The governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, has stated that corruption is not the bane of Nigeria but appointments that are not based on merit and competence but on ethnic discrimination and sycophancy.
Sanusi spoke yesterday at the public presentation of a controversial book, "The Accidental Public Servant", authored by a former minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mallam Nasir el-Rufai.
Presenting the book in Abuja, Sanusi said that he had not read the book and that he would never agree on all issues with the author. He claimed, however, that he and el-Rufai agreed on three issues confronting our growth as a nation: appointments not based on merit/competence, ethnicity and sycophancy in public office. Corruption, he said, is never the bane of the country but the above-named evils.
The event was attended by prominent Nigerians from different walks of life including former chief justice of Nigeria (CJN) Muhammadu Uwais, state governors Tanko Al-Makura (Nasarawa) Babangida Aliyu (Niger), Babatunde Fashola (Lagos), Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti), Tele Ikuru who represented Rivers State governor, and Ibrahim Dankwambo (Gombe).
Others include the chairman/editor-in-chief of LEADERSHIP Newspapers Group Mr. Sam Nda-Isaiah; former speaker, House of Representatives, Hon. Bello Aminu Masari; former minister of education Oby Ezekwesili; and former minister of information Prof Dora Akunyili.
The author, el-Rufai, could not hold back tears.
Sanusi lamented how people in public office are celebrating sycophancy at the expense of loyalty. According to him, loyalty is not telling someone what would make him happy but what would make the system work.
He said: "I believe the first and the most important problem facing us as a country is our total disregard for merit and competence. And this is something that I have always said. The problem is not corruption, it is not ethnicity. You see, when you want to send your child to a hospital, you send him to a doctor who is trained. You want him to get a good education, you send him to a school with good teacherrs. Why is it that we can entrust the most important things in our life to people without asking if they are qualified to handle business?
"So, the first thing is to focus on merit, without talking whether you are from the north or the south or Moslem or Christian or Igbo or Fulani, and start asking what you have to offer and how suited you are for the role that you seek. We would not even begin to address the problem because everything you see that divides us -- ethnicity, religion -- is a tool in the hands of those who have nothing to offer."
The CBN chief further argued that every ethnic group, irrespective of religious affiliation, has both the good, the bad and the ugly, hence he advocated judgement based on character and not on ethnic and religious affiliations.
He noted further: "Whether you are from the north or the south, Moslem or Christian, you have good people and bad people everywhere; it is either you are good or honest or intelligent or loyal or you are bad. It doesn't matter what church you go to, what mosque you go to, what language you speak: begin to judge people by their characters and not by their affiliations."
To buttress his point, he recalled how the late former president Umaru Yar'Adua appointed him as the CBN governor without knowing him but based on merit and what he could contribute to the polity. On his encounter with the late president before his appointment as the CBN chief, hee said: "President Yar'Adua was somebody I had never met in my life before February 2009.
I had never met him. I was told that he wanted to see me and he met me and had a conversation with me about the economy, about the banking system - 10-15 minutes, and I left. The next time I saw him was on May 8, 2009, and he called me and said, 'Sanusi, I have searched, I have looked at you, I have asked and I want you to know that I am going to make you the next governor of the Central Bank'.
"I am saying this because my own impressions of the late president was of a man who was ready to give me this job without knowing me, without me lobbying for it, and purely on the basis of what he thought the country needed. This is my own impression of the late President Yar'Adua.
"Obviously, Nasir knew him much longer than I, but for me as someone who served under President Yar'Adua, I would say he was a man who was ready to take that risk for the country and do it in the interest of the system. I felt I should say this because I owe it as a duty. If he were alive today, he would defend himself; all the people that are alive - Obasanjo, Jonathan - can talk for themselves, but for the president who is dead... and we all owe it to ourselves."
Also speaking on the occasion, former head of state Buhari berated the so-called "strong men" in Nigerian politics for destroying strong institutions left behind by our colonial masters.
Buhari also said he concurred with the American president, Barack Obama, who visited some African countries four years ago, excluding Nigeria, where he said it was strong institutions that were necessary, not strong people, for Africa's development.
He said: "The British left behind strong institutions like the military, judiciary and education which have been destroyed today by strong people."
He said as at the time of Ahmadu Bello and Awolowo who were premiers of the defunct Northern and Western regions respectively, things were okay: "Sir Bello would allocate about 45 per cent of his budget to education in the north and Chief Obafemi Awolowo would allocate 55 per cent of his budget to the same education in the west, a situation which put the country on a sound footing, compared to the current trend where political officeholders would allocate for example 5 per cent to education and the rest to security."
While he called for the continued unity of the country since it is "too intertwined and impossible to divide", he affirmed that Nigeria paradoxically needed strong people like el-Rufai to fix the country, adding that there was need to invest on the education system.
The former Lagos State governor Bola Tinubu said the book is a compelling material as the author reveals what transpired in the recent past as he was an active participant in the power play.
Tinubu, who was represented on the occasion by the national publicity secretary of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said: "Inasmuch as Nasir may not and cannot exonerate himself from all that happened, he has chosen a road less travelled by telling it all. One of 'yesterday's men' is coming clean.
The power and courage of Nasir's work is not just in the carefully-woven narrative but in the mere fact that the key figures he has written about are still alive and perhaps only one or two of them are dead. Hence, Nigerians should expect to get a few reactions and, if lucky, see more books churned out by a few who think Nasir has only told the story of that era from his own angle.
"The most riveting of his narrative remains the criminal third term enterprise and how those elected to help build democracy worked tirelessly to subvert democratic tenets and turn Nigeria into a personal fiefdom. The compelling power of Nasir's work is the fact that he has exposed us to the mind-set of those that Nigerians have entrusted with power. He has captured the psychology of our leaders simply by exposing the underhand deals and bad-boy behaviour of a big-man president."
In his remarks, the author could not hold back tears as he was thanking those who honoured his invitation. He said he had said what was needed to be said in the book, hence there was nothing left unsaid again. According to him, his problem began when Pastor Sarah was praying for him.
He singled out General Buhari, Justice Uwais and the CBN chief for mention among those that gave him encouragement in what he was doing.
Atiku faults contents of the book
But former vice-president Atiku Abubakar has faulted the contents of the book, saying that it is regrettable that el-Rufai has engaged in writing alleged fiction for self-glorification at the expense of truth.
Reacting to el-Rufai's book, Atiku , who spoke through his media office, dismissed el-Rufai's book as a collection of fiction, half-truths, exaggeration and reflection of selective memory.
The media office added that it was particularly piqued by the claim of el-Rufai that he had almost resigned as the former director-general of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) because of alleged persistent pressure and interference by Atiku who was then the chairman of the National Council on Privatisation, NCP.
Atikuks office expressed disbelief that the former FCT minister forgot soon what he said at the Senate Public Hearing on BPE on August 8-13, 2011. That ad-hoc committee was headed by Senator Ahmed Lawan.
It recalled el-Rufai as saying that he had special relationship with former president Obasanjo, which gave him direct access and the discretion to bypass the Council on Privatization headed by Atiku in order to get the approval of the president.
The media office wondered how el-Rufai could reconcile his threat of resignation with the account he told the Senate about the latitude of freedom he enjoyed at BPE because of his closeness to former president Obasanjo.
"In that testimony, el-Rufai told the Senate...: 'Thank you very much Distinguished Senator. Mr. Chairman. As a matter of principle, Mr. Chairman, I am reluctant to judge my successors. So, whenever I do a job, I move on; I don't comment on what my successors have done. All I can say is this: Mr. Chairman, if you go through my tenure in BPE, you will see that we try to do everything by the rules, by the book. And we resisted every attempt at political interference.
There is a process - step by step. Privatization is a mechanical process. Once you have the process published, every step should not be missed. And there was never a time that we deviated from that process.
'We took everything we did to the privatization council. That's how we ran the place. And I swear to God, I am under oath. Except for one time that the vice president called me and said, look I've got calls from A and B to help this guy win this, I said Mr. Vice President you know the rules, tell him to bid the highest price because the highest price wins and he said yes I know, I am just telling you in case they contact you.
And I don't want them to say I didn't pass on their requests. That was the only time. But no one tried to interfere with my work. There were attempts to block it. President Obasanjo blocked the privatization of Nigeria Airways practically. Okay, because Kema
Chikwe will go and tell him stories. And what is the result today. The company is dead."
On the claim by el-Rufai that former President Obasanjo went on bended knees before Atiku to seek his cooperation for second term bid in 2003, the media office dismissed the claim as a figment of el-Rufai's wild imagination.
It said such claim lacked any credibility because Atiku and Obasanjo were alone together behind closed-doors and that they alone knew what actually transpired between them. The office wondered whether el-Rufai was a fly on the wall to discuss the details of a private meeting between the two leaders.
The media office said: "Rather than el-Rufai feeding the public with such fabrications, the former minister should have provided or quoted the authority for such claim since he was not at the private meeting between former President Obasanjo and Vice President Atiku Abubakar.
The statement also added that, for a man like el-Rufai who has a notorious reputation for disparaging religions and their icons, including lately Jesus Christ, the attack on Atiku was the least surprising. It noted that if he could go to such irreverent extent to disparage religious icons, who is an ordinary mortal like Atiku Abubakar?"
According to the statement, any man that can cross the boundary of reason and decency deserves prayers rather than anger.
Obasanjo 'boys' boycott book launch
Meanwhile, the remnants of the loyalists of former President Olusegun Obasanjo boycotted the book launch as exclusively reported yesterday.
Although el-Rufai was one of them while they were in power, they had parted ways politically and they are not satisfied with some of the mortal blows the former FCT minister gave to their political godfather.
Those that were not at the programme were former anti-graft czar Nuhu Ribadu, former aviation minister Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, Akogun Akin Osuntokun, finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and a host of others.
However, the duo of Oby Ezekwezili and former Information minister Akunyili were seated at the high table which included all the governors present, Gen. Buhari, Justice Uwais, Hon Aminu Masari and a few others.
LEADERSHIP has it on a good authority that those that boycotted the programme were in touch with Obasanjo who endorsed their position. The group might likely respond to some of the issues raised in the book that indicted Obasanjo if he gave them the go-ahead order.
"We were not at the programme because we disagree with some nonsensical things Nasir (el-Rufai) wrote in his book so we ignored his invitation as a solidarity with (former) President Obasanjo whom we all have a tremendous respect for. We wish Nasir best of luck in his political adventure. But we strongly believed it is only an ingrate that bite the hand that fed him."