WITH Nigeria reeling from the results of his disastrous rule, ex-President Goodluck Jonathan’s recent attempt to defend his top security aide in the $2.1 billion arms scandal trivialised the serious wound inflicted on the polity. With scant regard to context, the enormity of the sleaze uncovered on his watch and the odium attracted to the country, Jonathan rubbed salt into the wound of his 170 million victims.
Juxtaposed with his wife Patience’s provocative legal challenge to the freezing of $15 million found in four different accounts, using proxies but operated by her, Jonathan’s action places a burden on the anti-corruption agencies. To pull him in for questioning over the ongoing investigations and graft trials has become imperative.
While former presidents elsewhere are made to account for their actions or misdeeds, impunity prevails in Nigeria. Jonathan proved this last week when he featured at the Oxford Union forum, United Kingdom, saying, among other hoary claims, that his National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, could not have “stolen” $2.1 billion as alleged in an ongoing criminal trial. In a throw-back to his notorious “stealing is not corruption” dictum that attracted ridicule around the world, the former President declared: “We bought warships, we bought aircraft, we bought lots of weapons for the army and so forth and you are still saying $2.2 billion; so where did we get the money to buy those things?”
Well, that is one question among many others that the law enforcement agents ought to be asking him. President Muhammadu Buhari is demonstrating a self-defeating lack of courage in dealing with the allegations of corruption that have required clarifications from Jonathan. This has apparently emboldened the former president and his wife to defiantly challenge the government in furtherance of the “stealing is not corruption” template.
The government has only itself to blame. When the Department of State Services and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission uncovered the $2.1 billion scam, both the NSA and recipients of the money admitted collecting various sums, and several insisted that they got authorisation from the President. Money allegedly drawn down for arms procurement ended up as campaign funds. For example, Femi Fani-Kayode said his office as campaign publicist received N840 million; various party leaders such as Tony Anenih, Olu Falae, Tanko Yakasai and others admitted receiving money for political activities, all from the NSA. Since the EFCC alleged that the money was for arms purchases and not for political campaigns and since Dasuki claimed only to be following orders, the next logical step was to have called in Jonathan for questioning. Was the money approved by the National Assembly in accordance with the Constitution? Did the ex-president give instructions – written or verbal – that public money be disbursed to politicians?
A former Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, in a widely published statement, said she obtained written approval to release $322 million from recovered Abacha loot, ostensibly to fund the anti-insurgency effort in the North-East region. There have been reports of shady dealings at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and alleged improper approvals by the erstwhile Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, who is also reported to have pleaded presidential approval. These are issues that should have been thoroughly investigated and, if necessary, question Jonathan and prosecute him if a strong case of wrongdoing is established.
Inacio Lula da Silva’s tenure saw Brazil escape a debt trap, dragged 20 million people out of poverty and raised the country to the world’s sixth largest economy before a recent decline. Yet, the highly popular ex-president, his wife and six others are to stand trial in the country’s widening corruption scandal. On Sunday, El Salvador’s former president, Antonio Saca, was, along with two ex-ministers, arrested and detained on corruption allegations. In July last year, South Korean authorities brought corruption indictments against a former prime minister and a provincial governor. In April 2011, a former president of Costa Rica, Miguel Rodriguez, was jailed five years and banned from public office for another 12 years for corruption. Ehud Olmert, a former Israeli prime minister, is serving a 19-month jail sentence for bribery.
But in Nigeria, former rulers cannot even be questioned. During a media chat in December 2015, Buhari declared that a former president once called the Central Bank of Nigeria governor and demanded N40 billion. Have the governor and the former president been questioned?
Perhaps in response to Jonathan’s spurious defence, Dasuki’s lawyer was reported to have said a few days later that he could call Jonathan as his witness. Several persons are facing trial for receiving public funds while the approver of the funds is jetting around the world voicing barely intelligible excuses for his gross incompetence in office.
Buhari may choose to ignore the reality, but Nigerians who bear the brunt of maladministration will never forget how foreign reserves failed to rise and the Excess Crude Account was depleted under Jonathan, despite high oil prices up till August 2014. Nor will they forget how N2.53 trillion was fraudulently paid out from the treasury in 2011 when only N248 billion was budgeted for fuel subsidy; how import duty waivers were abused among many other scandals, and how all fiscal buffers were raided while the reckless government went borrowing.
Buhari needs to re-strategise and re-focus the anti-corruption war, especially in the area of coordination, prosecution and information management. While the spotlight on judges was slow, treating Jonathan and his family like sacred cows weakens the battle. No one is above the law and only a rigorous pursuit of all questionable deeds and demanding full accounting will rein in the putrid drivel coming from Jonathan.