By Aminu Imam, with agency report
Ousted Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi has disclosed the real reasons for his removal last month.
In an interview published in the New York Times, Sanusi said it was a mystery that Nigeria, which is Africa’s largest oil exporter, oil prices were steady or rising, yet Nigeria’s financial reserves were falling. The money was missing, he further said, and he feared an eventual collapse of Nigeria’s currency.
But his suspicions were cutting too close, Sanusi said – too close to an oil-politics nexus that both feeds the political establishment in Nigeria, in his view and that of analysts, and deprives the country of vital revenue.
Backed by calculations, he presented his findings to a Nigerian Senate committee early in February. “A substantial amount of money has gone.
I wasn’t just talking about numbers. I showed it was a scam. It’s just a big scam”, Mr. Sanusi said in the interview., adding that, “The amount is shared by a cabal.”
At a time when political energy in Africa’s most populous country is focused on next year’s elections – and staying in power is costly for a governing party that functions as a patronage machine, Sanusi knew exactly which interests he had menaced, he said. He had been warned to “cool down.”
“By making NNPC an issue now, the source of money for financing elections is threatened,” he said, referring to the petroleum corporation. “If this is stopped, there will be no money to finance the elections.”
On the other hand, if it was not stopped, the risk to Nigeria’s economy was grave, the central banker suggested. “It was critical that we stop this haemorrhage,” he said. “Otherwise, we can’t maintain stability. Reserves had gone way down. We would watch the naira collapse,” he said of the nation’s currency.
Alarmed, Mr. Sanusi said, he went in front of Nigeria’s top banking heads for a semi-monthly meeting on Feb. 11 and “threatened to open the books of the bankers, to trace the money.” He suspected some were laundering stolen oil money.
“Some of them were not giving information about their accounts,” the central banker said. “I told them I would order a special examination.”
One of the bankers at the meeting said, referring to the CBN, “He made it clear to them that the CBN would need to unravel what was going on, and they should cooperate.”
Many of the bankers became angry. “One of us said, ‘What next?’ “A second banker said. “There was a general heaviness. He spoke tough.”
Both bankers requested anonymity.
Panicked, several of the bankers went straight to the government, Sanusi said. Two of the bankers – he would not identify them – “went and reported to the petroleum minister,” he said. And at that moment, he said he knew his days were numbered.
“The strategy of the government was to discredit the messenger,” he said. The Nigerian president “doesn’t want me to bring out any more information that would get them into trouble.
He said his warning to the bankers had been reported straight back to the threatened seat of power in the country’s capital, Abuja.
It was too much, he said. With his accusations, which outside analysts consider credible, the soft-spoken, bow-tied central banker appeared to have penetrated to the heart of the country’s entrenched corruption problem.
Ironically, one of the bankers at the Feb. 11 meeting had said: “For me personally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the position he has taken. We are Nigerians. We owe it to this country that things are run properly”.