The story is not one of an earthquake proportion but it seems to cause some excitement in high and low places. And what is the story? That former President Goodluck Jonathan is on exile in the Ivory Coast. He has countered the story sharply and angrily.
“I am not on exile. I have no cause to go on exile. It is a wicked and malicious report. I was Vice President for two years and President for six years. I did everything I could and I served my country very well. This is what they keep saying any time I am outside the country. I was in Ecuador. They said I was on exile. This is my second time in Cote d’Ivoire and I am rounding up my visit. It is a wicked attempt to link me with the renewed Niger Delta crisis,” Jonathan reportedly told ThisDay on the phone.
Let’s connect the dots. There is a crisis in the Niger Delta. Pipelines are being broken by militants who seem to have issues with the President Buhari administration. Jonathan is from Bayelsa, a major theatre of this crisis. Some of Jonathan’s former executives have been pulled in by the EFCC on allegations of corruption: Badeh, Diezani Allison-Madueke, Sambo Dasuki, Femi Fani-Kayode, etc. Could it be that the militants think the government is trying to get their man? Does the government think these militants are sponsored by Jonathan to destabilise the government or to prevent the government from getting him if indeed they think he has some explaining to do about how he ran the country?
Jonathan has given himself a brilliant self-assessment. The report card issued by him on him reads A plus. That is reflected in his statement: “I served my country very well.” But does the EFCC think so? The Nation newspaper quotes an unnamed EFCC source as saying that although “Jonathan has been implicated in all transactions under its investigation the ex-President was not yet its target. The “yet” in that sentence is very important, isn’t it?
The truth of the matter is that going by what has been revealed in court so far Jonathan must have made some questionable approvals. But no corruption has been directly traced to him so far. If Jonathan is “implicated in all transactions” so far investigated as the EFCC claims why is he not yet its target? Is it hoping to get more worms crawling out of the can? Or is it waiting for orders from “oga at the top?” or is it gauging the temperature of the Niger Delta or of the country to be able to determine whether or not to go for the big fish?
Let me give you a parable. In 1983, Dele Giwa was the editor of the Sunday Concord and I the chairman of the editorial board of the Concord Group of Newspapers. Dele was arrested by Sunday Adewusi’s policemen for publishing “classified government information.” I was arrested for an article titled “Sodom and Gomorrah” in which I alerted the public about the tactics of corrupt people: whenever there was fraud they would set the place on fire to obliterate the evidence. There was a huge fraud at the Nigerian External Telecommunications and I warned the government to keep watch lest the arsonists destroy the documents. The place was set on fire the day after my article was published. One person died in the incident. I was charged with murder, the press dubbed it “murder by pen.”
Dele and I were detained at Ikoyi Prison. Chief Moshood Abiola, the proprietor of Concord was a member of the National Party of Nigeria, NPN. He had stormed out of the party when he was schemed out of the presidential race. So the relationship between Abiola and the government was mortuary-cold. Our arrest and detention were seen by Abiola as an attempt to get at him. When he came to visit us at Ikoyi prison he gave us the parable of the ant and a cube of sugar. He said that the reason ants are only able to nibble at a cube of sugar is that they can’t carry it away. They would like to swallow the entire cube of sugar but since they can’t they just nibble at it. He told us he is the real target, the cube of sugar. Before he left the prison he pushed a wad of naira notes into the hands of the warder and told him “please give them whatever they want.” When Abiola left, the warder asked us what we wanted. We both said “cognac.” He brought it at three times the market cost. Cognac is a luxury drink. In prison it is a super luxury drink.
Concord lawyers took our matter to court and we were both discharged and acquitted. In our own court, Sunday Adewusi, our tormentor, was not yet discharged and acquitted. When Muhammadu Buhari toppled the Shehu Shagari government Adewusi, the inspector general of police was one of those removed from office.
On February 6, 1984, three of us, Dele Giwa, Yakubu Mohammed, and I had an appointment to interview the new head of state, Buhari, at Dodan Barracks. Towards the end of the 60-minute interview we asked the head of state, “What are you going to do to Adewusi?”
He said, “You are one of the few people in the world to live to see your enemy fall; why don’t you leave him alone?” A few years later, I told Adewusi the story. He just laughed in a full-throated fashion. Sorry for the digression?
So is Jonathan the real target, the main man on the EFCC radar, the cube of sugar that the ants would like to carry away if they can? Well, when Buhari assumed power he dropped this quotable quote: “Jonathan has nothing to fear from me.” Did that mean that if he had committed a criminal offence while in office he will not be called to account? Or was the agreement brokered by the former head of state, Abdulsalami Abubakar, before the election which was signed by all the presidential candidates omnibus? Did it have room for the forgiveness of sins whether these sins are as black as charcoal or as red as crimson? Or has Buhari changed his mind despite the acknowledgement by many people that if Jonathan had not accepted defeat by congratulating Buhari, Buhari may not have been sitting where he is sitting now? But all of these are in the realm of conjecture. In the fullness of time, we will know what we need to know.
Cote d’ Ivoire seems to be a favourite country for Nigeria’s fugitive offenders. Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu was in exile in that country for several years after the collapse of Biafra. In fact, Cote d’ Ivoire was the only country in West Africa that recognised Biafra. Many years later, some wanted coup plotters from Nigeria found solace in that beautiful country. But it doesn’t appear that Jonathan is on exile even though he is known to be quite friendly with the leadership of that country. Abidjan is seen by many Africans as the Paris of Africa, and those who would like to see Paris without going there go merrily to Abidjan. Jonathan can afford to go to Paris but what is wrong with him going to Abidjan for business or for pleasure.
The Niger Delta crisis must be situated properly. It is not about Jonathan. It is about surveillance contracts which some of the youths feel have been denied to Niger Deltans after Jonathan’s exit. It is also about employment opportunities or lack of them. The current Amnesty programme in the Niger Delta is simply a palliative, not a cure-all. There are 6,000 kilometres of pipelines in the Niger Delta, snaking through people’s backyards and farmlands. If the people do not feel they are the owners of these assets the crisis will continue. People must be able to feel they own the pipelines. If we do not involve the communities in the protection of these assets, all our efforts will be in vain.
Dr. Emmanuel Egbogah who was the special adviser to President Olusegun Obasanjo on petroleum, owns an oil company. He works within the oil communities. He told conference attendees at a Newswatch colloquium on the Niger Delta some years ago that he gave the community where he operates a certain percentage of the shares and he has been operating seamlessly since then. No wahala.
The controversy about the PIB granting certain percentage of oil proceeds to the communities is unnecessary. If we don’t think the communities matter, they will continue to prove that they matter. The same problem has hindered solid minerals development over the years. Since these minerals exist in all states of the federation we need to come up with appropriate legislation that factors in state, local government and community interests if we want to have smooth operations in these territories.
The kind of partisan politics we play in this country does not allow us to see clearly and think clearly. If we choose to think that the communities where we have both liquid and solid minerals do not matter in the booty sharing equation, then we will continue to stagnate and starve ourselves of the abundant fruits of these resources.
Ray Ekpu is a veteran journalist. He was one of the founders of NewsWatch magazine. He wrote this article for The Guardian.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.