These are indeed, very trying times for the country. The news of the central bank governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi’s (SLS’) sack did not come to many as a surprise. Ever since SLS exposed the mindboggling malfeasance and maladministration in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), it was clear to many that something stormy was brewing in the background. The scent oozing out of the presidency reeked of anger, bitterness and vengeance. And that rage has just been unpacked, grotesquely wrapped in an untimely sack (they called it suspension) letter.
It was Arunma Otteh that stated that ‘when you fight corruption in Nigeria, corruption fights back even more viciously”. Corruption has fought SLS back, with the aggressive velocity of an erupting volcano. And for those currently serving in government who would dare to tread SLS’ path, the message is loud and clear: “SEE NO EVIL! SPEAK NO EVIL”…
Two things bother ordinary Nigerians like me. First off, whether it is $47B, $49B, $10.8B, $20B or even N5 million Naira, it has been established beyond reasonable doubt that certain sums of money due to the federation account have not been accounted for. The finance minister Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s insistence on a forensic audit is a subtle admission of NNPC’s institutional wrongdoing that needs to be surgically redressed. The second issue is whether NNPC has the right to spend national oil earnings without appropriation contrary to sections 80-82 of the Nigerian 1999 Constitution. These are the two main unresolved issues. Common sense requires that all actors and agencies involved in the rattle would come together to ensure that these issues are resolved with unsullied facts and figures. That hasn’t happened.
By its body language, the presidency does not seem to be bothered about the missing billions of petrodollars. Instead, it is more concerned about the embarrassment Sanusi’s revelations have caused the administration. Many Nigerians looked forward to sack letters, queries, memos and circulars from the presidency demanding for financial records and balance sheets. Till this day, no show! Instead, NNPC executives casually strolled into the hallowed chambers of the Senate where the investigative hearing on kerosene subsidy and unremitted oil revenues is going on, looking totally unperturbed about the gravity of the charges being investigated. The sad part is that nothing will happen! Impunity has been elevated to statecraft!
What difference will a forensic audit make? Will it say anything new? Will it expose what NEITI has not documented severally? What KPMG audit has not disclosed before? What Farouk Lawan and Nuhu Ribadu reports have not revealed? What Aig Imoukhuoede report has not unearthed? What came out of these past probes? Have any of the recommendations of the various probe committees been implemented? Have we seen any consequences? Is the minister that supervised this historic corruption in the oil sector not retaining her untouchable portfolio?
Instead of addressing the germane issues raised in SLS’ 30-paged memo to the Senate Committee on Finance, Sanusi’s truth-telling has led to crippling punishment, sending the wrong signals that this government has no plans to fight corruption. It has never fought against corruption, and has no plans to do so in the future. If you have ever been in doubt that Nigeria is currently witnessing NEVER-SEEN-BEFORE levels of corruption in governance, then you need no further proof.
After Sanusi, what next? Is this the end of the conversation about the missing billions of petrodollars? By failing to take the investigation of the missing oil revenues seriously, in an election year for that matter, President Goodluck Jonathan has missed another golden opportunity to validate his second term pursuits. If that $20B is found, it can fix all the ailing public universities and hospitals in Nigeria, translating to quality education and improved healthcare for all citizens. It would ensure the quick return of tens of thousands of polytechnic students – who have remained at home for several months – back to school.
The enabling law establishing the central bank espouses the procedure for the removal of the apex bank governor. Can the President suspend or sack the CBN governor without recourse to the Senate’s two-third majority vote? The courts will hopefully, pronounce on this in the coming days, weeks or months. Whiel we await the court’s interpretation of S. 11 of the CBN act, one bitter truth, however, is that the independence of the central bank has already been undermined by executive persecution and malicious victimization, which will continue to impact negatively on the institutional performance and monetary policy direction of the apex bank. What a tragic warning to future CBN governors!
We surely, haven’t heard the last from Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. He is probably not a saint, but it is difficult to believe that his sack is unconnected with his outspoken stance against corruption in the oil sector. It is difficult to believe his sack is not a poorly-scripted witch-hunt drama designed to frustrate whistle-blowing activities in Nigeria.
How long will this show of force last? Only time will tell!
Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri is the executive director of Spaces for Change, a youth development and advocacy group working to deepen youth and citizen engagement in public policy development. She can be reached on Spacesforchange.firstname.lastname@example.org