Nigerian security agents have seized the passport and are plotting to arrest the internationally respected banker who was ousted as central bank governor after he revealed that billions of petrodollars are missing from the treasury, a friend and former cabinet minister has said.
The agents who seized Lamido Sanusi's passport at Lagos airport said they were "acting on orders from the villa in Abuja," meaning the president's official residence, said Nasir El-Rufai, a former minister for the capital territory who is now in the opposition.
Sanusi's lawyers are filing a suit for alleged breach of his right to free movement, and for threats of arrest and malicious prosecution without basis, El-Rufai told the AP news agency on Friday.
El-Rufai said his and Sanusi's contacts at the State Security service had tipped them off that agents have obtained a warrant to arrest Sanusi.
The spokeswoman for the State Security service, Marilyn Ogar, did not respond to requests for comment.
President Goodluck Jonathan's suspended Sanusi on Thursday for "financial recklessness and misconduct."
The governor, whose first term was due to expire in June, had reported that $50bn worth of oil sold by the state-owned Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) had not been paid to the government, sparking unease among the ruling elite who are often criticised for not being tough on corruption.
He later lowered the estimate to $20bn.
The Senate Committee on Finance last week ordered an independent forensic audit into the missing money.
Sanusi told a Nigerian TV station on Thursday that the law does not allow the president to remove the governor without the consent of the senate.
"The central bank is an independent institution, [and] there is a section of the act that says the president cannot remove the governor without two-thirds of the senate," Sanusi told Channels Television in Lagos, the commercial capital.
"There was a reason for that section. You cannot go round that section by saying, 'I'm not removing you, I'm suspending you,'" Sanusi added, according to a report from Reuters news agency.
"You cannot do that because it undermines the entire principle, and if the idea is under the interpretation act, or if the president appoints so he can suspend, the president doesn't appoint - he proposes and the senate confirms, so the governor is actually appointed by both the president and the senate and therefore should be removed by both."
Reuters said Sanusi did not want his job back but wanted to question the legality of the move.
Sanusi said the decision should be challenged "so that governors coming after me will not refuse to act, or will not refuse to be independent for fear that they will be suspended".
Reacting to allegations of financial recklessness, Sanusi told Al Jazeera the charges by the president were "unsubstantiated" and that his work had been approved by the board of the central bank.
"The moment this issue started and the letter [about funds] leaked, I had many people in power basically coming to advise me to keep quiet ... My response was that I was not going after anyone," Sanusi said.
In the TV interview, Sanusi said there were no reasonable grounds for the president to make allegations of financial recklessness against him.
He said although the central bank's accounts for 2013 were audited those of the NNPC had not been audited since 2005.
"We already audited for 2013 and an institution that has not been audited for, God knows, eight years," Sanusi said. "You know nobody talks about financial recklessness."
Plaudits for Sanusi
The governor's suspicion of massive fraud at the heart of one of the world's most opaque national oil companies has put pressure on Jonathan a year ahead of elections, when he is already reeling from a failure to quell an increasingly violent Islamist insurgency in the north.
The NNPC has repeatedly denied Sanusi's allegations.
Sanusi was named as the Central Bank Governor of 2010 for both the African continent and the entire world, by the prestigious Banker magazine.
The editor of the magazine said then that few candidate names generate an overall consensus on judging panels but that Sanusi had been chosen unanimously as the best global central bank governor of the year.
Appointed in the midst of a debt crisis in 2009, Sanusi is also credited with reforming Nigeria’s banking sector by taking controversial decisions, including firing the chief executives of eight leading banks over huge non-performing loans.