May 5, 2014 4:42 pm

Security forces bar Lamido Sanusi from leaving Nigeria

Lamido Sanusi, governor of Nigeria's central bank, speaks during the 9th World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) in London©Bloomberg

State security agents in Nigeria have barred Lamido Sanusi, the suspended governor of the central bank from leaving the country for a second time and seized his ordinary passport in apparent defiance of a high court restraining order.

Mr Sanusi, who was planning to travel to Saudi Arabia at the weekend to perform umra, the lesser pilgrimage, was turned back at the airport in the northern city of Kano on Saturday.

The central bank governor, who won international acclaim for his role in sanitising the Nigerian banking sector following a 2009 crash, was suspended from his position in February by President Goodluck Jonathan. He had his official passport taken from him on the same day by state security services.

His suspension came after he had exposed to a senate inquiry an alleged $20bn shortfall in state revenues from the sale of oil. He has since launched a series of court cases in Abuja challenging Mr Jonathan’s legal authority to unilaterally suspend him.

In response to a separate suit relating to his fundamental rights, the federal high court in Lagos last month ordered the government to apologise and pay damages of N50m ($315,000) in compensation for Mr Sanusi’s brief detention and the seizure of his passport. The court also dismissed state security service attempts to portray the former governor as a financier of terrorism, and restrained them and the police from harassing him.

“There is a very clear court order compelling them to release my passport and restricting them from interfering with my fundamental rights of free movement,” Mr Sanusi told the Financial Times after he was turned back from Kano airport. “We showed them the order. The guy at the airport said they had instructions from the presidency.”

In response to the controversy Mr Jonathan has ordered an external audit of the state oil company to be carried out by PwC. But the presidency has denied that Mr Sanusi’s suspension was the result of his exposé on alleged mismanagement at the national oil company and has launched its own investigation into alleged “financial recklessness” and “far-reaching irregularities” during his stewardship of the central bank.

Mr Sanusi has challenged these inquiries in court and a federal high court in Abuja is due to rule on May 20 on Mr Jonathan’s decision to suspend him.

The president’s advisers contend that Mr Sanusi took the independence of the Central Bank of Nigeria too far, and was running the CBN as a parallel authority. According to the constitution he could not be sacked outright without support from two-thirds of the senate. The constitution is not explicit about whether senate approval is necessary for suspension.

Mr Sanusi’s lawyers argue that if he can only be appointed with senate approval, then he can only be suspended with it too. The high court, which has the final word, has elected to expedite the case.

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