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Relative unknown to run Nigeria central bank

Godwin Emefiele will replace Lamido Sanusi, who was suspended after saying $20bn had gone missing from oil coffers.

Last updated: 02 Mar 2014 10:41
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Sanusi's views on alleged corruption in the state-run oil corporation earned him powerful enemies [EPA]

Nigeria has named a relatively unknown banker to head its central bank after the outspoken former governor was suspended, triggering shockwaves in Africa's second-largest economy.

Godwin Emefiele, head of Zenith Bank, had almost no profile outside the banking sector until his name was put forward to succeed Lamido Sanusi, who was removed over charges of financial recklessness, the AFP news agency reported on Sunday.

The appointment still has to be approved by parliament, AFP added.

Sanusi had been embroiled in controversy for months after accusing the state Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) of misappropriating $20bn of public funds.

Sanusi, whose term was due to expire in June, was widely applauded by local and foreign economists for overhauling a rotten banking sector and stabilising the currency.

But his views on alleged corruption earned him powerful political enemies. The presidency explained his suspension as the result of financial imprudence at the helm of the apex bank.

Market watchers said Emefiele's nomination came as a surprise, as his name had not previously featured among likely contenders for the top job - and because he had a contrasting character to Sanusi.

'Dark horse' 

"It's one appointment that was least expected, not because Emefiele is not qualified," Sola Oni, a former spokesman for the Nigeria Stock Exchange, told the AFP news agency.

"In fact, he has both the academic and professional pedigree to do the job. I think the president decided to appoint someone who will not rock the boat, a dark horse who is not given to controversies and cheap publicity."

Emefiele, 52, has had a distinguished career in banking, joining Zenith at its launch in 1990, and has been managing director since 2010.

Oni said Emefiele was a "team player" who strikes a balance between implementing sound monetary policies and financial system stability.

"As a conservative person, we expect a regime of tight monetary and fiscal control that will keep inflation in check as well as stabilise the naira," he added.

As for Sanusi, even after his suspension - effectively a sacking given the short space of time for an official inquiry to report into the claims against him - he has continued to speak out.

He maintains that President Goodluck Jonathan does not have the power to fire him and has gone to court to block the move.

Sanusi also alleges the head of state is surrounded by corrupt cronies, charges Jonathan rejects.

'Talking too much' 

Sanusi's critics argue he was wrong to publicly criticise the executive.

"Central bank chiefs all over the world are conservative," said Abolaji Odumesi, an economist in the commercial city of Lagos. "They are to be seen and not to be heard. Sanusi was talking too much to the extent that he talked himself into trouble," he added.

He called the former governor "very imprudent" for not realising the effect of his words on the markets.

"He was behaving like a member of the opposition," said Odumesi.

Nigeria's markets reacted negatively to Sanusi's removal, with the naira losing ground to the US dollar, while most equities, particularly bank stocks, dipped to an all-time low.

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.

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Source:
AFP
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