While virtually all of Africa’s policy makers and economy managers have been rhapsodizing about the continent’s romance with China, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, award-winning Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), has remained clear-headed enough to sound the alarm bell about the lopsidedness of the affair.
True to his reputation as a straight shooter, Sanusi, early this year, urged African economy planners to put on their thinking caps, open their analytic eyes to appreciate that the Asian country is “no longer a fellow under-developed economy but a significant contributor to Africa’s deindustrialisation and underdevelopment” on account of its “predatory” trade policies.
It was classic Sanusi. Bold, daring and endowed with a gift of the gab, Nigeria’s top monetary policy formulator is ever willing to advance his convictions on issues of public policy not only in his native Nigeria but also in the wider and more complex international financial system.
In a widely broadcast media interview a couple of years ago, the CBN helmsman stunned the cream of the world’s financial experts and analysts when he delivered a well thought-out critique of the global financial crisis. The world’s financial regulators, he said, had forgotten their raison d’être. He pronounced them guilty of “poor regulation”, and in the same breath carpeted bankers for “poor risk management”.
Not one to dwell on criticism for long and being a solutions man to boot, Sanusi went on to urge that the world “should never let bankers forget how much they’d cost the general public by their recklessness”. It was a scathing response to top bankers’ (including JP Morgan’s Jamie Dimon and Barclays’ Bob Diamond) plea for a soft-landing while pressuring regulators to desist from blaming the industry’s pampered top shots for the meltdown. Sanusi advised that the regulators must continue to hold erring bankers responsible and accountable for their actions, their popularity and political connections notwithstanding.
Apparently, Sanusi’s advice sat well with global regulators, who were then considering jacking up capital requirements, puffing up liquidity buffers and introducing a slew of new regulations, some of which are now contained in Basel III. Sanusi has earned the right to make such pronouncements and judgement calls on operators in the industry. His exploits and achievements on his turf in Nigeria’s financial system are without precedent.
Back in the day, he had gone straight for the root causes of the problem in the banking sector, with a steely resolve to face the issues frontally. The Sanusi-led CBN went after the fat cats that ran the banks into trouble through unrestrained insider-dealings, by undermining their political connections and throwing the book at them. By the time the storm cleared, eight bank chiefs had been booted out of office, their institutions “rehabilitated” through the instrumentality of a massive capital injection. A “bad” bank, Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), was then floated to soak up the toxic assets that threatened the entire financial system. And the system survived.
To forestall the resurgence of the type of overbearing CEOs that ran the banks like personal fiefdoms, the CBN limited Bank CEOs’ tenure to 10 years and set strict corporate governance guidelines.
Thorough and meticulous in his moves, Sanusi gave a new meaning to the stick and carrot approach to problem solving and people management. The Nigerian Chief Regulator thus set a good example for fellow regulators worldwide, providing proof that judicious bailout coupled with appropriate sanctions could help rebuild the world’s wobbly banks and arrest the wave of crass opportunism and crime in the international financial system. His legion of awards and plaudits including 2011 Global African Central Bank Governor; 2011 African Leadership Person of the Year and a listing on the Time Magazine 100 most Influential People of 2011, attest to his undisputed grasp of the dynamics of global finance and cross-cutting leadership ethos.
An advocate for robust, empowered and independent central banks strong enough to catalyse economic development and detect and correct weaknesses in the financial system, Sanusi is happy that central banks around the world are adopting novel initiatives and policies to cope with emerging challenges in a fast-changing world.
While not being obsessed with inflation targeting, he has led the CBN to tighten monetary policy from 7 percent to 12 percent between 2011 and 2013 to achieve a significant drop-off in inflation from 12.8 percent to 8.2 percent in the same period. By keeping a hawk-like watch over the foreign exchange market, the Bank has kept the local currency, the naira, stable within the official band of N155/1US$ +/- 3percent. These measures have ensured the achievement of the broad objectives of exchange rate, price, and more broadly, financial stability.
Dapper and suave, Sanusi’s paradoxical towering image home and abroad, validates the dictum that great things come in slim packages. The controversial central banker who studied and taught economics at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria to effortlessly switches his sartorial pick for the day from his trademark bow tie to the iconic Mao-inspired Chinese collar which he is also identified with. This is reflected in how he nimbly steers a middle course in policy matters seeking the overall good of the citizenry by attending to the aspiration of the entrepreneurial class through effective interventions in the real sector without neglecting the needs of the ordinary folk with such schemes as the Financial Inclusion Initiative, Micro Finance Institutions and the audacious Micro Small and Medium Enterprises Development Fund.
A self-confessed unconventional central banker, Sanusi is a sought-after public speaker and consummate polemicist, whose first ambition was to become a professor before fate directed him to banking, where he grew to become a star risk manager before clinching the CBN’s top job. Before arriving at the top job at the CBN, he was Group Managing Director of First Bank of Nigeria, after a successful tenure as an Executive Director at United Bank for Africa (UBA), two of Nigeria’s biggest banks and Chairman Kakawa Discount House.
Restless and infinitely inquisitive, the prince of the Emirate of Kano is the holder of the prestigious title of Dan Majen Kano following in the footsteps of his grandfather, who was an emir. His father, a career diplomat, studied in England and was Nigeria’s ambassador to China.
Blessed with such a rich ancestry and diverse educational and professional experiences, Sanusi could not have been anything less than he is: a well-rounded person who witnessed leadership at close quarters and saw, in his own words, “first-hand, what it means to place the interest of the people before yours”.
Proud of his pedigree, the outspoken Sanusi picked valuable nuggets of leadership ideals, public service and composure from his father who told him it was “not how long you stay in a place that matter, but what you do”. Little wonder the radical regulator surprised African analysts and watchers of power politics when he openly declared early in his tenure, that he would not seek a second term in office. In a society where public servants are eager to sacrifice even their lives to perpetuate themselves in office, to remain in control of public coffers for the ignoble purpose of lining their pockets, Sanusi would have none of that.
An unrepentant campaigner for the stepping up of the anti-corruption war, Sanusi never misses the chance to lament Africans’ “limitless tolerance for incompetence” and corruption. As governor of the Central Bank, he was unequivocal from day 1 of his watch about “doing what is right and not what is popular”.
Sanusi’s service at the CBN may be coasting `to its terminal date in June 2014; but feelers indicate that analysts and players on the international financial turf, wowed by his reform-packed tenure, are already envisioning him as a top figure in an international financial institution in the years ahead. There, they hope his broad experience, uncommon flair for result-oriented solutions, driven by hardnosed appeal to logic, would serve humanity just as nicely as his oft-expressed desire to take up, some day, the throne of his forebears if and when the turban falls on him.