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Sanusi: beauty or the beast, friend or foe, hero or villain

By on October 22, 2011
I don’t think any Nigerian CBN Governor has ever been more controversial than Mallam Sanusi Lamido. I have always been fascinated by the way those who draw cartoon characters can make their subjects look evil or angelic just by a few strokes of the pencil. How will Sanusi be drawn if he was a cartoon character? Will he be depicted ears pointed, knit eyebrows, an evil tyrant spreading sorrow and commotion wherever he goes? Or will he be portrayed dressed in white; defender of the defenseless, bringing the evil barons to book?
The truth is that if you ask a cross section of Nigerians what they think about the man, you will probably get answers as varied as the people you are asking. Some think he is doing a great job, others feel he is wrecking our economy. This fact in itself is interesting, because public opinion about people and situations in the country doesn’t vary too much. A few people state an opinion and everyone starts repeating it like parrots. So, there is something about this man that is unique; something that makes people love him while others hate him. I have always said that history will tell us where to place such people.
Two years after his election, it seems history is smiling at Sanusi. Take a look at each of the major controversies generated by this man who has re written a section of Nigeria’s history.
The forensic audit of the 24 operating banks in Nigeria brought Sanusi into the limelight with a bang. And what a bang it was. Nigerians woke up one morning to find that managers of some of the most respected institutions in the country were suddenly trying very hard to hide away. A few weeks ago, these people were smiling on the pages of newspapers as they were being given awards and chieftaincy titles left, right and centre. Sanusi removed 8 bank Managing Directors and replaced them with interim heads.
Now, those banks are still surviving. The interim heads were accused of all kinds of things but generally they seemed to have steered the banks to safe waters again.
So did Sanusi do a good job with the audit? This is where most people have very different opinions. Many staff of these banks lost their jobs and the financial markets suffered a crisis of confidence. Yes, Sanusi might have been too harsh. That is what I felt until I watched a documentary of the events leading up to the global financial meltdown of the American economy and consequently the global economy.
It was a very similar situation to what we had in Nigeria. Top managers in big financial institutions were getting obscenely rich and to keep it that way, they kept trying to convince everyone that things were going well in the financial sector. These people were guilty of reckless speculations, irresponsible manipulations and sometimes outright deceit. The results are what the whole world is still suffering today.
The situation in Nigeria was similar. Nigerian banks manipulated information and stock prices to create the impression that they were safe havens. Granted, some Nigerians did make money for a few months but if things had continued that way, the damage done to the economy might have been more severe. Analysts of the US economy have agreed that if the regulatory institutions had done their job, the global crises could have been averted.
 The publicity of the audit results in Nigeria could have been avoided but I think it was good for 2 reasons. Firstly, it helped the transparency of the whole process. No one has been able to proof accusations of personal enrichment by Sanusi and any of the other new bank managers involved in the whole drama. Secondly, a clear message has been sent out to those who would run these institutions in the future. Playing games with other people’s money doesn’t pay.
Sanusi, like his predecessor has shown that he is not afraid of trying out radically new banking methods. At least, new as far as the Nigerian financial sector is concerned.
Sanusi was responsible for pegging the tenure of bank managers to 5 years.  In my opinion, this move has removed the tendency of some Chief executive officers to turn the banks into some sort of personal empire. A friend of mine argued that these people created the banks and made them what they are today. I countered that they did not do it with their own money alone. However many shares they own in the bank, they are still accountable to the banks’ customers and shareholders.
His loudest critics claimed that he wanted to turn Nigeria into an Islamic state. Listening to these people, one would think that Islamic banking is the first stage of a process which will end with an Ayatollah like figure taking over the country’s financial sector and insisting everybody had to pray 5 times a day before he or she can do any bank transactions. More enlightened people know that Islamic banking is just another form of banking which prohibits payment or acceptance of interests. I am certain that the hullabaloo caused by the attempt to introduce Islamic banking in Nigeria would have been much less if it had been given a different name.
Similar reactions have followed attempts at introducing a cashless society using Lagos as a guinea pig. This is a very bold initiative and I must confess that I am not totally convinced that it is going to work as seamlessly as our compatriots working in the CBN are trying to make us believe. However, I do believe that it is better for the economy and if it will ever be implemented, we might as well start somewhere.
So far, it might seem that I have become a disciple of the Central Bank Governor. Not entirely. I have my problems with him and these can be summarized in his lack of Public relation skills. A group known as the ‘Renaissance group’ which is probably made up of the husbands, wives, brothers, sisters and children of the bankers who fell from grace at the beginning of Sanusi’s reforms, came out with some serious allegations against his person. The details they gave and the boldness with which they attacked showed that their accusations were not entirely without foundation.
Monsieur Sanusi did not make any serious attempt to defend himself. Initially, I felt that it was not in his character to bandy words with people he felt were not important. However, I changed my mind on that when he gloriously manhandled some hapless members of the house of reps, who dared to challenge his statements about the amount of money it costs the country to maintain their luxurious lifestyles. So if Sanusi could defend himself this way against the house members, why was he so silent on the accusations leveled against him by Renaissance group?  I think he owes Nigerians a duty to publicly defend himself if he wants to win our trust and support for his bold reforms.
All in all, I think Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi is a unique figure who can do a lot for his country if given the chance.  The recent accolades and awards he has been getting from reputable international institutions are a pointer to the fact that he is writing his name in gold in the annals of history regardless of what people at home might think about him.