Following the criticism that trailed the suspension of the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, President Goodluck Jonathan has delinked his suspension to his expose on the alleged non-remittance of oil revenue by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to the Federation Account, stating that he indeed has the power to suspend him, but not remove the governor.
Jonathan, who made this known in Abuja, during a media chat which was broadcast live, said Sanusi still remained the governor of the CBN, as he had only been suspended and not removed.
According to the president, Section 52 of the 1999 Constitution that those, who have criticised Sanusiâ€™s suspension have referred to, does not accord the CBN the same kind of recognition as the Code of Conduct Bureau (CBC) and similar institutions recognised by the constitution.
He said: â€œAs the president, under the Nigerian Constitution, I have the power to suspend the CBN governor, but I cannot sack him. Sanusi is still the CBN governor; thereâ€™s no substantive governor of CBN.
â€œThe CBN is not well defined in the Nigerian Constitution like the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and other similar bodies, Federal Character Commission and so on.
â€œForget it whether you like Jonathan or not, as the president, the president has absolute power to suspend the CBN governor or anybody. Sanusi is still the governor of the CBN; he can come back tomorrow to continue his work. He only stepped aside. The issue of suspension and removal are very different.
â€œIf somebody says the CBN is a different country, itâ€™s not true. Can the CBN wake up today and change the colour of the naira without consulting the president? They can decide to devalue the naira and not consult me, that is their call. However, there are cases when the president can take action.
â€œWhen you are dealing with the treasury of a nation, you have to be careful. You have to consult widely. No president will just wake up and take a decision. CBN reports from 2012 had issues and queries were raised. Some of the write ups on Sanusiâ€™s sack are very unpatriotic”.
He added that Sanusi was only suspended to enable the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRC) and the Board of CBN look into the allegations of financial recklessness against the CBN.
He said: â€œThe governor is the chairman of the board of the CBN, and because of the allegations contained in the FRC report, Sanusi had to step aside for the board to sit on the matter.
â€œJonathan is not going there to audit CBN. Itâ€™s the FRC that is auditing CBN. Even in village meetings, if a member commits an issue, heâ€™s got to step aside first. We must allow the FRC to do their work. Sanusi is not the first person to be suspended by my government.â€
On why the government had to wait this long to suspend the CBN governor, he stated that the CBN is a very sensitive organ of government that needed to be carefully handled so as not to send the wrong signals to local and foreign investors.
â€œIt is not as if we delayed, people should try to understand how government works. You donâ€™t just wake up and remove a CBN governor. Not too long ago, the National Assembly wanted to amend the CBN Act, following a private bill sponsored by a member of the parliament. The message we got from international investors was that the government wanted to pocket the CBN.
â€œI had to plead with the National Assembly to stay action on the matter. I received the FRC report on the CBN account for 2012 in April 2013 and I immediately sent a query to the CBN over the FRC allegation.
â€œThe CBN replied the query in May 2013 and I again sent the CBNâ€™s reply to the FRC which came back with more damming allegations. So I had to give a provisional approval for the 2012 report so that they can audit the 2013 report of the CBN. Essentially, I had to take action so that we can get to the root of the matter and move on, â€œhe said.
Jonathan also denied that Sanusi was suspended because he had raised the alarm over the unremitted oil revenue by the NNPC to the Federation Account.
According to him, â€œThat he was suspended because of unremitted funds is not true. The issue of $20 billion, I donâ€™t even know what to believe in his figures. But we must follow due process and the rule of law.
â€œWe were all alarmed; at first it was $49.8 billion then $10.8 billion, then it moved to $12 billion and $20 billion. But even if it is $1 billion, that is over N155 billion and that amount can provide jobs for millions of Nigerians.
â€œSo I want to assure all Nigerians that we will get to the root of the matter and account for every kobo. Nobody will be spared!
â€œI did not suspend Sanusi because he was blowing the whistle, nobody is covering anybody up. Government normally places people on suspension pending an investigation. When he completes his suspension, he could go back. The suspension is so that you will not stay in that office and frustrate the process of investigation.â€
On if Sanusi would be prosecuted by the government, he said the CBN governor had not been found wanting of anything yet, stressing that the government was not looking in that direction at the moment.
â€œNigerians should wait; they should not just talk about prosecution. If Sanusi has no case to answer, how will you prosecute him? It may just be that he side-stepped civil service rules and is not a criminal case of embezzlement,â€ he said.
The president also disclosed that the CBN Act might be amended to separate the powers of the chief executive and that of the chairman of the board.
He however stated that the government would have to consult widely to ensure that what will be done is obtainable around the world.
He also assured Nigerians that the CBN would retain its independence and power to take decision on monetary policies.
On whether he had been briefed on the kerosene subsidy controversy, he said he does not need any briefing, as he was the vice-president at the time of the presidential directive issued by the late President Umaru Musa Yarâ€™Adua.
He said: â€œI was there when it all happened. When crude oil prices fell drastically in 2008 to $48 per barrel, we wanted to use that opportunity to fully deregulate the sector.
â€œBut Labour moved against it and we suspended action. What we only succeeded in doing was to reduce the pump price of petrol to N65 from N70. There was no directive to stay action on the matter.â€
Speaking on the National Conference, Jonathan said the unity of the country was targeted as a no-go-area because no president would want to preside over the disintegration of the country.
He disclosed that during the consultation visit by the committee, only one person submitted a memo that had to do with the disintegration of the country. He therefore reiterated that the unity of the country would not be discussed at the conference.
The president said the plan is that the names of the chairman, deputy chairman and secretary of the conference would be announced on March 3, while they will then engage the administrative staff who will work with them for at least a week before others join them.
According to him, the conference would then be formally inaugurated on March 10.
Also, on the representation at the conference, Jonathan said each group is being represented, explaining that the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA)â€™s representative at the conference would bring the views of the association as a whole to the conference.
â€œThose people who represent institutions like NBA do need to be 30 in number. What they are representing is the interest, the position of that body. So whether they are 10 or 20 or two, it is the same position they are representing. They are not carrying an individual position,â€ he said.
He said what would come out of the conference would not affect the present administration significantly, noting that the new administration would be the one that would implement the outcome of the conference.
He urged Nigerians to ask candidates vying to be president, senators, or even at the state levels questions on what they would do with the outcome of the conference.
â€œThey should tell them this is the document from the conference, if you are elected into office, what are going to do about what is contained here. Nigerians should ask these questions during the campaigns,â€ he said.
On the declaration of his intention to go for a second term in office, the president said the time was not ripe to do so, adding that the polity was already heated.
He said his recent visits to some states across the country did not indicate his intention to contest, adding that given the structure of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), as the president, he is the leader of PDP and he must do everything to ensure that the party comes out victorious, hence his visits to some states with members of his party.
â€œEven today, if I am not contesting an election, I will make sure that I lead my party to victory. The president must lead the party to victory. The political environment is so hot and I do not want to use this platform to campaign.
â€œWhen I declared in 2011, it was not hidden. I always tell journalists not to worry. I am a sitting president. If I tell you today that I am not contesting there will be issues. If I say I am now contesting, there will be issues. So leave it alone. The political environment is hot enough for us to manage. At the appropriate time, you will know,â€ he stated.
When asked on the Boko Haram insurgency responsible for the killing of thousands and the destruction of property worth billions of naira, the president reassured Nigerians that the country would overcome the scourge.
He also maintained that the security operatives had what it takes to tackle the challenges of insecurity in some northern states of the country.
He however expressed concerns over the recent attacks by the terrorist group, saying: â€œNigerians are worried and everybody is worried. We are not happy when we hear that people have been killed, not even one person. We are working very hard and we will continue to work very hard.
â€œThere are successes but nobody talks about the successes. The negative ones are the issues. But it is not as if the security operatives are not working. The Boko Haram attacks started in Abuja with massive bombing.
â€œIt started from the United Nations building here, then the police headquarters was bombed here in Abuja, a market was bombed also. So if the security people had not been working hard, I donâ€™t think we would have been moving freely in Abuja. So they have been able to curtail them.
â€œThen not long ago, they left Maiduguri. Otherwise, it has been happening in the communities around the border with Cameroun and that is why when they come and attack and run back to Cameroun.â€
According to the president, the federal government is working closely with the Camerounian authorities to tackle the insecurity challenges.
â€œBut it is quite worrisome and that is why you pray that no country should get to where we are in terms of terrorism. Look at Pakistan, it has been battling it. You pray that you donâ€™t get involved. So there are successes and surely we will get over it. But I donâ€™t want to say much.
â€œIn fighting terror, all the services are involved. It is not only the armed forces. The army is key, in terms of confrontation, the States Security Service is working, the police are working and other agencies,â€ he explained.
He also pointed out that fighting terrorism globally is not easy, adding, â€œBut I can assure you that we will get over it and that all intelligence and security agents are involved.â€
He pointed out that terrorists are difficult to deal with, saying: â€œImmediately a group of people get into terrorist tactics, they get brainwashed completely and they link up with other terrorist groups globally and their orientation changes.
â€œIt was easy for us in the case of the Niger Delta for the negotiation to succeed because even as at that time (because then I was the deputy governor when President Obasanjo sent for them), they came here in Abuja in the State House because they donâ€™t hide their identities.
â€œAnd they tell you their grievances so you can have something to discuss and negotiate. But with terrorists all over the world, there are no rules of engagement.
“The Niger Delta militants do not just go and kill people anyhow. But in the North-east, they go to communities and kill women and children, they go to schools where people are sleeping and go and slaughter them. So the approach of terrorists all over the world is different.â€
He also described last weekâ€™s statement by the Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima, who had said the insurgents were better equipped than the Nigerian armed forces, as unfortunate, adding: â€œI donâ€™t expect a governor to make that kind of statement. If the governor of Borno felt that the Nigerian armed forces are not useful, we can pull them out of the state for one month and see whether he will stay in that his Government House, but I will fly back to take over the state.
â€œThe governor should be mindful about what he says. Though there are issues, but no matter how frustrated you are, we donâ€™t need those kinds of statements.â€
He said the insinuation that the federal government was considering appointing a military administrator for Borno State was not true.
â€œGoodluck Jonathan is not aware that the president of Nigeria is sending a military administrator to Borno,â€ he added.
Commenting on the power sector, the president promised Nigerians that once the privatisation process is fully concluded, power supply would improve reasonably. He also denied giving out any projection on the power sector.
â€œI have learnt not to promise figures. I only said power supply is going to be reasonably stable. The key thing I assure Nigerians is that by the time we conclude the privatisation, we would have solved a major problem.
â€œImmediately the privatistion process is concluded, Nigerians will forget about the issues of power. The only problem we have is occasional deliberate sabotage, people using explosives to destroy gas pipelines and I ask why?
â€œFor crude oil, you can say somebody can steal it and go and sell, but so far nobody can steal gas,â€ he explained.
With respect to the centenary celebrations, the president said the celebration would be sponsored by the private sector, adding that the only area government would spend money is to take care of the various presidents of other countries coming for the programme.
â€œThe only area the government will spend money is on the other heads of states who are coming. I will feed, accommodate and provide transport for them. But every other thing will be sponsored by the private sector.
â€œEven the centenary village we are planning, investors from all over the world will be the ones that will cater for it. It is purely a commercial business. So government will not spend so much on the centenary celebrations,â€ he said. He added that the centenary celebrations would commence on Thursday, February 27 and end on Sunday, March 2, 2014.