International

Nigeria fires official who uncovered billions in missing oil money

Move is seen as attempt to punish critic of the corruption running through Nigeria's government

Lamido Sanusi, seen here at the World Islamic Economic Forum in 2013, was a well-respected banker worldwide.
Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on Thursday suspended the central bank governor blamed for leaking news that billions of petrodollars are missing from the coffers of Africa's biggest oil producer, accusing him of "financial recklessness and misconduct."

The country's currency, the naira, weakened in response.

Jonathan 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 Lamido Sanusi, a 52-year-old career banker.

Sanusi, who has spearheaded bank reforms and acknowledged making powerful enemies among vested interests in a country where corruption is endemic, could not be immediately reached for comment.

The naira dropped from 163 to the U.S. dollar to 169 when Jonathan's statement became public, financial analysts said. The central bank stopped trade in its fixed income and bond market. The Nigerian Stock Exchange remained open.

A statement from presidential adviser Reuben Abati said Jonathan had noted reports from the Financial Reporting Council and other investigating bodies indicating that Sanusi's tenure "has been characterized by various acts of financial recklessness and misconduct."

Local media reported in December that Jonathan had demanded that Sanusi resign, and that the banker had refused to leave before his five-year tenure expired in June of this year.

Last year Sanusi reported that $50 billion in oil revenue from the corruption-riddled state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. had not been paid to the government. The Senate Committee on Finance last week ordered an independent audit into the missing money, which it said now amounted to about $20 billion. The Finance Ministry 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, with more than 160 million people.

Jonathan has been criticized in recent months for signing a harsh anti-homosexuality bill and for failing to stem violence in his country.

Nigerian accounts on Twitter hummed with the news, with many saying Sanusi was being punished for fighting corruption, and others hoping his suspension would lead him to make even greater revelations.

"When you fight corruption, corruption fights back," the Enough Is Enough Nigeria project tweeted.

Sanusi, a dapper figure who wears signature bow ties, has said he received death threats and frequent warnings he would be fired after he took "a decision that would pitch us against powerful economic and political forces." He has taken on bank CEOs who have stolen billions and bought political protection or have close ties to politicians, critics say.

Sanusi said corrupt vested interests were at the heart of 90 percent of the problems confronting Nigeria, from an Islamic uprising in the northeast, to deadly religious and ethnic strife, to a lack 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 at a TEDx forum in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, in August.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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