Yunus Abdulsalam: Legal implications of suspending the CBN Governor

On the 20th February, 2014, President Goodluck Jonathan suspended Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi as the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria. The Presidency premised the suspension on an allegation of “financial recklessness”. Expectedly, the Nigerian policy went frenzy as the suspension raised eyebrows culminating into labyrinth of accusations and counter-accusations between those in support and against the suspension. Meanwhile the suspended Governor has dragged President Goodluck Jonathan before an Abuja Federal High Court in a suit he filed to challenge his suspension from office. In the application filed on his behalf by his lawyer, Kola Awodein, SAN, Sanusi is asking the court to restrain the President, the Attorney General of the Federation and the Inspector General of Police from giving effect to his purported suspension from office as the CBN governor, pending the determination of the suit. The aim of this piece however, is to examine the legality or otherwise of the suspension, deploying the relevant laws as the parameter to achieve this purpose. Thus, it is imperative to know if such an action by the President is in tandem or out of consonance with the laws of the land. For those with discernment, it can be observed that the Presidency having failed to find an apt legal justification to back-up its action either from the 1999 constitution of Nigeria (as amended) or the Central Bank Act (2007), had to travel outside these 2 principal (and the most relevant) statutes, and embarked on a voyage of discovery for legal authority to support its action. The Presidency eventually found a “legal basis” in the Interpretation Act to hinge it action on. However, upon a cursory look at Section 1 of the Interpretation Act, the position of the Presidency appears to have been dislocated by the same section of the Act. For the avoidance of doubt, section 1 of the Interpretation Act provides thus: “This Act shall apply to the provisions of any enactment except in so far as the contrary intention appears in this Act or the enactment in question”. What can be critically deciphered from this provision is that recourse need not be made to the Interpretation Act when the CBN Act as laid down the procedure for appointment and removal (in whatever form) of the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria. In other words, since the CBN Act as enshrined the modus-operandi as per the removal (in whatever form) of the Governor of CBN, the provisions of the Interpretation Act is superfluous and as such not applicable as a legal basis for the Presidency to fortify its position.
While by the virtue of Section 11 (2) of the CBN Act, it is undisputable position of the law that the President needs two-third support of the Senate to secure removal of the Governor of CBN, it is desirable to make some salient posers in deciding whether the President can outrightly suspend the Governor of CBN: Can the President remove a Minister of his Cabinet without the ratification of the Senate? In the same vein, can the President remove the Governor of CBN without the support of the Senate? Can the President outrightly suspend the Governor of CBN without approval of the Senate the same way he is statutorily allowed to do same to a Minister of his Cabinet? If yes, isn’t it possible for the President to circumvent Section 11 (2) of the CBN Act and thereby suspend the CBN Governor to suit his (President) whimsical desire and capricious motives? If the President can outrightly suspend the Governor of CBN, wouldn’t the status of the Governor of CBN reduced to a “yes man” at the expense of the autonomy of the institution of Central Bank- which is integral to economic development and political stability of the country? Unlike many other enactments which explicitly permits the President to suspend the arrow-heads of the respective MDA’s, does the zero provision for suspension of the Governor in the CBN Act a lacuna or rather a genuine reflection of the spirit and intendment of the CBN Act so as to safeguard the autonomy of the CBN? Whatever angle one may wish to look at it, the unassailable truth is that the cardinal intent of the CBN Act as enshrined and evidenced in Section 1 (3) of the Act, seeks to entrench the independence of the institution of CBN whereby the removal of the Governor (under whatever guise) will be so rigid so as to insulate the CBN leadership from the short-time political pressures and fear of falling-out of grace politically. Of course, CBN neither can nor should be fully independent of government, since it is government and not the CBN that holds the final responsibility for the economic and financial policy of Nigeria. Nevertheless, substantial degree of independence of the CBN is fundamentally important in the interest of economic development and political stability of THE country. By and large, it is axiomatic that such implied cum unqualified power of the President to suspend the CBN Governor is alien to our jurisprudence and equally constitutes a flagrant affront to the spirit and intendment of the CBN Act (2007). More so, this unprecedented action of Mr. President portends gloom for the economic development and political stability of the country. Therefore, there is need to challenge such action in the court of law as Sanusi has done before we find ourselves in a country where the leadership of the CBN will deem it convenient to compromise and sacrifice its core responsibility to the nation’s economy on the alter of political expediency.

Yunus Abdulsalam, a legal practitioner. Wrote from Abuja. Yunusabdulsalam7@gmail.com

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