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Sanusi: The whistle blowers dilemma – Hallmark

By The Citizen

On Thursday 20th February, the Federal Government announced the suspension of Mr. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi as the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. According to the statement signed by President Jonathan spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati, the action was informed by the report of the Financial Reporting of Council of Nigeria, (FRCN) which investigated the CBN governor and its consequent findings are still emerging.

Let us say up front that this newspaper does not have any issues with the details of the report which indicted him and the position of the law regarding it.

We also do not have any issues over the legality of the suspension. We understand that Mr. Sanusi has resolved to challenge its validity in court. That would be a wise course of action to follow.

The fundamental principle underpinning the judicial system in a democracy is the resolution of conflicts which arise in the normal course of governance. There is a trite saying that in a democracy, the legislature makes the law, the executive implements it, while the judiciary interprets it. It is therefore the position of this newspaper that Mr. Sanusi is right to seek legal redress.

All democrats and progressive minded Nigerians should equally support his position and infact urge him to remain steadfast. We are of course aware that some people would interpret his action as confrontational and opposition to the government of President Jonathan. That is understandable, given the usual tendency in our country for people, even otherwise respectable individuals, to be sycophantic. But it is wrong. It is not true that seeking legal redress against an action of the government is tantamount to opposition.

Government is not God and Nigeria, as a democracy, is not operating in the maxim of the divine right of kings. No government, including that of President Jonathan is right or can be right all the time. Having said this, let us hasten to say that we are not necessarily interested in the legality of the suspension. The courts would decide.

Our interest is in the propriety of it and its broad ramifications in the context of good governance, transparency in government and the image of the Jonathan administration.

In September 2013, Mr. Sanusi as Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, wrote a letter to President  Jonathan, alleging that a huge sum of money, about $48billion, were unaccounted for in NNPC remittances to the Federation account. The letter, which was inexplicably leaked, subsequently sparked off a public row. As part of the resolution, both Houses of the National Assembly set up committees to probe the allegations. The Federal Government also set up a tripartite committee consisting of officials of NNPC and Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Ministry of Finance and the CBN to examine the figures submitted by NNPC and reconcile them.

The exercise yielded fruits. The missing figures were reduced to about $10billion. Meanwhile the hearings are still ongoing in both Houses, even as the reconciliation committee is still meeting. The Hon. Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has said that the NNPC must account for the money. In the midst of all these, Sanusi has been subjected to heated public debates. Some people have praised him for his courage and candour in making the allegations. Some others have criticized him as a rabble rouser and a trouble monger, who is bent on rubbishing the Jonathan administration.

Of course, Sanusi is no saint and can even be villainous on occasion. Long before his appointment as CBN governor he had emerged as a controversial public commentator, a gadfly who apparently enjoyed stoking controversy. He took public positions on issues, no matter how contentious. He never shied away from expressing his opinions. Picking such a person to manage an institution as conservative and strategic as the CBN was always a calculated risk. In the event, the Yar'Adua government obviously felt that the risk was worth taking after all. On the job, Sanusi did not disappoint. He literally spoke the roof off the venerable offices of the Bank and caused serial storms. On quite a number of occasions, Hallmark took exceptions to his position, even including some of his policies. But on balance, he did a very good job, infact, an excellent job of managing monetary policy in very difficult socio-economic and political environment. He brought passion, commitment and a unique understanding of monetary policy expertise to his job. Of course, we are aware that there are many Nigerians who do not share our views and whose assessment of Sanusi is largely determined by his reputation as a loose cannon. However, we are confident that in the fullness of time, when the excitement of these times would have cooled, Sanusi's achievements and contributions would be properly appreciated. Hallmark has very little doubt that his place in history would be secure.

Regrettably, we do not share the position of government in respect of the suspension. We are not persuaded that Mr. Sanusi was suspended on the basis of findings of the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRCN) inquiry. We are rather inclined to believe that he was suspended because he had become an irritant, who alleged massive corruption in the NNPC. Even if that is not the truth, it is the most logical conclusion to make. As the lawyers would say, 'what would a reasonable person think? 'The bird cried in the night and the baby died the next morning?'

It is morally wrong, even reprehensible, for Mr. Sanusi to have been suspended at this time, irrespective of whatever government thinks of his increasingly confrontational views and pronouncements. The conventional wisdom and international best practices is that a whistle blower should be protected. Investigations are still ongoing in various legally constituted fora, so why move so heavily against the key prosecution witness? By suspending him, hasn't government done irreparable damage to the effort at establishing the truth of the missing money? Is it afraid of finding out the truth?

Mr. Sanusi is clearly a very controversial figure who as CBN governor, often danced too close to the brink of anger. Nevertheless, we insist that neither his shortcomings nor anything else he may be accused of, justifies his suspension at this time. By opting to expose alleged corruption, he had bought 'insurance cover' for himself against victimization. Under a different criminal justice system, he would have entered into a witness protection programme.

President Jonathan erred to suspend him. This newspaper calls on him to reverse the suspension. Mr. Sanusi should be protected, and not punished. That would be consistent with international best practices, especially for a transformational government.