Jonathan vs Buhari: Setting the stage for an imminent confrontation

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TOBI AWORINDE examines the frosty relationship that is brewing between President Muhammadu Buhari and his predecessor, former President Goodluck Jonathan over Buhari’s insistence on the probe of the ex-President’s government
BARELY 100 days after President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office, some ministers under the previous administration of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, last Sunday, declared war against the incumbent over a perceived lack of “due respect.”
The ministers, who were said to be acting at the behest of Jonathan, accused Buhari and members of the ruling All Progressives Congress of condemning, ridiculing and undermining the achievements of the ex-President. According to them, the vilification amounted to rubbishing the integrity of the individual members of the past administration.
Jonathan’s ministers, in a statement by a former Minister of National Planning, Dr. Abubakar Suleiman, said the efforts of the Buhari government was to portray all members of the previous administration “as corrupt and irresponsible, in an orchestrated and vicious trial by the media,” which they said had created “a lynch mentality that discredits our honest contributions to the growth and development of our beloved nation.”
In addition to citing a list of accomplishments by the previous administration, the ministers explained that they had been silent on the accusations of the current government in the hope that “the euphoria that inspired the various attacks on the past administration would wear off and that reason would prevail.”
The statement added, “We are constrained to speak up in defence of the legacy of the Jonathan administration, and shall do so again, for as long as those who are determined to rubbish that legacy are unrelenting in their usual deployment of blackmail, persecution and similar tactics.”
But the Presidency, in its reaction on the same day, described Buhari’s war against corruption as non-negotiable.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, asked Jonathan’s ministers, who he described as ‘members of the country’s latest trade union formation, the Association of Ex-Jonathan Ministers’, to do a bit of self-reflection on the sort of government they handed over to Buhari on May 29. He said such self-reflection would make the former ministers decide for themselves if it would have been right for any incoming government to ignore the issue of the ‘brazen theft’ of public assets, which he said appeared to be the first of its kind in the country.
In a telephone interview with this reporter, Dr. Idowu Johnson of the Department of Political Science, University of Ibadan, described the counterattack by Jonathan’s men as a futile attempt to prevent punitive action against them by the Buhari administration. According to the political scientist, Jonathan’s government was in power for about six years, which led to the destruction of the educational, financial and petroleum institutions to the extent that the government could no longer pay salaries.
“Now, they are saying the new government has nothing to do. In the past administration, they were trying to cover their atrocities so that it would look as if they had something to offer us. Unfortunately, it has been revealed that they could not even produce the goods that the people needed. They simply want to distract the present government so that Nigerians would view them as if they have something to offer.”
Jonathan had first foreshadowed his travails on May 10, during a farewell service at the Cathedral Church of the Advent, Abuja, when he warned that the incoming government of the then President-elect Buhari would persecute him and his ministers, as well as other aides who served under him.
The former President said, “If you take certain decisions, it might be good for the generality of the people, but it might affect people differently. So, for ministers and aides, who served with me, I sympathise with them, they will be persecuted. And they must be ready for that persecution.”
Again on May 27, during the valedictory session of the outgoing Federal Executive Council at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Jonathan said all those advising Buhari to probe his administration must also advise him to extend the probe beyond his regime in order for it not to be seen as a witch-hunt, adding that the probe should also cover the way oil wells and fields were allocated in the past.
On June 22, barely three weeks after his swearing-in, Buhari told journalists in the Villa that he had inherited a country with a virtually empty treasury and that his administration was weighed down by debts running into millions of dollars, though he did not state how much the debt amounted to.
But Jonathan’s Peoples Democratic Party asked Buhari to live up to his electoral promises and stop offering excuses. The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Olisa Metuh, in a statement on June 23, said his party noted with dismay Buhari’s statement that Nigerians should not expect much from his first 100 days in office on claims that he met “a virtually empty treasury and huge debts.”
Metuh added that the President’s comments could be an admission of “his poor knowledge of national and international economics affairs,” and that it proved the present administration was not really equipped to face the challenges of governance.
Similarly, Buhari, on July 8, while receiving members of a pressure group, Bring Back Our Girls, described Jonathan’s government as incompetent for its slow response to reports of the kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls by Boko Haram in Chibok, Borno State, last year.
Again on July 23, during an interactive session with Nigerians in the Diaspora at the Nigerian Embassy in Washington DC, as part of a four-day official visit to the United States, Buhari said he had started receiving some documents, which showed that some unnamed former ministers and top government officials were thieves.
The President, while disclosing that the documents at his disposal indicted the officials of oil theft and other acts of “massive fraud,” vowed that the ex-ministers would be prosecuted based on the findings, while the proceeds of their fraud would be repatriated to government coffers from their multiple foreign accounts, which he alleged were opened for the purpose of laundering money.
The following day, the PDP reacted by asking Buhari to also probe past administrations preceding the Jonathan administration.
The Ondo State chapter of the party, in a statement by its Director of Publicity, Mr. Ayo Fadaka, alleged that Buhari was selective in his plans to recover looted funds and prosecute corrupt public officials and warned the President to desist from an alleged witch-hunt of PDP members.
In the same vein, Shehu, on August 16, confirmed to journalists that plans had been concluded to recover all government property, including vehicles, buildings and generator sets, which were still in possession of government officials that served under Jonathan.
Buhari was said to be irked by the development and therefore set up a committee made up of civil servants and security agencies to identify and recover the unreturned public assets from the former political appointees.
The identities of the said former government officials were however not disclosed.
But Head of the Department of Political Science, University of Lagos, Prof. Solomon Akinboye, told this paper that it would be wrong for Buhari to probe Jonathan’s government without transparency.
According to the political scientist, everything must be done openly, saying there should be no witch-hunt by the government. He believed that if anyone was found guilty or otherwise, the process and outcome should be made public.
“For instance, they have accused the former Finance Minister and the lady said she has her facts. If she has her facts and she is exonerated, then fine. Jonathan has done his bit and left. The man on board should be allowed to do his bit.
“If Jonathan’s men have done something wrong, they have to pay for it. Let’s wait for the investigations. For example, (Sambo) Dasuki is under investigation. Let’s see the result of the investigation. Nobody will accuse someone of something they have not done. Even if one is accused and the charge is investigated, if he is found not guilty, the person is a free man,” Akinboye said.
But Johnson argued that Jonathan was trying to prove to the current government that his ministers were on their own. According to him, the ex-President wants his men to take the fall by making them account for their ministries independently.
“The most important thing (to Jonathan) is that they can see that he is disappointed in the people he appointed. He doesn’t want to share in the blame,” the political scientist added.
Speaking further, the Executive Director of Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, Mr. Debo Adeniran, likened the complaints by Jonathan’s ministers to a drowning person reaching for any available straw. According to the activist, the act is all in a bid to intimidate the government to soft-pedal their punitive actions.
Adeniran added, “There are occasions when this kind of attack is used to intimidate, as a form of defence. But it is for the government to resist such attempts at intimidation by these people. They also know that they have a lot of skeletons in their cupboard and they don’t want anyone to go near that cupboard.
“Jonathan was the chief accounting officer of that administration and he knew that every crime his ministers committed during his tenure would implicate him. That might be the reason why he thinks that he should use the ministers to intimidate the government out of probing the culprits in the previous administration.
The Buhari-Jonathan camps’ face-off might not have collided but the stage appears to be set for such confrontation, especially on the unfolding probe of the immediate past administration. While allegations have been bandied about, especially in the media, the tension may be doused until the principal actors are called upon to account for their deeds or misdeeds in days to come.
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