By DICKSON OMONODE
THIS is not a good time for Dame Patience Jonathan, wife of former President Goodluck Jonathan. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has remained unrestrained in deeply investigating the $31 million discovered frozen in four companies overseas linking a former aide to the erstwhile President which Patience claimed belongs to her. The Commission has been receiving pressures from certain interests to arrest the former First Lady of the country for questioning. Thus, a thick dark cloud seems to be gathering around the personality of the former President.
Despite assurances from President Muhammadu Buhari that his predecessor, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, need not be afraid, it appears a recent Freudian slip by Mrs Patience Jonathan has triggered a probe into the former first family, and Buhari will be hard put to it to spare his predecessor.
Apparently, the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL), at the weekend, called on the EFCC to immediately invite the wife of former President Jonathan for questioning over the allegations of money laundering involving herself, her aides and some Skye Bank officials.
CACOL Executive Chairman, Debo Adeniran, in a statement, protested that, “it is beginning to appear like the EFCC is disposed to ‘pampering’ some suspected corruption criminals in our country even though the Act that established the Commission gives it constitutional powers to carry out its duties without fear or favour.”
He maintained that, “The case of the wife of former President Jonathan epitomizes this reality. With the whole lot of confusion, allegations and counter-allegations, media war etc. that are attendant to the Mrs. Jonathan’s case, what else does the EFCC need to invite the person who is at the epicentre of the whole episode, even if just for questioning and clarifications?”
Adeniran commended the efforts of the EFCC on the Mrs. Jonathan’s case, including the arrest and ongoing prosecution of some the aides and the bankers involved, but questioned whether the EFCC is being hindered from using the shortest cut to resolve this corruption imbroglio involving the wife of the former President by inviting/summoning her. He insisted that “the time to invite Patience Jonathan for interrogation is now.”
Adeniran accordingly declared: “we are calling on the EFCC to invite Madam Jonathan for questioning with immediate effect. This ‘beating around the bush’ approach is not going to strengthen the anti-corruption war, it can only weaken it.”
The CACOL demand for a possible arrest of Patience Jonathan is invariably worsened by the earlier revelations of a faction of the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) that claimed the Jonathan is part of the sponsors of the dreaded Niger Delta Avengers.
It will be recalled that the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) had leaked that former President Jonathan is a grand patron of the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA).
The Reformed Niger Delta Avengers had earlier revealed the complicity of Jonathan in the formation and patronage of the dreaded NDA.
Jomo Gbomo, MEND spokesman, had in a statement declared inter alia: “MEND cannot hold brief for the RNDA, which pointedly accused Mr. Jonathan of complicity in fueling the ongoing Niger Delta crisis and patronising the NDA, apparently for political reasons.”
“We are, however, quick to point out the fact that the RNDA has merely vindicated MEND’s belief and conviction that the former President and his cronies, who lost the 2015 presidential election, were using the illegal and treasonable NDA platform to destabilise President Buhari’s government,” he maintained.
Jomo Gbomo had stated that Jonathan should not deny being the grand patron of the group, which had been blowing up oil facilities in the Niger Delta region.
That allegation has since been debunked but the scar caused by that accusation has not been fully wiped out in the security circle.
As the EFCC appears unrestrained, the APC government believes the president can’t take the blame if Jonathan’s wife courted the trouble.
“She was the one that came out to claim that the money found in the accounts of one of the aides to the former President, her husband, belonged to her,” Information Minister Lai Mohammed said.
“It was not the EFCC that claimed so. She claimed that the money that the guy was being prosecuted for belonged to her. It was only then they later found an extra $5 million in another account,” he said.
But Jonathan, fearing the outcome of the EFCC dig into his wife, has begun moves to save his scalp, going as far as meeting top-notch members of the Council of State, including retired Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalam Abubakar.
Jonathan has not stated categorically why he went visiting the duo on September 12. But many believe the air-tight meeting he had separately with the two wouldn’t be unconnected with the commission’s new finds. The visit came days after his wife sued the EFCC for freezing $31 million in four companies traced to a former presidential aide Waripamo Dudafa.
Moreover, the clout of the two hosts makes them the go-to guys for any leader seeking political solution out of a logjam. And, analysts believe, Jonathan visiting the past leasers might be a sign that something is eating him, and he needs help.
Abdusalam, Jonathan, and Buhari have been in a working relationship since the run-up to the 2015 general elections. Abdusalam is head of the National Peace Committee (NPC) that mid-wifed the election many had dreaded would be the last Nigeria would hold as a nation.
His role in many peace deals between the rivals Buhari of the APC and Jonathan of the then ruling PDP during the volatile campaign has made him a good negotiator and peacemaker in times like this, especially for an embattled Jonathan.
While his administration was handing over, Jonathan had made some statements that revealed he wouldn’t be exactly gentlemanly when Buhari would start his probe of the PDP government.
“I believe that anybody that is calling for probe must also ensure that this probe is extended beyond the Jonathan administration,” said Jonathan weeks to his handing over.
“Otherwise, to me, it will be witch-hunt. If we are very sincere, it is not only the Jonathan administration that should be probed.”
The NPC, after May 29, weighed in on the probe debacle on two occasions, appealing to Buhari, who had made up his mind to probe the immediate past administration, to let things slide. The president, however, insisted he would go ahead. Efforts by former Commonwealth Secretary-General Emeka Anyaoku prevail on Buhari also failed.
Abubakar, however, was able to broach a meeting between Buhari and Jonathan in August 2015. Buhari had just come back from a US visit where he was hinted of the massive corruption buried in the immediate past administration. The report, according to sources, made Jonathan seek audience with Buhari again.
Jonathan, however, couldn’t make himself clear before the president who might have known about the intrigues.
On his own, Babangida, apart from being a member of the council, has only a voice Nigerians may want to hear. But many believe he has passed his political bloom, and his take, as a past president, might not be necessarily actioned.
Even on this one, Babangida may not have Buhari’s ear. The two retired generals don’t see eyeball to eyeball on matters of corruption. Buhari regards as corrupt the Babangida junta that toppled his government in 1985.
The overthrow and imprisonment remains a big deal to him up till now. The president freshened up the old wound recently when he told The Interview Babangida overthrew his government which was ready to deal with certain corrupt elements in the army then. And as far as the last PDP administration is concerned, Buhari is game on probing it.
“That was already settled before he got inaugurated as president. He has said he will not waste time digging into the far past,” Femi Adesina, Buhari’s media adviser said early on in the administration.
While he is not going to give up placating Buhari indirectly, Jonathan has, somehow, accepted his fate. He told Bloomberg in June that he was aware the APC government was probing him.
And about three months after the interview, his wife blundered into the EFCC probing of Jonathan’s domestic aide who used four shell companies to launder $21 million in 2013.
Patience, more or less, decided to own the fight when her lawyer wrote to the acting chairman of the commission, Ibrahim Magu, stating the money is hers.
“It is noteworthy to emphasise that the said accounts, which were in US dollar denomination, were card-based accounts and our client is the sole signatory to these accounts,” her counsel Sammie Somiari wrote.
“Our client has been operating the said accounts using the cards for her medical bill payments and purchases for her private purposes without any let or hindrance.”
It was this meddlesomeness that made the commission dive more into the investigation until they found more money, at least $5 million, for now, and how it was laundered.
The EFCC said Patience’ pointman Dudafa registered as directors of those companies some other domestic staffers, including a driver and a househelp who were not aware of the conspiracy. Their signatures and other details were forged. And, above all, Patience was the sole signatory to the company accounts with Skye Bank.
The commission has since adjusted its charges against Dudafa, Skye Bank and a lawyer involved in the allegations. Critics are also asking Justice Minister Abubakar Malami to prosecute Jonathan’s wife.
The Socio-Economic Rights Accountability Project said pursuing prosecution in this case would help to provide adequate reparation and guarantees that kind of abuse of office won’t happen again.
“It would also send a clear message that cases of unexplained wealth or illicit enrichment involving politically exposed persons would not go unpunished,” SERAP noted in its letter to the minister.
As Jonathan’s wife finally stirred the hornet’s nest, and the EFCC began ferreting out the Dudafa sleaze, many believe not only Patience will be caught in the dragnet. Jonathan, too, may get enmeshed.
As scapegoating the former first family becomes apparent, the only person many believe can rescue the couple is former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who used to be Jonathan’s godfather.
Buhari enjoyed Obasanjo’s support in the lead-up to the March 28 election last year. The president still does up till now, throwing his door open to the former president who is now a fixture in the Villa. And Obasanjo, if he wants, can make a bargaining chip of that.
Trouble is Obasanjo their Party PDP, and Jonathan–who got a little heady after he became presidenthave long parted ways. And observers are of the opinion this might just be a golden chance for the Ota farmer to teach his estranged godson a bitter lesson in power politics.