What is Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan’s worth?
In a story on Africa’s richest leaders, the website RichestLifestyle last week put it at $100 million. It implied that such a stunning figure, for a man who has only been in power for a few years, was plundered from the public till.
That left Mr. Jonathan publicly seething with fury, presumably because—in dollars & cents—the story had “overrated” him.
Jonathan’s net worth, insisted presidential spokesman Reuben Abati in a press statement, was “a very, very far cry from the $100 million.”
I wonder how a presidential aide would know Jonathan’s most-closely guided secret, but that is a story for another hour.
The presidential statement described the presidential emotion as one of “consternation.” It demanded an apology and retraction, or the preparation of the publishers and re-publishers of the story to be sued around the world.
The following day, RichestLifestyle deleted Jonathan’s #6 spot in the story between Cameroon’s Paul Biya with $200million and Chad’s Idris Deby, with $50 million. For the record, that #6 spot, at $100m, was not vacant; Jonathan had shared it with Swaziland’s King Mswati III.
Abati’s explanation of Jonathan’s worth is a work of art, each word a weapon chosen with the penetrating calculus and clarity. Here are the three operational paragraphs from the statement:
“As is well known, President Jonathan…has held public office since 1999 and has regularly declared his assets as required by Nigerian laws. He has had no personal income since 1999 other than his official remuneration as deputy governor, governor, vice president, acting president and president which are matters of public record.
“There has been no significant variation in the totality of his personal assets as contained in his last declaration to the Nigerian Code of Conduct Bureau in 2011 which, as can be verified, was a very, very far cry from the $100 million figure now being bandied about by Richest Lifestyle.com and other irresponsible, copy-cat publications.
The clear and unacceptable imputation of the claim that President Jonathan is now worth about $100 Million is that the President has corruptly enriched himself while in office which is certainly not the case.”
RichestLifestyle fulfilled one of Jonathan’s demands: remove the story, but it did not apologize for having published the material, referring all interested parties to the source of its information: CelebrityNetWorth, a website based in California.
Apparently, the Nigeria ruler’s Internet sleuths and warriors—really, Reno Omokri?--had paid CelebrityNetWorth no mind, apparently because no scandal had been provoked. Then RichestLifestyle brought the narrative into the limelight, into context, and into presidential consternation.
As a result, it is both websites and other publishers that President Jonathan must now sue. The deletion of the story is irrelevant: if the material is offensive, and the publisher has parted with no apology, it is offensive in its totality.
As a public service, I would like to point out that CelebrityNetWorth warns of its work: “All of our figures and articles are thoroughly researched, scrutinized and fact checked by our team of writers and financial analysts. The figures are acquired from all publicly available information including salaries, real estate holdings, divorces, record sales, royalties and endorsements. The estimated net worths come from a formula that takes out taxes, manager's fees, agents' fees, and lifestyle…”
Before Jonathan assembles the finest lawyers money can buy, however, I would like to point out that he is heading for the wrong court. The one he should really care about is the court of public opinion. It is the one in which Jonathan solidified his lack of credibility when he refused to declare his assets publicly in 2011.
In an interview in 2012, the Nigeria ruler declared his abhorrence of public declaration of assets, explaining that his declaration as Vice-President in 2007 was owed to pressure from President Umaru Yar’Adua, who had done so. It was actually worse than that: there had been a loud D-Y-A (Declare Your Assets) uproar in the press for him to do so.
And when he did, he revealed a curious cache of about N295 million, despite having been in office as Governor of Bayelsa State for about 17 months. Not having had “a personal income since 1999 other than his official remuneration as deputy governor and governor,” it was unclear how he had amassed so much.
I enter a caveat: in June 2006, when President Olusegun Obasanjo’s Joint Task Force on corruption recommended Jonathan, along with 14 other governors for prosecution, one of the charges against him was false declaration of assets. Listed as examples were expensive cars he claimed to have received as gifts, despite such gifts being prohibited by the law. Another charge was acquisition of properties outside legitimate income. Some lavish duplexes in Ogbia, Yenagoa and Abuja, were cited.
But characteristically betraying the national cause, Obasanjo did not permit Jonathan or any of the governors to be prosecuted. Instead—and despite those revelations and the embarrassment—he made Jonathan the Vice-President of the Federal Republic, and one of the luckiest men in all history.
We do not know if those homes and expensive cars were returned to Jonathan—or simply reclaimed—but as I speculated in a previous story, the current Nigerian ruler’s fear of declaring his assets must be tied to Obasanjo in 2006, and Yar’Adua in 2007.
They set the stage for 2011, when Jonathan, emerging President, boasted he would never again declare his assets even if he was “criticized from heaven.”
And in that moment in which he crossed the transparency Rubicon, he declared, rather un-presidentially, “I don’t give a damn!”
Not surprisingly, during his tenure he has fertilized corruption in one way or another, and it has grown dynamically through officials and institutions who, accepting his example, do not give a damn.
That brings us to the present. To be fair, Nigerian law does not require Jonathan to declare his assets publicly. But that is meaningless unless he also does not care that History—perhaps in the form of the 2015 election, or of a lawsuit about his assets in a culture where information is free—will not have an opinion as to whether that is realism or reaction, bluster or bravery.
In other words, we are dealing with the wrong question. It is not: What is President Jonathan worth? The right question is: What is President Jonathan’s worth to Nigeria? That is: has he, and is he capable of a leadership of vision, valor and character?
I offer the presidency all of my SOS accommodations next week to respond to this concern in the court of public opinion. If not, I certainly intend to follow the impending worldwide lawsuits of the Nigeria ruler very closely. After all, credibility, as Job Number 1, cannot be left to be a “very, very far cry” away.