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Sanusi’s suspension deals blow on Nigeria corruption fight

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The suspension of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, who sounded the alarm on alleged billions of dollars of missing oil revenue, sets back the fight against corruption in the country.

President Goodluck Jonathan, 56, has come under fire from opposition political parties, investors and the public, after suspending Sanusi on Feb. 20 for what he called acts of “financial recklessness and misconduct,” Bloomberg reports. That comes two months after Sanusi, 52, first called for an investigation into the state-owned oil company for allegedly failing to repatriate $20 billion of revenue to the government.

“You take the accuser and accuse him of being corrupt,” Folarin Gbadebo-Smith, managing director of the Center for Public Policy Alternatives, said in a phone interview from Lagos, the commercial capital. “Nothing is more indicting to the government than when that happens because it is clear that they are trying to protect a system that perpetrates corruption.”

Sanusi, who was due to leave his post in June when his term ended, said in an interview on Feb. 21 that his suspension probably spells the end for the probe into the accounts of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corp (NNPC). The company has repeatedly denied the allegations that it retained revenue owed to the state.

Sanusi has suffered the same fate as others who have tried to investigate alleged corruption in the oil industry.

Farouk Lawan led a parliamentary probe in 2012 against fuel importers that found they had received at least N1.1 trillion  ($6.6 billion) illegally as subsidies between 2009 and 2011. He was in turn accused of accepting a $620,000 bribe from a fuel importer who was a frequent donor to Nigeria’s ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Lawan, who continues to serve as a lawmaker, denied the allegation.

Nuhu Ribadu, the first head of the anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was removed from his position by former President UmaruYar’Adua in 2007 after bringing corruption charges against senior politicians. One of his cases involved Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, Jonathan’s former boss and an ex-governor of the oil-rich Bayelsa state.

Alamieyeseigha pleaded guilty and returned about N43 billion of embezzled funds to state coffers, according to Ribadu. Last year, Jonathan granted him a pardon that allows him to seek office again.

“The few people who have stood up to blow the whistle against corruption in Nigeria have always invariably been victimised,” Gbadebo-Smith said.

Nigeria was ranked 144 out of 177 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index last year. Oil accounts for about 80 percent of government revenue in Nigeria and more than 90 percent of foreign income.

Sanusi has helped to build credibility in the nation’s economic policies by stabilising the currency, building foreign currency reserves and keeping inflation under control. Within four months of taking office in 2009, he fired bank executives after investigations found evidence of reckless lending.

“The message that is being sent is a message nobody should listen to because the message is, if you attack us, we will deal with you,” Sanusi said in a TV interview with Sahara Reporters on Feb. 20, adding that Jonathan had previously asked him to resign. “People should not listen to that message. They should not hear it. It is not a message. We should remain focused.”

The naira gained for the first time in six days, climbing 1.3 percent to 163.35 against the dollar as of 3:33 p.m. Monday in Lagos.

Sanusi said last week he plans to challenge his suspension in court to ensure the independence of future Nigerian central bank governors.

The corruption fight may also be sidelined as Africa’s most populous nation heads toward presidential elections next year and Jonathan struggles to contain deadly insurgent attacks in the north. A series of defections to the opposition has created the biggest challenge for Jonathan’s PDP since it came to power after military rule in 1999.

“Corruption will likely be less of a priority for government as elections are due in less than a year and the Jonathan administration is faced with multiple security and political challenges,” Thomas Horn Hansen, senior Africa analyst at Control Risks Group in London, said in an e-mailed response to questions.

By: From wire report