Central Bank Governor Lamido Sanusi wrote a letter last September to
President Goodluck Jonathan saying almost $50 billion in revenues
from oil exports from January 2012 to July 2013 had not been
remitted to the federation account, in a clear violation of the law.
He lowered the estimate to $20 billion in testimony to a Senate
committee investigating the case last month, days before he was
suspended by Jonathan for what the president said was unrelated
"financial recklessness" and "gross misconduct" at the central bank.
Government sources and a wide spectrum of the public believe his
removal was politically motivated.
The Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has repeatedly
denied Sanusi's allegations and the presidency, which says they are
unfounded, has not responded until now to calls for an independent
Africa's biggest oil producer and the continent's second-largest
economy has a reputation for corruption but the scale of the alleged
oil graft is unprecedented and Sanusi is the most high-profile
figure to raise issues directly to the president.
Sanusi was an internationally respected central bank governor and
financial markets were rattled by his suspension with the naira
currency briefly dropping to a record low.
Nigeria's Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and a Senate
committee investigating the graft allegations have both called for a
forensic audit of NNPC since Sanusi presented evidence.
Jonathan's opponents say the suspension of Sanusi shows he is soft
on corruption, a year ahead of what is expected to be the most
closely fought presidential election since Nigeria ended military
rule in 1998.
"The Presidency wishes to reaffirm that Mallam Sanusi's suspension
has absolutely nothing to do with his unproven and inconsistent
claim," the presidency said, referring to Sanusi by the title Mallam,
given to learned Muslims.
"Mallam Sanusi's allegations are patently untrue. But Government is
making no effort to bury them as he falsely claims," the statement
said, adding that "reputable international firms" would carry out
According to Sanusi's testimony, 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
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A directive in 2009 by then President Umaru Yar'Adua, who died in
May 2010, had scrapped kerosene subsidies. Petroleum Minister and
NNPC chair Diezani Alison-Madueke acknowledged this but told the
senate committee they were still paid, contrary to the law, to
prevent hardship for millions of poor Nigerians.
NNPC says it buys kerosene at 150 naira ($0.91) a liter and sells it
to suppliers at 50 naira per liter. But the retail rate is still
above 150 naira, which Sanusi said proves the subsidy is a racket to
benefit chosen friends in the kerosene business.
"It is fine to have a forensic audit but I think it is merely a way
to keep us satisfied for a little while," Senator Bukola Saraki, who
is sitting on the investigating committee, told Reuters this week.
"The minister of petroleum and of finance admitted there is no
subsidy on kerosene. Do we need to wait for a forensic audit for the
government to stop breaking the law?" Saraki added.
Several probes of NNPC since Jonathan won an election in 2011 have
alleged widespread fraud inside what has been described as one of
the world's most opaque state oil companies, but little has been
done to change the way NNPC operates.
A probe in 2012 by the former head of Nigeria's anti-corruption
body, Nuhu Ribadu, recommended an overhaul of NNPC because it lacked
transparency in the way it sold oil, wielded too much power and was
a vehicle for corruption.
After public outcry, Jonathan ordered three white papers to be
written, analyzing the report, but they were never produced.
164.75 Nigerian Nairas)
(Editing by Anthony Barker)
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