by Hauwa Gambo

Today’s editorial by The Punch took Central Bank governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi to the cleaners for his dramatic show of traditional office at the bank’s headquarters last week.

“The attempt by a CBN spokesman to explain away Sanusi’s regalia episode underscores the fickleness of the act,” the paper insists. “No CBN official should be put in a situation of devoting precious time and resources to explaining the personal whims of its governor when inflation and lending rates remain stubbornly high, credit is tight and the entire financial system has stagnated.”

It’s worth a read – in case you missed it:

Lamido Sanusi has a penchant for courting controversy. Fresh from being turbanned a few days earlier as Dan Majen Kano, the Central Bank of Nigeria Governor waltzed into his office on Wednesday, June 13, 2012, causing an unnecessary stir. Wrapped from head to toe in traditional robes, he looked rather out of place in a central bank office; more like a dignitary at a local durbar than a banker, not the least the nation’s number one banker. Though three years now on the job, Sanusi needs to rise above such theatricals and preserve the aura of his exalted office.

In vain, many analysts have reminded the CBN chief that his office demands moderation in both his public and private lives. His occasional failure to exhibit this precious attribute has often enmeshed him in needless controversies since he was named to the post in June 2009. Sadly, those controversies tend to distract from the serious business of monetary policy management and bank regulation. While there is nothing in the CBN Act or in the Constitution that bars a CBN governor from taking a local traditional title while in office, decorum should dictate to any occupant of that office that breezing into the offices of the nation’s symbol of financial sovereignty in full religious/traditional regalia is ill-advised. Sanusi’s drama was even more inappropriate as, just a week earlier, eight employees of the apex bank were reported to be among the 153 passengers that died in the Dana Air aircraft that crashed onto a building in Lagos, plunging the nation into mourning.

As if to underscore his penchant for embroiling the apex bank in the nation’s divisive impulses, a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja declared that “Islamic banking,” which Sanusi rammed down the throats of Nigerians, was illegal and unconstitutional. It was precisely his cantankerous attitude that riveted the nation in a rumpus last year over the non-interest banking model, widely viewed as a complementary financial institution to orthodox banking. Though critics persistently pointed out that the existing CBN guidelines adequately took care of a variety of non-interest banking streams and that adding a religious term would violate the law and the Constitution, the governor went ahead to grant an “Islamic” banking licence to Jaiz Group rather than simply settle for “non-interest” as spelt out in the rules.

Was it necessary for Sanusi to have gone to the CBN headquarters in Abuja in his Dan Majen regalia? It was disquieting enough that he had staged the turbanning ceremony even after eight of his subordinates had just died in a plane crash; it was also insensitive as Kano, the city that honoured him, has been under a terrorist siege for months. Some analysts suggest that Sanusi should even have waited until after his tenure as governor to take the title in the first place. No one begrudges Sanusi his often stated love for his roots and traditional institutions, but the office he currently occupies demands transparent impartiality in the discharge of his functions. In his role as CBN governor, therefore, he should not inadvertently give the impression that his declared ambition to become the Emir of Kano plays a role.

The House of Representatives is currently seeking to find out if partisanship was in play when the CBN gave a donation of N100 million to victims of simultaneous bombings in Kano. Lawmakers and other stakeholders from Borno, Yobe, Niger, Bauchi and Gombe whose states have suffered many more terrorist bombings and gun attacks have spoken up in anger at the seeming partiality in the Kano donation that has not been assuaged by the CBN’s belated donation of smaller sums to victims of terrorist attacks in Abuja and Niger State.

At the Bank for International Settlements, Basel, Switzerland conference held on February 8-9, 2007, delegates recommended the adoption of strong ethical codes by central banks to ensure strict neutrality by apex bank executives, including avoiding social interactions that may put their impartiality into question. CBN executives will do well to key into this.

The attempt by a CBN spokesman to explain away Sanusi’s regalia episode underscores the fickleness of the act. No CBN official should be put in a situation of devoting precious time and resources to explaining the personal whims of its governor when inflation and lending rates remain stubbornly high, credit is tight and the entire financial system has stagnated. The excuse that Sanusi came to the office only at the request of his “adoring” staff is lame. Such sycophancy, if true, should not be encouraged in the first place. The CBN should be the epitome of professionalism and decorum; staff should not abandon their duties to massage the egos of their bosses.

It is not too late for Sanusi to moderate his exuberance. President Goodluck Jonathan should also rein him in when he strays and remind him to preserve the dignity of the exalted office he occupies.

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