President Goodluck Jonathan declared yesterday that suspended governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, remained the apex bank governor and no substantive governor would be appointed until the grey areas in the report of the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) are resolved.
He faulted critics of his action against Sanusi, insisting that he has absolute powers as president to suspend the CBN governor, even as he said he only asked him to step aside temporarily just to pave way for a thorough investigation into the matter.
Jonathan had, last Thursday, announced Sanusi's suspension following a report by the FRC which listed certain infractions involving financial recklessness and abuse of office against the former CBN governor.
In the "Presidential Media Chat" last night, the president told a four-member panel of journalists that Sanusi was still the CBN governor.
He explained that the constitution gives him absolute powers to suspend the CBN governor if serious allegations are raised against him, just as he noted, however, that it was only in the case of sack that he needed two-thirds majority of the Senate to do so.
According to him, even with the suspension, the issue of prosecution was still far from it because it is only when criminal issues are raised against the suspended CBN governor in the course of the investigation by the FRC that Sanusi would have to appear in court.
The "Presidential Media Chat", which was anchored by Imoni Amarare of Africa Independent Television (AIT), had the following as panelists: Bolaji Tunji, MD/ editor-in-chief, New Telegraph; Grace Ekpo (otherwise known as "Lady G" of WAZOBA FM), and Goodluck Nnaji of Blaze FM, Anambra State.
On Sanusi's suspension, Jonathan said: "Forget whether it is Goodluck Jonathan; the president of Nigeria by virtue of the constitution of Nigeria has power to suspend the governor of CBN. I will tell you yes, the president has absolute powers to suspend the CBN governor.
"The 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 -- about 14 of them; the Code of Conduct [Bureau]- these are clearly defined.
"The president appoints but the Senate must clear. For the president to remove anybody, he must go through the Senate. CBN as the No. 1 bank is not even well defined in the Nigerian constitution, but the CBN law makes provision that, to appoint the governor and deputy governors of CBN and executive directors, the president appoints and sends to the Senate. But the president has oversight over the CBN; so if anybody tells you that the CBN is a different country it's not true, because for the CBN to change the colour of the naira, the president must approve.
"And what happens, for the CBN account -- because normally when you audit the CBN you publish it; so for you to even publish the CBN audited account the president must approve it. That means the president must accept the CBN audited account."
Declaring that Sanusi was still CBN governor, he said: "Sanusi is still the governor of CBN. People must know that and that is why there can never be a substantive governor until the issue is sorted [out]. Sanusi could come back tomorrow to continue his work because the issues raised are issues that the board of CBN with the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria -- the authority that has powers to look into the financial transactions of CBN -will deal with.
"The issue of suspension came in because the CBN Act is somehow anomalous. We have similar issues with other organizations, not just the CBN. Where the CBN governor is also the chairman of the CBN board, the CBN governor is the chief executive of 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 it.
"And there are issues raised based on the 2012 audit report. And for you to look into those issues, we feel that for you to be sure of what you are doing, the CBN governor can just step aside. Sanusi has just stepped aside. So, immediately the board and the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria sort out those grey areas -- and if it does not affect the governor, he comes back to do his work. So you cannot say now that you are going to the Senate to ask for power to suspend and then maybe in one week or so and if the board and the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria have sorted out the gray areas, then you go back to the Senate to say 'oh this man is coming back'. No! It is when you want to remove the governor completely.
"Assuming the board and the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria looked into those grey areas and felt that the infractions were grave enough for Sanusi to leave completely, then I will have to go to Senate. No matter the issues they raised, I cannot say I am firing you; it's the Senate. So I can place those issues before the Senate and if the Senate agrees with the report, then, they can say 'yes, he can leave'. So the issue of suspension and removal are very different."
On why it took him so long before acting despite the fact that the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria had released the report since May 2013, Jonathan said: "Well, it has to do with how sensitive the CBN is. You can even see that now that it has been done, people have raised all kinds of issues. People feel it will even affect the economy. When you are dealing with the treasury of the nation you have to be careful. You have to consult widely, you have to take all the necessary steps to make sure that while asking the CBN governor to step aside it will not affect the economy.
"Issues bordering on especially the capital market are quite sensitive: just one day people can withdraw half of their investments in the capital market and bring the economy down.
"So, no president will just wake up and take a decision, especially when the CBN is involved. Whether suspension or removal, you have to consult and you have to do all what it takes and make sure... Probably I would have even stayed longer than now, but when I just realized that in fact in February 2013 that the CBN governor sent me the report of the 2012 audit and the audit report is supposed to be published in the first quarter of the year. So from that time through April there has been correspondence to and fro.
"Though I am not an accountant, but assuming even if I am the best accountant in Nigeria, there are statutory bodies that are meant to do their work. So I have to send to the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria and it is their opinion that becomes key and not the opinion of the president even if I am the best auditor.
"So, it moves back and forth. The first report that came to me, issues were raised. Based on the issues raised, I issued a query to the CBN governor: that from the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria report you need to explain. Of course, CBN governor now wrote back. It takes time for them to respond to those queries.
"I sent it back again to the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria -- that this is the position from the CBN governor, do you accept it? It took them time. We are talking about auditing one-year activities of the CBN governor. Then, they sent it back to me. In fact, the second one even raised more grievous issues. So, within that period and now, and what even made me to quickly rush to do this now is because the 2013 is all gone and we are already in February. And by now the 2013 audit report is supposed to be published but we have not even finished with 2012.
"I had to give provisional approval to audit 2012 audit report because we have not finished with 2013. If I had not given that provisional approval, no auditor would have looked into the activities of the CBN for 2013. So I gave provisional approval -- that even though I have not accepted the audit report of 2012, the issues are still there and are being examined; so still go on with the 2013 audit report."
On why he sent the name of Sanusi's successor immediately, the President Jonathan said: "One of the things we have to do to stablise the system is that at the same time we had to send the name of the new CBN governor even though the time is still far in June when the tenure of Sanusi will end. But just to tell the international community that the succession is already there, it is stable and the National Assembly is already screening the person that will take over and there is an acting person. So at any time if they are through with Sanusi, he could even come back to complete his tenure.
"So, we want to make sure that that succession is streamlined so that the international community and the investors will know that this process and whatever is happening will not affect the leadership of the CBN. So it is quite a sensitive thing and you must be careful, and you must admit that and you must handle it with care. And that is what we have just done and I believe and I am quite pleased that it is stabilizing.
"But I just want to use this opportunity to just advise that when such things happen President Jonathan is a politician, he has his political enemies and he also has his own opponents. Sanusi is a Nigerian; he has his own friends and, having been the governor of CBN, he would have also stepped on toes."
On the timing of the suspension linked to Sanusi's raising alarm over the missing $20 billion, Jonathan said: "In terms of if the time is appropriate, there is no time that is even appropriate to suspend anybody. But if you need to be suspended, definitely you really have to be suspended. Sanusi is not the first. I remember I mentioned executive bodies; I remember even the Federal Character Commission sent somebody to the National Assembly to remove him. They looked into it and he was finally removed. That is the position.
"The issue of $20 billion: if you look at the issues, it started from February till now. So, it is not as if something just came up now because Sanusi spoke about $20 billion. First of all, he spoke about $49.8 billion. Everybody was alarmed. We got calls from all over the world that, so, in Nigeria a huge amount of money, more than the total amount of foreign aid coming in, can just disappear.
"We were all alarmed. Finally, Sanusi said it was $12 billion, later on he said it is $20 billion. I don't know which to believe anyway -- whether it is $49.8 or $12 billion - but, whatever, even if it is one kobo or one dollar that has disappeared from NNPC we will find out. That I guarantee you. But while doing that, we must follow the due process. We don't wake up and do things. There are certain things that happen in this country that are not quite conventional especially in the tradition and the way things are done.
"So, if you want to do the correct thing, it looks a bit odd. At times, they expect the president to just carry a stick and start hitting the heads of people. If you say you will not follow due process and the rule of law in handling matters that affect the people of this country, Mr President will be the greatest beneficiary but the citizens will suffer."
National conference begins March 10 - Jonathan
President Jonathan also said that the National Conference will be inaugurated on Monday, March 10, 2014.
Jonathan disclosed this during the "Presidential Media Chat" held at the State House, Abuja, yesterday.
He said he will name the principal officers of the conference one week ahead of the inauguration, precisely Monday, March 3, 2014. He added that the conference is not to discuss Nigeria's disintegration; rather it is a time to talk and for people to come together to think and plan how the country can be managed.
The president said Nigeria is not an exception in organizing such gatherings as countries all over the world have, at a point in time, organized such conference under different names.
"On the 3rd of March, we will announce the name of the chairman, deputy chairman and the secretary, and we will also engage the administrative staff that will work with them before we invite others to join.
"On March 10th, I will formally inaugurate the team and, from that 10th, they will start work. And so if there are any changes you will know, but my plans so far are 3rd, 10th.
"Goodluck Jonathan cannot preside over the disintegration of Nigeria. Sometimes people bring up certain issues that are worrisome: 'why do we have to stay together?' There is no president that will preside over the disintegration of a state. We are what we are because of our size and diversity. So immediately we balkanise Nigeria into different states, then, we are gone and nobody will regard us. So nobody will want the disintegration of a country to be the subject of discussion," Jonathan said.
On the need for the conference and subject of discussion, the president said: "I think we are not holding the conference because the country will break. Definitely not; nobody is saying today that without that conference the country will break. Nobody has ever come up with that kind of insinuation at the level of the government, except people who probably think differently. Along the line, if you read the papers, both electronic and print, you'll see that people make a lot of provocative statements based on certain issues. Even our constitution -- people feel that it isn't our own constitution but was imposed on us by the military dictators and we must write our own constitution."
We did not remove kerosene subsidy
On the controversy over the removal of kerosene subsidy, Jonathan said that there was never a time when kerosene subsidy was removed. He agreed that there was a move to remove kerosene subsidy sometime between 2008 and 2009 when the late president Umaru Yar' Adua was in power and when crude oil price dropped to about $40. But Jonathan said that, along the line, the government was advised to wait for about six months before taking any action and, within those six months, crude oil price rose. "So there was never a time that government removed subsidy from kerosene."
In a veiled rebuke of Sanusi for disclosing the presidential directives on removal of kerosene subsidy during Yar' Adua's administration, Jonathan said, "Somebody going to files and getting some documents that have been forgotten and start circulating -- I don't know."
Boko Haram: Jonathan blasts Shettima
President Jonathan also yesterday described as unfortunate the statement credited to Borno State governor, Ibrahim Kashim Shettima, that the Boko Haram sect was more armed than the Nigerian Army.
Accordingly, he threatened to withdraw soldiers from Borno so that the governor can feel the security implication of his statement, adding that he would have done so to see if he (Shettima) can stay in the state government house.
Jonathan, who stated this while fielding questions from a four-member panel of journalists at the "Presidential Media Chat", foreclosed the possibility of imposing a military governor on the state.
He, however, warned the governor to be cautious about his utterances on the rising spate of killings in his state.
Governor Shettima had, last week, after the insurgents had killed over 106 people, come to the presidential villa to brief the president on the security situation in Borno.
He had declared that the insurgents were better armed and more motivated than the military.
Jonathan said the statement was "a little bit unfortunate because you don't expect a governor to make that kind of statement".
"And if the governor of Borno State felt that the Nigerian armed forces are not useful, he should tell Nigerians. I will pull them (soldiers) out for one month, whether he will stay in that his government house -- just one month. But I will fly back to take over the state... The governor should be mindful about what he says. Yes, there are issues. No matter how frustrated you are, you don't make those kinds of statements," he said.
Refuting plans to impose a military government on Borno State, Jonathan said, "On the issue of appointment of a military administrator, well, Goodluck Jonathan is not aware that the president of Nigeria is sending a military administrator to Borno State."