In between the storm generated by his letter to the president about unremitted revenues by NNPC, and as his tenure winds down, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi gave an extensive interview to Metropole. He discussed his stewardship, the controversies, his regrets, and his plans. Below are snippets from the explosive interview.
For full version of the interview, check the print edition of the magazine out onMonday, 24 February 2014.
Interview by Waziri Adio and Joshua Ocheja
You openly said you were not interested in being reappointed as the governor of CBN. Why?
We are all prisoners of our history and certain people and certain events in our lives tend to shape how we approach life. My father was a career diplomat and in 1975 General Murtala Mohammed appointed him as Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His first request was that he would be allowed to leave in two years. Unfortunately, General Murtala Mohammed died after six months and he had to stay for another year, and so he spent about three years.
What I remember most about my father is that even though he was permanent secretary for only three years, he was proud that those three years were the golden years of Nigeria’s foreign policy. This was the time of the independence of Mozambique, the independence of Angola and the time we had a clear focus on the decolonisation of Africa. As the chief executive of the ministry at that time, he took great pride in being the architect of that transformation in foreign policy. Until his death, he always said ‘it is not how long you stay in a place, but what you actually achieve.’
So I have always counted my term in terms of what I am able to achieve. If I really felt there were major things I had intended to achieve and which I had not completed in five years I would see a justification for continuing. But the reality was I was only appointed governor of the CBN because the late president felt that given my risk management background and my nature I could help fix the crisis in the banking and financial system. Inflation was about 15.6%, the exchange rate was all over the place, banks were about to collapse, reserves were crashing and they wanted somebody to produce stability.
So for me it was always clear that if I succeeded in restoring stability, fixing the banks, bringing down inflation, building up reserves, I would have, principally, completed the tasks. If peradventure I did other things like development finance, financial inclusion, mobile banking and so on, that would be like a bonus. To be honest with you, I actually told President Jonathan I would not seek a second term since 2011. I told him privately that I did not think I would want a second term and I would advise him to start thinking of a successor. I recall he was surprised because it was so far from the expiration of my tenure but I told him very clearly and I repeated it several times on several occasions to him. Unless he did not believe what I was telling him, it is hoped that he would by now have had enough time to decide on the succession plan.
There are two interpretations out there: one, this is not an elective position and so saying you don’t want a second term is not really your call; two, that your move might be pre-emptive, knowing they were not going to reappoint you anyway…
Well, people will always read meanings into what you do. We have seen enough to know what to do to get a second term. All you have to do is be nice to people, prove your loyalty, and do the lobbying. We have had people who get appointments and they are there for donkey years, and they don’t do anything other than just show loyalty. So if it was something I wanted, there are ways of going about it. Secondly, if you assume that the system works properly, the natural thing is that if you have done a job very well to be offered a second term.But there is no point having such offer and you then say you don’t want it. I personally don’t think I need 10 years in this job. My nature and character is more suited to fixing problems and I would be very bored if I were to just sit down and preside. But people will always say all sorts of things. I have heard that I want to go into politics; I have heard that I don’t have a good relationship with the government etc. But like I said earlier, I made my intentions known about three years ago and so it wasn’t just about now.
You have drawn a lot of flaks for donations by the CBN under your watch. What is the rationale for these donations?
When I came in, one of the things I discovered was that education was an area where we have had a lot of investments at the Bank. Since this process was on and I liked it, I talked to the board of the bank and they agreed that this is something that we should continue doing. They are largely interventions in educational institutions aimed at filling major gaps in infrastructure. We have tried to see if we can focus the schools on producing very high-quality personnel for the banking industry and finance-related areas. So, most of those centres of excellence are really for MBAs, MSc Finance and so on. They are supposed to produce high-quality personnel for the financial sector and give them the very best training.
If you don’t invest in human capital, the system will collapse. The graduates that come out and go to the banking industry will not have the ability to run the banks. Those that we employ as regulators will not have the skills to regulate. We don’t have the capacity in Nigerian universities to produce the kind of personnel that this industry wants. So at the level of the centres of excellence, the investments are aimed at contributing to the flow of human capital. Now if we don’t make the money, we won’t do it; and if we do make money and the board approves, we do it. What I have not understood in the criticism is the following: is it that it is wrong to intervene in education? Or is it wrong for the CBN to do it? I still have not understood what the criticism is all about.
Well the criticism is that CBN under you became a Father Christmas, dishing out money to all kind of things that are not related to your core mandate.
In 2002, there was a bomb blast in Ikeja, Lagos. The CBN Governor then was Joseph Sanusi and the CBN gave N10 million. What is the difference between giving bomb blast victims N10 million in Lagos and giving N100 million to bomb blast victims in Kano or N25 million to bomb blast victims in Madalla? I didn’t start it. It is a tradition of the bank. How is that Father Christmas? What is wrong with the board of the Central Bank approving if the Bank is making huge profits? What is wrong with the CBN contributing to relief for humanitarian disasters? What is wrong with the CBN getting banks together and contributing to flood disaster relief? We put in about N500 million when the flood disaster hit the country. We got the banks to put in money and we gave the money to the relief body set up by the president. Most of the victims of the Boko Haram bombings in Kano were not Kano indigenes. If you see the list, 70% of the people the governor of Kano State gave the money to were from the south. They were SSS officers and police officers whose barracks were bombed. They were people from all over Nigeria. The bulk of them were neither Muslims nor from Kano and the list was published.
What about the conference centre? Should the CBN be involved in things like that?
What is a central bank and who says the central bank should not be involved in these activities? On the basis of whose rule? How did this conference centre start? We all go out to Washington, Istanbul, Cape Town and other places for meetings and conferences of the World Bank and IMF etc. Let me give you an example. When I just became the CBN governor, there was a meeting of West African central bank governors and it was held at the Transcorp Hilton. But go to the Bank of Sudan and they have beautiful conference rooms. So when they were going to have the D8 meeting of central bank governors I said we needed to build a conference room in the central bank that will host the central bank governors and that is where we have our Monetary Policy Committee meetings now. We got Julius Berger to do it. We designed a roundtable with five cabins for simultaneous translation with video conferencing facility, with TV coverage facilities. Today, if the IMF and World Bank say they are coming to Africa, Nigeria cannot even offer to host it. This year Nigeria is hosting the World Economic Forum Africa and a lot of it is going to happen at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel.
What about our International Conference Centre, it cannot serve this purpose?
Have you seen it? Let’s be honest. Is that where you would like to bring the World Bank and the IMF? Anyway, I went to the president and I said this is a problem and the central bank will like to build something for Nigeria. I remember him saying that he had just come back from Equatorial Guinea where they had an event in a beautiful conference centre and that we don’t have anything like that in Nigeria. He said fine, go ahead.
We found a location that was ideal where we could build a conference centre, allow private investors to come and build a five-star hotel and a three-star hotel. The location also happens to be on the design of the Abuja monorail train stop. So just like in Johannesburg, you can fly into Nigeria and take a train from Abuja airport to the centre, go into your hotel, and go for your conference. When you finish, get on the train and back to the airport and fly out. It is something that is a legacy for Nigeria. When it is done in six or seven years people will come and say somebody had the foresight to build something like this for our country.
The conference centre is not mine; it’s not even for the central bank; it is for Nigeria. It is something I am going to be very happy I conceived. So for people who think I have given a contract and disbursed money, we haven’t even disbursed money apart from what was disbursed to clear the land and dedemolish existing structures.
There is a recent allegation that you have constituted yourself into a parallel government, getting into areas that restrict the flow of cash into the economy and without reference to the managers of the economy?
What does that mean and who are the managers of the economy? Was there any substance to the allegations by the senator? What did he say? Have I spent any money in a manner that is not in line with the CBN Act? Have I taken a single kobo from the Federation Account? The CBN does not take money from the Consolidated Revenue Fund; rather we put in money. In the last four years, the CBN has put in N217 billion into the federal budget. In 2012 alone, we gave the federal government N80 billion. The previous year we had given over N60 billion. In 2008, the year before I became the governor, what the CBN put in was N8 billion. If you take the entire federal government ministries departments and agencies, the CBN has put in 75% of the total contributions to the budget in the last four years. How can anybody criticise the CBN on budget? The facts are there.
Is that from the money that the CBN earned and not money you earned on behalf of the government?
We don’t earn money on behalf of government. We are not a fiscal agency. We only save government money. How do we make our money? We invest our reserves, we lend money to banks, and they pay us interest. How do we spend money? 85% of the CBN budget is non-discretionary. It is about monitoring and currency management. If I need to keep the Naira stable or fight inflation, I have to mop up money and to mop up money I have to offer a high rate of interest. And that is a cost. That is the bulk of our cost. Then I have to do something for the entire economy, print Naira notes and transport them. 85% of the cost of the CBN is beyond my control and so all the things we are doing are done with the remaining 15%.
Your tenure will also be remembered for so many controversies. Why are you so controversial?
I think we should just ask ourselves whether we are happy with our system. I mean before I became governor and to the best of my knowledge till now people keep complaining about the Nigerian system. They complain about the situation where we are spending so much money on recurrent expenditure; they complain about lack of adequate healthcare; they complain about how much we spend on fuel subsidy, etc. The best way not to be controversial is to come and be part of that system and just be quiet, see and hear and say nothing and leave. I am not controversial. I am just, for me, being myself, expressing the same views about the system that I expressed outside it. Am I perfect? No. Do I have faults? Yes. But do I think that for every day I am in public office I have the responsibility to use my position as a platform to help and improve the system? Yes I do. In that process do I annoy some people? Yes.
There is a kind of central bank governor that people are used to and you just seem to be the opposite of that. Sometimes it seems you behave more like a public commentator…
I don’t know what you mean by used to, because it depends. I don’t know whether people have enough of visibility of central banks governor across the world. But even Nigeria, was Soludo quiet? Was Adamu Ciroma quiet? If you take South Africa, Tito Mboweni was the governor of the South African Reserve Bank for many years. He was an ANC activist and former labour minister. Very colourful and very vocal. He had open disagreements with his Finance Minister Trevor Manuel over the management of the central bank. People are different and people need to accept that individuals have different traits. Some are quiet, some are introverts, some are extroverts, some like confrontation and some don’t like it, some are outspoken and others are not. What is important is: has the institution delivered on its mandate?
Is there an underlining philosophy to your approach to public work?
There is an underlining philosophy to my approach to life, which is that I believe we should speak truth to power. Power by its nature when offended can destroy an individual. For that reason, a few people speak. But no society changes until people are able to speak truth to power.
Speak truth to power even from inside?
You have stepped on very powerful toes, including possibly the president’s and in three to four months you will be out of this place. Are you ready for the possible backlash?
It will come and we will take life as it goes. For me, it’s never really a big deal. First of all, there is nothing in life that is very important to me. So I do not have any fear of loss. I have never lacked anything but that doesn’t mean I am obsessed with anything. If anybody wants to put me in prison I have always said just tell me what prison to go to and I would drive myself there, and pay my own transport fare there and I can maintain myself there in the period that you have set out for me. And I will come out. It’s just a location.
This is not about the president because sometimes when I sit with the president I don’t think he really has a personal problem with me. But you know it is power we are talking about and there are people around power who continue to say things and continue to cause difficulties. In all of these things I have never mentioned the president even in the current controversy concerning the NNPC. I wrote him a letter asking him to investigate and in the letter I was very clear that I did not think he was aware of what was happening. So if anybody takes that as an attack on the president, that’s them and it’s not me.
Is it true that the president asked you to resign and you said no?
Yes he did. He asked me to resign and I did indicate that I did not see a basis for it because the allegation was that I had handed a letter that I wrote to him to former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Governor Rotimi Amaechi, and I did not.
And you think we can live in a Third World country and a president tells you to resign and you tell him no and there would not be consequences?
I don’t know about consequences. I am still in my job and I think it’s really up to the president to decide whether he is going to respect the law and understand the issues and let it go or if he is going to deal with me. I can’t prejudge what anybody is going to do and I can’t take responsibility for what anybody decides.
It is believed that you did this letter as a form of insurance, that you knew they were going to come after you possibly for some things you had done and you wanted a victim narrative, a way of saying ‘they are coming after me just because of what I said’…
You can never have any insurance in life. What is insurance? The only insurance you have in life is to try to do the right thing.
And anything that comes your way you are ready for it?
I have always been prepared for whatever comes.