Lamido Sanusi is not a man to quiver in the face of verbal attacks resulting from his views. His upbringing as a prince must have imbued him with the courage to defend his convictions no matter what his adversaries say. But the last one month has not been the best of times for the economist and grandson of Muhammadu Sanusi, the 11th Emir of Kano. Since his interview with the Financial Times of London, where he pontificated on the Boko Haram sect, Sanusi, who also holds a degree in Saharia from the International University of Africa, Sudan, has been receiving a barrage of criticisms.
But the CBN governor is no stranger to such attacks. Last year, Sanusi incurred the wrath of the National Assembly, when at 7th convocation lecture of the Igbinedion University, Okada, Edo State, he said that 25 per cent of the country’s overheads were being spent on the federal legislators. “If you look at the budget, the bulk of government’s revenue expenditure is on overheads.
That is a big problem; 25 per cent of overheads of the Federal Government go to the National Assembly. We need power. We need infrastructure. So we need to start looking at the structure of expenditure and make it more consistent with the development initiative of the country,” he said.
The National Assembly members were embarrassed by the opprobrium Sanusi’s lecture attracted to them. The Senate invited the CBN governor to appear before its Committee on Appropriation to defend himself. If the Senator Iyiola Omisore committee had thought that it would cow the CBN governor to deny his statement, it was wrong. After being grilled by the senators for more than four hours, Sanusi stood his ground. “By my upbringing, if I’m wrong, I don’t need to be told to come and say I’m wrong and I would apologise. By my nature, if I am not convinced that I’m wrong, I do not apologise and this is really where the point is,” the CBN governor told the committee members.
Sanusi’s insistence generated controversies with many Nigerians lauding him. On December 6, 2010, THE PUNCH published reactions of readers to the ‘war’ between the National Assembly and Sanusi. None of the readers supported the legislators, who were lambasted for their insensitivity to the mass poverty in the land. One Onwuatuelo Marcel , noted, “A professor in some universities earn just N400,000 yet these men who barely finished school earn this much all in the name of lawmaking. I wish to encourage Nigerians to continue fighting this doom that has befallen our economy so that one day, a drastic action will be taken by courageous Nigerians like Sanusi.”
Six months after he started a national debate on federal legislators’ jumbo pay, the CBN governor stirred up a hornet’s nest in June, 2011, when he unfolded the apex bank’s agenda on Islamic banking. Unlike the jumbo pay controversy, where he received the support of Nigerians, Sanusi’s insistence on Islamic banking divided the country along religious lines. While the Christian Association of Nigeria opposed Sanusi’s plan, Muslims groups gave him their backing. Faulting the CBN governor, the CAN President, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, asked, “The problem is this; what does the original CBN Act say about non-interest banking? The original thing does not specify Islamic banking. I don’t know why the CBN governor is kind of twisting things in a way to confuse Nigerians. The original provision is just non-interest banking. Islamic banking is just one kind among many other kinds of non-interest banking. So, why would CBN, an organisation, that represents the Federal Government, that is an institution that represents all Nigerians zero in on only on one kind of non-interest banking? This is the problem with Sanusi and his idea.”
Amid criticisms, Sanusi was unwavering in his commitment to Islamic banking, which has since begun operations in Abuja. The Kano prince dared those who were against the non-interest banking to go to court.
At a lecture organised by a group, Tijjaniya Youth Enlightenment Initiative, Kano on August 7, he said, “I am simply actualising CBN’s dreams by implementing this aspect of this policy. I have done nothing to contravene any section of the country’s banking laws and given the fact that the nation is a democratic country, anybody who feels otherwise can go to court.”
Sanusi found an ally in the President of the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria, Dr. Datti Ahmed, who threatened that Muslims could go to war, if Islamic banking was not introduced. The SCSN president told CAN, “Whatever they call themselves, whether archbishops, priests or whatever they are, let them stop disturbing our lives. We have had enough; let the government warn them because these abuses are enough. We have been patient, but there is a limit to what we can take. On this Jaiz bank (Islamic banking), there is no going back.”
When the fuel subsidy issue began, the CBN governor was not left out of it. Before the debate started, Sanusi had called for fiscal restructuring that would boost production. At the Lagos Town hall meeting organised by the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria, he warned that the country was heading for an economic disaster, if government continued to subsidise fuel. Amid protests against fuel subsidy removal, Sanusi on January 5, 2012, said, “The limited resources of government should be allocated to supporting production-especially if we are running a budget deficit. We cannot keep borrowing to support conspicuous consumption. To support a job creating economy, we need to fund power, transportation infrastructure, market infrastructure and access, technical and vocational education. We need to build rice processing plants, produce starch and cassava flour and ethanol, process our tomato and milk locally, regenerate our textiles firms (which used to employ 600,000 workers but now employ 30,000!), refine our own crude etc. We cannot even begin to do this if 30 per cent of government expenditure is on fuel subsidy, if out of the balance 70 per cent is recurrent spending, 10 per cent is for debt service, 10 per cent goes to the Niger Delta and only 10 per cent is capital expenditure.”
While Nigerians were still battling with the fuel subsidy, the CBN governor ignited another ‘fire’ that is still raging. In the interview withThe Financial Times of London on January 27, 2012, the Kano prince linked activities of the militant Islamic sect, Boko Haram, with the 13 per cent derivation fund being given to oil-producing states. Sanusi, who has been an advocate of economic diversification and critic of reliance on oil, did not advise state governments to look inward and develop their resources. Probably what was on his mind during the interview was how to share the ‘national cake.’ “I have long held the view that ethnic and religious violence in Nigeria has its roots in poverty and deprivation and perceived marginalisation. I always said this about the militancy in the Delta while fully condemning it, the truth remains that militants tapped into a groundswell of frustration. In addressing that problem, we have gone to an extreme now where the levels of poverty in the North are recreating the same conditions and results we saw in the Delta,” Sanusi said in the interview.
There has also been a controversy over the CBN governor’s N100m donation to victims of the January 20 bomb explosions in Kano. Sanusi literally moved the apex bank’s headquarters to his Kano root on February 10, 2012, when he made the donation. At least 185 people were killed in the ancient city during the attacks by Boko Haram. Before the Kano incident, the sect had carried out similar operations in Borno, Yobe, Niger, and Adamawa states, all of which did not receive any donation from the apex bank, until Sanusi went to Saint Theresa Catholic Church Madala, last week, where the apex bank donated N25m.
Indeed, the Kano prince has been under fire since he made the donation. CAN in the 19 Northern states and Abuja described the donation as worrisome,.”It calls for concern and raises serious ethical questions on the side of the CBN Governor, who on several occasions has exhibited sheer insensitivity to the multi-ethnic structure of Nigeria, consequently taking actions that tend to set the country on fire,” the group said in a statement by its Chairman, Saidu Dogo
A human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, described the donation as illegal. He said, “We maintain that the Federal Government has a legal duty to compensate the victims of civil disturbances arising from the crisis of underdevelopment that is associated with a neo-colonial capitalist society which has been embraced by the Goodluck Jonathan administration. With respect to compensation for victims of terrorist attacks, the Federal Government should restrain Mallam Sanusi and other government officials from usurping the statutory functions of the National Emergency Management Agency for dubious political objectives.
The CBN, uncomfortable with criticisms Sanusi’s gesture is attracting has deployed arsenals in its armoury to defend the governor. But the courage with which Sanusi spoke on the jumbo pay and fuel subsidy, seemed to have ebbed when the Kano donation raised dust. It took the intervention of other CBN team to defend the governor. For instance, a CBN board member, Prof. Sam Olofin, said the donation was legal and within the purview of the apex bank’s corporate social responsibility.
Sanusi led management staff of the apex bank to Saint Theresa last week, where he donated N25m to the victims. He explained why he came two months after 44 people were killed in the church and the reason he first went to Kano “You can feel my personal pains at what is happening to the country. When this happened, I was out of the country and after then we have had similar incidents with the very tragic one with the multiple bombings in Kano. And we decided that first of all as a responsible corporate citizen apart from the personal calls, we made to express sympathy, we should go to Kano and come here and give our condolences, give our sympathy,” he said.
Sanusi’s explanation, has however, failed to convince many Nigerians, who have accused him of pursuing a sectional agenda, an accusation the CBN governor resents. He always cites his participation in the struggle to actualise the June 12, 1993 presidential election as one of his democratic credentials.
In the years ahead, Sanusi, in his true colour, will be fully unveiled. Besides his policies in the apex bank, his views on national issues will definitely fetch him more foes and friends.