By Theophilus Ilevbare
Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the volcano as he is now fondly called in some quarters, had a quick succession of eruptions in the past few weeks as he made good use of the autonomy of the CBN to fire his salvo of economic policy razzmatazz, not sparing anyone from the legislature to the hardest hit, the civil servants, calling for 50 percent reduction of federal workers and other apparatus of government, as a means of reducing the cost of governance. His diagnosis was right but his prescription not just defective but insolent with a sprinkling of megalomania.
The CBN Boss, with an uncanny reputation for hitting up the polity, had in the past stirred the hornet’s nest with issues such as the contentious Islamic banking debate that polarized the Nation along religious lines, his aborted N5, 000 note introduction. He facilitated the donation of N100 million on behalf of the CBN to victims of the Boko Haram menace in his state of origin, Kano, attracting criticism from the media and the National Assembly, adamantly maintaining it was not the first time the CBN will be assisting victims of disasters. He had bitter run-ins with the National Assembly for calling for a reduction of their salaries and emoluments by at least 25 percent. The law makers had at a point muted a review of the CBN Act to strip the CBN governor of his autonomy.
Widespread reactions trailed his latest comments that Nigeria cannot make any meaningful progress, economic growth or develop infrastructure if it continued with a recurrent expenditure of 70 per cent. He was pummeled from all sides. The organized Labour and the NLC described the ‘loquacious’ CBN governor as a ‘hollow economist’ and one whose policy proposal is anti-people and ruinous to the Nigerian economy. The Labour therefore called for his immediate sack. His familiar foes, the law makers were not left out in pouring vitriolic attack, describing him as an ‘economist of turbulence’. A deluge of opinion from Nigerians joined the discourse that ensued.
Discarding Sanusi’s recommendation in total would be throwing the baby away with the bath water, certain aspects of Sanusi’s comments need be given a serious thought. Truly the executive and other apparatus of government must reduce its overhead cost by even more than 50 percent, the profligacy in government must stop, though Sanusi failed to add this. Nigerians had almost forgotten that Jonathan’s inauguration ceremony alone gulped about 5billion. Investigations revealed that the President and his entourage have spent not less than N3.35bn on foreign trips since 2010. Nigeria, a country without a Nigeria carrier spends an estimated N9.08bn annually on the Presidential Air Fleet of 10 aircrafts which is the third largest fleet, in queue behind commercial airlines with Arik Air the largest in the country with 23 aircrafts. How about the billions allocated for ‘refreshment’ in the Presidential Villa? The recent N2bn budget for the construction of the Vice-President’s official residence and another N2.2bn for a banquet hall for the President are landmark achievements of a government renowned for its culture of profligacy. This legacy of waste, impunity and fleecing of our commonwealth by past and present administration at all levels of government is what the CBN governor should be talking about. There is also the monster of corruption that needs to be tackled headlong. Indeed the private sector should be engaged to handle industrialisation and manage government owned businesses, the local governments and civil service should as a matter of urgency be repositioned for better service delivery. Inasmuch as the CBN governor’s submission was correct, in some areas, his implementation strategy is defective.
The dust of Sanusi’s latest controversy had not settled when news broke of the theft at the Mint! Nigeria Security Printing and Minting Company, NSPMC, is currently embroided in the mysterious disappearance of N2.1 Billion in N1000 denominations from the watch of its officials. Though there are conflicting figures of the missing sum but it is inconsequential, a theft of N20 at the mint, a place meant to be secured and immune to theft, should be considered a serious dent on the image of Nigeria, an all new level of fleece now extended to the stealing of newly minted notes.
The CBN governor as the head of the company board, scurried to a meeting with the board of the Mint company to investigate the magical disappearance of such colossal sum. The outcome so far has been the order to proceed on leave with immediate effect handed to the chief executive and the head of security of the NSPMC.
Contrary to reports of absence of Close Circuit Television Cameras known as CCTV at the NSPMC, investigation revealed the in-house administration of security of the premises and products is detailed, strict and computerised. Both physical and Materials’ security of the premises is ensured through the use of the most up-to-date electronic surveillance equipment, supported by adequate and well-trained security staff. Attributing the ease with which the funds developed wings to the absence of CCTV is a ploy to cover up the circumstances and personnel behind the brazen robbery.
The resurgence of sleaze in a sensitive place where banknotes are minted with top-notch security gadgets, is unimaginable, condemnable in strong terms and a mystery that must be unraveled. Regrettably, it is coming at a time when government officials are still protesting the Transparency International corruption index of the county. Nigerians hope it is not swept under the carpet again as the appropriate authorities must do more than the usual response of invitation for questioning by the House of Representatives, Police and the EFCC.
The Minister of state for Power, Hajiya Zainab Kuchi was quoted as saying evil spirits were preventing Nigeria from achieving sustainable electricity, she also recommended exorcism – “We must resolve to jointly exorcise the evil spirit behind this darkness”. It became obvious other sectors needed exorcism as well. The disappearance without trace of a sum that would have needed three bullion vans to move presents a quintessential scenario where evil spirits are at work. The earlier we collectively start to exorcize these powers that be the better.
Nigerians will not forget in a hurry how Mallam Sanusi teamed up with the duo of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Mrs Deziani Alison-Madueke to remove fuel subsidy, partially, in January 2012. The National Assembly through its findings discovered that whereas N245 billion was appropriated in 2011 for fuel subsidy, the Central Bank illegally paid out N2.3 trillion to the NNPC and other fuel importers on the recommendation of the Federal Ministries of Finance and Petroleum Resources. The CBN at a time paid about N20bn ($133m) for a piece of land, originally owned by a government agency, NITEL, to build “a world class conference centre”. It would have been expected that in line with his recommendations, the workforce of the CBN should have been pruned down from 5,022 but instead within three years of his assumption in office the CBN employed about 1,000 people. It is also public knowledge that last year the CBN spent N300 billion, no where close to N150billion of the National Assembly. In the light of the misdeeds of Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, his call for the sack of civil servants as a way of improving the economy and the recent theft at the Mint, he must realize that the light that shines farthest must first shine brightest at its base.