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FLASHBACK: In 2014, Court ruled that president can suspend but can’t sack a CBN governor

Recall that on February 20, 2014, President Goodluck Jonathan suspended Sanusi Lamido Sanusi as the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

The suspension order was issued by then President Jonathan as a result of an allegation by Sanusi that over $20 billion of crude oil revenue was not remitted to the federation account by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

Eventhough the government insisted that the suspension was because of his “financial recklessness”, the general impression was that Sanusi was being punished for exposing “corruption”.

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The suspended CBN governor, Sanusi approached the federal high court sitting in Abuja to challenge his suspension, insisting that the president had no such powers under the CBN law.

According to the CBN Act 2007, the governor can only be removed by two-thirds majority of the senate but it made no reference on suspension.

Sanusi’s lawyers, Kola Awodein and Abubakar Mahmoud, argued that he was not an employee of the federal government but that of the board of the CBN and could not be disciplined by the president.

However, federal government’s lawyers, Fabian Ajogwu and Mike Ozekhome, argued that the high court lacked the jurisdiction to adjudicate since it was a labour-related matter that should go before an industrial court.

On May 21, 2014, Gabriel Kolawole, the judge, invoked section 24 of the National Industrial Court Act 2012 and ordered that the case be transferred to the National Industrial Court (NIC).

He also said that in line with sections 251 and 254 of the 1999 constitution, the CBN was a creation of the national assembly and that Sanusi was a public officer.

Since Sanusi was an employee of the CBN by virtue of the CBN Act No 7 of 2007, the judge declared, he was a public servant and could, therefore, be disciplined by the president.

Edmonton Harvey Specter, who said he was on president’s legal team, tweeted this on Friday night after the suspension of Godwin Emefiele as CBN governor by President Bola Tinubu: “Can the President suspend the CBN Governor? In Sanusi Lamido v. President & Ors where I was part of Counsel that represented the President and which was decided at the FHC Abuja, it was held that ‘While the President cannot remove the Governor, he can exercise some form of disciplinary control which includes suspension over him’. The matter was not appealed.”

“Even though I was on the ‘winning’ side, I wanted Sanusi Lamido to appeal the Judgement so they could be a declaration on the issue once and for all by the Supreme Court. Was disappointed when he didn’t,” he added.

Sanusi became emir of Kano while the legal battle raged and he eventually terminated his case on July 3, 2014.

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