by Oge Okonkwo
Nigeria’s president Goodluck Jonathan on Monday said that the suspended Lamido Sanusi was still the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria.
The president said Sanusi would only cease to be governor of the Central Bank if he is found guilty of infractions levelled against him.
Jonathan made this statement while fielding questions from a panel of journalist during the presidential media chat in Abuja.
The Punch reports:
But he was quick to describe as “unfortunate,” the controversy surrounding his suspension of the Kano State-born banker.
He reminded critics of his action that he had absolute powers to do so without recourse to the Senate.
The President said he could only revert to the Senate if he intended to sack the governor completely.
He added that Sanusi’s suspension was not in any way connected with the alleged $20bn missing funds from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.
The President also used the opportunity of the programme aired on national television stations for about 75 minutes to state that there was no time subsidy was removed on kerosene.
While answering questions on the continued violence in the North-East, Jonathan also described a statement credited to Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State that Boko Haram insurgents were better equipped than security forces as “unfortunate.”
He expressed his readiness to withdraw soldiers from Borno State for one month and see whether Shettima would still remain in the Government House.
On the Sanusi saga, the President said because he had oversight functions on the CBN, he could not close his eyes against infractions in the bank as revealed in the report of the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria.
He said it was not necessary for him to approach the Senate before suspending Sanusi because he could still return to his duty post if cleared.
Jonathan said, “The CBN issue is quite unfortunate. The question is whether the President, by virtue of the constitution , has powers to suspend the governor of the CBN and I will tell you yes.
“The President has absolute powers to suspend the CBN governor. CBN is not even well defined in the Nigerian constitution.
“If you look at the Nigerian constitution, Section 153 talks about executive bodies like Federal Character Commission, Civil Service Commission, Independent National Electoral Commission, the Judicial Service Commission and the Code of Conduct. There are about 14 of them; these are clearly defined . The section states that the President appoints but the Senate clears.
“For the President to remove anybody, he must go through the Senate. The CBN as the number one bank is not even well defined in the constitution, but the CBN law makes the provision that to appoint the governor,the deputy governors and non-executive directors, the President appoints and sends to the Senate.
“But the President has oversight functions over the CBN. So, if somebody tells you that the CBN is a different entity, it is not true because for the CBN governor to change the colour of the naira, the President must approve.
“Normally, when you audit the CBN, you publish it. After auditing, for you to publish it, the President must approve.That means the President must accept that that audit report is correct.
“But Sanusi is still the governor of the CBN and people must know that. That is why there can never be a substantive governor until the issue is sorted out. Sanusi can come back tomorrow to continue his work because the issues raised are the issues that the board of the CBN with the Financial Reporting Council, the authorities that have powers to look into the financial transactions of the CBN, will deal with.
“On the issue of suspension, the CBN Act is somehow anomalous. The CBN governor is the chairman of the CBN board. He is the Chief Executive of the CBN and at the same time the chairman of the CBN board, so if there are allegations about the CBN governor, it becomes a problem for you to look into them.
“There were issues raised based on the 2012 audit report and for you to look into those issues, we felt that for you to be sure of what you are doing, the CBN governor should just step aside.
“Immediately the board and the council sort out those grey areas and if they do not accept, the governor comes back to do his work. So you cannot now say you are going to the Senate to ask for power to suspend . Maybe in one week or so, the board and the council sort out the grey areas, then you can go back to the Senate and say the man is coming back.
“No. It is when you want to remove the governor completely. Assuming the board and the council looked into those grey areas and felt that the infractions are grave enough for Sanusi to leave completely, then I have to go to the Senate.
“No matter the issues they raise, I cannot say I am firing him. It is the Senate that can do so. I can place those issues before the Senate and if the Senate agrees with the report, then they will say yes, he can leave.
“ People must realise that the issues of suspension and removal are very different.”
Jonathan justified the seeming delay in suspending Sanusi since he claimed the issues culminating in his decision started in April 2013. He said that matters relating to the nation’s treasury must be dealt with carefully.
The President said that he needed to consult widely before taking a decision on the matter because as a sensitive issue, no President would wake up one day and take such a decision.
On the missing $20bn, Jonathan said the suspended CBN governor had been brandishing different figures, thereby making it difficult for him to know which one to believe.
Despite this however, the President said as a government, it is important to find out what was amiss even if one dollar was missing.
In doing that however, he said he would follow due process and obey the rule of law.
He said those who expected him as the President to carry a stick and hit anybody accused of wrongdoing either rightly or wrongly were getting things wrong.
Jonathan insisted that there were processes involved in auditing government agencies and parastatals.
He said, “You are journalists, you can go and interview the Auditor-General. Nobody is covering anybody up. Sanusi’s suspension has nothing to do with the alleged missing money. The first query sent to him was in April. The second was in May.
“The right thing must be done irrespective of whose ox is gored .”
On whether the government would prosecute the suspended CBN governor, Jonathan said the decision would be based on the outcome of ongoing investigations.
He said even if he was found to have a case to answer, the nature of the case would determine whether Sanusi would be prosecuted.
While saying that he might be spared of prosecution if the case was not criminal in nature, Jonathan added that prosecution could only come in if a clear case of fraud was established against him.
When asked why he spared the bank’s deputy governors when they were all indicted alongside Sanusi, Jonathan said it was not a wise thing to remove everybody especially when nobody had convicted anybody.
He said Sanusi must take responsibility as the chairman of the board just as he (the President) also takes all the blame as the President of the country.
He however added that during further investigation, if any of the deputy governors was found to be involved, he could be asked to also step aside.
On kerosene subsidy, Jonathan said when he was vice -president during the administration of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, he could say boldly that at no time was subsidy removed on the commodity.
He explained that government toyed with the idea when the price of crude oil dropped significantly in the international market but had to drop it when labour leaders opposed it.
He said the argument of the labour leaders then was that the drop in price could be short-lived.
The President said if Nigerians had allowed his administration to remove subsidy on petroleum products when he came on board, all the arguments on kerosene subsidy would not have come up.
On Boko Haram, Jonathan said, “The statement credited to the governor of Borno State is a bit unfortunate because I don’t expect a governor to make that kind of a statement.
“Since the governor of Borno State felt that the Nigerian armed forces are not useful, he should tell Nigerians, I will pull them out of Borno State for one month, whether he will stay in the Government House, just one month.
“Then I will go back and take over the state. If he thinks what he said is correct, then I will pull out the military from Borno State for one month.
“The governor should be mindful of what he is saying. Yes, there are issues. No matter how frustrated you are, you don’t make that kind of statement.”
The President also said contrary to media reports (The PUNCH not included), he had no plan to appoint a military administrator for the troubled state.
He however said he was worried by continued violence in the state despite the current emergency rule there.
He promised that his administration would continue to work hard to put the situation under control.
While saying that the Federal Government was working with the Camerounian authorities on the issue, he assured Nigerians and friends of the nation that the country would get over the security challenge.
He said the military option would continue while the government continued to explore dialogue.
Jonathan observed that unlike the Niger Delta militants who did not hide their identities, terrorists had a different mode of operation.
He accused them of using false religious teachings to brainwash sect members.
On the power sector, Jonathan said his administration had performed more than anticipated.
He however asked Nigerians to endure some of the challenges associated with the transitional phase.
Jonathan disclosed that barring any change in plan, he would formally inaugurate the planned National Conference on March 10.
Ahead of the inauguration, the President promised to announce the names of the conference’s chairman, deputy chairman and the secretary on March 3.
He said the principal officials would be given administrative staff who would work with them for one week before the formal inauguration.
He insisted that the unity of the country remained a no-go area for the conference because he could not preside over the disintegration of Nigeria.
He said the conference was not convened out of fear that the country would break up.
Although he said he would not talk on party issues when asked if he believed the ruling Peoples Democratic Party would still do well despite the recent defection of five governors to the All Progressives Congress, the President said it was not every time that a governor defected that he went with the electorate.
Jonathan also maintained his stance on whether he would contest the 2015 presidential election, saying, “At the appropriate time, you will know whether I will contest or not.”
He however argued that his physical presence at recent rallies organised by the PDP was in order because as the party leader, he was duty bound to lead the PDP to victory irrespective of whether he would contest or not.
On the nation’s centenary anniversary, Jonathan said it was worth celebrating because many countries disintegrated before reaching that landmark age.
While saying the celebration was private sector-driven, the President added that the only area where his administration would spend money was on the hosting of heads of government.