Nigeria seizes passport of ousted central bank boss

Move comes after Sanusi announces he will challenge his firing in court

Ousted central bank governor Lamido Sanusi attends an interview with Reuters at the World Islamic Economic Forum in London in this Oct. 30, 2013 file photo.
Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

Nigerian intelligence agents seized the passport of ousted central bank boss Lamido Sanusi when he landed at Lagos airport Thursday, Nasir el Rufai, a close Sanusi ally, told the Agence France-Presse news agency Friday.

Rufai, a former Cabinet minister who is now a prominent opposition politician, said he was at the airport to meet Sanusi when his flight from the capital of Niger, Niamey, landed at 2:30 p.m. local time.

“He went through immigration and the (Directorate of State Services, DDS) people that were there stopped him,” Rufai said. Then they told Sanusi “that he could leave the terminal building … but they have instruction from (the capital) Abuja to hold on to his passport.”

Sanusi, whose term at the central bank was due to expire in June, was suspended by President Goodluck Jonathan Thursday over alleged financial recklessness.

On Friday, Sanusi said he would go to court to challenge his suspension by the president — adding that though he does not want his job back, he wants to show that the move was illegal. 

The front page of the prominent This Day newspaper on Friday also reported that Sanusi’s passport had been detained by the DDS, citing anonymous security sources. DDS spokeswoman Marilyn Ogar could not be immediately reached for comment.

Sanusi told Reuters in a phone interview Friday that the bank had followed correct procurement procedures, and that he had already answered questions about the allegations by the authorities.

“I’m going to challenge the suspension,” he said. “I’m concerned about precedent … I’m concerned about the idea that if you want to remove someone and you want a way around the law, you just write any kind of letter with all sorts of funny allegations and suspend the person.”

Sanusi had become critical of government corruption and has accused the powerful state oil company of misappropriating $20 billion. The oil company, the Nigeria National Petroleum Corp. (NNPC), has repeatedly denied his allegations, which brought the bank governor into conflict with Jonathan’s administration a year before presidential elections.

Enough Is Enough (EIE), a coalition of young Nigerians promoting good governance and citizen engagement, said via Twitter that the firing was an attempt by the president to quiet dissent.

Analysts said Jonathan, widely thought to be preparing a re-election bid, may have removed Sanusi to silence a powerful critic who was committed to exposing the looting of public funds by political heavyweights.

Sanusi’s job performance was widely applauded by economists within Nigeria and abroad, notably for overhauling a banking sector rife with corruption.

Markets panicked over the suspension of a man whose policies are credited with stabilizing the naira, the country's currency, and bringing inflation in Africa’s second largest economy down to single digits.

The naira, at 164.05 to the dollar before the news Thursday, fell to a low of 169 before trading was frozen. On Friday it recovered to 164.55 after the central bank intervened with dollar sales. The bank said it hoped to keep it within its target band of 150 to 160 to the dollar.

It is unclear whether investors will be put off Nigeria in the long term. The country's perennial governance problems are balanced by attractive prospects, including abundant energy reserves, a potentially huge consumer market and a fast-growing economy expected to take over South Africa’s to become the continent’s biggest. 

JPMorgan's vice head of sub-Saharan Africa research, Giulia Pellegrini, said Sanusi had provided investors with a clear view of the bank's monetary policy. If that should stop, it would become harder for investors to gauge risks, “given the opacity that still characterizes other areas of the economy.”

However, his opponents say he went above his station as central bank governor to score political points against the administration.

Oil provides 90 percent of Nigeria’s foreign exchange and around 80 percent of government revenues.

Sanusi said he was trying to find out what was behind collapsing oil revenues, and pointed out that in the past year the country’s oil savings had been depleted to $2.5 billion, from $11.5 billion a year ago.

Nigeria's Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala denied this month that falling oil savings were a result of corruption or patronage. In a Reuters interview, Okonjo-Iweala said Nigeria had suffered a production shock because of worsening pipeline vandalism and oil theft.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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