• Why Obasanjo begged President Buhari
By Maryam Musa
Reuben Abati, the media aide to the then President Goodluck Jonathan, had an instructive experience at the tail end of that administration. Following his principal’s unexpected defeat in last Match’s presidential poll, Abati’s phones, which hitherto had been ringing ceaselessly, stopped ringing. As he would narrate it in a recent article, virtually all those who used to call him endlessly, made a dramatic U-turn. Apparently noting that Jonathan had become a lame duck by then, the army of callers more or less deleted Abati’s number from their phones.
If Abati’s interesting experience was anything to go by, Jonathan’s own was probably much more traumatic. As if confirming the adage that the loser is treated like an outcast while the winner is treated like a god, a legion of those who used to flock to Jonathan like bees to nectar beat a hasty retreat. They more or less started avoiding him like a leper even as the phone calls petered out.
The worst was, however, yet to come. No sooner did the ex-president retire to his village in Bayelsa State than the chickens started coming home to roost. Like a bad dream, some skeletons begun to tumble out of the cupboard in terms of alleged looting of the treasury by some of Jonathan’s former Ministers and some other top officials of his administration.
More disturbing to the ex-leader was the fact that going by the revelations emerging from the corridors of power, at least some of the paths through which the looted fund’s sneaked seem to be pointing in the direction of not only Jonathan himself but his wife, Patience, as well.
Consider, for example, the disappearance of the multi-billion dollar fund, which was said to have vanished without trace from the federation account at the tail end of the Jonathan administration. When the federal government raised the alarm last month of the disappearance of this fund, ex-finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, stepped out to claim that it wasn’t missing; that in actual fact the money had been shared by the federal and state governments. But the governors, through Edo State’s Adams Oshiomole, bluntly denied this, as Okonjo Iweala quickly retraced herself, claiming that the said money has been disbursed based on the approval of the then president Jonathan.
What Madam Ngozi failed to say was that the laws of the land did not authorize Jonathan to make such approval or disbursement. The implication is crystal clear: Goodluck Jonathan himself has plenty of explanations to make on this – and a couple of similar other – suspicious, nay questionable, actions. While this disclosure was still swirling, news started filtering out to the effect that the incumbent administration has obtained facts and figures in respect of the funds allegedly looted by officials of the Jonathan Presidency, including the identity of the banks in which such funds were lodged. None other than President Buhari himself would later confirm this following his return from a four-day official visit to United States last month. Buhari pointedly declared that with the cooperation of the USA authorities they had been able to trace some of the looted money. All that now remains was to obtain the details of the bank accounts, then his
government would kick-start the process of retrieving the funds and prosecuting the culprits.
DESERT HERALD authoritatively gathered that conscious of the reality that the chicken was coming home to roost, some members of the ex-president’s kitchen cabinet (notably madam Ngozi and Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, the former Petroleum Minister) have started mounting pressure on Jonathan to “do something urgently” before it might be too late. The pressure reportedly became unbearable when ex-First lady, Patience Jonathan, weighed in urging her husband to either approach Buhari or reach out to him through either ex-Lagos State governor Bola Tinubu or former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Subsequently, Jonathan was said to have eaten humble pie by reaching out to his estranged political godfather, Obasanjo. “In the course of their discussion Jonathan urged OBJ to forgive him whatever offences he had committed against him and begged to intervene on his behalf,” a reliable source informed to this medium. “He (Jonathan) went further to point out that going by the series of damning statements being made by officials of the new administration, it’s obvious that he was the main target of the well timed revelations”.
Obasanjo was said to have replied in his characteristic manner that if indeed the Jonathan administration didn’t loot funds as was being alleged, he had nothing to worry about whereupon “Jonathan, by now almost groveling, entreated Obasanjo to at least intervene on his behalf so that, as he puts it, I won’t become the first living ex-president to be humiliated soon after handing over power voluntarily. Apparently moved by that statement Obasanjo eventually assured Jonathan that he would visit Buhari with a view to letting the president know about Jonathan’s concern”.
At about the same time, the embattled Jonathan was said to have reached out to both Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah and ex-head of State Abdulsalami Abubakar for their possible intervention. The duo, it would be recalled, played pivotal roles in the 2015 Election Peace committee which helped ensure that the then President Jonathan and his main challenger, Buhari, maintained cordial relations prior to, during, and after the March 23 Presidential poll.” The ex-President complained to both Abdulasalami and Kukah that just because he had toed the path of honour by voluntarily conceding defeat despite the irregularities that marked the last general elections; he said he felt disappointed that he and his close aides are being labeled as treasury looters by his successors, urging them to “talk” to Buhari over this”.
It was further gathered that the man of God and the ex-Head of state subsequently contacted Buhari, following which it was arranged for Jonathan to visit the President. “The idea was for Jonathan to unburden his mind to Buhari and hear what Buhari would say on the issue bothering him,” a chieftain of the All Progressive Congress (APC) who was privy to the high-level shuttles, informed DESERT HERALD in confidence. “At the heart of the matter was the question of whether Buhari was indeed gunning for him (Jonathan) as he seems to believe, and Abdulsalami and Kukah felt that it was only a one-on-one discussion between these two leaders that would take care of that.”
According to the multiple sources contacted by our correspondent about the top-secret meeting between Buhari and Jonathan penultimate Thursday, both men “spoke frankly, almost like two old friends.” That was at least until the little matter of the stolen funds cropped up. “Jonathan was skittish when asked bluntly by Buhari why, having declared pointedly that his hands were clean, and that he didn’t deliberately steal any funds, he was still very concerned about the government’s ongoing probe of looted money,” one of the sources stated”. His reply was that his main concern was the fears being raised by his close lieutenants that going by recent trends, the new government might be out to deliberately persecute or humiliate them.
“To this Buhari was said to have assured Jonathan that he had nothing to worry in this regard. He made it abundantly clear that all he was interested in was the recovery of whatever money was missing from the treasury,” the source added, asking rhetorically of what benefit it would be to him as a person or leader to humiliate his predecessor. Buhari stressed that as long as the missing funds are accounted for in the interest of the nation, he would be satisfied.
Jonathan, we learnt, eventually left his successor’s official residence with the assurance that the recovery of the stolen trillions will be vigorously pursued. “He didn’t promise to back down on the issue of pursuing the stolen funds, but assured that in doing so and prosecuting those involved, no strong-arm tactics would be used.” Another source close to the presidency said “the message was as firm as it was clear: those who looted the treasury won’t be left alone until they do the needful”.