Whistle blowing on Nigeria's corruption: Will central banker's oil allegations reverberate?

Nigeria's recently suspended central bank governor said the disappearance of oil revenues damaged his ability to prop up Nigeria's currency, pointing to oil sector corruption.

Sunday Alamba/AP/File
Lamido Sanusi, Nigeria's recently suspended central bank governor speaks during an interview in Lagos, Nigeria, Feb. 24, 2014.

Everyone in Nigeria knows the claims of oil sector corruption, but it takes a special kind of public official to discuss them openly. One is Lamido Sanusi, whose efforts to blow the whistle appear to have prompted President Goodluck Jonathan to suspend him from his post as central bank governor last month. Still, Mr. Sanusi’s personal status in Nigeria and record of butting heads suggest that he will be difficult to silence.

While Sanusi is unlikely to stop talking, it’s not clear his claims will have repercussions for Nigeria’s oil sector.

“The sector will probably remain as opaque and nontransparent, avoiding reform as it did following previous investigations,” says our correspondent in Nigeria. “But it’s possible Sanusi’s criticisms will be used by officials such as Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as leverage to push through some reforms related to the sector.”

His moves have also stirred up speculation that he might have political ambitions of his own. Facing off against President Jonathan might seem a natural move. Sanusi’s criticism of late appears directed essentially by default at Jonathan and his party, even though he has avoided singling out anyone by name.

Certainly, Jonathan’s move to suspend him looks like an attempt to silence one critic and cow any others who might emerge. It’s also a further sign that Jonathan intends to run for reelection next year if his party chooses him as its candidate.

But Sanusi has declared himself unfit for party politics and ruled out running for political office. Some Nigerians believe that he wants to leave a legacy. For his part, he says that he wants to see Nigeria – and, more broadly, Africa – live up to its potential.

Sanusi descends from a traditional royal family. His grandfather was an emir and he is himself a prince. His calling, however, is banking. After working as chief risk officer for United Bank for Africa and First Bank of Nigeria, he was appointed central bank governor in 2009 by then-President Umaru Yar’Adua and charged with rescuing Nigeria’s decrepit banking sector.

Immediately, Sanusi started picking fights with Nigeria’s elite. Within four months of taking office he had fired eight executive officers of private banks after evidence was found against them of mismanagement and fraud. More recently ... For the rest of the story, continue reading at our new business publication Monitor Global Outlook.

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