Nigeria’s ex-first lady hits out at government’s ‘witch-hunt’ over assets

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Patience Jonathan says current president’s bid to retrieve millions allegedly siphoned off is revenge for her stance in 2015 poll

Patience Jonathan at an election rally in 2015. She says the Buhari administration’s ‘microscopic scrutiny’ is an act of revenge Photograph: Reuters

Nigeria’s former first lady has launched a tirade against the country’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, and his government’s efforts to claw back tens of millions of dollars that she allegedly siphoned off while her husband was in power.

Patience Jonathan, the wife of Buhari’s predecessor Goodluck Jonathan, railed against what she called an “unjustified witch-hunt” in a statement released in the name of her media aide, Belema Meshack-Hart.

The target for most of her anger was the country’s corruption watchdog, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and its acting chairman, Ibrahim Magu, whom she accused of being out to kill her and her husband.

She said the “indefinite probe and microscopic scrutiny by the Buhari administration” was revenge for her support of her husband in the 2015 election and called on the president to follow the example of Donald Trump. “Michelle Obama campaigned vigorously for her husband’s party during their last presidential election, but we are yet to see President Donald Trump move against her,” the statement said.

Last year Patience Jonathan claimed ownership of four US dollar accounts that the EFCC had frozen, thought to be worth a total of $31.5m (£24m). Her lawyer said $15m was for paying medical bills incurred in 2013 in London. But it is unclear how Jonathan, a former civil servant and banker who since being first lady insists on being called “Dame”, could have amassed such a fortune.

However, the aim of all this was to “disgrace, intimidate, dehumanise and ridicule her and her family, through sheer cheap propaganda, sensational investigation and media trial that have been going on for too long”, the statement said.

“We wish to place it on record that in the history of this country, no wife of any president had been so far investigated in such flagrantly vindictive and disgraceful manner, as has been the fate of Mrs Jonathan, in the hands of Magu’s EFCC,” the statement said.

Much of the former first lady’s 900-word rant against Buhari and Magu appeared to revolve around warning the president not to “defile the dignity” of the presidency.

The EFCC, whose Twitter logo, a wise-cracking eagle, has won it popularity in Nigeria, has managed some high-profile coups in the fight against corruption, including turning up $43m in cash in an otherwise empty Lagos apartment belonging to a government official, and tracing $615m in cash and property to the former oil minister Diezani Alison-Madueke.

In a recent post, the EFCC claimed to have discovered “boxes of gold, silver, and diamond jewellery worth several million pounds” belonging to Alison-Madueke. In August she was also named in a bribery case in the US, in which her associates were accused of spending $144m of bribe money for oil contracts on luxury property, furniture, and a yacht on which Beyoncé spent her 32nd birthday.

A new policy to reward whistleblowers with up to 5% of the amount of money recovered from a tip-off is considered by some to be working.

Since returning to Nigeria from London, where he was being treated for illness, Buhari has appeared to shed his lame-duck image somewhat, travelling to Maiduguri, the centre of the Boko Haram insurgency, to celebrate the country’s independence day and to issue a stern warning to would-be separatists.

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