“By my upbringing, if I’m wrong, I don’t need to be told to come and say I’m wrong and I would apologise. By my nature, if I am not convinced that I’m wrong, I do not apologise and this is really where the point is” – Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, CBN Governor
It might not have appeared that way to most, but last Wednesday’s confrontation between CBN Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi and the Senate Committee on Appropriation, Banking and Currency and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), was a major test of will between the democratic right of the Nigerian citizen to express a viewpoint about governance issues and the powers of the institutions of governance to assume a tyranny over the space of democracy. In the end, Sanusi Lamido’s defiant refusal to cower under, to the ‘all-powerful’ senators who summoned him for a public grilling, hoping to extract a retraction and an apology, represented an affirmation of the sovereignty of the citizen in a democracy. Yes the Senators may huff and puff and appropriate obscene sums for their own pleasure; but at the end of the day, democracy is intrinsically about the citizen, including his right to dissent. In standing up to the inquisition, headed by the controversial Iyiola Omisore, Sanusi Lamido, even independent of his own will, has helped to deepen Nigeria’s democracy a notch, into the future.
In recent months, salaries and allowances of members of the National Assembly have become central issues of discourse in Nigeria. Nigerians have wondered why so much is paid to so few, who seem to do so little for the overall good of our society. The arrogant posture of our legislators, who ostensibly are representative of the Nigerian people, has made them increasingly unpopular. This is at a time when citizens are more aware that recurrent expenditure has become far too much a burden, suffocating the possibilities for capital development. The legislators know they suffer a serious perception deficit amongst the Nigerian people, so when Sanusi Lamido gave a lecture, and announced that the National Assembly alone consumes 25% of government overhead, they sniffed an opportunity to go for his jugular, and hopefully ridicule him and somehow use the outcome to re-instate the integrity of the National Assembly. In choosing a televised public hearing, it was clear that the Senators were literally baying for blood. Unfortunately, they chose a wrong victim.
Senator Iyiola Omisore, the chief inquisitor, is as controversial as they come. I remember him from the days of military dictatorship, when he became entangled in a water supply contract scandal in Kwara State; but Nigerians remember him for even more troubling controversies, which ended in his becoming elected into the National Assembly from prison, a unique feat that only the PDP could have pulled through in its 11 years of spoliation of this country. Omisore is the quintessential Nigerian politician, able to deploy funds and the requisite dollops of toughness, muscle and brawn to achieve political objectives. In that context, the brain is not exactly an important asset and the good senator will be the first to admit that he is not overly-endowed in that region. Unfortunately for him and his colleagues, the man they brought out for an open confrontation takes pride in a profound intellect, a broad education and culture, all packed into a deceptively frail physical frame! The senators chose the terrain of the confrontation: a public hearing in front of live television and their methodology was also standard: to bully the opposition to a groveling submission. In that terrain, they forgot to factor in a stubborn intellect which was Sanusi Lamido’s forte, but their own Achilles’ heel.
Sanusi confirmed the figures in his lecture “Future Prospect of Nigeria’s Economy”, at the 8th convocation of the Igbinedion University; telling the senators “I confirm that I did say in my speech…that 25percent of the overhead of the Federal Government budget goes to the National Assembly. I have figures from the Budget office for the year 2010. Total government overhead is N536, 268, 490, 280. The total overhead of the National Assembly is N136, 259, 768, 112, which is exactly 25.1 percent of Federal Government overhead”. As THE GUARDIAN of Thursday, December 2, 2010, reported the hearing, “Omisore queried Sanusi for ‘deliberately leaving out service-wide votes from his calculation of overheads for the fiscal year’”. Omisore, very much looking the part, accused Sanusi frontally: “It’s deliberately to confuse and mislead Nigerians. If the CBN Governor is talking of overheads, he doesn’t have the correct figures. Let him say the figures publicly here”. Sanusi who spoke under oath, then replied that “I gave you figures from the Budget Office. These are the figures I got from them”.
Senator Nkechi Nwogu, also asked whether Sanusi would stand by his percentages, if N660.8billion is added to earlier calculation, but Sanusi replied that “I have said everything I am supposed to say. If we include service-wide votes, then the denomination would of course be different”. However, they did not get a retraction or an apology. He then made the statement at the head of this piece: “By my upbringing, if I’m wrong, I don’t need to be told to come and say I’m wrong and I would apologise. By my nature, if I’m not convinced that I’m wrong, I do not apologise and this is really where the point is”. Matter closed! Except that it was egg in the face for the inquisition set up to cut Sanusi to size and by extension, take away from Nigerians the rights to question, interrogate and dissent. As Pat Utomi said in response to the event, the issue was far more fundamental than the hair-splitting about ‘percentages’, ‘service-wide votes’ and other exercises in mystification that they tried to reduce it to, at the hearing.
The fundamental point of Sanusi Lamido’s argument and one that other patriots have made, is that Nigeria’s democracy is too expensive to be sustainable. Recurrent appropriations take much of national resources, leaving too little to meet critical infrastructural needs or to create jobs. Nigeria is perched precariously on a time bomb with millions of unemployed youth; an overwhelmingly young population is expected to reach over 185million in 2025! There are no prospects into the future, which Omisore and his colleagues in Senate, are mortgaging today, with their obscene earnings. There is low intensity warfare in many parts of Nigeria just as the Nigerian state has lost the monopoly of violence, and the state incrementally fails the people. These are issues that should worry senators who claim they represent the people. That was the essence of Sanusi’s warning which they failed to see, but instead went on a futile ego-trip about “percentages” and “service-wide votes”; rather like the absurd man in the tale, whose house was on fire, but chose to run after a rodent that escaped into a near-by bush. Our Senators are alienated from the naked realities of the Nigerian situation.