Nigeria’s Goodluck, bad luck story: Can President Buhari risk arresting his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan?

Nigeria’s Goodluck, bad luck story: Can President Buhari risk arresting his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan?

Slowly but surely, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption drive is nabbing his predecessor’s key lieutenants. But what to do with former president Goodluck Jonathan himself? There’s enough circumstantial evidence to suggest that there is a strong case for Jonathan to answer, but it might just be more trouble than it is worth to arrest him. By SIMON ALLISON.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari may have defeated incumbent Goodluck Jonathan in the last election, but that doesn’t mean the rivalry between the two is over. Instead, as Buhari gets on with implementing his promised anti-corruption drive, the president is finding that his predecessor is still giving him a serious headache.

As the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission investigates and arrests more and more of the former president’s key lieutenants, attention inevitably turns to whether Jonathan himself was complicit in the multimillion (even billion) dollar frauds that are being alleged. It’s becoming increasingly clear that, at a minimum, Jonathan has a case to answer. But Buhari must tread carefully: Jonathan still has powerful friends, and a strong constituency, and they are threatening to cause chaos if he is arrested.

Last week, Jonathan’s top aide and right-hand man Hassan Tukur was arrested. He allegedly stole $40-million of government money designated to pay ransoms for the release of the kidnapped Chibok girls. But Tukur is far from the only member of Jonathan’s inner circle to be implicated in investigations.

Former National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki has been accused of laundering $2-billion; former petroleum minister Diezani Alison-Madueke is being investigated in connection with a missing $6-billion; former aviation minister Femi Fani-Kayode allegedly helped himself to campaign funds; Jonathan’s cousin Aziobola Robert is allegedly involved in a $40-million dodgy pipeline deal, and People’s Democratic Party spokesman Olisa Metuh is supposed to have diverted a tidy 400-million naira ($2-million) into Jonathan’s election campaign and his own pocket.

As if to underscore the fragility of Jonathan’s own position – and his inextricable links to the corruption charges – in his court submissions Metuh argued that he could not defend himself without calling Jonathan as a witness.

As the investigations into Jonathan’s inner circle intensify, so Buhari and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) face increasing public pressure to confront the former president directly. “This circle of arrests has one central figure in the middle – Goodluck Jonathan – yet the EFCC is not saying anything about his involvement or when, if at all, it will investigate him. Dear EFCC, when will you invite Jonathan for questioning?” wrote columnist Jola Sotubo on

Just as vocal, however, are Jonathan’s supporters, who argue that the arrests and investigations conducted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission into the previous administration are little more than a politically expedient witch hunt.

Take this from Joseph Hayab, a representative of the northern states’ branch of the Christian Association of Nigeria. “Let me warn that such a misadventure [arresting Jonathan] will set a wrong precedent and only open the door to mischievous people to throw this nation into confusion… such an action, if actualised, has the capacity to lead to serious confusion that will affect Nigeria economically and otherwise.”

Udengs Eradiri, president of the Ijaw Youth Council, made this threat even more explicit, saying that his group would make Nigeria “ungovernable” if Buhari attempted to arrest Jonathan.

After Goodluck Jonathan, our people who contributed to that administration are being persecuted by this government. The recent one is the ploy to arrest Goodluck Jonathan, which is unfolding every day. This must stop. Goodluck Jonathan is the most performing president that Nigeria has ever had. We are proud of him,” he said.

According to Nigerian paper ThisDay, this campaign to make Nigeria ungovernable has already begun. “Sources close to the president said since the information of the government’s resolve to arrest Jonathan swept through the Niger Delta, Ijaw militants have gone berserk and stepped up their attacks on oil and gas installations in the region. They are said to be hell-bent on shutting down oil output completely. One source said the militants are targeting all onshore and shallow water installations, from where Nigeria derives the bulk of 90% of its foreign exchange earnings and may head for the deep offshore oil fields if the federal government does not back down,” the paper reported.

This, then, is President Buhari’s dilemma: should he push ahead with investigations and a probable arrest of former president Jonathan, upholding both the rule of law and his own campaign promises in the process? Or would this simply alienate and provoke Jonathan’s many and still-powerful supporters, destabilising the country in the process?

There is, perhaps, a third way. In a claim that is yet to be substantiated, ThisDay also reported that Jonathan – wary of facing the music – has travelled to Cote D’Ivoire with the intention of seeking some kind of exile there. In a delicate and potentially volatile situation, Jonathan’s absence may just be a win-win for both sides. DM

Photo: A photograph made available 25 April 2015 shows the then president elect Muhammadu Buhari (L) meeting president Goodluck Jonathan (R) in Abuja, Nigeria 24 April 2015. EPA/STR


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