy focus.
She told reporters that the macro-economic stability and a tight fiscal stance, which have been the hallmarks of the Jonathan administration, will continue to be maintained to continue the transformation of various sectors of the economy, especially in job creation and infrastructural development.
She added that the government would continue with Sanusi’s policies which helped the naira to stabilise, but stressed that “it is normal for the markets to react to a major development involving a key economic manager”. “Things will settle down as it becomes obvious that policy continuity is being maintained.”
On the appointment of Dr Alade, Mrs Okonjo-Iweala expressed confidence in her competence to manage the CBN and ensure the continuation of the monetary policy focus that prevailed under Sanusi.
“We have the confidence the new governor when confirmed will help us bring stability to the market. My concern today is, we have an acting governor in place and she has the capacity, the ability and the confidence to run the CBN. She has been the longest serving DG for Policy; she has the experience and if she has been part and parcel of the drafting of policies that touch stability, we know that these policies will continue.”
On why the President chose to suspend Sanusi now that a probe is being conducted on the alleged missing $10.8 billion oil funds, the minister said the prerogative to administer the country lies with the President.
She said: “It is the prerogative of the President to make this kind of decisions. He is running the Nigerian government and that is his prerogative.