His Royal Highness, Muhammadu Sanusi II of the House of Dabo and Emir of Kano, is quite thin-skinned. He is very adept at excoriating, rightfully or otherwise, any individual or institution that falls out of line. But he does not like being at the receiving end of the slightest form of criticism. Twice, I have been the target of his sharp rebuke and haughtiness over critical articles that I had written about him during his tenure as governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). The first time, I took it in my stride and chose to ignore his reprimand. The second time, I decided to give him a wide berth while he remained at the central bank. For well over a year as editor of Thisday newspaper, if I needed any story or information verified from the CBN, I assigned our Senior Money Market Correspondent at the time to interface with Sanusi.
That arrangement worked to a large extent until Sunday, December 15, 2013, when I was instructed by my Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, Nduka Obaigbena, who knew that I had been avoiding Sanusi like the plague, to meet with him as he was eager to respond to a harsh rejoinder that had been issued by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Two days earlier, NNPC had come out swinging at Sanusi for alleging in a letter that he had written to former President Goodluck Jonathan that the state-run oil firm had failed to remit or had withheld a whopping $49.8 billion from the treasury between January 1, 2012 and July 31, 2013.
In the damning letter, which the former CBN governor later confessed was leaked by the then Rivers State governor, Rotimi Amaechi, Sanusi had claimed that the “value of crude oil export proceeds, based on the documentation received from pre-shipment inspectors, had shown that between January 2012 and July 2013, NNPC lifted 594,024,107 barrels of crude valued at $65,332,350,514.57. Of this amount, NNPC repatriated only $15,528,410,098.77, representing 24 per cent of the value, implying that the NNPC had not accounted for and repatriated to the Federation Account an amount in excess of $49.804 billon of the value of oil lifted in the same period”. Expectedly, the media and a majority of Nigerians were outraged and took Sanusi’s charge to mean that some $50 billion had been stolen from NNPC.
Reacting, the oil corporation said Sanusi’s allegation was unfounded and baseless; informing him that NNPC was not the sole player in the oil and gas value chain. It reminded him that the CBN, Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) and Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) met regularly to reconcile liftings, sales and remittances of oil proceeds. “In fact, our data was compiled from signed up documentation. I will not say the CBN was not aware because they are always at the meetings and they also sign up the documentation and reconciliation documents,” a summary of the statement by an NNPC spokesman had said at the time. NNPC proceeded to educate Sanusi on equity crude, royalty oil, tax oil, volume for third party financing, and the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC) equity volume, which all made up crude oil liftings as well as the government institutions responsible for collecting the proceeds and remitting same to the treasury. It went on to accuse him of turning his allegation into a political instrument.
It was in a bid not to be upstaged and portrayed as someone who was ignorant about how remittances were made in the oil and gas sector that Sanusi and I met that fateful Sunday afternoon so that he could clarify why he had written the letter to the former president. I recall vividly that during our conversation, Sanusi laid considerable emphasis on NPDC – the NNPC exploration and production subsidiary – insisting that the company was the culprit in the value chain that had failed to remit proceeds to the Federation Account. I reminded him that if he was pointing to NPDC, he had made a huge mistake because its share of oil production was too small to account for the $49.8 billion that he had alleged had not been remitted to the federation. Anyway, as editor, my responsibility was to report his side of the story the next day. I kept my misgivings to myself.
A few days after that encounter, the then Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, her counterpart at the petroleum ministry, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, Sanusi and officials of the CBN, NNPC, DPR and FIRS met to reconcile the revenue shortfall. After the meeting, they all appeared before an ad hoc Senate committee that had been set up to investigate Sanusi’s allegation. At the hearing, while Okonjo-Iweala and Alison-Madueke pointed out that they had established a revenue shortfall of $10.8 billion, when it was Sanusi’s turn to address the committee, he said CBN was of the view that there was a shortfall of $12 billion. Not stopping at the new figure established by the central bank, he added that they were still in the process of reconciling that figure, which excluded the export sales tax of $20 billion.
As I watched Sanusi on television come up with the new figure of $20 billion, I realised that he had become a moving target. It was important for him to continue to shock and awe. The sum of $49.8 billion was obviously ludicrous. Perhaps he deemed $10.8 billion or $12 billion a bit on the low side. So he needed to pump up the volume to the tune of $20 billion to feed to the public as having gone up in smoke. Unfortunately, his narrative stuck like a leech and became folklore. It was made easier by the fact that the administration at the time was deemed extremely corrupt, which was worsened by the rising insurgency in the Northeast. Accordingly, anything that was thrown at the generality of Nigerians was swallowed hook, line and sinker. It was also the perfect elixir that politicians in the opposition needed. Naturally, they ran with it and kept re-spinning the yarn of the “missing” $20 billion, even after a forensic audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) and subsequent audits showed that Sanusi had told a very tall tale.
Sanusi was to pay a heavy price for all the figures that he had tried to keep afloat. A few weeks after the scandal broke, Jonathan unceremoniously suspended him from his exalted position at the CBN. His humiliation, nonetheless, was short-lived. As a reward for giving them the ammunition that they needed to bring down Jonathan, former Kano State governor, Rabiu Kwakwanso, following the urging of leaders of the All Progressives Congress (APC), enthroned Sanusi, a prince of the Kano emirate, the Emir of Kano.
But it was only a matter of time before he started to take on the government at the centre and the northern establishment over flawed foreign exchange management and economic policies as well as rising poverty in the North respectively. Irrespective, it would have been fair to assume that after Sanusi’s role in catapulting the APC to power he would have remained their golden boy. But that is not the case today. Kwakwanso’s successor, Abdullahi Ganduje, with whom Sanusi has had an uneasy relationship, is cutting the emir down to size with the fractionalization of the Kano Emirate and may very well depose him with a mere stroke of the pen. What is Ganduje’s grouse? He’s had it with the outspoken and overly critical Sanusi of his administration and cannot live with the fact that the Kano traditional ruler figuratively crossed carpet to support the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the last general election. Add to this the centuries old Fulani (Sanusi is of the ruling Fulani clan), Hausa dichotomy in Kano, Ganduje has simply re-opened a festering, old wound capable of infecting the rest of the North.
Unsurprisingly, Ganduje has the backing of the powers that be at the centre, as he would not have dared to balkanize the Kano Emirate without the go ahead from Abuja. But should Ganduje forge on by creating new emirates in Kano and whittle down Sanusi’s sphere of influence or insist on his ouster, the governor’s actions will definitely lead to his undoing. History will neither forget, nor forgive him. As polarizing as Sanusi is, the governor must realise that he will not just be destroying the individual who sits atop the Kano throne but one of the strongest and most treasured heritages in Africa, all in a bid to exact revenge for the emir’s support of the PDP and his acerbic tongue. It cannot be over-emphasized: Ganduje’s ill-advised goal to silence Sanusi could trigger a chain of non-reversible events. He will also be handing Sanusi the ammunition to nail his coffin, if he (the emir) is free of the vestiges of the throne.
Besides, insofar as he is not turning the truth on its head, Sanusi, like any Nigerian, should not be hounded and gagged for speaking truth to power. There is nothing in the Nigerian Constitution that bars traditional rulers in this country from taking a political stance and criticizing persons in government. Traditional rulers are first and foremost human and like all humans are political animals. So why should a traditional ruler not be able to turn his back on an ineffective and corrupt politician such as Ganduje and support one who he deems a better alternative for his people. As long as he is not inciting his subjects to civil disobedience or to take up arms against constituted authority, Sanusi should feel free to criticize and admonish corrupt and poor-performing politicians.
The irony is that it is not just Sanusi who once aided the APC that is reeling from the persecution of the administration. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has already signposted its intention to go after the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, who lost his re-election bid to the Senate. Saraki, who in 2011 exposed the fuel subsidy rot at NNPC and later led five governors of PDP to the APC, is now public enemy number one. The bigger irony is that the degree of fraud in the subsidy scheme that he exposed in NNPC eight years ago is child’s play in comparison to the ongoing mismanagement and theft at NNPC in the name of subsiding the petrol that we consume.
According to a recent World Bank report, the calculations for fuel subsidy are currently based on heavily inflated fuel consumption estimates of 60-70 million litres per day, with the fiscally severely constrained Nigerian government effectively subsidising neighbouring countries’ petrol consumption as some of the fuel is informally re-exported through the porous borders. Yet, when it suited members of the APC, Saraki’s expose in 2011 on fuel consumption and the subsidy scheme was the launch pad used by proponents of Occupy Nigeria, sponsored by the opposition, to denigrate the Jonathan administration barely five months later.
It is obvious that the use and dump syndrome has become APC’s stock in trade. The party’s modus operandi is to get its members and sympathisers to sell falsehoods and conjure up mind-boggling figures of grand larceny aimed at exciting a gullible public. But it will brook no nonsense from these same persons when they dare to challenge the status quo. Sanusi and Saraki are just two of the metaphorical reindeers caught in the headlights. Many more will follow.