Nigeria’s president on Thursday ousted the nation’s central bank governor who exposed billions of missing petrodollars, a move critics say is a warning to whistle-blowers in the run-up to a hotly contested presidential election in Africa’s biggest oil producer.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan accused internationally respected career banker Lamido Sanusi of “financial recklessness and misconduct,” and officially suspended him just days before the governor reportedly planned on stepping aside.
The West African nation’s naira currency immediately weakened in response.
Last year Sanusi reported that US$50 billion worth of oil sold by the state’s Nigerian National Petroleum Corp had not been paid to the government.
The Nigerian Senate Committee on Finance last week ordered an independent forensic audit into the missing money, now said to amount to about US$20 billion.
The Nigerian Ministry of Finance said missing receipts recovered in an audit accounted for the rest of the missing money.
Jonathan had dismissed Sanusi’s charges as “spurious” and has said that corruption is not among the biggest problems suffered in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation of more than 160 million people.
On Thursday, Jonathan named a deputy governor to act in Sanusi’s place, but also immediately sent to Parliament the name of another banker he proposed as the new custodian of the nation’s federal reserves, making clear that he has effectively fired Sanusi.
The reform-minded banker apparently planned a three-month leave of absence starting next month before stepping down when his five-year term expired in June, said London-based senior analyst Murtala Touray of IHS Country Risk.
The opposition All Progressives Congress coalition said Jonathan’s move against Sanusi sends “a strong signal to all Nigerians that it [Jonathan’s administration] will not tolerate any exposure of corruption under any circumstance.”
A dapper figure who wears signature bow ties, Sanusi said he received death threats and frequent warnings he would be fired after he took on bank chief executive officers who had stolen billions of deposits and who he said had bought political protection or were themselves politicians.
He called his move, just after taking office in 2009, “a decision that would pitch us against powerful economic and political forces.”
That was before he took on the powerful Nigerian National Petroleum Corp, which denies his charges of missing billions.
Sanusi has said corrupt vested interests keep what should be a wealthy country impoverished and are at the heart of 90 percent of the problems confronting Nigeria, from a northeastern Islamic uprising and deadly ethnic strife to a dearth of jobs, education and health care.
“We don’t have development because vested interests continue to rape this country and take the money out, and the only way you’re going to move from potential to reality is to stop preaching and ask yourself how can we overcome the fear of vested interests and how can we confront them,” he told an audience of young people at a TedX forum in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, in August.