On the 20th day of May, 2014, a Judge at the Federal High Court delivered his judgment in the celebrated case between Sanusi Lamido, struggling and erstwhile former commander-in-chief of the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Federal government of Nigeria. The prominent issue to be considered was whether or not the President had ‘powers’ to suspend, dismiss or sack Oga Sanusi. Put in everyday language, the plaintiff was saying that he was an island unto himself, and that neither the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Judiciary nor the legislative arms of governance could cut him down to size if there is any case of misconduct, malfeasance and misdemeanor leveled against him – and that if the president must do so, he ought to have sought permission from members of the National Assembly. The defense sought to prove otherwise.
I was not in court on the day both counsels for the plaintiff and defense argued their cases but my eyes and ears in the court told me that it was a case of intellectual, legal and academic fireworks emanating from none other than the pundits and SANs – Kola Awodein and Mike Ozekhome. Unfortunately for me once again, I was not in court the day the learned judge delivered his judgement on this auspicious matter. Again, my trusted ears and eyes filled me in on the proceedings. I was told that the court nearly burst at the seams, and that most of the people who were there were hoping that the pendulum of the proceedings of the day would swing in their favour. A large body of pen pushers was also said to be there as well, most of whom had already slept off in the course of the Judge reading his 3-hour epistemology, only to wake up in the nick of time to hear the conclusion of the matter. The fact that there was no earth quaking headlines the morning after revealed a great deal how great expectations ultimately snowball into great disappointments. On that day, this was what the learned judge said, and I would paraphrase since I do not have his exact words. That the court had no ‘power’ to adjudicate in a matter between an employer and his employee and therefore referred the matter to the National Industrial Court for another round of legal pugilism and adjudication.
Prior to this judgement, several issues had cropped up in the court of public opinion. One, there were arguments back and forth what the constitution had said concerning the suspension of the struggling former CBN governor general. Lawyers were the most vocal in insisting that the president was out of line in the Sanusi sack, and the ones who took the matter up told me that they were not fighting to give Sanusi Lamido his job back but to ensure that this Mr. President did not become a dictator, and that this was a democracy where the rule of law rather than that of impunity should reign supreme. For most of us on the left hand side of this sordid matter this was going to be a sorry academic exercise and we could not say that as publicly as we are saying it now because the matter was already in court. But I made my point, at any fora where the matter came up, that Sanusi Lamido was an employee of the Federal Government. He held his employment at the pleasure of that Federal Government headed by a Mr. President who has the ‘power’ (the word I often used then was ‘prerogative’ and if anyone cares to check the etymology and semantic implications of the word ‘prerogative’, it would mean that he has discretionary powers) to hire and fire. Unfortunately for everyone, they relied on just the denotative implications of the word ‘power’ and so they were in this with their hearts rather than with their heads.
Let us say this and make it abundantly clear. I do not see much indiscretion with the sack or suspension of the struggling former CBN governor. What I think he should have done is for him to have honourably resigned his post if there were certain things within the government he served that he was not comfortable with. Responsible persons in public office do that the world over. After that, he could have started with his less than magisterial posturing. This is what the learned judge at the Federal High Court has just said with his judgement, transferring the matter to the National Industrial Court. I heard that as an adlib, the learned Judge was said to have urged the National Assembly to adjust the relevant portions of the CBN Act, to give any Nigerian president leave to hire and fire CBN governors in the uniform of a Sanusi Lamido. It is my guess that Sanusi Lamido’s lawyers would goad and lure him into appealing the matter and pursue it even to the Supreme Court. Either way for Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, this a monumental loss. On the other hand however, this whole matter put Mr. President in a position of great strength – with a sack, he seemed to have become a catalyst for a further review and overhauling of the Nigerian Constitution with its many lacunas.