Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Prince and his “stubborn” ways

That Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), is a stubborn man is something Nigerians have come to realise. His penchant for sticking to his ideals even in the face of widespread opposition has assumed legendary renown.

Sanusi, a blue-blooded scion of Kano Royalty, does not back down from his convictions and has over the years shown that he possesses very sound judgement, as his convictions continues to stand the test of time. In February, Sanusi refused to heed the International Monetary Fund’s advice to devalue the Naira, stating that the recommendation was “internally inconsistent”. Before then, he had faced-off the Nigerian senate, refusing their demand that he withdraw a statement by him that 25% of government recurrent expenditure is spent on them.

That the future later proved Sanusi right on both occasions says a lot about the man’s capabilities as an administrator. The Naira, it turns out, didn’t need any tinkering -- at least not the kind the IMF envisaged -- and the Senate later admitted, albeit reluctantly, that his statements “were close to the truth”. In Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, it appears, Nigeria has found the right sort of person to administer the Central Bank, someone who would not sell-out, or swallow IMF directives without investigating their merits.

However, Sanusi is currently facing the strongest opposition yet, in his attempt to improve the Nigerian banking sector. This time, the opposition bears the dreaded religious colours, as the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) is asking that plans to introduce Islamic -- non-interest -- banks be shelved. According to CAN, led by the garrulous Ayo Oritsejiafor, the introduction of Islamic banking in Nigeria is tantamount to turning the secular country into an Islamic state, and is at par with the listing of Nigeria as a member of the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) during the heady days of military rule.

“The problem is this;” says Oritsejiafor, “what the original CBN Act, or whatever it was, it says was non-interest banking. The original thing was just non-interest banking. Islamic banking is just one kind among many other kinds of non-interest banking. So, why would CBN, an organization, an institution that represents the Federal Government, which is an institution that represents all Nigeria zero in on only one kind of non-interest banking. This is the problem with Sanusi and his idea.”

Oritsejiafor’s statements were echoed by another Christian leader of high standing, the Archbishop of Lagos, olubunmi Okogie, who said, "We are against the operation of Islamic banking in Nigeria because we see it as another deliberate move to subjugate Christians in Nigeria. Nigeria is a secular state. We must be very sensitive to the religious beliefs of others.”

As expected, Sanusi is not budging and the CBN, amidst the furore, granted its first preliminary licence to Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc to provide Islamic banking services to the Nigerian populace. Stanbic IBTC is expected to commence Islamic banking within six months, according to the CBN, failure of which the licence becomes void, requiring that the bank reapply to the CBN for similar licence.

Sanusi has so far played down the dissenting voices by stressing that the principles of Islamic and other forms of none-interest banking is geared towards the uplift of the masses, who usually find the interest rates of conventional banking exorbitant.

As it appears, Islamic banking does not preclude a Christian from benefiting from its non-interest products. Sanusi is again right, Islamic Banking, which is already being practiced in other secular countries, is here to stay and if all goes according to plan, Nigeria will be the better for it. This is yet another chalk mark on the winning board of the “stubborn” prince.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Finding justice: The Nigerian way

The prevailing security lapses in Nigeria could make for a hit comedy if not for its serious nature. The seriousness of the situation notwithstanding, some have found that they cannot help but chuckle at the antics of those involved.

The first comedy skit, albeit a light hearted one, was served by the antics of the former speaker of the Nigerian house of reps, who appeared to forget that the immunity powers that shielded him while in office, expired immediately his tenure elapsed. The former Speaker, protected by a retinue of federal police and State Security Services (SSS) agents, first refused to honour the invitation of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which have been investigating him for financial impropriety while serving as speaker, then his, state assigned, security detail moved to resist with force, any attempt to arrest their principal.

What followed was a grand comedy of sorts, with the EFCC and Bankole jostling to outdo each other on the national stage, while the rest of Nigeria watched in awe. Nigerians laughed for a bit, then stopped laughing, many asking how one man can be more powerful than the state, and how someone who is back to being an ordinary citizen can use the state’s machinery against the state. It suddenly wasn’t funny anymore and even those in the media that were backing the former speaker knew this. Still, it took the intervention of the Inspector General of police to calm nerves.

Mr Bankole won that first round, and the EFCC was forced to lick its wounds and nurse its bruised ego as the Police Chief prevailed on them to allow the suspect come to them on his own terms on the Monday following that weekend. The EFCC, smarting from another act of disrespect from a Nigerian politician, albeit one that a Wikileaks document had reported telling the US Ambassador that the commission is a toothless bulldog, that can only bark, raided Mr Bankole’s home a day before the agreed upon date and took Bankole into custody.

At the time of writing, Bankole have been charged to court, granted bail, rearrested almost immediately, charged to another court together with his deputy, and granted bail yet again, only this time with very stringent conditions, which he has since met. Like many other politicians before him, and expectedly, Bankole is back to being a free man. His tale, the tale of hundreds – if not thousands – of the political class where perceived corruption is concerned, is practically over – having dropped from the front pages of newspapers. now enter the lengthy court cases that never end with conviction, hence Bankole’s mien. 

However, those who felt slighted by Bankole’s mien and his seeming light-hearted dismissal of the ability of the state to hold him to account, were more flustered when the aforementioned Inspector General of police, whose men are generally believed to be losing the war against Islamic extremist sect Boko Haram, made a declaration that the faceless group’s days are numbered. Many laughed at the comedy of the IG’s statements, wondering how he and his men intend to go about “smoking them out” in the stated one week. That laughter turned to tear barely 48 hours later when a Boko Haram suicide bomber detonated a bomb in the national headquarters of the police in Abuja the Nigerian capital, barely missing the IG whose convoy was said to be the target of what is a new dimension to terrorism in the country. Several people are said to have lost their life in the attack, the first of its kind in Nigeria, and the trauma of shredded body parts that littered the vicinity of the strike is yet to abate.

Just as similar times in the past, the Nigerian government and police authorities were quick to make the usual proclamations: “the perpetrators of this dastardly act will be fished out”, “no stone would be left unturned in unravelling those behind this heinous act” and so on. However, the proclamations also sounded hollow and weak, comical if you will, for Nigerians are used to them, just as they are used to the fact that nothing has ever came off them.  Nigerians are used to hearing about the setting up of one committee or the other, but have never ever learnt of the finding of these committees or panels of inquiry, for it is either the file that contains their submission get missing or they get disbanded once public interest wanes... And life goes on, with no lessons learnt, with no one ever made to give account for anything.