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Opinion: Sanusi And The Cover-up Syndrome

Matthew Adejoh

Nothing has been more gratifying in recent times to many Nigerians than the dethronement of the man who went about as if he were the ‘Emir’ of the Nigerian financial instituions, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. As Mr Adebayo Adeleke, General Secretary, Independent Shareholders Association of Nigeria (ISAN), said in a report filed by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) and relayed on several news outlets, Sanusi’s suspension was long over-due.  According to NAN, Adeleke also said that Sanusi’s tenure as Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor should be investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

The suspended CBN governor, who sometimes went to office and public functions in a turban and fanciful flowing gowns to emphasise his ‘emirship’, conducted himself in the most arrogant manner ever seen in a public officer in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.  He saw himself as someone running a parallel government, a de facto ‘co-president’, funding unbudgeted and unapproved projects unrelated to his job description at his whim.  To underscore this, on January 9, 2014, Nigerians woke up to read in a daily newspaper how President Goodluck Jonathan had asked Sanusi to resign and he rebuffed the nation’s number one citizen and then came out to boast about it.

How did Nigeria end up with a ‘co-president’ that the country did not elect?  To recap briefly, Sanusi wrote a letter to the real President which the country elected.  In the letter, Sanusi stated that $49.8bn from the sale of the nation’s crude oil was missing. A while later, the same Sanusi recanted and admitted before the whole nation that he had made a mistake in his letter.  Arising from that unforgettable gaffe of 2013, Sanusi came back to assault Nigerians with a new set of figures.  We heard $12bn, and then $20bn.  There was even mention of $67bn somewhere in this barrage of figures.

Interestingly, it has now been confirmed that Sanusi resorted to his insincere whistle-blowing act against the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and his nauseating figure joggling after he had been confronted by the presidency with his indictment by the Financial Reporting Council in June 2013.  He knew that his infractions of the extant laws and procedures were grave.  He decided to be the first to make open allegation of missing money or money not remitted to the Federation Account by the NNPC.  The narrative is not new to Nigerians.  I will revisit it shortly.

But now that he has been suspended from office, it has become clear that all the figures Sanusi was bandying about were all part of an elaborate smokescreen or cover up to confuse Nigerians about his financial recklessness and unprofessional conduct at the CBN. The list of his misdeeds, which is now in the public domain for all Nigerians to read and acquaint themselves with, is long and staggering.

Ranging from what amounts to tax evasion by all staff members of the CBN due to the institution’s failure to implement the provisions of the Personal Income Tax (Amendment) Act 2007, through billions of naira spent on spurious subheads such as ‘Lunch for policemen’, to more billions purportedly paid to an airline that has had no significant operations for over two years, Sanusi’s CBN was a cesspool of unbridled waste and outright fraud.

As far back as June 7, 2013, the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRC) had recommended to President Jonathan that Sanusi be removed from office and an investigation launched into the operations of the apex bank. Apart from the galling picture of incompetence, financial recklessness, waste and fraud that has now emerged, Sanusi’s CBN could not even observe the corporate governance practices which were the basis that Sanusi himself used in hounding several bankers like Erastus Akingbola and Cecelia Ibru to jail. What manner of hypocrisy! No wonder Sanusi went on the offensive, churning out figure after figure against the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) all in the hope of giving his eventual removal a political colouration.

It is most telling that the FRC in its briefing note of June 7, 2013 to the President warned of this very scenario of politicisation of Sanusi’s removal if the President failed to act swiftly. But the President, most likely in a bid to ensure that due process was followed, stayed action until investigations had reached a stage where irrefutable proof of gross misconduct was established against Sanusi. And yet Sanusi had already learned the Cover-Up Syndrome, probably from a close friend of his who is a former minister of the Federal Capital Territory and a beneficiary of a multi-billion naira contract awarded by Sanusi’s CBN.

The Cover-Up Syndrome, for Nigerians who may not have paid close attention to the trend, is a scenario where some individuals launch pre-emptive corruption accusations against government or agencies of government once they become aware that they are under investigation. That way, when government’s slow bureaucracy eventually catches up with them, they can shout: “It is because I’m fighting corruption; that is why they are after me.”

Unfortunately for Sanusi, while the Cover-Up Syndrome may be keeping his pal-a renowned expert at the game-out of jail, it will not work for him. The facts against the suspended CBN governor are clear for the whole country to see. Sanusi should indeed hasten to court, as he has threatened, so that all Nigerians may know whether a public official appointed by the first citizen, in whom the country has entrusted her sovereignty, has the authority or not to suspend such an appointee when he or she violates the laws of the land.

Regarding the allegations against Sanusi, the investigative bodies, like the EFCC, need to urgently conclude their investigations and charge the suspended CBN governor to court where the full weight of the law should be visited on him if he is found guilty of any wrongdoing. If there is one lesson that must come out of this saga, it is that no matter what, Nigeria should never again be allowed to descend to a country with more than one president at a time.


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