I thought former Nigeria leader Goodluck Jonathan was writing his biography. It turns out the former president has been busy writing revisionist history instead. Mr. Jonathan led Nigeria following the death of Umaru Yar’Adua in 2010. He won the 2011 presidential contest over Muhammadu Buhari, only to lose his 2015 re-election bid to the same man.
But according to a few excerpts emerging last week from ‘Against the Run of Play,’ a new book by Segun Adeniyi, a former Yar’Adua spokesman and current Chairman of the Editorial Board of ThisDay, Mr. Jonathan does not believe he lost a fair election.
Among others, he blames the chairman of the electoral commission at the time, Attahiru Jega, and the police, as well as the United States, leading a cabal of foreign powers. He has also blamed former PDP party chairman, Adamu Mu’azu, allegedly for working against him, and the press and civil society for focusing on the merciless corruption he made famous.
He believes Professor Jega made an unfavorable decision in choosing to go ahead with the election despite two-thirds of the Permanent Voters’ Cards not having been collected and suggests that the police boss he had anointed may have been serving the interest of Buhari all along because he took up a job with the new administration.
As for the foreign dimension, Jonathan alleged that Obama and his officials wanted a change of government in Nigeria and were ready to do anything to that end.
So strong was that sense of purpose, Jonathan says, that “They even brought some naval ships into the Gulf of Guinea in the days preceding the election,” and Obama influenced Britain’s former prime minister David Cameron and the current French president Francois Hollande to work against him.”
In another direction, Mr. Jonathan has accused Buhari of harassing members of his family. I suspect Mrs. Jonathan at some point was angry with him for not saying anything about her battles with the EFCC to claim nearly $6bn in suspicious funds in her account the agency has kept frozen.
Clearly, Mr. Jonathan is bitter about finding himself in the record books as the first sitting Nigerian leader to be booted out of office.
But a more important question appears to have arisen in his mind since then which was absolutely no issue when he conceded defeat in 2015. I will return to this in a moment.
The world knows Mr. Jonathan lost the election because he was an incompetent and ineffective leader who came to symbolize the excesses and arrogance of the PDP. His electoral campaigns were built on lies he never attempted to implement, he openly approved of corruption, and under his management, Nigeria grew from poorly-managed to unmanageable.
Jonathan may have forgotten, but he was the one who infamously granted pardon to a former governor who had been convicted for corruption. He paid—including through the Embassy of Nigeria in Washington DC—various political and public relations consultancies to foreign interests, one of which received at least $1.2 million for writing one newspaper article for him.
In June 2014, Nigeria received from Liechtenstein $227m in Sani Abacha loot repatriation, one of many. Mr. Jonathan set up an inter-ministerial committee to ensure “proper utilization” of the money, and that is the last anything heard about it.
The point is: anybody running against Jonathan in 2015 who said the magic word, “change,” was bound to gain attention. Buhari did, and he won.
Understandably, when Buhari assumed the presidency, Jonathan was a very scared man. So were his officials. In fact, former Petroleum Resources Minister Diezani Allison-Madueke, on one occasion somehow found a seat behind the president-elect’s London-bound First Class digs in May 2015, one week before his inauguration, desperate to speak with him.
Buhari, they all felt, was Armageddon. Ahead of the election, Obasanjo himself said of Jonathan: “I believe the President’s fear…that Buhari is a hard man and he will fight corruption and he (Jonathan) will end up in jail if not in the grave.”
Following the May 2015 inauguration, that fear was responsible for a flickering improvement in public service performance, as Nigerians identified a certain Buhari factor, or “body language.” It was accompanied by some cash refunds to the government by petrified former officials.
It is not clear if Jonathan himself refunded anything. He was often out of the country trying to portray himself as an achiever, and accepting dubious awards.
Over time, a funny thing happened: Buhari’s war against corruption failed to materialize in any significant form. That led to a new courage in Jonathan’s mind in the past two years, the heart to ask: “What corruption?”
Sure, Buhari has been relentless in his condemnation of the corruption Jonathan superintended. A few former officials have been put on trial, and a few suspicious funds identified. But nothing reflecting the scale of the scorched-earth kleptomania Nigerians have suffered since 1970 has been reflected in the genteel, apologetic Buhari war corruption is winning.
Neither Jonathan nor any of his Ministers and permanent secretaries has been asked the series of questions that litter the streets. So much false confidence has developed that you wonder: if Patience Jonathan received $6m as “gifts”, what did her husband receive, and from whom? Abuja is littered with grand estates and mansions, a lot of them lying curiously uncompleted, belonging to the thieves and their accomplices.
And yet Buhari knows that part of the reason Jonathan made a mess of the Boko Haram confrontation is that he was spending the money on other things. In Obasanjo’s graphic language, Jonathan used the insurgency to turn Nigeria into his ATM. Buhari, it is also confirmed, has evidence of Jonathan deploying illegal mechanisms to obtain public funds. But Jonathan is not on trial.
The irony—which would make a normal man laugh were it not so tragic—is that it is Jonathan who now questions the tiger’s tigritude. In the two years Buhari has spent fire-breathing, Jonathan wisely observed that Buhari breathes the fire in, not out. He chases the tail, while the head swaggers boastfully free. That is why Jonathan now blames everyone, including Buhari, for something. The hunted has become the hunter.
Jonathan is the best proof of what many Nigerians have said since 2015: Buhari may have been an army general, but he fights corruption with a microphone, like a stand-up comedian. If Jonathan thought of stealing as being different from corruption, Buhari thinks you can be corrupt without being guilty, and that corruption is different from the people who perpetrate it. That explains why he accepts money from looters in exchange for protection, and why the main battlefield of his engagement is his imagination.
In a public comment, Obasanjo has said: “I haven’t seen that will of persistency and consistency in Nigeria because the people that are involved in corruption, they are strongly entrenched and unless you are ready to confront them at the point of even giving your life for it, then you will give in, that is the end of it.”
The punchline is that Obasanjo made that remark five years ago, about Jonathan. But he could have made it last week about Buhari’s increasingly sad show from his sick bed in the bowels of Aso Rock.