Few days before he was suspended, the outgoing Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Lamido Sanusi, told top bankers in the country that they would have to open their books to unravel the whereabouts of the missing $20 billion oil money, the New York Times is reporting.
Suspecting that some of the bankers had helped in laundering the missing money, Mr Sanusi said on February 11 he warned the top bank executives in a bimonthly meeting that their books would have to be scrutinised to discover where the missing money had been lodged.
"Some of them were not giving information about their accounts," Mr Sanusi said. "I told them I would order a special examination."
Nine days later, President Goodluck Jonathan suspended him from his position.
Senior media aide to Mr. Jonathan, Reuben Abati, who announced Mr. Sanusi's suspension said the central banker was sacked for "financial recklessness and misconduct "inconsistent with the administration's vision of a Central Bank."
But Mr. Sanusi said he was suspended because of his determination to get to the root of the missing fund.
According to him, two of the bankers, who he refused to identify, "went and reported to the petroleum minister." He said he knew his days were numbered after that.
PREMIUM TIMES checks indicate that both the bank chiefs and the petroleum minister then pressured President Jonathan to quickly remove Mr. Sanusi so he does not expose the monumental corruption in the NNPC and bring down the administration.
"Once the president got that information," a presidential insider said. "He had to act quickly to save himself and Diezani from further humiliation."
Mr. Sanusi, who traced the missing funds to top political offices in Abuja, suggested that the fund might have been diverted to finance next year's election.
"By making N.N.P.C. an issue now, the source of money for financing elections is threatened," Mr. Sanusi said, referring to the petroleum corporation. "If this is stopped, there will be no money to finance the elections."
"It was critical that we stop this haemorrhage," he said. "Otherwise, we can't maintain stability. Reserves had gone way down. We would watch the naira collapse," he added.
"The strategy of the government was to discredit the messenger," he said. The Nigerian president "doesn't want me to bring out any more information that would get them into trouble."
"A substantial amount of money has gone. I wasn't just talking about numbers. I showed it was a scam."
Some of the bankers present at the meeting where Mr. Sanusi had threatened to investigate their books to find where the money is being lodged confirmed the incident to the New York Times.
"He made it clear to them that the C.B.N. would need to unravel what was going on, and they should cooperate," one of the bankers at the meeting said.
"One of us said, 'What next?' " a second banker told the New York Times. "There was a general heaviness. He spoke tough."
"For me personally, I don't think there's anything wrong with the position he has taken. We are Nigerians. We owe it to this country that things are run properly."
Both bankers asked not to be named.
We contacted by the New York Times, Mr. Abati said "Mr. Sanusi has been making all kinds of claims to project himself as a victim."
Last December PREMIUM TIMES exclusively obtained Mr. Sanusi's letter dated September 25, 2013 to Mr. Jonathan alleging massive haemorrhage of crude oil fund by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.
In the letter, Mr. Sanusi said between January 2012 and July 2013, over $49billion was diverted by the NNPC. He said the NNPC paid only 24 percent proceeds into the federation account, and diverted or stole the remaining 76 percent.
Over the course of the weeks that followed Mr. Sanusi reviewed the missing amount downward to $20 billion.
Even with the assurances by the Minister of Finance and Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, that forensic audit will be done to determine what happened to the money, the government is still dilly-dallying on the constitution of the independent audit team.