An untidy succession race is currently apace in the country’s business and finance community following rising tension between Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Lamido Sanusi, and the presidency which inside and knowledgeable presidential sources in Abuja, Thursday, say might lead to the suspension of Mr. Sanusi “any time from now.”
ThisDay newspapers, Thursday, brought the tension between Mr. Sanusi and the Presidency to public awareness, reporting that the CBN governor had rejected a call from the presidency to resign voluntarily ahead of his planned exit in June.
Presidency sources say this rejection has triggered a “palpable air of anger and frustration” leading hawks in the presidential villa to propose a suspension and swift replacement which will circumvent the constitutional bottleneck that has tied the hands of the president from summarily firing Mr. Sanusi.
The CBN governor, speaking through the bank’s spokesperson, Ugo Okoroafor, said he has shelved his earlier plans to proceed on his terminal leave in March.
Mr. Okoroafor quoted Mr. Sanusi as saying, during a meeting with CBN staff, that he would serve out his tenure in office as CBN governor till June 2. Sanusi watchers interpreted this move as his preparedness to fight the presidency head-on believing that some of his close hires have opportunistically gravitated to the presidency in the hope of succeeding him.
By law, President Jonathan needs the Nigerian Senate’s blessing to support such a prayer, which, as presidential aides reasoned Thursday, will be unanswered in the new environment where President Jonathan’s party is gradually losing support and therefore any hope for confident support in the upper deck of the Assembly.
A suspension will, however, be a public relations disaster for Mr. Jonathan but it will feed into a pattern that started when the President of the Federal Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami, was illegally suspended from office and was not allowed to return till his retirement date was due, despite the recommendation by the National Judicial Council, NJC, for his reinstatement.
The presidency is therefore resolved on firing Mr. Sanusi, by way of a suspension, and then bar him from accessing his office once the announcement is made.
One of the deputy governors within the bank will then be named to step into Mr. Sanusi’s stead while the CBN governors best bet would be to do an endless but fruitless battle with the presidency through the court.
Aso Rock strategists believe that with Nigeria’s slow judicial process, the CBN governor would be unable to get the court to reinstate him until his tenure expires in June.
“If all things go well, the presidency will give Sanusi the Salami treatment soon,” a highly placed source in the presidency said Thursday. “At least we are all agreed on that.”
Presidential spokespersons could not be reached to comment for this story. Both the Special Adviser to the President on Media, Reuben Abati, and the Senior Special Assistant on Public Affairs, Doyin Okupe, did not answer or return calls.
But in Lagos and Abuja Thursday propositions for a Sanusi-successor went into hyper-drive with five top contenders now, according to presidential aides, in a frantic race for favour and acceptance.
From within the CBN, Kingsley Chiedu Moghalu, the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria in charge of the Financial System Stability (FSS) Directorate, who trained as a lawyer and took a doctorate degree in international relations, is considered a top favorite.
Like Mr. Sanusi, who attracted him from his consultancy business, he is also a risk management expert, and in the years since he joined the CBN team has secured a favourable eyeball in the presidency.
Another candidate who has attracted interest at the presidency, mostly on account of how he is managing the controversial Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) is yet another Sanusi hire, Mustafa Chike-Obi. A hedge fund and private equity investment expert, Mr. Chike-Obi has had a stint at the Goldman Sachs, and held senior positions in various Wall Street firms.
He graduated from University of Lagos with a First class degree in Mathematics and an MBA from Stanford Business School.
A surprise candidate on the top list of contender is the former Minister of Finance, who is current Minster of Trade and Investment, Segun Aganga, a former top gun at Goldman Sachs. Officials who spoke of his chances Thursday said “the fact that he is not controversial like Sanusi is making strong impressions here.”
Another lawyer and banker, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, who has served as Group Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer at Access Bank Plc (formerly, Access Bank Nigeria) since 2002 is considered top in contention too. His candidacy enjoys the blessing of Finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
Mr. Aig-Imoukhuede and Stephen Olabisi Onasanya, an accountant and banker, who is the CEO at First Bank Plc are the two industry leaders who are in contention for the position. Mr. Onasanya, a long time associate and accounts manager for oil minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, is also thought to be bringing a sense of measure and calm to the position if he gets the nod.
PREMIUM TIMES was also told Thursday that Akpan Ekpo, a respected professor of Economics and former Vice Chancellor of the University of Uyo, is also making inroads in his desire to clinch the CBN job. Mr. Ekpo, who has served on the board of the bank, is now Director General of the West African Institute for Financial and Economic Management, based in Lagos.
Mr. Sanusi upset the presidential apple cart when, in a stern memo, he claimed the non-remittance of over $49.8 billion (about N8trillion) oil money into the Federation Account by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC.
In his memo, Mr. Sanusi accused the NNPC of systematically diverting more than 76 per cent of revenues realised from crude oil sales between January 2012 and July 2013, paying into the federation account only 24 per cent of the proceeds.
In defence of the NNPC, Group Managing Director of NNPC, Andrew Yakubu, faulted the claims, accusing Mr. Sanusi of playing politics with the issue.
A hurriedly arranged reconciliation meeting between the NNPC, CBN, the Federal Inland Revenue Service and the Ministry of Finance, led Mr. Sanusi to review his claims that at this point only N10.8billion of the money needs to be accounted for.
Mr. Sanusi has also irked the administration many times by his open and biting criticism of the economic policies of the government.