• Friday, March 01, 2024
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A jolting, parting shot from the CBN Governor

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Another issue that made December 2013 very unforgettable was the parting shot from Sanusi who should actually be busy tidying up his table as his turbulent tenure gradually comes to an end. A review of Sanusi’s tenure will surely occupy the economic and banking circles for a greater part of this year and the early birds are already at it! The views will surely be diverse and controversial-just like the subject- but there are two issues that cannot be debated. That he talked too often and much more than is good for his own good and position] and that he attempted to be an activist CBN governor. Sometimes in September 2013, probably out of genuine alarm but definitely in line with his characteristic ‘activism’, he wrote to the president that $50bn of our oil receipts for the first 6 months of 2013, were missing. That was where the matter would have ended until Obasanjo revived his age-long letter-writing skills in December and the Sanusi

letter became a public affair.

Many people joined the fray, asking, demanding and insisting! It also took a political dimension, with many commentators for and against depending on whether they were of the Attacking party or of the Poached party.  But the CBN issued a public statement[Guardian, 13/12/13] restating its statutory responsibilities, and how these are adversely affected by poor accretion of foreign reserves acknowledged that it was aware of high level efforts to sort out the matter and declared it would not engage anyone on the matter and urged the public not to politicize it. My first worry was why it had to be a letter and my first take as a common observer is that while this nation is oiled in iniquity and impunity and while NNPC had given opacity a new meaning, it was not possible for such an amount-about twice our annual budget- to disappear ‘just like that!’. And then…the fireworks! And then..recapitulation!

The NNPC, which is not new to such controversies and which has not acquitted itself creditably in many previous cases fired back: it averred that the usually sure-footed CBN governor spoke out of ignorance as he exhibited lack of understanding of how revenues from crude oil sales are remitted into federation account. The NNPC even declared that the CBN under-declared the actual gross revenue by almost N2bn[N1.7bn]. Some apparently independent opinions also argued that such an amount could not have been missing and that the CBN probably did not get its acts together. I doubted the figures because of the quantum but I believed that the CBN in matters of central banking, like the Pope in matters of faith, was infallible. So, I was still confident that the CBN governor would put the records straight.

However, after a reconciliation meeting with Ministry of Petroleum, ‘controller-general’ of the economy and other relevant agencies[18/12/13]  the governor admitted that he made a mistake, that the amount unremitted now stood at $12bn[and which the Minister of Finance corrected as $10bn] and that more time was needed to sort it out. Sanusi  always says it as it is(or as he sees it);  dances where angels fear to tread and has this ‘I don’t-give-a damn-mentality’. But all  these traits were absent on 18/12/13 as he appeared before the senate public hearing and tried to explain  the difference between missing funds and unremitted funds; between invitation to investigate and outcome of conclusive investigations. It was an embarrassing moment for me as a banker, for the CBN, for our economy and for Nigeria as a country. Bamidele Aturu saw the development as tragic and a signal that people who are ignorant of the demands of their jobs are managing our economy. It is also seen as   grave error evidencing that Sanusi is not thorough enough because as our chief treasurer, he ought to know the processes and dynamics of our macro money flows.

Many questions arose and kept arising since then. If the CBN Governor could reconcile these figures with these officials and agencies, why did he not do it before and why should letters be written? Was he denied sufficient explanation until he cried foul? Was he deliberately kept out of the picture or was he in a hurry to play his self-appointed activist roles? The NNPC declared that it had replied to the queries contained in the letters. Did the CBN receive the response; was it satisfied with it or not; did it raise extra posers and why did it not admit that it received went explanation from the NNPC on the matter when the letter went viral? If $50bn was actually missing, why should CBN wait until it got to that catastrophic level before complaining?  Even all the agencies involved in the reconciliation have their accounts managed by the CBN; was it so difficult to trace the flows? What is the level of coordination and collaboration between the

economic agencies of the government especially now that we have somebody with the grand title of coordinating minister for the economy?

The NNPC has explained the ‘outstanding’ $10bn+ as traceable to subsidies [subsidies again!] oil theft, pipeline protection, etc. did these explanations or justifications come before or after and why did NNPC not offer that explanation initially? If CBN with all its gurus and experts could not understand NNPC accounting process and model, how can  an ‘mmadu-nkiti’[ordinary folk ]like me understand it!How do we manage the reputational and other damages done to our key economic institutions[CBN, NNPC], our entire  governance structure and our economy? What value do other institutions, governments and agencies place on the communications from the CBN or about our economy?

It has also shown the type of politics we play in the country. The missing $50bn was a central part of Obasanjos ‘satanic verses’; it was one of the reason why the APC wanted Jonathan impeached; it was another reason why Senator Adeyeye had the difficult task of disagreeing with the Senate President and it also supported the body-language theory of Speaker Tambuwal who appears to be having the best from both the APC and PDP. Sanusi has unwittingly fouled the political waters or given more cannon to the political do-or-die-warriors. Of course none has admitted that there might have been an error of judgment in their outbursts.

Sanusi has given the country a bumpy parting shot. For 5 years, he nearly talked himself into trouble. This time, he did not talk himself into trouble-because he is already out- but he has boxed himself into a corner! There is need to open up the NNPC so that people can readily understand what they do there. There should also be better coordination among the agencies of government in the pursuit of the common good. Finally, search for the next CBN governor should have been at an advanced stage now. Unfortunately, we don’t know who the front runners are and what the selection criteria are. But the recent $50bn affair has also thrown light on the type of personality we should be looking for in the next governor.

 

Ik Muo