Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi spoke in an interview with Metropole magazine few days before his suspension as governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), last week. Below are excerpts from the interview which is scheduled for publication in the magazine's next edition.
You have drawn a lot of flak for donations by the CBN under your watch. What is the rationale for these donations?
When I came in, one of the things I discovered was that education was an area where we have had a lot of investments at the bank. Since this process was on and I liked it, I talked to the board of the bank and they agreed that this is something that we should continue doing. They are largely interventions in educational institutions aimed at filling major gaps in infrastructure. We have tried to see if we can focus the schools on producing very high-quality personnel for the banking industry and finance-related areas. So, most of those centres of excellence are really for MBAs, MSc Finance and so on. They are supposed to produce high-quality personnel for the financial sector and give them the very best training.
If you don't invest in human capital, the system will collapse. The graduates that come out and go to the banking industry will not have the ability to run the banks. Those that we employ as regulators will not have the skills to regulate. We don't have the capacity in Nigerian universities to produce the kind of personnel that this industry wants. So at the level of the centres of excellence, the investments are aimed at contributing to the flow of human capital. Now if we don't make the money, we won't do it, and if we do make money and the board approves, we do it. What I have not understood in the criticism is the following: is it that it is wrong to intervene in education? Or is it wrong for the CBN to do it? I still have not understood what the criticism is all about.
Well the criticism is that CBN under you became a Father Christmas, dishing out money to all kind of things that are not related to your core mandate.
In 2002, there was a bomb blast in Ikeja, Lagos. The CBN Governor then was Joseph Sanusi and the CBN gave N10 million. What is the difference between giving bomb blast victims N10 million in Lagos and giving N100 million to bomb blast victims in Kano or N25 million to bomb blast victims in Madalla? I didn't start it. It is a tradition of the bank. How is that Father Christmas? What is wrong with the board of the Central Bank approving if the Bank is making huge profits? What is wrong with the CBN contributing to relief for humanitarian disasters? What is wrong with the CBN getting banks together and contributing to flood disaster relief? We put in about N500 million when the flood disaster hit the country. We got the banks to put in money and we gave the money to the relief body set up by the president. Most of the victims of the Boko Haram bombings in Kano were not Kano indigenes. If you see the list, 70% of the people the governor of Kano State gave the money to were from the south. They were SSS officers and police officers whose barracks were bombed. They were people from all over Nigeria. The bulk of them were neither Muslims nor from Kano and the list was published.
Your tenure will also be remembered for so many controversies. Why are you so controversial?
I think we should just ask ourselves whether we are happy with our system. I mean before I became governor and to the best of my knowledge till now, people keep complaining about the Nigerian system. They complain about the situation where we are spending so much money on recurrent expenditure, they complain about lack of adequate healthcare, they complain about how much we spend on fuel subsidy, etc. The best way not to be controversial is to come and be part of that system and just be quiet, see and hear and say nothing and leave. I am not controversial. I am just, for me, being myself, expressing the same views about the system that I expressed outside it. Am I perfect? No. Do I have faults? Yes. But do I think that for every day I am in public office I have the responsibility to use my position as a platform to help and improve the system? Yes I do. In that process do I annoy some people? Yes.
There is a kind of central bank governor that people are used to and you just seem to be the opposite of that. Sometimes it seems you behave more like a public commentator
I don't know what you mean by used to, because it depends. I don't know whether people have enough of visibility of central banks governor across the world. But even Nigeria, was Soludo quiet? Was Adamu Ciroma quiet? If you take South Africa, Tito Mboweni was the governor of the South African Reserve Bank for many years. He was an ANC activist and former labour minister.Very colourful and very vocal. He had open disagreements with his Finance Minister Trevor Manuel over the management of the central bank. People are different and people need to accept that individuals have different traits. Some are quiet, some are introverts, some are extroverts, some like confrontation and some don't like it, some are outspoken and others are not. What is important is: has the institution delivered on its mandate?
Is there an underlining philosophy to your approach to public work?
There is an underlining philosophy to my approach to life, which is that I believe we should speak truth to power. Power by its nature, when offended, can destroy an individual. For that reason, a few people speak. But no society changes until people are able to speak truth to power.
Speak truth to power even from inside?
You have stepped on very powerful toes, including possibly the president's and in three to four months you will be out of this place. Are you ready for the possible backlash?
It will come and we will take life as it goes. For me, it's never really a big deal. First of all, there is nothing in life that is very important to me. So, I do not have any fear of loss. I have never lacked anything but that doesn't mean I am obsessed with anything. If anybody wants to put me in prison I have always said just tell me what prison to go to and I would drive myself there, and pay my own transport fare there and I can maintain myself there in the period that you have set out for me. And I will come out. It's just a location.
This is not about the president because sometimes when I sit with the president I don't think he really has a personal problem with me. But you know, it is power we are talking about and there are people around power who continue to say things and continue to cause difficulties. In all of these things, I have never mentioned the president even in the current controversy concerning the NNPC. I wrote him a letter asking him to investigate and in the letter I was very clear that I did not think he was aware of what was happening. So, if anybody takes that as an attack on the president, that's them and it's not me.
Is it true that the president asked you to resign and you said no?
Yes he did. He asked me to resign and I did indicate that I did not see a basis for it because the allegation was that I had handed a letter that I wrote to him to former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Governor Rotimi Amaechi, and I did not.
And you think we can live in a Third World country and a president tells you to resign and you tell him no and there would not be consequences?
I don't know about consequences. I am still in my job and I think it's really up to the president to decide whether he is going to respect the law and understand the issues and let it go or if he is going to deal with me. I can't prejudge what anybody is going to do and I can't take responsibility for what anybody decides.
It is believed that you did this letter as a form of insurance, that you knew they were going to come after you possibly for some things you had done and you wanted a victim narrative, a way of saying 'they are coming after me just because of what I said'...
You can never have any insurance in life. What is insurance? The only insurance you have in life is to try to do the right thing.
And anything that comes your way you are ready for it?
I have always been prepared for whatever comes.
All things being equal, you are leaving by end of May this year. What is next for you?
My immediate plan is that I am going to France to strengthen my French. I have a visiting professorship from the University of Bordeaux, I also have an offer to study Mandarin, which I will probably take. When I come back, I am thinking of either doing some farming which will help me make money while creating jobs for people. I will also like to have a think tank that deals with public policy in Africa.