Former President Goodluck Jonathan on Thursday in Washington, United States faulted claims made by President Muhammadu Buhari during his recent visit to the United States that $150 billion was lost to corruption in Nigeria under previous administrations.
He also said that some of the corruption allegations against his administration were grossly exaggerated.
Jonathan, who spoke in the United States on Thursday at an event titled: “Presidential Elections and Democratic Consolidation in Africa: Case Studies on Nigeria and Tanzania” and co-hosted by National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said in as much as he would not join issues with the new government, the figures made public were staggering and untrue.
“Corruption is now used for political campaign. During the first visit of President Buhari to the United States, he said that about $150 billion was lost to corruption, though he didn’t mention me, he said by previous administration. The figures are staggering and untrue, another governor said someone stole a million barrel of oil per day”.
Jonathan stated that like most governments around the world, there might have been issues of corruption during his time as President.
However, he maintained that the story was being unnecessarily embellished, adding that there are ongoing investigations and court processes that would establish the truth.
For instance, he frowned at the allegation that some officials in his administration were stealing one million barrels of crude oil a day at a time when Nigeria’s production peaked at 2.25 million barrels.
“To claim that half of that was being stolen on a daily basis doesn’t add up; otherwise the government wouldn’t have functioned at all to even be able to pay salaries,” Jonathan said.
The former President also faulted the $6 billion which one of the officials that travelled with President Buhari to the United States (Adams Oshiomhole) claimed was stolen by one minister under him.
“We all know that US has denied being the source of this information”, he said.
On the alleged misappropriation of the sum of $49.8 billion within a 12-month period while he was in office, Jonathan dismissed it as being outrageous.
He said: “In Nigeria, if you lose $59.8 billion in a year, federal and state governments will not pay salaries,” he said, adding that there is no way Nigerian budget could accommodate such a loss without the country grounding to a halt.
“Of course, we brought international audit teams, forensic auditors and they didn’t see that. It is good that that issue has now been laid to rest as those who first raised it had admitted that they were in error.”
Jonathan also spoke on the issue of security contracts for which his former security adviser, Sambo Dasuki, is currently facing charges and the believe that his administration spent a sizable amount of money equipping all the security and intelligence outfits in the country over his five-year period in the presidency.
But Jonathan at the NDI forum stated that his administration never awarded a single contract that was worth $2 billion, stressing that the economy couldn’t have supported such huge amount of money to be awarded at once.
“At no time did I award a single contract of $2 billion for procurement of weapons,” he emphasized.
While addressing the issue of weak African institutions, Jonathan observed that African democracies were becoming stronger, adding the situation would have greatly improved in the next decade.
He further noted that although some leaders in Africa were still able to manipulate their way to elongate their tenure, the people are increasingly raising their awareness and African parliaments are becoming stronger to be able to resist such tendencies in future.
He made reference to Burkina Faso, where he noted that although the parliament approved an extra term for the former president, the people resisted that, forcing the President and speaker of the parliament to go on exile.
Also in Senegal, Jonathan noted that the former President thinking he would win another term increased the tenure of his office to seven from five years. But the opposition candidate won the election and returned the tenure to five years, believing that seven years was too long for one term.
He further cited the case of Nigeria, where he noted that the strong resistance of the Nigerian National Assembly actually frustrated the third term bill of former President Olusegun Obasanjo
“Of course, I was a governor at that time under the People’s Democratic Party, the same party as Obasanjo, but due to strong resistance from the National Assembly, the third term bid failed.”
According to Jonathan, Africa needs strong parliaments to checkmate sit-tight presidents who influence parliaments to consider amendment to the constitution that would extend their stay in office.
“Changing constitutions to eliminate term limits in order to favour incumbents is inconsistent with democratic principles and reduces confidence in democratic institutions,” he said.
The former President who recently led an international observer delegation of the Commonwealth to the Tanzanian national elections also shared his views on the elections and their significance in the consolidation of democratic progress in Tanzania.
He said that the elections in Tanzania was an improvement from previous ones and revealed that the only weakness was that once the electoral umpire had declared a winner, the loser cannot contest the results in a law court or election petitions tribunal.
Jonathan also used the opportunity to educate the audience on the problems in Zanzibar and how he is mediating in the dispute.
The event at the NDI was moderated by U.S former deputy Secretary of State for Africa, Ambassador Johnnie Carson, who is now a USIP Senior Advisor to President Obama and member, NDI Board of Directors.
The event also had in attendance U.S Policy makers, think-tanks, members of Congress, and U.S government officials.