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INTERVIEW-Nigeria's cenbank governor to challenge suspension in court

Source: Reuters - Fri, 21 Feb 2014 11:07 GMT
Author: Reuters
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Nigeria's Central Bank Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi attends the World Islamic Economic Forum in London October 30, 2013. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
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* Markets panicked after Sanusi's removal on Thursday

* Sanusi says alarmed by corruption and "crashing oil revenues"

* Doesn't want his job back but to establish principle

(Adds details, background, quotes)

By Tim Cocks

LAGOS, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Nigeria's graft-fighting Central Bank Governor Lamido Sanusi said on Friday he would go to court to challenge his suspension by the president, saying he did not want his job back but wanted to question the legality of the move.

President Goodluck Jonathan suspended Sanusi on Thursday, removing an increasingly outspoken critic of the government's record on tackling rampant corruption in Africa's top oil producer.

Since the suspension, presidential spokesman Reuben Abati has listed alleged procurement irregularities at the central bank during Sanusi's tenure, most of them dating back to 2011.

Sanusi told Reuters in a phone interview that he had already been in correspondence about queries concerning the bank's budget, and that he had been through all the processes outlined by the bureau of public procurement.

"I'm going to court to challenge the suspension," he said. "I'm concerned about the precedent ... I'm concerned about the idea that if you want to remove someone and you want a way around the law, you just write any kind of letter with all sorts of funny allegations and suspend the person."

But he added he had no intention of retaking the post.

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.

"I'm not going back. I have had my last day at work. I'm very glad to hand this over," he said.

Markets panicked over the suspension of a man whose policies are credited with stabilising the naira and bringing inflation in Africa's second biggest economy to single digits.

The naira fell 1 percent against the dollar on Friday, although it has not moved since the central bank said it hoped to keep it within its current band of 150-160 to the dollar.

Longer term, it is unclear whether investors will be put off Nigeria, whose governance problems are balanced on the positive side by attractive prospects, including abundant energy reserves, a potentially huge consumer market and a fast-growing economy.

Sanusi said he never intended to be an anti-corruption crusader, but had been alarmed by the sheer extent of losses to the treasury by corruption at the state oil firm.

"I'm trying to get to the heart of collapsing oil revenues," he said.

"My primary motive ... is that oil prices have not come down, oil output has not come down, (but) oil revenues are crashing, and therefore my job as central bank governor in managing the exchange rate and reserves is threatened."

Some commentators, including twice president and former Jonathan mentor Olusegun Obasanjo, have said oil corruption now is worse than at any time since the end of military rule in 1999, a charge Jonathan dismisses as politically motivated.

"I haven't compared it to any other (presidential) terms, but I've certainly been alarmed by what I've seen," Sanusi said. (Reporting by Tim Cocks; Editing by Will Waterman)

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