* Sanusi had alleged fraud at state oil firm
* Currency, bond and money markets stop trading after
* Currency market resumes trading after dollar sales
* President's spokesman accuses governor of malpractice
* Senate says can't block suspension, only removal
By Tim Cocks
LAGOS, Feb 20 Nigerian President Goodluck
Jonathan suspended Central Bank Governor Lamido Sanusi on
Thursday, removing an increasingly outspoken critic of the
government's record on tackling rampant corruption in Africa's
leading energy producer.
Currency, bond and money markets stopped trading because of
the uncertainty created by the suspension. Trading in the naira
currency resumed after the central bank intervened with dollar
sales, by which time debt markets were closed.
The intervention enabled the naira to rebound from a record
low of 169 to the dollar to 165, dealers said, its biggest
one-day swing since a December 2009 devaluation.
Sanusi, who was due to end his term in June, had been
presenting evidence to parliament that he said showed the state
oil company Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) failed
to remit $20 billion that it owed to federal government coffers.
NNPC has repeatedly denied Sanusi's allegations.
Deputy Governor Sarah Alade was appointed acting governor,
presidential spokesman Reuben Abati said on Thursday.
"Lamido Sanusi's tenure has been characterised by various
acts of financial recklessness ... inconsistent with the
administration's vision of a Central Bank propelled by the core
values of focused economic management," Abati said.
He later said Sanusi had failed to comply with procurement
procedures in managing the central bank's budget and had
unlawfully spent money on projects outside his mandate.
Sanusi was not immediately available for comment on those
Jonathan nominated the managing director of Zenith Bank
Godwin Emefiele to be next central bank governor.
If Emefiele wins the Senate's approval, he will start in June,
when Sanusi's term would have expired, the head of its finance
committee Senator Ahmed Makarfi told Reuters.
Sanusi told broadcaster CNBCA he was proud of what he had
done and hoped the economy would not be hurt by his suspension.
Asked whether it was politically motivated, he said: "It's
not for me to comment. I think the answer to that is obvious."
Analysts predicted that foreign investors would now be
active sellers of assets in Africa's second biggest economy,
just when it had been attracting more interest than ever for the
huge potential of its 170 million population and a backlog of
work needed to update its inadequate infrastructure.
"The suspension will come as a significant shock to foreign
portfolio investors, whose willingness to invest in Nigeria was
very much influenced by the transparency and anti-inflation
credibility associated with Sanusi's policies," said Razia Khan,
head of Africa research at Standard Chartered.
The stock market closed down 1.47 percent.
In an effort to reassure investors, Finance Minister Ngozi
Okonjo-Iweala said there would be no change of economic policy.
Makarfi said a full removal of Sanusi would need Senate
approval, but that the presidency had made no such request.
"The president has the prerogative under our laws to suspend
him," without the Senate's consent, he said.
The governor himself questioned the legality of the move.
"It's important to establish the point legally ... because
if not established, then the very next governor of the central
bank can be suspended for any reason, and the independence of
the central bank is totally undermined," he said.
Sanusi, a career banker, earned a reputation as a monetary
policy hawk while governor from June 2009 - raising interest
rates, tightening liquidity and aggressively defending the naira
with frequent foreign exchange auctions.
"Sanusi has been the face of naira stability," Nwabueze
Okonne, a Nigerian currency trader, told Reuters.
The governor's suspicion of massive fraud at the heart of
one of the world's most opaque national oil companies - in a
country where oil provides 90 percent of foreign exchange and
around 80 percent of government revenues - has brought him into
conflict with the administration of President Jonathan a year
Jonathan was already under pressure from several corruption
scandals and a failure to quell an increasingly violent Islamist
insurgency in the north.
"It doesn't bode well for anti-corruption efforts in
Nigeria," said Transparency International's West Africa head
Marie-Ange Kalenga. "The government is not delivering results."
In a letter leaked in December, Sanusi said almost $50
billion in revenues from oil exports from January 2012 to July
2013 had not been remitted to the federation account. He later
lowered the estimate to $20 billion.
It was not the first time that high-profile figures have put
the spotlight on corruption during Jonathan's presidency.
Jonathan's one-time mentor and former president Olusegun
Obasanjo said in a letter leaked in December that it would be
"morally flawed" for Jonathan to seek a second term in 2015,
saying corruption under his tenure was worse than that of
General Sani Abacha, the military dictator who looted billions
from the treasury and stashed it in Swiss bank accounts.
Jonathan rejected that criticism, and he frequently retorts
that corruption in Nigeria is being exaggerated by his enemies.
The governor made a name for himself two months into the job
when he rescued nine Nigerian banks in the wake of a financial
crisis that nearly caused a wave of bankruptcies. He bailed them
out and forced out eight of their chief executives.
In doing so he made a rare example of some of Nigeria's most
powerful people. Critics said he was getting too big for his
boots when last year he began using bi-monthly policy meetings
to lampoon the government for reckless spending.
Yet his aristocratic lineage - he is heir apparent to the
throne of Kano, traditionally one of West Africa's most powerful
Islamic caliphates, with a history going back to mediaeval times
- had made him seem untouchable.
However, his exposure of what he said was severe malpractice
at the state oil company spooked debt investors worried about
government squandering of oil revenues during election cycles.
Sanusi says graft is slashing foreign currency reserves.
The biggest gap in accounting is for $8.5 billion the NNPC
says it retained from revenues during the 19-month period to
cover subsidies it was owed on importing gasoline and kerosene.
Sanusi also says some of the $6 billion that the NNPC's
producing arm, NPDC, earned during the period should have been
submitted to government accounts. Instead, he says, it has been
funnelled into private hands through special deals given to oil
companies. NPDC denies this.