According to Nigerian media, the northern branch of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) warned President Muhammadu Buhari that “Nigeria would boil” if former President Goodluck Jonathan, the “hero of democracy,” were arrested as part of the ongoing anti-corruption campaign.
CAN is an umbrella lobbying group; the warning was issued by its northern branch, not CAN as a whole. The leadership of CAN had been close to the Jonathan presidency.
In the aftermath of the March 2015 elections, it was widely speculated that there was an agreement between the newly elected president and Jonathan that he and his wife would not be prosecuted in return for the defeated candidate’s acceptance of the election outcome.
Were Jonathan to be arrested, at least some African heads of state might be encouraged to hang on to power for fear of possible prosecution.
There has been no announcement by any part of the Buhari government of plans to move against Jonathan. Yet the public relations officer of CAN’s northern branch, the Rev. John Joseph Hayab, said “Every honest Nigerian knows that the feelers on the ground are that this administration’s popularity is dwindling rapidly among the Nigerian people. It is therefore not advisable to think or plan to arrest former President Goodluck Jonathan. Let me warn that such a misadventure will set a wrong precedent and only open the door for mischievous people to set this nation into confusion.”
What is going on here? There are at least three credible hypotheses. The first is that there may be conversations within the anti-corruption agencies about the possibility of proceeding against Jonathan, notwithstanding the alleged post-election agreement not to proceed against the former president. If such conversations are taking place, however, there is no evidence that they reflect the views of President Buhari or other senior personalities in his administration. A second hypothesis is that Jonathan’s supporters are increasingly anxious that the former president could be besmirched by the ongoing investigations of some of the most senior members of his administration, such as the former oil minister, and national security advisor. The CAN statement could be a warning not to proceed against the former president. Finally, and perhaps the most credible hypothesis of all, the warning may be the result of internal CAN politicking, perhaps intersecting with broader political maneuvering.