Sanusi Lamido Sanusi: When Private Life becomes a Public Affair, By Jiti Ogunye

On June 2, 2013, Premium Times published an exclusive report on the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)’s Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. The story entitled “Sanusi Lamido, his CBN Mistress and their Sweetheart Escapades“, which graphically tells the story of the illicit, extra-marital love affair  between  the CBN Governor, and Mrs. Maryam Waisu Yaro, an Assistant Director at the CBN, is  generating mixed reactions.

Some of the “early responders” condemn Premium Times for poke-nosing into the private affair and love life of the CBN Governor, even insinuating that Premium Times is possibly hounding the CBN Governor for nursing the ambition to become the Emir of Kano or the President of Nigeria. Other commentators insist that Premium Times acted in order by holding up the private life of the CBN Governor for public scrutiny, and that by publishing this story Premium Times has not transmuted into a tabloid. There are some particularly cynical remarks that suggest that the Goodluck Jonathan Administration or persons within the  Administration had employed Premium Times to harangue and damage the person of the CBN Governor and undermine his continuity in office. And there are some views which ridiculously suggest that Premium Times is being used by those affected by the anti corruption work of the CBN Governor in the banking sector.

The suggestion that Premium Times is running an errand of witch-hunt for the Jonathan Administration in publishing the story is disingenuous. As far as we know, the CBN Governor is part and parcel of the Goodluck Jonathan Administration. He was appointed by the President ( and deemed appointed by this President); he is on the President’s Economic Management Team; and with Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala-the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, he was a vocal and fanatical advocate of the removal of oil subsidy way back in 2011 and 2012, warning that if oil subsidy was not totally removed, the Nigerian economy would, in no time, collapse.

So  ardent, combative and pugnacious  is he  in his public positions that he did not hesitate to lampoon Olusegun Obasanjo as “a good farmer but a bad economist” when the former President argued against the CBN Governor’s insistence on introducing a single five thousand naira note denomination in 2012.

In this contribution, we intend to argue that by investigating the private life of the CBN Governor and publishing a story on his alleged illicit love affair with his subordinate, a member of the CBN Staff, whom he hired to work in the CBN,  a love affair that was allegedly nourished by public funds, thereby raising issues of legal breaches, ethical violations, financial impropriety, and workplace immorality, Premium Times has rendered an invaluable service to Nigerians and Country.

Undoubtedly, a Nigerian citizen has a  right to privacy. And so, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 ( 1999 Constitution) in Section 37 provides that ” the privacy of citizens, their homes, correspondence, telephone conversations and telegraphic communications is hereby guaranteed and protected“.

A Nigerian  citizen who  is  a public servant does not lose the enjoyment of this right because  he is a public servant. However, the guarantee and protection given by this Section does not bar the media from scrutinizing the private life of the public servant, especially when this “private life” is lived in the “public life” of the Nigerian people.. A private misconduct of a public servant that impinges on public service should not be shielded from public scrutiny.

Section 15(5) of the 1999 Constitution obligates the Nigerian State, as part of her “fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy”  to ” abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power“. And Section 22 of the Constitution   provides that “the press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people“.

In discharging this obligation, if and when the press stumbles on a story of an extra-marital love affair between a CBN Governor and a female Assistant Director in the Bank, a relationship which, surely, has implications for the lawful and proper exercise of powers, discharge of the functions and performance of duties of both that CBN Governor and the female Assistant Director, in their respective offices, the press will be failing in its duty not to inform the public of such an extra-marital love affair.

An extra-marital love affair between a President of Nigeria and any of the female Ministers or any of the aides or advisers of the President is not a private matter that the media should refrain from investigating and reporting. An extra-marital affair between a Governor and any of the female Commissioners in the Executive Council of the State or a female Deputy-Governor is not a private life of the persons involved, which the press or the public ought not to dabble into. In the world today, charges of rampant paedophilia  and homosexuality amongst the clergy of the Catholic Church are subject of  international media discourse. It is not a  that is regarded as bordering on the private life of the Catholic Church or the private lives of the clergymen involved.

In case we have forgotten, let us recall that the reason why Late Chief Gani Fawehimi, SAN was clamped into detention in Kaduna Prison, for the first time, in 1969, during the Gowon military regime, was because of a civil action he filed in the “Obeya’s case”, in the then Benue-Plateau State, when a top public servant  in the Government of the State coveted and snatched the wife of an ordinary citizen. That was not a private matter. That fight, a fight of principle, was in the public interest.

When King David appropriated Bathsheba, unsuccessfully set up her husband, Uriah the Hittite, to make him take responsibility for the illegitimate pregnancy that resulted from King David’s illicit love affair with Bathsheba, and later had the husband- Uriah the Hittite- killed at the war-front, in order to cover his kingly shame, it was not a private affair of  King David. It was a matter for the Kingdom. And that abuse of royal power  was not only punished by God, it was also recorded for posterity in the Holy Bible ( 2 Samuel, 11).

Section 318 of the 1999 Constitution  ( interpretation section) defines “a member of staff of any commission or authority established for the Federation by this Constitution or by an Act of the National Assembly or staff of any statutory corporation established by an Act of the National Assembly  or staff of any company or enterprise in which the Government of the Federation or its agency owns controlling shares or interest” as being in the Public Service of the Federation.

Further,  Paragraph 14, Part II of the of the Fifth Schedule to the 1999 Constitution on “Code of Conduct for Public Officers” lists ” ” Chairman and members of the Boards or other governing bodies and staff of statutory corporations and of companies in which the Federal or State Government has a controlling interest” as public officers for the purposes of the Code of Conduct.  Thus, both the CBN Governor and his alleged mistress are in the Public Service of the Federation, and they are subject to the provisions of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers in the Constitution and the provisions of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, Cap C15 Volume 2, LFN, 2004 .

Now, as persons in the public service of the Federation, serving the Country in their current employment circumstances, should the CBN Governor and Mrs.Yaro have conducted themselves in the manner alleged in the Premium Times report? Our answer is no.

Section 172 of the 1999 Constitution provides that “a person in the public service of the Federation shall observe and conform to the Code of Conduct”. Paragraph 1, Part 1  of the said  Code of Conduct for Public Officers provides generally that ” a public officer shall not put himself in a position where his personal interest conflicts with his duties and responsibilities“, and Paragraph 9 Part 1  of the said  Code of Conduct for Public Officers, in particular, provides that ” a public officer shall  not do or direct to  be done, in abuse of his office, any arbitrary act prejudicial to rights of any other person knowing that such act is unlawful or contrary to any government policy.”

Under Section 11(1) of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Act No. 7 of 2007 ( Fed. Rep of Nig Official Gazette No.55 Vol. 94 of 1st June 2007), the Governor or Deputy Governor of the CBN  or Director shall cease to hold office in the Bank if he, amongst other grounds, ” (b) is convicted of any criminal offence by a court of competent jurisdiction except for traffic offences or contempt proceedings arising  in connection with the execution or intended execution of any power or duty conferred under this Act or the Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act”  or “(c) is guilty of serious misconduct in relation to his duties under this Act.

Under  Paragraph 5 of the First Schedule to the CBN Act (Proceedings of the Board), ” a director having an interest, directly or indirectly, in the dealing or business in which the Bank is concerned shall  disclose such interest at the meeting of the Board at which the dealing or business is discussed and in no circumstances shall he vote on the matter.; (and) if he is required by the Board to do so, he shall withdraw from the meeting”.

According to the report by Premium Times, the CBN Governor was the authority that employed Mrs. Yaro. Some pertinent questions, therefore, arise. Did the alleged love affair predate the employment of Mrs. Yaro?. If it did, was the employment influenced by the alleged love affair, and was that personal interest disclosed, in adherence to the dictates of the Proceedings of the Board? If the alleged love affair developed after the employment, was the grant of the employment influenced by inappropriate motive or base expectations? If the grant of the employment was not  so influenced, and the alleged love affair developed without pre-conditions or premeditations, is the alleged extra-marital affair permissible within the CBN’s top echelon, given its ethical implications?

“Adultery by a man” and “adultery by a woman”, when either is subject to any customary  law, in which extra-marital sexual intercourse is recognized as a criminal offence, are criminal offences under Sections 387 and 388 of the Penal Code respectively, punishable in both cases with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two (2) years or with a fine or with both. Therefore, if ” Mr. Yaro” were to lodge a criminal complaint against both the CBN Governor and Mrs. Yaro, both could face a criminal prosecution and possible conviction in Abuja, FCT. And this prospect may lead to the invocation of  Section 11(1) (b or c) of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Act No. 7 of 2007. So, why should the media not be interested in the question of whether a public officer is worthy of staying in an office whose functions are so central to the economic life of Nigeria and the economic lives of Nigerians? Why?

Now that this story is out, the debate ought not be whether the story merited being published or not. We have argued that the story ought to have been published. And more of such stories ought to be published. The private life of a public servant which potentially affects the public life of all Nigerians ought not to be kept secret. A judge that has three wives and thirteen children in today’s Nigeria will receive bribes to fund the upkeep of the products of  his marital recklessness. So is a minister or a governor or a permanent secretary or a high ranking police officer. They will steal to maintain their wives and children. And this affects our public life. Our public health.

The debate ought to shift to what the  CBN Governor and his alleged mistress would do. In the report, they deny having an extra-marital affair. Will they go further to seek legal redress? If they  file an action for defamation, they may run into a solid defence of justification. In other words Premium Times may justify its report by establishing its  truth and producing damning evidence in court. If they do not have the courage to thread that path, but choose to limit themselves to an action alleging an infringement of their fundamental right to privacy, protected by Section 37 of the 1999 Constitution, this will be  a rough road too. They may not be able to establish that Premium Times was the actual violator of their right to privacy or compel Premium Times to disclose its sources.

Whatever legal action that they may wish to take, it does appear that their call log data with the involved telecommunication service providers will be in focus. As it has been in the battle of Segun Oni and Olagunsoye Oyinlola against Justice Isa Ayo Salami, President of the Court of Appeal, and Bola Tinubu over alleged improper communication between judge and counsel during the sitting of  the Governorship Election Appeal Tribunal that ruled to shove them out of gubernatorial power in Osun and Ekiti States. And as it was in the proven act of judicial misconduct committed by the dismissed Justice Naron over his communication with Respondents’ counsel in the Osun State Governorship Election Petition.

Ogunye, author and legal practitioner, is Principal Counsel at Jiti Ogunye Chambers. He is a legal columnist for Premium Times.


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