Former President Goodluck Jonathan, reflecting on his electoral defeat two years ago, shunned deep introspection and remorse for his five-year reign of impunity. What comes out from him from excerpts of a new book is a potpourri of falsehoods, hypocrisy, lame excuses and blame for everyone but himself. But before Nigerians fall once more for his favourite tactic of playing the victim, they would do well to remember the devastating impact of his bad government.
Words attributed to him in a book, Against the Run of Play, by Olusegun Adeniyi, a well-known journalist, and billed for public presentation in Lagos on Friday, were vintage Jonathan. Posing yet again as the perpetual victim, he blamed former world leaders − Barack Obama of the United States, Britain’s David Cameron, and French president, Francois Hollande − for desperately wanting a change of government in Nigeria. He blamed Attahiru Jega, the former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, for allegedly working with the Americans by insisting on the initial February 2015 date set for the presidential election; he blamed his own former party chairman, Adamu Mu’azu, whom he accused of working against him, and he carpeted the press and civil society for highlighting the pervasive corruption that flourished on his watch.
First, the context: As he left a limping economy and widescale corruption behind, Jonathan’s five years at the helm were an unmitigated disaster for Nigeria, the effects of which 170 million Nigerians are experiencing today. He ran the economy aground, failing like his predecessors to diversify effectively and entrenching what The Economist of London labelled “a rentier state.” His government despoiled all fiscal buffers − foreign reserves hardly rose despite persistently high oil prices until August 2014. In its defence, his finance minister claimed that it was $43.13 billion that was inherited, yet, despite oil prices averaging $90-$103 per barrel up till mid-2014, reserves moved barely perceptively, while the Excess Crude Account had crashed from $22 billion to only $2.2 billion when Muhammadu Buhari took over by mid-2015. Jonathan left no major new signature infrastructure project; only inflated repair projects which are mired in controversy.
Arguably his greatest disservice that ought to have been his major triumph was the badly managed privatisation of power assets that transferred most of the generation and distribution companies to untested, incompetent domestic consortia that have saddled Nigeria with a legal quagmire. But it is in the areas of corruption and security that Nigerians were mostly badly done in by that terrible government. Jonathan’s denial that he dismissed corruption allegations as “mere stealing” is false. He declared this on local and international TV. Corruption ran riot on his watch, as attested to by the latest scandals involving his wife, the suspended spy chief who stashed away $43 million in a Lagos apartment, the missing oil receipts being probed in parliament, as well as the $2.1 billion arms purchase fund that ended up in private hands.
While he is whining that Obama and other world leaders, civil society, the media and the opposition alleged corruption “without proof,” the world is still aghast at a sprawling corruption scandal centred on the abuse of N2.53 trillion petrol subsidy in 2011 when only N248 billion was approved in the budget. His government also signed away N603 billion in less than a year for dubious import duty waivers, exemptions and concessions, according to Customs. The fraud associated with oil swap agreements is still unfolding. Hypocritically, he claimed to have dropped Stella Oduah as Aviation minister when evidence emerged, but said he retained Diezani Alison-Madueke as oil minister “because there was no foolproof evidence.” This same ex-minister is alleged to have withdrawn millions of dollars to finance his re-election bid for which she and many others, including electoral officials, are being tried. He disingenuously discredited the Nuhu Ribadu panel report on the grounds of disagreement among some members, but failed to say that he had appointed Steve Oronsaye and Bernard Otti to the board of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation in an obvious move of brinksmanship.
It is not too late for Jonathan to grow up. He may think Nigerians have forgotten and that it is time to move on. This is fantasy. All the colossal scandals that defined his time in government will live on in the minds of the people who bear the burdens of his misrule. Former president Olusegun Obasanjo, who broke all party rules to make him deputy to the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, is quoted in the same book as admitting that from his first days in office, “…he showed that he was too small for the office.” He demonstrated this in his mishandling of the Boko Haram terrorist insurgency. Boko Haram has killed over 25,000 people, displaced over two million and once held 27 local government areas as its “caliphate.” Rather than take full charge, he allowed his generals to turn it into a gold mine for corrupt enrichment, an ATM, according to Obasanjo, for taking money from the treasury.
The influential The Economist once declared that Jonathan ran the most corrupt, most clueless government in Nigeria’s history. We can’t agree more. Indeed, we hold him and his corrupt generals responsible for the failure to rescue the 276 Chibok girls in 2014. His false narrative that he did try to rescue them contradicts reports that he failed to act when initially informed, continuing to view terrorism as a personal conspiracy against him.
Surprisingly, Jonathan has not changed, falsely asserting and boorishly claiming that Boko Haram is being defeated because Buhari is a Muslim, not viewed as an “infidel’’ like he was. But salafist militants view all existing governments as infidels to be violently overthrown. They target the Muslim leaders of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Chechnya, Algeria and Bahrain. Boko Haram has killed emirs and has vowed to kill Buhari, the Emir of Kano and the Sultan of Sokoto, the nominal head of Nigerian Muslims.
Jonathan incorrigibly blamed the media for his electoral defeat. We insist he lost the election because he was a total failure. He cites high figures of votes for Buhari in Kano, but was silent on equally suspicious figures for him from the South-South states, from Rivers or from Akwa Ibom and Delta states where votes recorded for him doubled the number of accredited voters.
But we hold President Muhammadu Buhari and the Nigerian people culpable for providing the leeway for Jonathan to trample on our collective memory. While the Buhari government has demonstrated lack of courage to bring Jonathan to justice, many Nigerians celebrate, instead of rising against corruption. Across the world, people of conscience are marching in their thousands to protest against corruption; in broken, dysfunctional Nigeria, hundreds are, for a few wads of naira, marching, vandalising property, and preaching hate in defence of the corrupt. The officials on trial who have claimed to have been obeying Jonathan’s orders by collecting and distributing public funds provide enough grounds to put him also on trial. The anti-corruption war cannot go far unless Jonathan is confronted in court with his misdeeds. Past rulers who break the law are put in the dock. South Korea, Guatemala, Brazil, Peru, Zambia, Italy, France are ready examples. No one should be above the law.
Buhari should save his reputation by pulling out all the stops in the war on graft. Far too many ex-Presidents have demonstrated this belief that they are above the law. Jonathan failed to bring corrupt past leaders to justice, but Buhari must bust the myth. Nigerians should realise that corruption has ruined their present and rendered the future gloomy for their children and rise up against corrupt leaders − past and present. As for Jonathan, he should be reminded that the history of his administration is already being written and it is neither flattering nor can he remodel it with falsehood and whining hypocrisy.
The Punch Editorial Board