Urhobo Historical Society

Whither Is Lamido Sanusi Leading Nigeria?

By Peter P. Ekeh


In 2001, I had a nasty public dispute with the late Dr. Bala Usman of Ahmadu Bello University and his close associate and younger fellow-aristocrat Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, who was then Assistant General Manager at United Bank for Africa. In two engaging papers – “The Misrepresentation of Nigeria: the Facts and the Figures” and “Ignorance, Knowledge, and Democratic Politics in Nigeria” – Bala Usman had assailed claims of autonomy made by ethnic nationalities of Southern Nigeria. His vexation against the assertion that the resources of the Niger Delta belonged to its people was particularly passionate and led him to deride some major ethnic nationalities of the Niger Delta. Bala Usman urged Northern states of Nigeria to lay claims to those resources because, in his vexed contention, mineral petroleum was formed from debris that the River Niger brought to the Niger Delta from Northern Nigeria.

I thought that Bala Usman’s point of view was dangerous ideology. In my reply to him in a paper titled “The Mischief of History: Bala Usman’s Unmaking of Nigerian History,” I pointed to facts and perspectives that invalidated his positions. Bala Usman was a brilliant man. He was also a wise man. In his wisdom, he did not contest the facts of my argument against the controversial propositions in his papers. It was also possible that another reason why Bala Usman did not reply to me was that his younger associate Sanusi Lamido Sanusi had taken it upon himself both to defend Bala Usman and to advance their common interests in the aristocracy that they shared.

In an agitated paper titled “Usman, Ekeh, and Urhobo ‘Nation,’” Sanusi not only defended Bala Usman whose views I had attacked; he assailed me for what he thought was the illogicality of my position. Sanusi cited my Inaugural Lecture entitled Colonialism and Social Structure in which I had argued that there were lasting consequences of colonialism in Africa. Sanusi hurriedly concluded that my attack on Bala Usman’s denunciation of Southern claims of ethnic autonomy was incompatible with my earlier position in the Inaugural Lecture. Now, my Inaugural Lecture was delivered at the University of Ibadan in 1980 when Lamido Sanusi was an undergraduate student at Ahmadu Bello University. As I subsequently explained to him and to other readers of my rejoinder in April 2001 (see Organized Campaign in Defence of Bala Usman and the Breakdown in Nigeria’s National Consensus), Sanusi was mistaken in his assessment of the meanings of my lecture and of my rejection of Bala Usman’s belligerence towards the Niger Delta.


Sanusi’s follow-up response became less shrill and showed a different side of him. He abandoned his previous effort to take me to a degradation ceremony by alleging that I had committed “intellectual suicide.” Uncommonly for his much advertised aristocratic class, Sanusi allowed that injustice had been committed in the Niger Delta. It was in the course of that calmer correspondence that Sanusi sent me a copy of a paper (“Issues in Restructuring of Corporate Nigeria”) for publication in www.waado.org, a Web site that I edit. I see that that paper has assumed considerable significance in the public estimation of Sanusi’s persona. Rightly so. It was presented at an Arewa House forum organized by Northern Nigeria’s elite in 1999 as part of the preparation for a new civilian order.


That encounter with Lamido Sanusi eight years ago is worth reviewing because it reveals a good number of things about the personality and character of the man who now occupies one of the most important positions in Nigeria’s public affairs. First, it was obvious, at least to me, that Sanusi was a determined fighter for those causes that would advance his aristocratic claims to privileged positions in Nigeria. How else would one explain his defence and implicit advocacy of Northern claims on the natural wealth of the Niger Delta which his elder compeer had articulated? Second, Sanusi seems to accept and to share a common point of view in his elite circles that what is good for the Fulani aristocracy is good for Northern Nigeria and therefore Nigeria. Much has been written in recent months, particularly by Southern scholars and commentators, about Northern monopoly of power under President Umaru Yar’ dua. In fact, however, what we are witnessing before our own eyes is a growing stranglehold on Nigeria’s major institutions by one ethnic minority, the Fulani, under the cover of Northern Nigeria. Lamido Sanusi is in the midst of that power-play and he seems to be enjoying every bit of it.  In his now-famous “Issues in Restructuring of Corporate Nigeria,” Sanusi states an elementary truth about his identity: “I am Fulani. I am Muslim. But I am able to relate to every Nigerian as a fellow Nigerian and respect his ethnicity and his faith.” It is fair to say that Sanusi’s primary obligations flow from being a Fulani and a Muslim and that the layer of Nigeria or, indeed, Northern Nigeria is a convenient secondary cover.


There is another noteworthy peculiarity that is manifest from Lamido Sanusi’s utterances and behavior. He is an impulsive man, a trait that has led him to stir up controversies. He is quick to jump to conclusions in a flash from ready-made templates. In 2001, I was struck with how rapidly he could pronounce my intellectual demise after reading a bare fraction of my writings. Others have complained about nasty comments on the Yoruba and the Igbo in his voluminous political writings. Such impulsive tendencies have exposed him to praise for being a truth-teller but also to charges of inconsistencies or, worse, insincerity in his claims of fairness. For instance, following Lamido Sanusi’s dismissive attack on a Kano-based Muslim scholar and preacher Ja’afar Mahmoud Adam for his brand of Islamic doctrine, from England came this brutal assessment of Sanusi’s character by a fellow Muslim scholar. Accusing him of hiding “the larger portion of his character … under the guise of ‘Islamic Scholarship,’” Muhammad Jameel Yusha’u tore into Sanusi thus:

People can now distinguish between true Islamic scholars [like Sheikh Ja’afar Mahmoud Adam] who adhere to the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W) and tried to abide by it and societal chameleons [like Sanusi Lamido Sanusi] who could be bankers today, political analysts tomorrow, economists the day after tomorrow and the next morning appear as malikis with a dose of shi’a doctrines in their cupboard (see “Sanusi Lamido Sanusi’s Narcissism and Self-Glorification”).

 There is much more truth in that angry accusation than a scholar’s flourishes. The bigger question is this: having played so many roles, can Sanusi be called a specialist in any one of them? For instance, can Lamido Sanusi successfully play the role of Chief Economist of the Federation, which is the responsibility of the Governor of the Central Bank?

Is Sanusi Lamido Sanusi Qualified to Be Governor of Nigeria’s Central Bank?

Modern economies are complex. A careless remark by the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank in the United States or by the Governor of Bank of England could lead to loss of sizeable wealth in a single day. Governors of Central Banks in most countries of the world are labeled chief economists of their nations because of the critical roles they play in their economic fortunes. For that reason, Governors of Central Banks are usually accomplished scholars in macroeconomic areas of knowledge as well as being experienced men or women in the management of their nations’ economic wellbeing. In addition, they are expected to be extremely diplomatic in their public utterances. That is why they tend to be conservative in their ways. The position of the Governor of Central Bank is certainly not one for firebrand radicals. Because the economies of the world are no longer as autonomous as they were as recently as a few decades ago, Governors of Central Banks must also be experienced professionals who generate confidence in their capabilities beyond their national borders. That is why they are often compared one to another in our day in which national economies are inter-related.

The question before the nation now is the following: What are the qualifications of Sanusi Lamido Sanusi that prepared him for his new position of Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria? Is he qualified for it? A related question is this: how does he compare with his counterparts elsewhere, particularly in comparable African countries? These are fair and important questions because what Sanusi says and does as Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria will surely affect us all, probably for the rest of our lives.

Sanusi’s Academic Qualifications for Governor of Central Bank

No responsible nation will recruit a sociologist or a political scientist or even an historian for the position of Governor of its Central Bank. This is because his or her assignment is specialized within the well configured knowledge area of monetary macroeconomics. Botswana’s banking chieftain phrased the matter severely but quite correctly. As Ms Linah Mohohlo, the award-winning Governor of Botswana’s Central Bank, once told Euromoney magazine: "African countries are not a homogeneous group in terms of fiscal management and standards.    The world economic history is littered with casualties of fiscal mismanagement. Prudent fiscal management is indispensable in today's modern economies given its potential in underpinning an appropriate macro-economic balance as a basis for sustainable growth" (see “Botswana Bank Head Is Regional Governor of the Year”). In its proper context, the Botswanan is telling us that it takes much to prepare to fulfill the role of Governor of Central Bank. Sound and serious academic preparation, beginning with undergraduate studies, is the starting step in this grounding. Thereafter, potential candidates for the Governor of Central Bank must engage their colleagues with publications that will advance the management of the nation’s fiscal affairs.

The information we have on Sanusi’s preparation for his present position is sparse and unpublicized. We read that he did his undergraduate degree in Economics at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, graduating in 1981. We do not know in what area s of economics he specialized. It is traditional at that University to write a Research Essay in the final year. It would be important to know on what topic Lamido Sanusi wrote his essay. It is also good information to know what class of degree he earned to enable him to graduate from that University. The publicity piece on Sanusi on the Web site of Central Bank of Nigeria tells us that Sanusi took M. Sc. (Economics) courses, apparently without taking the degree at the end, although he is said to have obtained a distinction in Monetary Policy. Did he abandon the M.Sc. project? We are told that Sanusi returned briefly to teach at Ahmadu Bello University. What subjects did he teach? These are elementary facts that should be available from a full curriculum vitae of the Chief Economist of the Federation. They are the sort of questions that any interviewing body would demand from any young academic who applies for the position of Lecturer or Senior Lecturer in any of our universities. In addition, we may demand to know from Nigeria’s Chief Economist whether he took any professional examinations in banking while he worked at ICON Limited (Merchant Bankers) and United Bank for Africa before he became the CEO of First Bank of Nigeria. Finally, it will be beneficial for our judgment of the qualifications of our national Chief Economist to gain information on whether his studies in Islamic Law at the University of Khartoum, Sudan, in the hiatus between his years at ICON Limited and UBA, were related to his banking profession. The Central Bank Web site informs us that Sanusi bagged a First Class degree in his Islamic Studies in the Sudan. These are not over-bearing or over-probing questions. We would know about such background of the Governors of the Central Banks of any other African countries from their curriculum vitae.

Perhaps more important is Sanusi’s publication record. Fortunately, in modern times several vehicles exist for accessing the records of anyone who has engaged in academic or professional publishing. For this exercise I have employed the liberal vehicle of Harzing’s Publish or Perish. The result for Sanusi Lamido Sanusi is distressing. He has ten papers listed. They come from such newspaper-grade media sources as www.gamji.com and Daily Trust. All of them are about Sharia, Islamic Law and women. None of them is about economics or banking. The Web site of Central Bank of Nigeria boasts that Sanusi has publications in learned journals, but none is listed. They surely do not appear in the public record.

What is compelling about Sanusi’s public record is that a number of things stand out when his publications are compared to those of other Governors of Central Banks in comparable African nations – using the same vehicle of Harzing’s Publish or Perish. With a record of forty-two publications listed, almost all of them focused on economic and monetary matters of Kenya, Professor Njuguna Ndung’u must be adjudged to be a formidable Governor of the Central Bank of Kenya. Also revealing is the publication record of the Governor of Ghana’s Central Bank. Since his doctoral thesis on A Macroeconometric Analysis of Export Instability in Economic Growth for the University of Pennsylvania in 1972, Paul Acquah has engaged in serious academic and professional discussions of macroeconomic issues for Ghana and other African nations (e.g., Zaire) as well as for the whole continent in published media. Ms Gill Marcus of South African Reserve Bank is formidable from several perspectives, including an impressive record of publications. Finally, Sudan’s Central Bank’s Governor, Dr. Sabir Mohamed Hassan, has an impressive record of published engagement with an analysis of his country’s economy.

Two features separate Lamido Sanusi’s published works from those of these other Governors of Central Banks of comparable African nations. First, they are not devoted to politics and religion – subjects to which Sanusi appears wholly committed, to the apparent exclusion of economic analysis. Second, Sanusi shows no interest whatsoever in economic and banking analysis, not even of risk-management, in his published records. On the other hand, according to their published public records, Africa’s other Governors of Central Banks are substantially devoted to the academic and professional analyses of the economic circumstances of their nations. It should be clear to Nigerians that President Umaru Yar’ dua could not have chosen Lamido Sanusi as Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria on account of his accomplishments in the understanding of Nigerian and African economic issues. Nor did the Senate that confirmed him so readily bother to ask pertinent questions with respect to his relative qualifications in the context of African economic circumstances.

Lamido Sanusi’s Temperament

Even if potential candidates were well qualified in professional and macroeconomic matters, those examining them for the enormous office of Governor of Central Bank are expected to weigh the candidates’ temperament along with how well they will relate to significant portions of the nation. Lamido Sanusi probably tells the truth, as he sees it, without fear or favour. In other words, he sees himself as a gadfly in public discourse. In doing so, he offends significant constituencies. Should he therefore expect to hold an office that is owned by the entire country?

Dr. Frederick Fasehun’s recent statement on the appointment of Lamido Sanusi reveals major flaws that would in ordinary circumstances disqualify other Nigerians from holding this high office. It is enough to cite Fasehun’s reactions to Sanusi’s derisive characterization of various sections of the country. Fasehun writes:

Sanusi has remained unapologetic and unrepentant of his ethnic chauvinism. In the past, he has said of the Igbos in a paper, "Issues in Restructuring of Corporate Nigeria," that: "The Igbos themselves must acknowledge that they have a large part of the blame for shattering the unity of this country."

Having said that this nation must realise that Igbos have more than paid for their foolishness, he said in the same piece: "The Yorubas:  the greatest obstacles to nation-building, are the Yoruba Bourgeoisie, I say this also to underscore my point that until they change in this attitude, no conference can solve the problems of Nigeria. The country cannot move forward if the leadership of one of the largest ethnic groups continues to operate, not like statesmen, but like common area boys."

And on Afenifere he declared: "A Syllabus of Errors …  the problems of this country have a lot to do with the shift in power away from the Fulani to individuals like Babangida and Abacha, products of lower cultures. The Fulani of the North, proud of the history of the establishment in Nigeria - Ahmadu Bello, Murtala Mohammed, Aminu Kano, Shehu Yar'Adua, Shehu Shagari, Jibril Aminu. They are sad that other Nigerians do not know the difference in ethnic background between, say, Murtala Mohammed [Fulani] and Ibrahim Babangida [Gwari]."

Sanusi has made many other fetid pronouncements about various ethnic groups other than those catalogued by Dr. Fasehun above. In a dominant group like the Fulani, one is likely to encounter talkative and boastful members of a self-proclaimed aristocracy. But one would not expect one of those loquacious boast-masters to be the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria.

The same reservoir of ill-temperament that supplies such an abundance of insults on other people has empowered the impulsive behavior of our new Governor in his short service as the Chief Economist of the Federation. Central Bank Governors in most other nations -- at least those who are professionally competent -- would take at least six to twelve months to study the complex tasks in their new responsibilities. But, presuming that he understood all the compound economic problems in the nation’s banking system, Sanusi rushed into his new job with ready-made solutions. The result is the mess in which we now find ourselves.

Matters of Credibility: Some Questions for Lamido Sanusi

More than most professions, bankers rely on their credibility and the trust that they earn from others in order to thrive in their onerous duties of taking care of others’ financial resources. In modern banking such trust is virtually transnational. With Governors of Central Banks, trust at home and abroad is their gold standard. Any Governor of a Central Bank who has no credibility threatens the economic and financial welfare of the nation that he or she is deemed to be serving. Sadly, Lamido Sanusi has begun his tenure as Governor of Nigeria’s Central Bank with a heavy baggage of mistrust. This is a problem that he cannot brush off with a mere waive of assumed aristocratic arrogance.

Was Lamido Sanusi Aware of  a Conspiracy to Destabilize Nigeria’s Banking System?

 On March 23, 2009, Vanguard (Nigeria) Newspapers published an article that revealed an alleged plot that looked improbable at time of its publication. The background was the Banking Consolidation exercise that Sanusi’s predecessor at the Central Bank, Charles Soludo, had undertaken in order to strengthen Nigeria’s banking institutions. It led to the reduction of the number of Nigeria’s banks from 89 to 25. It was an exercise that, among other things, wiped out all the banks that were owned by Northern Nigerians, causing much offence in that large and politically influential region of the country. Vanguard’s story of March 23, 2009, was about how to redress this loss. It reported on how a group of influential Northerners, mostly former bank owners, planned to deny Charles Soludo a second term as the Governor of the Central Bank, install a new Governor of Northern origin, and cause panic in the banking industry in ways that would enable the Federal Government to inject public money into five targeted commercial banks, leading to their takeover by Government and their eventual re-sale to the plotters. In Vanguard’s report, one of the leading candidates, who were being canvassed for by the plotters to replace Soludo as Governor of Central Bank, was Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. The Vanguard reporters’ words deserve to be recalled here: “The group is using this means to make depositors panic and undertake massive withdrawal of funds from the targeted banks in an attempt to cause liquidity problem in the banks. In that state they hope to cause a take-over by the government which may buy a stake in the banks and later sell to members of the privileged group who may be appointed in the interim into the boards of the banks.

Five months after Vanguard’s remarkable publication, much of what it reported in that alleged conspiracy was carried out, to the letter of the alleged plot. This is how Vanguard (August 26, 2009) itself celebrated its remarkable reporting: “Vanguard, your best-read newspaper, 23 March 2009, did a world exclusive on alleged plot by a group of individuals to take over five banks in the country. … Two weeks ago, the new Central Bank of Nigeria Governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, sacked the chief executives and boards of five banks, therefore confirming our scoop of March 23.”

Our simple questions are as follows.

(i)      Before his appointment and before he assumed his new office, was the Governor of Nigeria’s Central bank, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, aware of this conspiracy? One hopes that he was not party to such a horrendous conspiracy against the Nigerian people. Nigeria deserves to know the truth.

(ii)    Was Sanusi’s targeting of the five banks, which Vanguard reporters foresaw as part of the conspiracy months before he was appointed to his new office, unrelated to the alleged plot to take over Nigeria’s five top banks? Was this a mere coincidence?

If we had a well-functioning National Assembly, these questions would come from elected representatives of the people. Sadly, the National Assembly is not in a position to raise such questions on behalf of the Nigerian people. But it may well be that Sanusi Lamido Sanusi will be willing to answer such simple questions by providing straightforward answers to the Nigerian people. What is also clear is that Sanusi’s professional colleagues, in Nigeria and in the international banking community, will be watching very closely and very carefully to see how Sanusi responds to these questions which bear on his credibility and hence on the fate of the Nigerian economy.

Is Jailing One’s Competitors the Banker’s Way of Doing Business?

There is another question on Sanusi’s conduct in which everyone else should be interested. Before President Umaru Yar’ dua appointed Sanusi as the Governor of the Central Bank, he was the Chief Executive Officer of Nigeria’s First Bank. Before then he was an Assistant General Manager of United Bank for Africa. He was in these positions in the years in which the banking industry was transformed by fierce competition that enabled new banks to rise to the top and to compete effectively with the older banks. In these years, the five bank executives, whom Sanusi summarily sacked less than two months after becoming the Governor of the Central Bank, were his fierce competitors. Many of these banks and their chief executives were acclaimed by national and international banking organizations as professionally competent bankers. They were rewarded with commendations and prizes. None of these honours went to Sanusi or the banks or divisions of banks that he managed.

Is it not strange that Sanusi has hurried to use his new powers of Governor of the Central Bank to jail his former competitors, accusing them of taking risks? Is there any room left for shame in Nigeria’s public affairs? This is a story that might be expected from a banana republic. Is that not what Sanusi and his compeers are now turning Nigeria into?

Some Concluding Thoughts: Witnessing the Dismantling of Nigeria

In the early 1960s, shortly after Independence, Nigeria was in turmoil. The House of Representatives was about to declare a state of emergency in Western Nigeria. Anthony Enahoro, a Member of the House, warned that the nation was about to unleash a chain of events whose unknown consequences we might not be able to control. We are probably in greater peril in 2009 than we were in the early 1960s when Chief Enahoro uttered that warning. The difference is that, this time we know what is coming to us. We know it because we have seen it several times before. Sanusi is going to take Nigeria’s banking institutions to the same type of failures that we have witnessed with Nigerian Airways, Shipping Lines, Railways, etc., etc. Is it not a shame that Kenya, Ethiopia, and Ghana can run and manage these institutions that we once had in abundance? In 1963 Nigeria Police Force was selected by the United Nations to train Congo’s troubled Police Force. Now, see the mess into which we have turned what was once a world-class Police Force.

Post by post, pillar by pillar, Nigeria is being dismantled by a self-professed aristocracy whose sole competence is in plotting to take over what others have built. By the time Sanusi finishes with his various unpredictable schemes, Nigeria’s banking system will be in shreds – in the same way our other institutions have been ruined. Thereafter, he will present himself as a candidate for the office of the President of Nigeria and he will expect to win because of his ethnic origin. Sadly, that is now the Nigerian story.


Peter P. Ekeh


State University of New York at Buffalo


September 15, 2009