There are strong indications that former President Goodluck Jonathan may have gone into temporary self exile in Cote d’Ivoire, following reports that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) may arrest him on his arrival in Nigeria from his overseas tour on allegations of corruption and misappropriation of billions of dollars in the five years during which he was Head of State, THISDAY has learnt.
Several sources close to the ex-president, who confirmed that Jonathan had sought refuge last week in the West African country, also blamed the heightened attacks on oil and gas installations by Ijaw militants in the Niger Delta, resulting in the loss of an estimated 800,000-900,000 barrels of crude oil per day (bpd), to what they claimed was “the decision by President Muhammadu Buhari to renege on his promise that his predecessor had ‘nothing to fear’ from him (Buhari) after he handed over the reins of power on May 29, 2015”.
Immediately after his electoral victory in 2015 and at his presidential inauguration, Buhari, in what was seen as a political gesture, had stated that he would not go after his successor, despite allegations that the former president had presided over widespread corruption during his five years in the saddle.
However, since Jonathan’s departure, anti-corruption agencies led by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) have swept in on several associates of the former president on allegations of money laundering, diversion of public funds and contract scams, mostly linked to defence sector contracts and the purchase of arms used for the prosecution of the war against Boko Haram in the North-east.
In recent weeks, the EFCC has in addition to arresting and prosecuting several public office holders who served under the Jonathan administration, arrested some of the closest allies of the former president including his cousin, Mr. Aziobola Robert, in connection to a $40 million pipeline surveillance contract, and his former principal secretary and confidant Mr. Hassan Tukur.
These arrests were said to have shaken the former president, given that they were the two persons closest to him during his presidency.
A source, who spoke to THISDAY on Jonathan’s decision to give Nigeria a wide berth, said the former president was reliably warned by security sources of the plan to arrest him once he stepped into the country, hence his decision to seek exile in Cote d’Ivoire.
Jonathan, the source disclosed, departed Nigeria for the United States almost two months ago travelling to several cities but stayed in New York for some two weeks. After departing the US, he travelled to London to be with his children for a few days, preparatory to his return to Nigeria.
But while in the UK, he was warned by sympathetic officials in different arms of government of the government’s decision to arrest him once he returned to Nigeria.
On getting wind of the plan, Jonathan, THISDAY gathered, contacted a few West African leaders including the President of Cote d’Iviore, Mr. Alassane Outtara, who offered him a safe haven until the coast is clear for him to return to Nigeria.
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 per cent of its foreign exchange earnings and may head for the deep offshore oil fields if the federal government does not back down.
“Perhaps the only installations that may not be affected in the interim by militant attacks are those in the deep offshore basin because they are more difficult to reach and would require large vessels to access,” said the source who, however, added that “during the last militant crises we went as far as shutting down the Bonga deep water oil field”.
In order to stem the renewed wave of attacks, governors in the region have scrambled and sent teams to the creeks to placate the militants, but so far their efforts appear to have fallen on deaf ears.
The governors are particularly concerned that the attacks on oil installations would hurt the Niger Delta states the most due to the attendant decline in revenue.
When contacted on the plan by the government to arrest Jonathan and his purported exile, Buhari’s media adviser, Mr. Femi Adesina, said he was not aware that the former president was in exile, adding that questions on his arrest could only be addressed by the security and law enforcement agencies.