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Anatomy of the missing $20 billion

06 February 2015, 16:35

Abuja - In late 2013, Nigeria's then central bank governor Lamido Sanusi wrote to President Goodluck Jonathan claiming that the state oil company had failed to remit tens of billions of oil revenues it owed the state.

After the letter was leaked to Reuters and a local news site, Jonathan publicly dismissed the claim and replaced Sanusi, saying the banker had mismanaged the central bank's budget. A Senate committee later found Sanusi’s account lacked substance.

Sanusi has since become Emir of Kano, the country's second highest Islamic authority, and has smoothed over relations with the president. He declined to discuss his earlier assertions. Before he was sacked, though, the central banker submitted to Nigeria’s parliament more than 300 pages of documentation in support of his claim. Reuters has reviewed that dossier, which offers one of the most comprehensive studies of waste, mismanagement and what Sanusi called “leakages” of cash in Nigeria’s oil industry. Detailed here, the dossier includes oil contracts, confidential government letters, private presidential correspondence and legal opinions.

Also read: The ‘missing’ $20bn abomination

Sanusi’s letter and documents do not state whether he thinks the money was stolen or lost through mismanagement. Nor did he make allegations of illegal acts against any specific individuals or entities. Both corruption and bad governance are perennial problems in Africa’s most populous nation, and central issues in elections due on February 14.

Nigeria’s oil industry accounts for around 95 percent of the country’s foreign exchange earnings. If Nigeria continued to leak cash at the rate described in his letter to the president, Sanusi said at the time, the consequences for the economy would be disastrous. Specifically, the failure of state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation “to remit foreign exchange to the Federation Account in a period of rising oil prices has made our management of exchange rates and price stability ... extremely difficult," he wrote. "The central bank of Nigeria is always blamed for high rates of interest,” but “given these leakages, the alternative is a devalued currency ... and financial instability."

That is exactly what has happened. As oil prices have plummeted to around $55 a barrel, half their level at the beginning of 2014, Sanusi’s successor Godwin Emefiele has devalued the naira, Nigeria’s currency, by 8 percent, and raised interest rates for the first time in more than two years.

Nigerian foreign exchange reserves are down around 20 percent on a year ago, while the balance in the country's oil savings account has fallen from $9 billion in December 2012 to $2.5 billion at the start of this year, even though oil prices were buoyant over much of that period. Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told reporters at a press conference in November that a significant portion of that money was distributed to the powerful governors of Nigeria’s 36 states instead of being saved for a rainy day.

Nigerians are rarely shocked by stories of billions going unaccounted for, or ending up with politically powerful individuals. Africa’s largest oil producer has for years consistently ranked towards the bottom of Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.

- Reuters


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