Investigations by Saharareporters reveal a high-level plot to frustrate Central Bank Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi out of office. In interviews with numerous government officials, security agents, banking executives, and some members of the National Assembly, Saharareporters identified a coalition of interests bound together by two common goals: to send Sanusi packing, and to reverse the banking reforms he initiated.
Our sources indicated that Mrs. Cecilia Ibru, former chief executive of Oceanic Bank who was removed amid a scandal of non-performing loans and outright looting of her family bank, is the driver of the latest plot against the CBN governor. Mrs. Ibru, who is facing trial over her alleged mismanagement of Oceanic Bank, is described as coordinating the effort of other bankers who were similarly fired. The removed bankers who are part of the plot include Okey Nwosu of Finbank, Berth Ebong of Union Bank, Sebastian Adigwe of Afribank, and Erastus Akingbola of Intercontinental Bank. Mr. Akingbola remains a fugitive, hiding away in the UK.
Mrs. Ibru, who used a variety of front companies and individuals, including her nanny, to steal billions of naira from Oceanic Bank, has found allies in former President Olusegun Obasanjo, EFCC chairperson Farida Waziri, General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau (rtd), the National Security Adviser to acting President Goodluck Jonathan, Minister of State for Finance, Mr. Aderemi Babalola, and some top shots in the banking industry. Among the formidable team working to unseat Sanusi are also long-time chief executives at several banks — including Tony Elumelu of UBA and Jim Ovia of Zenith – whom the CBN governor asked to step down after years at the helm of their respective banks.
Mr. Gusau, the engine of the plot, has a long history of corruption. Gusau – who is emerging as the most corrupt insider in Jonathan’s administration — has reportedly received a huge pay-off by Mrs. Ibru and other embattled bankers to lead their fight against Sanusi.
Saharareporters has focused recently on Gusau’s financial shenanigans since joining Jonathan’s administration, including his receipt of billions of naira in bribe from former ministers and the recently sacked GMD of the NNPC, Barkindo Sanusi. Our impeccable sources, including a minister who was not reappointed by Jonathan, told us that Gusau uses the threat of prosecution to blackmail his targets into parting with healthy sums of cash.
Several sources told Saharareporters that Gusau is out to amass wealth to help him fund a campaign for the presidency. “He is definitely eyeing the presidency,” said one of our sources .
These sources portrayed Gusau as a man with a reputation for “working for hire.” One source, who worked with former President Shehu Shagari, revealed that Gusau was close to the ex-president. The source stated that, even though he was then a serving military officer, Gusau made a lot of money from import licenses approved for him by Shagari. Gusau’s business deals with Shagari’s government got him into trouble with the regime of General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) and General Tunde Idiagbon (rtd). Our source, who was close to the now deceased Idiagbon, revealed that the Buhari administration ordered Gusau’s immediate retirement from the army. “In fact, his retirement was already gazetted when General Ibrahim Babangida overthrew Buhari and Idiagbon and reversed it.”
Gusau reappeared in his familiar deal-making role during the Obasanjo regime; he was linked to defense contract scams that ran into several millions of dollars.
Last week, a hitherto taciturn Gusau fired a shot at Sanusi’s reform agenda. The NSA harshly criticized the manner in which the CBN governor sacked banking executives. Gusau stated, “The fragility of the economy dictates that offenders be interdicted without damaging the sector,” adding that Sanusi’s approach “seems to have damaged economic activity in the banking sector to the detriment of the larger society.”
Our source indicated that Gusau’s comment was part of a carefully designed strategy by those working behind the scenes to force Sanusi out of the apex bank. “It was a very unusual step for the NSA to do media briefings especially to speak publicly against a man who holds the office of Governor of the Central Bank,” said the source, adding that “the goal was to bait Sanusi into a public fight. It was expected that Sanusi would fire a reply to the NSA. If he had answered Gusau, his disrespectful behavior would have been used to persuade legislators who support his agenda, including those from the North, that he is not fit for office.” The source added that Gusau accepted to play a key role in the scheme in order not to make it seem like a south south plot.
A source close to Mrs. Ibru said the dismissed bank executive saw an opportunity to get back at Sanusi as soon as Jonathan took over the presidency. Mrs. Ibru has recruited prominent Ijaw leaders, including Chief Edwin Clark, to make her case for Sanusi’s removal. Chief Clark stood surety for Mrs. Ibru when she was granted bail after her arrest by the EFCC.
A lawmaker in Abuja who sits on the banking committee told Saharareporters that he was aware of the plot to have Sanusi dismissed. “Look, all of us know what is going on,” said the legislator. He added: “The problem is that those who want him out are frustrated because acting President Jonathan does not have the power to summarily remove the CBN chief executive.” The legislator disclosed that, “According to the provisions of a law signed by President Obasanjo, the CBN governor can only be removed if a two-third majority of this body [the legislature] agrees.” Asked if the votes could be garnered, the legislator said, “Some of us may not like the way Sanusi does his things, but most of us think the [CBN] governor is still doing a good job. So, there is no way you’re going to find the votes to remove him at this time. Unless he decides to go on his own.”
Another source close to Obasanjo agreed that the law does not permit the president to fire the CBN governor. He added that Soludo “had personally persuaded former President Obasanjo to insert that provision in a CBN bill to ensure that he, Dr. Soludo, could not be easily removed after Obasanjo’s departure. Now, it is that provision that is protecting Sanusi.”
Our investigation revealed that Obasanjo was upset when Yar’Adua refused to grant a second term to Soludo. The former president’s anger grew when Sanusi moved against big-name bankers who had helped to bankroll Obasanjo’s third term agenda. “Chief Obasanjo is now using his leverage with the Jonathan administration to help devise a strategy to deal with Sanusi,” said a source, adding that Soludo ignored many sharp practices by bankers because the perpetrators were close to Obasanjo.
One source familiar with the plot said the anti-Sanusi group once considered “buying the votes to remove him,” but soon abandoned that strategy. “First, they realized that the cost of buying enough votes at the National Assembly would be extremely high.” He added that “it’s not only that you have to get the votes, you also have to make the case in public against Sanusi.”
One of our many sources told Saharareporters that the plotters finally decided that the best way to kick Sanusi out “is to make the seat too hot for him.” She said that the plotters know that Sanusi left UBA over personality clashes and other disagreements with Tony Elumelu. “The plan is to frustrate him until he resigns on his own,” she said, pointing out that the plotters were disappointed when the usually feisty Sanusi did not return fire after Gusau’s criticism.
Sources told us that, before Sanusi’s appointment as CBN governor last summer, Mrs. Ibru and other bankers had enjoyed the protection and patronage of Dr. Charles Soludo, the former governor of the Central Bank. Several bankers said Soludo’s laissez faire approach was responsible for worsening the situation in the banking industry. “Can you imagine a regulator of banks shutting his eyes or looking the other way while Mrs. Ibru and other bank executives sucked cash from their banks?”
The accused Soludo of granting billions of naira to the banks through a fraudulent discount window he created to provide slush funds to these banks even as it was clear that they were failing.
Another source added: “You had a situation where bank executives set up phantom companies to which they granted non-performing loans,” said a top banker. He added, “That’s stealing, pure and simple. Dr. Soludo knew about the scam, but decided to do nothing. In fact, he did something; he plowed billions of funds from the Central Bank into these badly managed banks. Those facilities made it possible for the bank executives to prolong and cover up their schemes.”
A source close to the extended Ibru family told Saharareporters that some members of the Ibru family were irate that Cecilia Ibru’s greed had given a bad name to Oceanic Bank. “Believe me, some members of the Ibru family are extremely unhappy with her, even if they are not saying so openly.”
Last January, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) sealed off some of the properties belonging to Mrs. Ibru. The EFCC alleged that the former Oceanic Bank chief bought many expensive houses in Nigeria and abroad with proceeds of her scams at the bank she headed. The commission traced 51 properties to her in such cities as Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt. She also has another 50 homes scattered in South Africa, Dubai, England, and the US. In addition, Mrs. Ibru holds shares worth billions of naira in 27 companies, including banks, oil and gas, telecommunications and aviation.
Our sources revealed that Mrs. Ibru became more determined to remove Sanusi after the CBN governor frustrated her plea bargain deal. An EFCC informant confirmed to Saharareporters that EFCC chair, Mrs. Waziri, had embraced Mrs. Ibru’s plea bargain. The deal was for Mrs. Ibru to forfeit some of her seized properties, cash and shares in exchange for an end to her criminal prosecution.
A source close to one of Mrs. Ibru’s lawyers told Saharareporters that the EFCC chairperson had reportedly approached Sanusi to sign off on the plea bargain option, but Sanusi was reportedly stubborn. The source added that Mrs. Waziri reported back to Mrs. Ibru that Sanusi had persuaded Yar’Adua to reject the plea deal. “Madam [Farida] was very angry when the Presidency ordered a continuation of Mrs. Ibru’s prosecution,” our source added. A source who speaks to Mrs. Waziri defended her support for the plea deal. “Look, Madam knows that Mrs. Ibru has enough money and influence to bribe any judge. That’s why she supported settling the case.”
But another source told Saharareporters that Mrs. Waziri was out for her own pocket. This source revealed that Mrs. Waziri’s fallout with her former front, Victor Uwajei, arose when she demanded that Mr. Uwajei ramp up the pressure on Mrs. Ibru by digging out all her properties abroad. But as soon as Mrs. Ibru reached a deal with her directly, “She turned around and arrested Uwajei for purportedly demanding $2 million from Mrs. Ibru.”
Another source told us that Mrs. Ibru has now recruited Mrs. Waziri to become part of the plot to push out the CBN governor. Our sources revealed that EFCC agents were combing the banks where Sanusi previously worked “to look for anything of an embarrassing nature.” In addition, other agencies of the government, including the Code of Conduct Bureau, may have received orders to pry into Sanusi’s declared assets.
An EFCC source told us that Mrs. Waziri’s plan is to help push off Sanusi in order to get into the good books of Jonathan’s handlers. “She believes that’s the best way to ensure that her own imminent removal is put on hold.”
A source close to the acting President told Saharareporters that he was aware that “many people near oga are not happy with the current Governor of the Central Bank,” but he denied that Jonathan “is part of any deal to push Sanusi out of his position or to derail the banking reforms he initiated last year.” Asked if the Jonathan administration would adopt Mrs. Ibru’s plea deals, the source said, “I don’t know the details of the so-called plea deal. And I don’t know if that issue has been brought to the attention of the acting President.”