Jonathan orders fresh audit of CBN accounts

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The Secretary to the Government to the Federation Anyim Pius Anyim has asked the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRCN) to audit the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Acting on President Goodluck Jonathan’s directive, Anyim gave the FRCN six weeks to do job.

The audit is to examine the books showing how suspended CBN Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi has run the apex bank.

Sanusi was suspended last Thursday for alleged “misconduct” and “financial recklessness”. He denied any wrongdoing, challenging his accusers to open the books.

The presidential directive – to the FRCN – is believed to be a response to Sanusi’s stand on the row between him and the authorities.

The fresh audit is a follow-up to an earlier on by auditing giants Coopers and Lybrand.

Sanusi has accused the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) of being unable to account for $20 billion oil revenue. The argument was still raging when he was suddenly suspended – an action the President defended last night.

Jonathan said he has “absolute power” to suspend Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi from office, stressing that it would have been inappropriate to have allowed Sanusi to remain in office while the report of the FRCN, which indicted the CBN 2012 audit report, was being considered.

He said because Sanusi is the chairman of the CBN board of directors, it was mandatory for him to be out of office during investigation.

Jonathan who spoke during the “Presidential Media chat” aired on Monday, said “Yes, I have absolute power. The CBN is not well defined in the Nigerian Constitution,’’ he said, in response to a question by one of the panelists on the propriety of his action to suspend Sanusi.

The President said Sanusi remained the CBN governor and would be allowed back to the office “today or tomorrow”, if he was cleared at the end of investigation.

According to him, the president has oversight functions over the bank. The action against Sanusi, he said, was delayed because of the need to consult widely and not to send a wrong signal. “When dealing with the treasury of a nation, you have to be careful and consult widely,” Jonathan told the panel.

Jonathan also faulted the argument that indicted deputy governors should have been suspended along with Sanusi, saying that the head was suspended in order not to interfere with ongoing investigation.

He said the CBN Act will be amended, if need be, to tally with international best practices but stressed that he cannot direct Sanusi’s prosecution as the CBN Board and the FRCN have the responsibility.

“People must know how government functions. The government doesn’t just prosecute anybody. No; it is not done that way. Anybody could be accused of everything. Even in normal civil service operation, when you are suspected for fraud, the best …is to place you on suspension and the matter is investigated.

“At the end of investigation, why they place you on suspension is so that you don’t stay in that office and frustrate the process of investigation. So, government normally places such person on suspension without salary. And if it is a grievous offence, they place you on suspension without salary, but not sacked. Until when they conclude investigations; he may go back if he has no case to answer. If he has a case to answer, that is when they prosecute. “

“These are issues raised by a third party; the Financial Reporting Council is not a member of CBN. So, there could be some issues….probably there could be explanations. I am not saying everything raised there is incriminating on the CBN or Sanusi. No; nobody has said that. So, it is the board of the CBN and the Financial Reporting Council that will look into those grey areas. And if Sanusi has no case to answer, how will you prosecute somebody that has no case to answer.

“But if he has a case to answer; it depends on the nature of the case. In the public service, there are some cases that if it is not criminal in nature, it is either act of negligence or probably miskick a process he was supposed to follow, he may not necessarily be prosecuted. There may be other sanctions or indictment. So, everything does not end up with prosecution.

“Prosecution can only come if a clear fraud is established. But if a fraud is not established, maybe somebody does not follow due process, or some other issues that are not clearly fraudulent, we may not necessarily prosecute him, even though the person is guilty. So, Nigerians should wait; they should not just talk about prosecution.

He added: “Forget whether it is Goodluck Jonathan, whether the President of Nigeria by virtue of the constitution of Nigeria has power to suspend the governor of CBN, I will tell you yes, the President has absolute powers to suspend the CBN Governor.

“The CBN is not even well defined in the Nigerian constitution. If you look at the Nigerian Constitution, Section 153 talks about executive bodies, like Federal Character Commission, Civil Service Commission, Independent National Electoral Commission, the Judicial Service Commission, about 14 of them and the Code of Conduct. These are clearly defined.

“The President appoints but the Senate must clear. For the president to remove anybody, he must go through the Senate. The President has oversight over the CBN; so if anybody tells you that the CBN is a different country, it is not true because for the CBN to change the colour of the Naira, the President must approve.”

“And what happens, for the CBN account, because normally when you audit the CBN, you publish it. So, for you to even publish the CBN audited account, the President must approve it. That means the President must accept the CBN’s audited account.”

According to Jonathan, suspension came in because the CBN Act is somehow anomalous. “We have similar issues with other organizations, not just the CBN, where the CBN Governor is also the Chairman of the CBN Board, the CBN governor is the Chief Executive of CBN and, at the same time, the chairman of the CBN Board. So, if there are allegations about the CBN governor, it becomes a problem for you to look into it,” the President said.

“So, no President will just wake up and a decision, especially when the CBN is involved, whether suspension or removal … you need to consult, you have to do all what it takes and make sure. Probably, I would have even stayed longer than now but when I just realised that in fact February 2013 that the CBN governor sent me the report of the 2012 audit, because the audit report is supposed to be published in the first quarter of the year. So from that time through April there has been correspondence to and fro.

He said he suspended Sanusi when he did because the 2013 audit report is supposed to be published this quarter, “but we have not even finished with 2012”. In fact, I had to give provisional approval to audit 2013 report because we have not finished with 2012″.

Jonathan said he sent the name of Sanusi’s successor immediately, because it is “one of the things we have to do to stablise the system” and to tell the international community that the succession is already there.

The suspension coincides with Sanusi’s alarm that $20b oil money was missing. The President said: “In terms of if the time is appropriate, there is no time that is even appropriate to suspend anybody. But if you need to be suspended, definitely you really have to be suspended.” The issue of $20 billion, well if you look at the issues, it started from February till now, so it is not as if something just came up now because Sanusi spoke about $20 billion. First of all, he spoke about $49.8 billion; everybody was alarmed. Finally, Sanusi said it was $12 billion; later on he said $20 billion.

“Whether it is $49.8 or $12 billion, but whatever, even if is one kobo or one dollar that has disappeared from NNPC, we will find out. That I guarantee you, but while doing that, we must follow the due process.”

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