Guest Columnist By Kashim Ibrahim-Imam
“I despise the kind of existence that clings to the miserly trifles of comfort and self-interest.”
The above are the truly remarkable words of one of the world’s greatest revolutionaries. But then, it could well have been uttered by one who dwells among us and is being deservedly honoured with the royal title of Dan Majen Kano on June 8th 2012 by the Emir of Kano, His Highness Alhaji (Dr.) Ado Bayero; one who has become so ubiquitous in our national life that it is hard to imagine that most Nigerians first heard of him when he accepted the challenge of a very crucial national assignment at an equally crucial period in our nation’s economic development.
Yet those of us who have known Sanusi Lamido Aminu Sanusi for most of his life bear witness that it was just the moment giving expression to the man: the public manifestation of the innate character of the man fondly called SLS by friends and associates. It was such character that created one of those few moments in history where the story cannot be told more impressively than by the event itself. As it is, it is difficult to exaggerate, even sufficiently express the significance of Sanusi’s first major task as Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria.
I will return to his on-going national service at the CBN shortly, but first the beginning.
SLS was born in Kano on July 31, 1961 to Ambassador Muhammed Aminu Sanusi, CON, the seventeenth Chiroma of Kano under the Fulani, and Hajiya Saudatu Hussaini. His father had inherited the title of Chiroman Kano from his own father, the 11th Emir of Kano, Sir Muhammadu Sanusi. On his mother’s side, the new Dan Maje descended from a long line of Imams and Qadis (Judges).
Governor Sanusi holds B.Sc. and M.Sc. degrees in Economics from Ahmadu Bello University and a B.A. degree (1st Class Honours) in Shariah and Islamic Studies from the International University of Africa, Khartoum, Sudan. He is one of Nigeria's leading public intellectuals with dozens of papers and articles delivered at seminars and conferences, locally and internationally and published in newspapers, books and journals. He has also been awarded honorary doctorate degrees by the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, the University of Jos, Bayero University Kano, the University of Benin, and Benue State University, Makurdi.
Prior to assuming office as Governor of the Central Bank, the new Dan Maje had reached the peak of his banking career as Group Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of First Bank of Nigeria Plc, the largest bank in the country by total assets. His reputation in the industry as a first class manager, having earlier served as Chief Risk Officer in two of the largest banks in the country, United Bank for Africa Plc and First Bank of Nigeria Plc, was a major factor leading to his emergence first as CEO of First Bank and later as Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria.
He assumed office as Governor of CBN in the middle of a global financial crisis that almost led to the collapse of the Nigerian banking system. When he chose to risk confrontation with the powerful interests in the banking sector, given the reality of the influence they wielded in both big business and state politics, those of us who knew him recognised the trademark of this man whose strong nerves are deceptively belied by his slight frame. But it was no less astounding. While the actions could be explained by his characteristic courage and commitment, it was not immediately predictable, from his equally cerebral disposition, that he would pick the biggest fight in the very first round.
But that is a high-risk but necessary intervention that offered our country one of those very rare distinctions of preventing a potential crisis from snowballing into a major disaster, even when financial sectors in the most developed economies were collapsing in the full glare of clueless regulators. The United States of America, one of the major theatres of the crisis that soon became a global contagion, wished they had a regulator who had the presence of mind, the guts and the expertise to act on time.
In inviting Sanusi to give testimony at the US Congress, Hon. Gregory W. Meeks, Chairman Sub-committee on International Monetary Policy and Trade of the United States Congress, said: “we were fascinated by the CBN Governor, and impressed by the tough, decisive and transparent actions that he and his colleagues had taken in Nigeria in a way that many Americans wish had also been done here with the leaders of financial institutions that benefited from tax-payer funded bail-outs.”
In naming him the best Central Bank Governor in Africa in 2010 and 2011, Emerging Markets, a publication of Euromoney similarly noted that: “it is somewhat ironic that Sanusi Lamido Sanusi’s radical and hard-line reforms of Nigeria’s banking system have earned him the approval of even Western regulators and politicians, many of whom have fallen short in their own efforts to rein-in their country’s financial excesses.” And in crowning him as Global/African Central Bank Governor of the Year 2011, The Banker Magazine (a publication of the Financial Times of London) paid tribute to him in the following words: “In the last 18 months that Mallam Sanusi has been in office, he has salvaged a crumbling Nigerian financial sector, including implementing reforms that have put Africa’s most promising market back on the map for investors globally.”
But unlike most revolutionaries and reformers, Sanusi has not, would not, let his life be described by the one, big, story of rescuing the banking sector. Even more remarkably, his hunger and desire has not been driven by the pursuit of personal glory. Obviously not. That he would take positions on very contentious national issues like the fuel subsidy, a position that was not (has not been) the popular one and given the passion of the debate, clearly shows how the man’s life has been driven entirely by his convictions, and little else. Once he is convinced about the rightness of a cause, he would not shy from embracing the road least taken. He is never afraid of walking alone. This is a rare trait in our public life these days when people in authority are eager to play to the gallery. It is a fast-vanishing but needed leadership quality, which Sanusi, happily, has in good measure.
Another remarkable attribute of our SLS is his simplicity and humility, despite that he actually carries the proverbial blue blood in his vessels. Every single drop of it. Yet he has not let the nobility of his birth confine him to the comfort of entitlement. He has worked hard for and earned everything that has come his way. Beyond that, this is one prince blessed with a relentless hunger for social change—one who is privileged to have the good life but who desires the good society instead. From my earliest memories of him, SLS has always held that promise.
The way he mixes spirituality and sociability is even more remarkable. Without doubt Sanusi takes his faith seriously. But in practice, he has demonstrated in his personal life how entirely possible it is to pay Godly dues without holding back from Caesar. SLS led us in the Jummat congregational prayers in King’s College reciting memorial verses from the Holy Qur’an:
1. Qad Aflahal Mumineen
2. Allazinahum fi Salaatihim Khashi’uun
3. Wallazinahum Annilagwi Mu’riduun
4. Wallazinahum Lizzakatil Fa’iluun
5. Wallazinahum Lifrujihim Hafizuun
1. Successful indeed are the believers
2. Those who humble themselves in prayers
3. And those who avoid vain talk
4. And those who pay the stated alms
5. And those who guard their chastity
And when it was time to give unto Caesar, he would wear his disco dress, especially the James Brown trousers and the six-inch high-heels shoes fashionable in years gone, and boogie down like no man’s business in those good old days when songs were composed, to the heart wrenching soul of the Barrabas hit track ‘Desperately’:
I love you desperately,
I fell in love with you hopelessly.
With great nostalgia those “excuse me dance” boogie days, the most memorable words of Davis of 'the real thing' singing 'You to me are everything'
You are the sweetest song that I have ever sang.
I will pluck the stars out of the sky for you
I will stop the rain from falling if you ask me to
I will move the mountains....
I won’t be surprised if he is twisting to those songs. This is the picture that I have retained of him nearly forty years on as he has not changed one bit.
It is surprising that some are desperately trying to hang a fundamentalist tag on Sanusi’s neck. Those making this unfair characterization either do not know the man or are deliberately mischievous. The Sanusi I know is not and cannot be a fundamentalist. On the contrary, the Sanusi that I know is a totally open-minded and completely detribalized Nigerian; a public servant with an unquestionable commitment, passion and conviction; a professional true and true; a brother and friend who has, through his uncommon accomplishment, made the people of Kano and the people of Nigeria proud; and a prince eminently deserving of this special honour.
It is even more significant, that the title has its historical roots in the recognition of service and personal integrity. In all that Sanusi has done and would be remembered for both at home and abroad, the story cannot be complete without acknowledging the critics and controversies. But to this day, none has questioned his integrity. No one dares. It is the only way he has retained a burning desire to cause change, even if it means upsetting the social order, and without fear of personal consequences. So while such a title undoubtedly carries its glory for the recipient, it is hard not to also realise how much personal value Sanusi Lamido Aminu Sanusi would bring to it. It is also hard not to acknowledge that for Sanusi, the occasion is less a recognition for great achievement than an opportunity for greater service: it is the character of the man. And this is just the beginning.
•Ibrahim-Imam is former Presidential Adviser on Senate to former President Olusegun Obasanjo