President Goodluck Jonathan has asked the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, to resign immediately on the grounds that the letter Sanusi wrote to him on the unremitted $49.8 billion oil revenue to the Federation Account, was leaked to former President Olusegun Obasanjo by the CBN governor.
But Sanusi who has denied leaking the letter to anyone, has refused to resign and informed the president during the heated telephone exchange that he could only be removed by two-thirds of the Senate as required by law.
THISDAY learnt that the president had called Sanusi and accused him of leaking the letter to Obasanjo, which enabled the latter to use it as one of many allegations he levelled against Jonathan in his letter titled: “Before It is Too Late”.
The president, who a source in the presidency said was very angry and was not prepared to allow Sanusi to proceed on his terminal leave in March, asked him to tender his resignation before the close of business last Tuesday.
However, Sanusi denied that he had leaked his letter to Obasanjo and made it abundantly clear he would not be forced out, except he is removed by two-thirds of the Senate.
He also told the president that the letter was available in the presidential villa, available in the finance ministry and available in the central bank and wondered how he (Sanusi) could have leaked the letter, which was so widely available, to a former two-term president of Nigeria who has his people all over the place.
Sanusi also expressed his surprise to the president that he was the one being asked to resign instead of the president to ask those responsible for the non-remittance of the funds to resign.
His response, which threw the president aback, degenerated into a heated exchange during which Sanusi told the president that as the federal government’s Chief Economic Adviser, mandatorily required to bring issues of critical economic importance to the attention of the president, he had done a patriotic duty to his country.
“He informed the president that it is necessary to deal with the issues and not the letter that had been leaked since it has since been established that it was not $49.8 billion that had not been remitted to the Federation Account, but $10.8 billion, which was still in dispute and by any stretch of imagination was still a large sum.
“Sanusi felt he was being forced out for doing his patriotic duty to his country by drawing attention to the unaccounted funds. He only has two months to go, so this was a ploy to force him out and destroy his career and reputation.
“He knew this and for this reason, refused to throw in the towel as requested by the president,” a source familiar with the conversation said.
But the president was said to have remained adamant and insisted on the CBN governor’s resignation.
Following the exchange, Sanusi, another source said, briefed his close aides at the CBN and family of what had transpired between himself and the president.
The source said he did it to shield himself from harm, as he felt his life might be in danger for defying the direct order of the president.
When contacted Wednesday on the issue, the president’s Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, did not pick up or return THISDAY’s calls and text messages.
Also, efforts to get Sanusi and the CBN to speak on the matter met a brick wall.
Sanusi had written to the president in September informing him that, among other issues, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) had not remitted $49.8 billion of oil revenue to the Federation Account over a 19-month period.
Although the letter was not made public until December 4, 2013 when it was leaked, Obasanjo referred to it in his letter dated December 2, 2013, to the president, in which the former president also accused Jonathan of being clannish, destroying the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), compiling a political watch-list of 1,000 people and training snipers to target opponents of the administration, among other allegations.
The president had since denied all of Obasanjo's claims in his rebuttal of the former president's letter.
Expectedly, Sanusi’s letter drew the ire of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), which called on the National Assembly to commence impeachment proceedings against the president.
In addition, the Senate directed its Committee on Finance to probe the contents of Sanusi’s letter.
However, Sanusi’s letter was immediately denied by NNPC, which accused the CBN governor of not only playing politics but also of being ignorant of the operations of the oil and gas sector.
Following NNPC’s repeated denials, a joint press conference was convened by the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke and Sanusi, during which it was revealed that a reconciliation process was ongoing, and had so far established that it was not $49.8 billion that had not been repatriated to the Federation Account but $10.8 billion.
During the press conference, however, Sanusi attempted to distance himself from the statements made by Okonjo-Iweala and Alison-Madueke, stating that it was $12 billion that had not been remitted by NNPC.
But the finance minister immediately interjected, insisting that it was $10.8 billion that had not been remitted to the Federation Account and was still in dispute.
But it is not clear what would now happen to the CBN governor who has already indicated that he will leave office in March on a three-month terminal leave ahead of the expiration of his tenure in June.
He had earlier written to the president last year that he would not be seeking a second term.
Clearly the Jonathan presidency must be feeling uncomfortable with Sanusi's remaining five months in office in this political season.
As at last night, efforts were being made to reconcile the president and the CBN governor and create an orderly transition at the apex bank so as not to harm growing confidence in the Nigerian economy.