We were political and intellectual collaborators. Like many Nigerians I first took notice of him as a regular newspaper contributor. Back then he was an intellectual rebel in the political debate over the wild fire regionalist push for the enthronement of Sharia jurisprudence in the Northern Muslim states. He called to question the propriety and honesty of purpose of the introduction of Sharia especially the orthodox penal code in a context that does not fulfil the condition precedent. To convict an offender and proceed to exact the severe punishment presupposes the prerequisite of a society where no one is compelled to steal in order to assuage hunger and basic necessities of life. He argued and rightly so in my view that such a precondition does not exist in Nigeria and the Nigerian society must ab initio be deemed as failing to satisfy the primary condition for the introduction of Sharia. I should know because he contributed an elaborate version of this position as a chapter in a book published to commemorate my 40th birthday.
Many observers would be hard put to see continuity between this vocations and the banking profession yet they overlapped the occupation of Sanusi Lamido Sanusi as a top manager at the United Bank of Africa (UBA), at the material time. Inherent in him is the contradictory character traits of humility and arrogance. In his father and grandfather he inherits the DNA of non-conformity and aristocratic hauteur. That he made a success of his banking career owes less to any special aptitude for banking and more to the fact that people of his talent make-up would generally make a success of any assignment they are given.
Moreover, the job description of what needed to be done at the central bank and the Nigerian economy he inherited was not that of a conventional banker but that of a bold and knowledgeable reformer who could think and act outside the box. He has the appeal of a radical who can get the job done and gladly step on toes if that was required of his mission. The late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, himself a radical of sorts, saw and admired in him what President Olusegun Obasanjo saw and wanted in Nasir el-Rufai when he was shopping for a minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Without prejudice to the allegations against him, I think he generally acquitted himself brilliantly as the governor of the central bank but he was equally immensely flawed. He was too political, controversial and confrontational. He was self-adulating and gave the impression that his accomplishments amount to a licence to redefine the job profile of the CBN governor in his own image; he was unduly populist and constructed the CBN as a law unto itself.
By temperament and disposition, President Goodluck Jonathan projects a totally different personality from Sanusi. And this is where the ultimate collision between the two was foretold. It is an open secret that President Jonathan is a tentative and shy political aspirant. From his first prime time political exposure as Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State to becoming president, it is difficult to read any high flying political ambition in his mien.
If any Nigerian were to be asked what he considers the president's most conspicuous shortcoming, only few would disagree with the verdict of too tentative and lacking in requisite assertiveness. He appears hesitant and bereft of resolve to adequately grapple with the power and authority of his office. Ordinarily it is a good trait for the wielder of enormous power to be sparing in its usage but too much of any good thing becomes a vice. Taking the totality of Sanusi's conduct under Jonathan into account, I cannot find fault with the president wielding the big stick at one point or another.
The problem with any president desirous of giving full effect of his office to sanction any errant behaviour borders on legitimacy. The more legitimacy a government garners, the greater the latitude it has to reward and sanction. Unfortunately, Jonathan has not availed himself of a number of opportunities gifted him to build a reservoir of political capital that he needs to draw upon in moments like this. By omission he has demonstrated an ambivalent attitude towards fighting corruption and takes too long to act on the damaging behaviour of associates and subordinates in situations where quick and decisive action is of the essence.
I contend that it is absolutely possible to take the whistleblower saga out of the equation and still find sufficient cause to sanction the suspended CBN governor. Sanusi's choice of opting to dispense with his terminal leave has no meaning other than daring the president. If this interpretation is valid, then Jonathan will be less of a president if he fails to call the bluff. The autonomy of the central bank certainly does not tantamount to untouchability.
It is possible to separate the revelations of unaccounted funds from the personality of Sanusi and still hold the government accountable for whatever remains outstanding of the duty to unravel the mystery of the so called missing money. As the limitation of time bound tenure indicates, Sanusi is not indispensable to the fight for transparency and accountability in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). And there is a cautionary tale here for all occupants of high and sensitive public office, and that is the need to verify and authenticate facts before going public. The instability of the figures being trotted around may do no harm to political theatre but it pointedly derogates from the credibility of the whole story.
Wither Goes Ecobank International
The late President Nelson Mandela brought glory, honour and positive global attention to South Africa. No period was this exemplified better than his funeral ceremony when the world stood as one to pay homage to a truly global moral icon. The right to host the 2010 World Cup was really conceded, not won by South Africa-as a mark of honour and respect to Mandela. The recurring issue, long before he died but especially after his death was that beneath the huge positive glow of his symbol remains a bureaucracy and economy that are largely wedded to the old apartheid ways. Barely a year ago we all watched in horror as the world was treated to a tragic sense of dÉjÀ vu as scores of harmless gold mine strikers were mowed down in cold blood by the South African police.
Perhaps apprehensive of offending the oppenheimer business dynasty and the largely intact apartheid era economic establishment, President Jacob Zuma compounded the sense of tragedy with an apologetic and quiescent governmental response.
I first visited South Africa in 2005 to oversee the regional bureau of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Johannesburg-in my capacity as the managing director of NAN. From the less than warm visa courtesy to the patronising and insolent reception by the South African representative of Reuters - I went there to lay down the law and warn them of the repercussions of not honouring their long standing debt to NAN; to the disturbing experience of an orchestrated propagation of negative news about Nigeria; to the shocking information of institutionalised and coordinated effort to bankrupt and frustrate the Pan African avant-garde success of THISDAY South Africa; I was left in little doubt of the reality that expectations of chummy African brotherhood relationship between Nigeria and South Africa would be dashed.
Nigerian economic refugees were the worst affected, they lived in daily fear for their lives and were in constant danger of violent assault by indoctrinated fellow South African low income earners. Considering the front row exposure of Nigeria to the apartheid struggle -Nigeria was so conspicuous in the fight against apartheid that regardless of the geographical gap separating Nigeria from South Africa, it was designated a frontline combatant state by the apartheid regime - one would have thought that one good turn deserves another. Among thousands of South Africans who found refuge and sanctuary in Nigeria at the height of the apartheid struggle was no other than the successor to Mandela as President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki.
These were the ruminations agitating my mind as I learnt of the hostile takeover bid of Ecobank International by South African corporate raiders. They are coming on the heels of telecommunication counterparts like MTN and Multichoice. Both companies have had an outstanding business run in Nigeria but this success story has tended to be achieved at the expense of Nigeria holding the short end of the bargain. It took the coming on board of Glo to force the issue of the monopolistic excessive call rates being charged by MTN and (then) ECONET. Persistently and going on two years now the GSM companies especially MTN have become notorious for the deteriorating quality of services.
It is a platitude to suggest that the buoyancy of Multichoice will evaporate without the life saver anchor of the Nigerian market. The bad news is that Nigerian competitors, notably Hitv, that were set to replicate the liberation effect of Glo were muscled out, through means fair or foul by Multichoice. The continuation of this trend is clearly discernable in the take-over bid of Ecobank International by South Africa.
Africa continental economic integration is a laudable objective but this should not be without regard to balance, fairness and equity. In terms of the capacity to muster venture capital, South Africa enjoys a clear and lopsided comparative advantage over the sub-Saharan economies. South Africa should be told that might does not amount to any right to ride roughshod over other nascent African economies. And if Nigeria must realise her manifest destiny as the bastion of Africa and the black world it must wake up to the responsibility of protecting the interest of its economy by acting up in situations like this.
South Africa through the agency of Public Investment Corporation (PIC), the equivalent of Nigeria's sovereign wealth fund authority has launched a fresh move to take total control of Ecobank - the leading independent regional banking group in West and Central Africa.
Ecobank is rightly regarded as the pride of West Africa. It was established in 1985 with the full support of ECOWAS which originally held the largest shares. With 18.5%, PIC is presently the largest shareholder while Nigeria's AMCON owns about 8%. Plans have been perfected to oust the chief executive of the bank Thierry Tanoh and replace him with a South African at the next shareholders meeting on March 3rd. Nigeria and all concerned must rise up to this challenge and checkmate the take-over bid by the South African buccaneers. The Ecobank International is a Nigerian and West African heritage worth protecting and preserving.