On February 20, 2014, President Goodluck Jonathan sent shockwaves in the supercharged Nigerian politics and financial markets by announcing the suspension of the Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. Dramatically, Mr Sanusi's passport was seized on the same day at the Lagos International Airport.
Mr Sanusi had a short while before his suspension precipitated a political earthquake when he publicly alleged that $20 billion (£12bn) in oil revenue had gone missing.
That unprecedented declaration, together with other centrifugal forces, quickly caused a tsunami that now threatens to bury Jonathan’s re-election chances come 2015.
Although the government quickly denied Mr. Sanusi’s assertions, it later admitted that “only $10bn was yet to be accounted for.” To oil oligarchs and corruption barons in Nigeria, such an amount is chicken feed.
Predictably – and in a knee-jerk reaction - Nigeria's state oil firm also denied failing to account for the money, saying Sanusi’s claim was "unsubstantiated."
Soon, there were incomprehensible conspiracy dins in the electronic mainstream and social media about north versus south, Muslim versus Christian and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) versus All Progressive Congress (APC) – and God knows what else!
Before long, President Jonathan became “bad-luck Jonathan.” Even Jonathan’s initial benefactor, former Nigerian president and strongman, Olusegun Obasanjo, has joined the fray and abandoned his protégé. Obasanjo subsequently wrote an acid open letter to the President and accused him of incompetence and maladministration.
President Jonathan fired back, accusing Obasanjo of “trying to incite the populace against him.” Boy, oh, boy! Mr. Jonathan’s Government didn’t even promise, as African governments often emptily do, “to thoroughly investigate these scurrilous allegations, get to the bottom of the matter and leave no stone unturned.”
A week before Sanusi was suspended, however, there had been media reports that the President had directed him to resign because the letter in which he had raised his claims had purportedly “been leaked” but the governor refused to oblige, apparently calculating that with mounting pressure and rock-bottom popularity, it would be difficult for the President to get the required two-thirds majority in the Senate needed to fire him.
Anyone with rudimentary knowledge of African history would be very scared for Nigeria. Having lurched from one military coup to another in the first twenty years after independence, Nigeria currently has what one can safely call a nascent democracy.
It has an elected government even if we cannot agree on whether the elections have all been free, fair and credible. Those elections are also periodic and involve many political parties at federal, state and local levels.
Until Jonathan took over from former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in May 2010, power had briefly but peacefully rotated between a southerner and a northerner. The north-south power sharing was an unwritten constitutional arrangement within the PDP tent.
However, with Jonathan’s third stub at the presidency, many critics are warning that Nigeria’s stability may once more be threatened – not by Boko Haram – but by those responsible for managing political transitions.
Prior to the reintroduction of civilian rule in May 1999, tens of thousands of Nigerians had perished in violent inter communal and inter-religious conflicts, in addition to thousands that died during the Biafran civil war.
Unfortunately, an ugly spectre of those violent periods has recently emerged, with north-south and Muslim-Christian fissures erupting like thunderbolts. And now, with the raging Sanusi saga, Nigeria has reconfirmed its place as the most perplexing and paradoxical polity in Africa.
By its sheer demographic girth alone (Nigeria has, according to the 2008 census, 151.3 million people and about 500 ethnic groups); it is so unquestionably Africa’s most dynamic society.
But it is also one of its most troubled. Nigeria’s population growth rate stands at 60 per cent. And without a known population management policy, it will soon rival China’s staggering population of 1.351 billion.
In fact, as far as global population density goes, Nigeria is number 73, after a chain of city states or tiny islands or isles like Macau, Monaco, Singapore and Hong Kong.
Among countries with defined territorial boundaries, only Bangladesh (12), Mauritius (17), South Korea (23), Netherlands (30), Rwanda (31) India (33), Japan (38), Philippines (45), Grenada (47), Burundi (48), El Salvador (49), Viet Nam (52), Jamaica (55), Germany (56), United Kingdom (58), Pakistan (59), Dominican Republic (60), and Italy (62) are more densely populated than Nigeria. In Africa, only the tiny Mauritius, Rwanda, Burundi, Seychelles (70) and Sao Tome and Principe (72) are ahead.
Only Netherlands, Germany, Japan, United Kingdom, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore can be described as either developed or developing from that list.
I’ve deliberately excluded India due to its unprecedented inequalities and astronomically high levels of poverty. Similarly, given the impact of the recent global economic meltdown on Italy, I’ve excluded it.
Analysts consider unchecked population explosion, inequality and instability to be objective indicators for existing or impending misery. Moreover, out of all these places, only Nigeria counts as a ‘resource-rich country.’ In 2000, oil exports accounted for more than 98% of export earnings and about 83% of the federal government revenue as well as generating more than 14% of its GDP.
Nigeria’s oil reserves are estimated by the US Information Administration at between 16 and 22 billion barrels. However, other sources contend that these could be as much as 35.2 billion barrels.
These reserves make Nigeria the tenth most petroleum-rich nation in the world and – theoretically - by far “Africa’s most affluent.” Nigeria’s natural gas reserves are over 181 trillion feet (2,800 km3) – three times as its crude oil reserves.
In other words, Nigeria, like Kenya, has had both the capacity and the opportunity to become one of the world’s industrialised and developed states. Moreover, Nigerians are highly educated, skilled and dynamic. They have produced – and continue to produce – some of the world’s leading scientists, engineers, physicians, writers and artists.
Yet, since February 2013, the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA) claimed that the oil sector of the country “is killing the economy.” NACCIMA argues that the sector is negatively affecting businesses in the country by failing to add real value to the people.
The NACCIMA claims clearly corroborate Mr. Sanusi’s recent disclosure of the unprecedented plunder of oil revenues by the country’s leaders. Resource wealth hasn’t translated into quality of life and/or services for the ordinary Nigerian because virtually all the revenues from such wealth are being diverted and embezzled by well-connected public figures.
Unfortunately, Mr. Sanusi appears to be the second member of the privileged class o have publicly broken ranks with the crème-dela-crème and blown the whistle on the continuing plunder. A few years ago, Mr. Nuhu Ribadu, a former Nigerian government anti-corruption official, had also tried.
But Nigeria, unlike Kenya, has had a genuine attempt to wrestle with its demons from the very top: General Murtala Mohammed (1938-1976) who headed a military government from July 1975 until his assassination in February 1976.
Unfortunately, Gen. Murtala Mohammed was assassinated by then Brigadier Olusegun Obasanjo and his goons before he could transform Nigeria.
Needless to say, Mr Sanusi is widely respected after undertaking reforms to the banking sector since his appointment in 2009. The Banker Magazine named him “central bank governor of the year” for 2010.
Soon after his suspension, Mr. Sanusi – true to form - told the BBC that he would challenge his suspension in order to preserve the central bank's independence.
Although his critics have questioned his own political ambitions and accused him of using his job to harm Jonathan's chances in 2015; many poverty-stricken Nigerians believe that the President has chosen to protect rather than fight high-level graft.
Publicly available evidence shows that Mr. Sanusi has presented an open-and-shut-case that a genuinely committed government would have used to confront Nigeria’s runaway institutional fraud.
And on April 3rd, the Nigerian Federal High Court at Lagos agreed with Sanusi and restrained the state from arresting or harassing the suspended Governor of the Central Bank.
The court also ordered the state to release Mr. Sanusi’s passport to him immediately, and that he should not be detained unlawfully. In addition, Mr. Sanusi was awarded N50 million ($300,000) in exemplary damages.
In other words, if not managed properly, resource wealth, demographic girth and dynamism can easily become curses to a country. In view of the above, I wish to remind Kenyans that the most important human quality is integrity. The strength of a person isn’t how much wealth they have amassed but what kind of stern material they are made of.
Regrettably, Kenyans haven’t had a Murtala Muhammed at the helm of power. Many Kenyans are quick to prescribe docility and robotic behaviour for public servants.
That’s why some well-known intellectual hypocrites have argued that “a servant in the King’s Court don’t think or speak out; they keep their heads down and mouths full.” Such primitive thoughts shouldn’t be entertained in a modern society especially one operating under our new constitutional regime. We need more Sanusis, not less!
Let me end with a compelling email I have received from a Kenyan who requested that I urgently pass it on to the “relevant authorities.” I’m reproducing it without any editing so that it can speak for itself:
Am a Muslim born and raised in Kenya, being a Muslim and understanding the tenets of my religion. The events that have currently stirred this nation; from the shootings in Churches to the findings of grenades being buried almost everywhere has left me with lots of questions than answers to the motives behind every event unfolding in Kenya. But one thing for sure this website: The Daily Post - http://kenyan-post.com is doing much harm than good. For instance I don’t see any professional journalism happening at this site, all there is is incitement and stirring of people’s hearts into hating and alienating Muslims. If you check for yourself you will notice that in each piece involving anything about the "Terrorist," what follows is pure hate speech in the commentary space. If it’s the government wish to create discord among the Christians community and that of Muslims then I must say it’s doing a commendable work. [… ]I know you are well schooled in terms of institutions and individuals who are concerned. I would like you to let them know that this website and many other more are just creating a hostile environment out there, and if not properly managed and contained then am afraid those comments will one day take a life of its own, and turn into an ugly picture. Thank you for your time. Saturday, April 5, 2014.
As the Nigerian writer, poet and Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka once said, “The greatest threat to freedom is the absence of criticism.”
Mr. Miguna Miguna is a lawyer and author of Peeling Back the Mask: A Quest for Justice in Kenya and Kidneys for the King: Deforming the Status Quo in Kenya. [email protected]