HE, Sanusi II; the Emir of Kano, the president of Nigeria

The current political atmosphere in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, is tense. Citizens are worried about the kind of leaders they have been electing and are concerned that they do not really have very good options to choose from ahead of the 2019 elections where current president Muhammadu Buhari will be seeking re-election. If he did not become an Emir in 2014, there would have been deafening calls on Sanusi Lamido Sanusi to become Nigeria’s next president. If not for anything, Nigerians are sure he never avoids the difficult, but right decisions. But who says Emirs can’t become presidents?

Muhammadu Sanusi II is eligible to run and his antecedents show that he might be the leader Nigeria needs.

As Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Sanusi reformed the banking industry and fought corruption in the best possible way. He became governor in the heat of a global financial crisis, but just months after his appointment, he salvaged the country’s crumbling financial sector, taking on powerful and corrupt bank chiefs. His great feat earned him The Banker‘s 2011 Central Bank Governor of the year. According to the monthly international financial affairs publication, “few candidate names can generate an overall consensus on judging panels and yet, when it came to finding the best global central bank governor of the year, Mr Sanusi was chosen unanimously”. That same year, he was named as one of Time Magazine’s most influential people in the world.

Corruption fighter

Sanusi said of the cases of corruption against top bank officials: “Getting convictions for these rich and powerful individuals sent a very strong signal across Nigeria that the time for corruption was coming to an end”. He told The Banker that his biggest challenge was ‘facing up to people who held considerable sway in the country’, but he did it anyway because he knew it had to be done, explaining that “once the public was made aware of the scale of corruption, then pressing for change became easier”. If Sanusi was the CBN governor when Skye Bank failed, the officials alleged to be responsible for the bank’s troubles would be facing charges.

Sanusi showed bank chiefs that the endemic corruption in the banking industry would no longer be tolerated and set a tenure limit to ensure banks’ chief executives do not stay as long as they need to cover their tracks. Today, bank CEOs in Nigeria have a maximum tenure of 10 years.

He said his reforms were built around four pillars: enhancing the quality of banks, establishing financial stability, enabling healthy financial-sector evolution and ensuring that the financial sector contributes to the real (non-financial) economy. “Until now, the banking system was servicing the banking sector and not the economy as a whole. What we want to ensure now is that the banking industry services Nigeria,” he told The Banker. Things had since improved.

After cleaning up the banking industry, the CBN governor turned to other parts of the economy that the central bank deals with, and detected a $20 billion fraud in Nigeria’s national oil company whose finances are shrouded in secrecy till date. He was suspended from office by President Goodluck Jonathan on 20 February 2014. Sanusi believes he was fired for going public with the missing $20 billion. He had in a 2013 TEDx talk claimed that Nigeria lost a billion dollars every month to diversion of oil funds under President Jonathan. Such fearlessness in support of the truth, shown on several occasions by Sanusi, is a rare virtue in the Nigerian public service space, but it is what is needed in the leader that will help Nigeria achieve its true potential.

Subsidy hater
With Nigeria’s oil refineries not performing at optimal levels, the country imported 4.79 billion litres of Premium Motor Spirits (PMS) in the second quarter of 2018, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. However, as oil prices rise, Nigeria will have to pay more for the importation of PMS. The country has always used price control to veil the true state of things. Clouding its failure to make refineries work, the government has ensured that Nigerians do not pay more than N145 ($0.4) for a litre of PMS, regardless of how much it costs to import per litre. The government makes up the difference in subsidy. Records show that the Nigerian government paid a subsidy of N2.4 billion ($6.6 million) daily in May 2018 — Nigerians consume more than 40 million litres of PMS daily.

A president like Sanusi wouldn’t allow this madness to continue. Of course, he would know that he has to fix the refineries and open up the space for private participation (like the current government is trying to do), and also fight the powerful Nigerians who are enjoying the subsidy payments and would want the situation to continue.

Sanusi has spoken on numerous occasions in favor of subsidy removal, citing the high level of corruption the practice enables as well as the inefficiency of subsidizing consumption instead of production. A 2011 article by The Economist said Nigeria’s president would be a brave man if he fulfilled his promise to end subsidy. He tried, but gave in after days of nationwide protests.

As a man who is known not to back down from a worthy cause, Sanusi would make subsidy removal and a clean up of the Nigerian oil sector a priority. Even as the country craves diversification of its economy, a well-run oil sector will foster economic growth.

Truth lover

Sanusi is a devout Muslim. In fact, he is an Islamic scholar, but he is not a bigot. He is one of the few respected adherents of a religion who speaks up against the ills of their religion and tackle people trying to perpetrate evil under the guise of upholding religious virtues.

His objective views and no-nonsense approach is what Nigeria currently needs. Last year, one of Nigeria’s political parties, the African Democratic Congress (ADC) invited the Emir Sanusi Lamido Sanusi to run for presidency in 2019 on the party’s ticket, noting that the country needs a leader with integrity and intellectual capacity.

The National Chairman of the party, Chief Ralph Nwosu explained the party’s interest in the former CBN governor to local newspaper The Guardian. “Sanusi has been very forthright in pointing out the ills within the government and systems across the nation. He has shown courage in a very thoughtful manner and has also refused to be intimidated. People like Sanusi are critical to the Nigeria Project.” Whatever happened to this plan.

Sanusi cannot relinquish his throne to become president, but he can rule Kano and lead Nigeria at the same time. If it happens, it won’t be because of a godfather or an alliance with a regional political powerhouse; it will be because Nigerians want him and he will answer only to them. Who knows? He might scrap one of the Houses in the National Assembly or have just 10 competent ministers. Maybe he could even reason with whoever emerges as head of the parliament and lobby the members to cut down the budget of the National Assembly. He might even clean up the civil service and make it easier to do business in Nigeria, so much that the government will stop being the largest employer of labour.

But these are merely wishes. Even the Kano emirate are unlikely to allow their ruler run for office. There are things you do not say to royals, which the Emir would have to swallow if he becomes president. Jonathan was clueless. Buhari was lifeless. The Emir makes a turn perceived as wrong and he gets his own appellation.