That Sanusi Lamido Sanusi is no longer seated on the throne, that the calm and ever-smiling Sarah Alade is now act ing governor and that the obviously reserved Godwin Emiefele is now the CBN governor-in waiting- are no longer news. Sanusi came in with the furiousness of Jehu (2nd Kings9:20) as indicated with his brand of reforms, releasing the list of debtors (which never worked) several summersaults, and regulation by the media. His tenure was(Yes, was; that is how the world is!) characterised by unnecessary and avoidable controversies: Islamic banking, Project CURE and N5000 notes, the fate of shareholders in failed banks and the fate of those banks and his own brand of activism. His departure is also characterized by controversies and a lot of dusts have been raised that will take quite a while to settle: the recent hike in public sector CRR to 50% and then 75%; the embarrassing NNPC whistle blowing in which the figure changed from $50bn to $12.5bn to $10bn and then to $20bn (and which I described as a bumpy parting shot-BusinessDay, 21/1/14) and his suspension, the first CBN’s history; a scenario which gave rise to a suspended governor, an acting governor and a governor in waiting!
Surely, we will never forget that Sanusi was here. Already, cases and charges are building up from the government side while Sanusi has declared that he was never appointed by the President(?), that he was only surprised that it did not happen earlier and that he would test the legality of the action in court in the interest of the incoming CBN governor(how patriotic of him!). He has argued that CBN under his care is not as bad as NNPC that runs an illegal subsidy regime and has not audited its account since 2005.The government is assuring that all is normal and the financial markets are reacting negatively, wondering about the CBN autonomy especially when the governor in waiting has no known clear agenda .
As a full-blooded and titled onye-Igbo, whenever things get so complicated I take recourse to the words of our elders. And here we go. Our people say that he whose palm kernels are cracked by benevolent spirits should not forget to be humble. Sanusi is one of the luckiest bank-workers in Nigeria: somebody who worked in the bank for about a decade, abandoned his job for an unrelated degree in Sharia and Islamic studies, still got his job back and ended up at the pinnacle of the banking industry! There must be somebody, some people or some forces beating the drums for him or else, his stay in Khartoum would have been the end of his banking career. And then, there is something definitely wrong with a dog that refuses to hearken to his owner’s whistle or ‘nza’, that tiny bird that challenges his ‘chi’ to a wrestling contest just because it has had a good meal. Furthermore, a fly that would not listen to advice would end up in the grave with the corpse while the ear that would not listen would also be affected when the head is chopped off. But managing a tsetse fly perched in the scrotum is a delicate and risky business; if left there, it will suck the host to death and if killed with a sledge hammer, would crush the host and none of these outcomes are enviable. It appears that the president decided to use the sledge hammer since both outcomes are not palatable especially since if the he-lizard does not showcase his masculinity, it will become an easy prey to village rascals.
The charges leveled against Sanusi are several and indeed, very weighty: Financial recklessness and irresponsibility, lack of regard for due process, serial violation of his beloved CBN act, investing in the Islamic Bank of Malaysia, spending N163bn on CSR in one year and indeed running the CBN like a typical Nigerian Local Government Chairman or as Emirs ran their communities in the days of Indirect Rule. Of course, he has declared his innocence but at the same time contradicted himself by arguing that NNPC under ‘Design’ Madueke is worse than CBN under him. But our elders have a word for him: nobody ever passes the white tissue paper test (whenever you apply a white tissue paper to the anus, it will always come out stained).
But why did the President wait this long and why ‘act’ when SLS was already parking his personal effects from the CBN C-Suite? Why did he behave like the tortoise who has been in a village cell for years( a disused pit toilet) and when the people came to release him, he urged them to hurry up because the stench was unbearable? Is it because you don’t punish a child when he pours away the oil, but rather when he commits the ‘non-offence’ of pouring away ‘oguru’, a useless byproduct from palm-oil production process. So, why wait so long and why not endure him for the remaining few days? Should we risk setting the whole house on fire because of the irritations and inconveniences of a noisome and mischievous rat?
Now the issue of autonomy or independence has once again come to the fore. In 2013, I wrote severally on the issue of CBN independence, especially as regards the proposed amendment to the CBN Act.(CBN Act: To amend or not to amend. Business day,5 editions, 21/1/13-29/2/13 and Amending the CBN ACT: Issues in governance & regulatory framework : The Lagos Banker, December 2013, pp1ff). I argued inter alia that we must separate the power of the CBN from power of its governor and that the main issue is how the governor is using the powers conferred on him by the Act. I also addressed the issue of personality by stressing that as the management of CBN changed from Sanusi1, to Soludo and then to Sanusi2, the way the functions were performed also changed because the personalities changed.
The CBN has an enviable level of autonomy and as it is, the governor can almost do ANYTHING. That ability to do anything and everything is the issue. Truncating the entire Soludo legacy, refusing to discuss the last bank bailout with the house, talking too much and too often and even daring the government of the day are what led to a clip-their-wings mentality that eventually consumed Sanusi.
And our problem is not the autonomy of the CBN but how those who manage the CBN manage the powers and the autonomy embedded in that powerful office. Even as the Act is now, a less combustive character can play that role seamlessly and without much quake. But whatever the case, autonomy must be accompanied by accountability. As a result, the design of delegated power must confront the challenge of finding the right balance between autonomy and accountability. So, while CBN has a reasonable level of autonomy to manage monetary policy, it must explain and justify its actions to the appropriate authorities. It should also act transparently.
The CBN must be accountable, subject itself to civilized oversight and enhance its transparency bearing in mind that it cannot have what Bhide(2013) terms unchecked audacity! CBN managers should also manage relationships with other parties in the monetary policy management process in such a way that most issues are resolved through informal relationships and consultations, even when the law does not compel such. After all, they are all working-or are supposed to be working- in the interest of the same country.
By: Ik Muo