By Sonala Olumhense.
ON September 11, 2006, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) seized $13.5 million dollars (US) from Mrs. Patience Jonathan, the wife of then Governor of Bayelsa State, Mr. Goodluck Jonathan.
The International Herald Tribune quoted the EFCC spokesman, Mr. Osita Nwajah, as saying that the seizure was made after Mrs. Jonathan had allegedly laundered the money through an associate.
It was the second time in one month Mrs. Jonathan was hitting the scandal headlines. In August, the EFCC had obtained a court order to temporarily freeze N104 million she had allegedly tried to launder through one Mrs. Nancy Ebere Nwosu. The EFCC said it had reason to believe the seized funds belonged to the public. In a sworn statement, Mrs. Nwosu implicated Patience Jonathan, the EFCC said.
But remember, her husband was the Bayelsa State Governor at the time. And Mr. Jonathan’s government dashed to the defence of the First Lady of Bayelsa, alleging that the reports were part of a “plot to destabilize” the state. Government spokesmen were falling over each other to speak for Mrs. Jonathan. The Governor’s spokesman, Dennis Sami, described the allegations as a “charade,” the target of which was the Governor.
“We are aware that the said Nancy Ebere Nwosu is a very remote relation of Her Excellency who has lived abroad for several years,” Mr. Sami said. “She is a successful businesswoman of no little means whose business concerns do not involve Mrs. Jonathan.”
Mrs. Jonathan’s spokesman, Kenneth Ekpelu, fired an e-mail to Vanguard newspaper in which she spoke of “her husband’s opponents who strangely perceive her as the soft spot in his political armour and won’t stop hammering away at her until their decisions to oust him from office are met.”
It is funny how these canned money-laundering defenses sound alike. Didn’t former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s United States lawyer, Mr. Kunle Fagbenle, say last November that Andy Uba – who used part of some funds laundered by means of the executive jet (allegedly without Obasanjo’s permission) to shop for Obasanjo’s farms – could not be accused of money-laundering because Mr. Uba was “already a rich man”? And did not Obasanjo say the Uba scandal was only a “calculated attempt” to ruin his name?
Anyhow, despite the massive protestations of Governor Jonathan, the EFCC pressed ahead. On August 22, 2006, Justice Anwuli Chikere of the Federal High Court, Abuja authorized the freezing of the N104 million “pending the conclusion of the investigation of the activities of the said persons in connection with their involvement in the acts of money laundering and other economic and financial crimes related offences.”
And then, barely three weeks later, Mrs. Jonathan was in the news again, reportedly being separated from an astounding $13.5 million in US dollars. She must have been one angry woman. But all that was one year ago.
Since then, the Jonathans have moved up in the world. They have left the relative squalor and poverty of a mere state governorship for the Vice-President’s estate. They have left the petty limitations of Bayelsa for the limitless expanse of Abuja. Only one man now speaks before Mr. Jonathan does.
Yes, Mr. Jonathan is the Vice-President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and the second most powerful man in the country. He is also the man President Yar’Adua is trusting with the challenge of the Niger Delta, where billions of dollars are expected to be spent over the next few years.
He has also been talking about democracy, corruption, the rule of law, and development. Just over a week ago, at the All-Delta Peoples Conference in the United States, Mr. Jonathan disclosed that President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had authorised the release of all funds due the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). In addition, “Special funds will be provided for special projects in line with the master plan,” he said.
And Mrs. Jonathan has been speaking, too, telling Nigerian women how they can become more fulfilled citizens. Up in the rarefied air of federal authority, you can preach any sermon, even while you have around your neck diamonds and jewels of $13.5 million, and gold bracelets of N104 million.
This is all quite ironic. The Jonathans are living in a dream state. They moved into the governorship in Bayelsa when Diepreye Alamieyeseigha was consumed in a corruption blaze, and into the vice-presidency when the PDP sought someone to balance Umaru Yar’Adua on the PDP presidential ticket.
But they take quite a few scandals with them. Mr. Jonathan left Bayelsa State in a thick cloud of suspicion. Many Bayelsans believed his government had fleeced the treasury. While Mr. Jonathan said upon assumption of office he had inherited a state treasury N25 billion thick, he refused to say what was left there as he vacated office. Bayelsans alleged he had swept the commonwealth clean, and that most public projects were left uncompleted.
Two months after he assumed the vice-presidency, Mr. Jonathan came under severe national pressure to follow the lead of his boss and make his assets declaration public. It took several nerve-wracking weeks of trying to dodge the responsibility, but he finally released the document, which showed the former university lecturer was worth an absolutely unbelievable N295 million. He had only been the Governor for 17 months, and this means he had been growing richer at the rate of close to N17 million per month. Naturally, wink-wink, he did not include his wife in his declaration.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Jonathan…
In its report of last April’s election, the New York based Council on Foreign Relations observed that Patience Jonathan was generally regarded as the “greediest person in Bayelsa State” and a woman of great cruelty. Last June, the Niger Development Monitoring and Corporate Watch (NIDDEMCOW), a local non-governmental organization, asked the EFCC to publish its report on Mrs. Jonathan.
The EFCC has not. This is not particularly strange; the Commission is not in the habit of issuing such reports. But nothing has been heard from the Commission since the flurry of activities of August and September last year. That coincides with the period before Mr. Jonathan emerged Yar’Adua’s running mate.
Apparently, even scandals of that magnitude are no obstacle in Nigeria. Mr. Jonathan got the vice-presidency, and the only man he is answerable to is about to put into his hands, theoretically for the Niger Delta, all the diamonds and gold a man could want.
And his wife? Patience Jonathan apparently hates that kind of snail-pace to fortune. Indicted by the EFCC in only eight months as First Lady on a charge of laundering a few Naira bills, she moved to dollar bills in the millions the following month. That same month, the EFCC report to the Senate called her by name.
Again, this does not seem to matter in Nigeria: weeks later, in October, the Owu Kingdom, President Obasanjo’s people, honoured the Jonathans with chieftaincy titles. In that culture, Obasanjo is the Balogun of Owu; Mr. Jonathan became the Obateru.
If Mrs. Jonathan was thrilled on that day, she must be over the moon today. An EFCC indictment, and yet she can get on any of our presidential jets at any time and drink champagne at State functions.
And how much taller she must be, these days as she stands on the authority of the vice-presidency! From such heights, not only do you dwarf an EFCC, but you also are invincible. What a country!
What I really fail to understand is: If Mrs. Jonathan can so effectively laugh at the so-called war on corruption, does that not make her the First Lady? On what basis does she perform her functions – the recommendations of the EFCC? Why has Mrs. Jonathan assumed the status of untouchable, or is she truly the nation’s most powerful woman?
Culled from the Nigerian Guardian Sunday 28th October 2007