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Nigeria’s Former Bank Governor Sanusi Named Islamic Leader

Lamido Sanusi, governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg
Lamido Sanusi, governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

Lamido Sanusi, who was suspended as Nigeria’s central bank governor by President Goodluck Jonathan in February, was appointed as one of the most influential Islamic authorities in the country’s mainly Muslim north.

As emir of the northern city of Kano, Sanusi becomes the second-highest Islamic figure after the Sultan of Sokoto in Nigeria, where about half the population of 170 million are Muslims. He replaces Ado Bayero, who died on June 6 at the age of 83 after reigning more than half a century.

Sanusi, 52, led the central bank from 2009 until Jonathan suspended him after Sanusi alleged the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. had retained almost $50 billion in revenue that was due to the government. On Feb. 4, he told a Senate finance committee that $20 billion was outstanding. The NNPC has denied the allegations.

“Some people see this as a deliberate move to break the ruling party in Kano because the governor who appointed him is at odds with the president, and so is Sanusi,” Tijjani Muhammad Naniya, a history professor at Bayero University in Kano, said today by phone. “But this is a traditional title and Sanusi needs to distance himself from politics.”

Babatunde Fashola, the governor of the commercial capital, Lagos, and a member of the opposition All Progressives Congress, congratulated Sanusi on his appointment in a statement yesterday, praising him for his “brilliance, courage, professionalism and tact.”

‘Financial Recklessness’

Sanusi, appointed as emir yesterday by Kano state Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso, didn’t answer calls to his mobile phone today.

Kano was mainly calm today after hundreds of people lit fires in streets and blocked roads yesterday in protest at Sanusi’s appointment, police spokesman Musa Magaji Majiya said.

Jonathan, who hasn’t said whether he will stand in elections due on Feb. 14, cited “financial recklessness and misconduct” when he suspended Sanusi, allegations the former central bank chief denies.

Sanusi may be able to galvanize support for opponents of the ruling party in state elections next year, said Raza Agha, chief economist for Middle East and Africa at VTB Capital in London, in an e-mailed response to questions. “Given Mr. Sanusi’s vocal past, it will not be surprising if he is outspoken about the weak level of development in the north.”

Northern Nigeria has been wracked by the insurgency of the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, which has killed thousands of people in its five-year campaign to impose Islamic law in Africa’s top oil producer.

In recent weeks, the violence has spread from Boko Haram’s northeastern heartland. On May 18, a suicide bombing killed at least five people in Kano. That followed the worst-ever bombing in Abuja, the capital, that killed at least 75 people on April 14.

Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has said poverty and joblessness are key factors behind the violence.

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