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Understanding Sanusi Lamido Sanusi

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Mr Controversy. If that title is to be given to any Nigerian today, I don't think anybody will disagree that the governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, fits the bill most. From 2009 when he assumed office as the boss of the country's apex

 bank, Mr Sanusi has refused to be out of the news. His predecessor, Professor Chukwuma Soludo, was equally controversial, but clearly less than the Kano prince. But unknown to many people, Sanusi has always been controversial, at least in the past one and a half decades. This much he asks in the opening part of his satire, 'Dialogue with a Critics' (January 31, 2001).

Armed with gift of the gab, sharp pen, extensive readings in history, philosophy, politics, religion, sociology and ethnology, and most importantly, an intrepid personality, the Kano prince never hesitates to make known his views on just any issue. The result of this has been controversies upon controversies and, not being one that bulges on his convictions, he doesn't appear ruffled even at the height of the controversies.

In 2012 alone that is less than 60 days old, Mr Sanusi has been at the centre of at least three major controversies - the fuel subsidy conundrum where he was practically the Federal Government's poster boy; his interview with respected international media, Financial Times, where he reportedly linked violence in the northern part of the country to the flaw in revenue allocation yardsticks in the country; and third, CBN's donation of N100 million to Kano state for the reparation of the state aftermath of Boko Haram onslaught.

For such a man, meaning different things to different people is only natural. Now, who is Sanusi Lamido Sanusi?   Is he truly an ethnic jingoist or religious fanatic as some of his critics say? Or is he truly a genuine patriot with a passion for the country as his admirers would have us believe?   Opinions on Sanusi actually transcend these two categories. There are some Nigerians that hold mid-way views between the two extremes - who believe that he is passionate about the country but with an air of jingoism. Yet, there are some other critics whose issue with Sanusi is not about motive but about methodology and perhaps personality. This class of people, mostly professionals and respected newspaper columnists, are not bothered about Sanusi's ethnic and religious affiliation but take him on his policies and actions without imputing any motive to them. Respected economic analyst Henry Boyo(Les Leba), Ijeoma Nwogwugwu, and probably Professor Pat Utomi fall into this category. This essay dwells on the first two sharp categories of opinions on the CBN governor and why I align myself with one of them, which I will state at the end of the article.

  The first time I heard the name Lamido Sanusi was in 2008 when I read in newspapers that a successor had been named for the retiring Mr Joseph Moyo Ajekigbe as Managing Director of First Bank of Nigeria Plc. But in retrospect, I now have a faint recollection of one long, heavy-worded article on the backpage of Thisday newspaper around 2004, with author's name Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, said to be a manager in UBA. When shortly after assuming office as FBN GMD his name came up again as likely successor to Professor Chukwuma Soludo as Governor of Nigeria's apex bank, I was forced to ask: who is this lanky Fulani guy? The answer to that was to be supplied by a whole weekend of research on the man. That was in May 2009. I found myself drenched in the writings of the man, as well as counter-writings and rejoinders to his many controversial writings. If one pretended not to be taken away by his great writing skills and depth of knowledge of fields other than his primary profession of banking, you cannot but be impressed by his courage. I saw a Sanusi that had written on virtually every dominant issue in Nigeria from 1998-2005, from marginalization exchanges between the northern and the southern leaders, to power rotation, to National Confab, to debt relief, to sharia debate, just name it. As a sucker for finely written opinion articles in newspapers, I wondered why I didn't come across the man's writings earlier. Straight from my study, I came up with a piece titled 'The Lamido Sanusi I didn't Know' which was published by Thisday and some other newspapers in June 2009. In addition to that, I spoke with a number of people that worked with Sanusi in First Bank and UBA and based on all my research my conclusion on Sanusi was that he was one honest, intelligent and courageous man who was neither a tribalist nor a religious fundamentalist. Three years after, do I still hold that view? I will come back to that.

In subsequent paragraphs I dig up classic quotes from Sanusi in his articles written between 1998 and 2005 and leave every objective reader to draw conclusion on whether someone that wrote that will be a religious or tribal champion.  

Sanusi has been accused by many Nigerians of trying to rationalize the Boko Haram activities in the north with his FT comment, while some people went further to accuse him of complicity. Writing in 1999, in article titled 'Issues in Restructuring Corporate Nigeria', Sanusi wrote: '….The second point, which the Muslim elite ignores, is the dividing line between commitment to Sharia and encroachment on the religious rights and dignity of others.

'I will give a few examples:-   Very recently, the Katsina State Government tried to pass Bills banning the sale of alcohol and the operation of whore-houses in the metropolis. As a consequence of this move (and, it is said, failure of the House to approve the Bill), irate Muslim youth, shouting Allahu Akbar decided to burn not just beer parlours, hotels and whorehouses, but also Christian churches.

'Now, the Qur'an (Hajj. (ch. 22): 40) specifically forbids tearing down monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques. Yet the leaders of Muslims have not come out strongly enough to condemn this violation of the rights of Christians, nor considered the implications of Christians in turn burning mosques in retaliation. It is also worthy of note, that Christian morality does not approve of alcoholism and prostitution.

'A second example is the recent furore over Obasanjo's appointment of northern Christians into his cabinet. I have elsewhere made my views on this known although several people have branded me, and others like Col. Umar, anti-Islamic or anti-north for not joining this hypocritical farce

'In failing to rise above bigotry and chauvinism, northern Muslims act against injunctions of their faith. The Qur'an expressly preaches freedom of religion [see, for example: Al-Baqarah (ch.2): 256; Yunus (ch.10): 108; Hud (ch.11): 121-122; Kahf(ch18):29;  and Al-Ghashiyah (ch.88) :21-24]

'It is also pertinent for those who criticize us to recall that Allah specifically instructed that trust and leadership should be given only to those worthy of them and to judge between men with justice (Al-Nisa (ch.4): 58). Also, if anyone believes that false witness should be given for or against a man simply because he is a Muslim or Non-Muslim, he should read [Al-Nisa (ch4): 135; also 105and Al-Ma'idah ((ch.5): 6]. Finally for those who object to our inviting good muslims and good christians to come together and give the poor people of this country the good government preached by both faiths, please read [Al-Imran (ch3): 64] which provides a basis for coming together on common ground. '

I seriously doubt somebody that risked his life to take his northern leaders head on on an issue few people dare look at them in the face like misguided killings is qualified to be called a religious bigot.   An objective reading of Sanusi's past writings shows a man that though proudly Muslim and Fulani (and anyone should be proud of his religion and ethnic group) but never believes people of other affiliations should be treated with partiality because of their affiliation. This is why I have voluntarily passionately been at the forefront of disabusing people's minds about the man. I have referred people to his other articles like 'Muslim Leaders and the Myth of Marginalization' (2004), 'The Adulteress Diary' (2001) and 'In defence of Reverend father' (2005) where he openly criticized leaders of his tribe and religion for hiding under religion to achieve selfish aims. Of course, I am not unaware of articles like 'Afenifere: A syllabus of error' and 'Igbo, Yoruba and History', where he gave it hot to leaders of other tribes (mind you, not religion) too, it can only be concluded that he is unsparing of any bad leader irrespective of where he comes from.

It is in the light of the above that I strongly doubt, if not totally sure, that Sanusi is not a religious or ethnic champion who is out to pursue any ulterior agenda. But in a nation where mutual suspicion among the various religious and ethnic groups is as old as the country itself, religion and ethnicity are the easiest thing you can manipulate to whip up sentiments against a person. This is why an issue like Islamic banking that has been in the news since 2005, during Professor Soludo's CBN governorship days can now be controverted, and people will not care to listen that it is a model of banking that is being explored in various parts of the world.

In all fairness, it will be unfair to totally dismiss the arguments of those that doubt Sanusi's motive without examining some of them. A lot of people have wondered why a good number of Sanusi's past writings bordered on religion and ethnicity. Some also ask why he studied Islamic studies in Sudan. Sanusi is also a Islamic scholar and a prince, and I wonder what benefit his Islamic studies degree is of, if he doesn't contribute to religious discourses. And from all his articles I have read, he never approves of violence, rather he uses his Islamic knowledge to enlighten Muslims and debates with other Islamic scholars, including standing behind Sefiya Husseini, the convicted 'adulteress' under Sokoto's sharia in 2001, to the personal discomfort of being threatened and pilloried. It is also uncharitable to question why he studied Islamic studies, when there are many professionals and public officers   from all religious divides that have taken personal decisions to learn more about their faiths, most notably President Obasanjo's decision to study Theology, without any hue.

Brings us to his latest controversial statement about resource-violence relationship and donation to Kano state government.   Sanusi is a Central Banker and economist, talking to an international media, and looking at issue from economic perspective (poverty and inequality). I personally don't totally share his view on that statement but I believe it should be examined based on its merit and subject to intellectual rebuttal, not bringing down the roof and playing the motive card again. Same applies to Kano donation. I also personally hold that it is a poor judgment, and even if legally empowered to do so, it is all too open to criticism. But knowing Sanusi, even if from afar, I seriously doubt he will be a party to nepotism.   John Owubokiri, writing in the Vanguard (February 7, 2012) situated his action within the realm of his past article on Zakat. I think this is far off too. Money from government purse is not zakat and Sanusi knows that. But while disagreeing with Sanusi on these, I think it is more dignifying if we don't reduce it to tribal and religious motivation but to look at the legality and correctness of these actions.

Now, is Sanusi infallible? Definitely not. Has he erred since he became public figure? Yes, I have reservations about a number of his statements and actions, including the last two quoted above. But what is very clear to me from studying Sanusi is that this man is an honest, patriotic, altruistic Nigerian with an uncompromising personal integrity but whose passion to make this country better for all of us sometimes makes him cross t he border. And if permissible, I can put my money on that.

Suraj Oyewale, Chartered Accountant and public commentator, lives in Harmony Estate, Langbasa, Ajah, Lagos.