Suspended Central Bank of Nigeria governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, is a man that can put a canary to shame. Even when he has nothing new or meaningful to say, he must seek out a journalist somewhere and sing his heart out.
As such, it surprises nobody that he has been rehashing some of the inconsistent songs he has been singing in the last few months to The New York Times. What is noteworthy, however, is how The New York Times allowed itself to become a platform for peddling Sanusi’s views without making any effort to reflect Sanusi’s inconsistency and unreliability. While it is possible that the newspaper suffered a lapse of editorial judgment, the poor journalism exhibited by the newspaper smacks of intellectual racism.
To be clear, the issue at stake is not whether The New York Times should have published its recent article (culled by The Nation of Wednesday, March 12, 2014 and a number of other national newspapers) largely reflecting Sanusi’s opinions. Even though the newspaper obtained a quote from presidential spokesman Reuben Abati in an ostensible attempt to balance its article, what stood out was the lack of a requisite background that would have properly contextualised Sanusi’s views.
For The New York Times to have taken as gospel Sanusi’s views on the $20 billion purportedly missing from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) without reflecting the number of times Sanusi’s figures has changed is a disservice not only to the newspaper but the ideals of good journalism.
It is important to recall that in September 2013 Sanusi wrote to President Goodluck Jonathan alleging that $49.8 billion from the sale of crude oil was missing. He later said he’d made a mistake and that the actual figure was $12 billion. In February 2014 Sanusi’s figure changed to $20 billion. The question that naturally arises from this is: how would The New York Times have presented the article it did on Sanusi if the Chair of the US Federal Reserve System flip-flopped in the manner that the suspended CBN governor did?
It is an incontestable fact that a banker who is flippant with figures simply cannot be credible. Consequently, the failure to reflect that Sanusi is inconsistent with figures, and as such cannot be relied upon—whether in the court of law or the court of public opinion—is the great undoing of The New York Times article.
To further diminish its stature, the newspaper related in its report that, according to Sanusi, President Jonathan doesn’t want him to bring out any more information that would get the administration into trouble. This is unfair to say the least. President Jonathan, as everybody knows, is the most liberal president Nigeria has ever had. Moreover, everybody in Nigeria is equally aware that nobody can stop Sanusi, being the canary that he is, from singing, even if all he does is to keep flip-flopping when it comes to figures.
To put this matter in the most lucid way, The New York Times showed great contempt for Nigeria and Nigerians by failing to hold Sanusi to the same level of responsibility in fiscal precision as it would the Chair of the US Federal Reserve System. The newspaper is, in effect, saying that the Chair of the US Federal Reserve System must be sure of figures before going public with them, but the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria can play with figures all he wants because he is a lesser intellectual being. This is a grievous insult to Sanusi—even if the man in his eagerness to outperform all canaries do not realise this—and all Nigerians.
It is also important to note that, for The New York Times to dismiss the many infractions listed by the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRCN) against Sanusi by saying he may have “sidestepped civil-service rules” is to raise the possibility that the article was a sponsored foundation-laying report aimed at tarnishing the Nigerian government.
For the avoidance of doubt, the FRCN report listed infractions ranging from tax evasion by all staff of the CBN—due to the institution’s failure to implement the provisions of the Personal Income Tax (Amendment) Act 2007 under Sanusi’s watch—through billions of naira spent on spurious subheads such as ‘Lunch for policemen’, to more billions purportedly paid to an airline that had no significant operations for over two years. These are just a few of the very specific and detailed charges against Sanusi’s stewardship at the CBN.
Despite the attempt of The New York Times to present Sanusi as a credible source of information, the facts contained in the FRCN report paint a contrary picture. Apart from the shocking portrait of incompetence, financial recklessness, waste and outright fraud that the report revealed, everybody now knows that Sanusi’s CBN could not even observe the corporate governance practices which were the basis that Sanusi himself used in hounding several bankers like Erastus Akingbola and Cecelia Ibru out of their jobs.
The major lesson in the foregoing—which would likely be lost on someone too busy putting canaries to shame—is that a newspaper like The New York Times ought to be more circumspect when putting together a report from a source whose reliability in his designated field of competence is not worth wasting newsprint on.
Ojeifo, an Abuja-based journalist and magazine publisher, can be reached through [email protected]