By Leo Sobechi
She was a central player in the immediate past administration. As such, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke should no longer be new to controversies. So, in her heart, she could as well be saying, this too shall pass. She was, perhaps, the most investigated minister of the Federal Republic, summoned too often by the parliament to offer explanation for her activities at the petroleum ministry, Nigeria’s cash cow. Since stories of her arrest and interrogation by law enforcement agents in the United Kingdom have jarred the airwaves and the social media, there is some challenge in the traditional media to sift the truth from the fantasies.
She may be hard put trying to understand why despite her health challenges, British law enforcement agencies and others at home should be all over her, reinventing stories and cooking up others. She should have known better, that the ‘new Sheriff’ means real business.
She might have dreaded such a day when the ‘harbinger’ of change would begin to carry out his vow to change and chase all those who know a thing or two about why the proceeds of Nigeria’s black gold could not go round. ‘But several probes have been carried out including those botched by the courts of law in Nigeria’, she might argue. Indeed what makes the current hullabaloo quite engaging is that, as happened in the case of former Delta Governor, Chief James Onanefe Ibori, certain powerful individuals outside the corridors of power during the era of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, feel strongly that what happened throughout that period deserve better scrutiny than the half-hearted investigation of pliable state operators, including legislators. Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke happened to be so lucky that she was the golden babe of that era.
When the House of Representatives began an investigation into the financing of maintenance of Challenger 850 aircraft, the minister kicked. Though she did not say, like the late former governor of Kano State that government money was used to maintain government property, the federal lawmakers wanted to be sure that the money, running into millions, were drawn from government funds to service the ‘private jet’. The information report on which the House of Representatives committee acted revealed that about N10 Billion of state funds was spent in a spate of two years to charter, operate and maintain a jet for the personal use of the powerful female minister.
In fact, a member of the Green Chamber, Samuel Adejare, who brought the matter through a motion on the floor of the legislature, declared that he had it on good authority that the former minister invested about N130m, which was the naira equivalent of the 500, 000 Euros, every month to keep the seductive metal eagle in flying shape, sums which were drawn from government funds; adding that the aircraft was primarily for the personal convenience, luxury and leisure of the minister and her immediate family. Speaking as if he had received intelligence from MI5, Adejare hinted that the humongous expenditure could just be a tip of the iceberg of other large sums of money being blown to the wind by Mrs. Alison-Madueke and her family as they “cruise around the world”. Adejare had stated: “This colossal waste is currently estimated at N10b, which include the payment of allowances to the crew for the trips, hanger parking and rent, based on the lease agreement.”
Though members of the House of Representatives in a unanimous voice endorsed the motion and the then Speaker, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, explained that the committee on public finance would investigate the allegation and present its findings to the House within two weeks, no such findings came.
The minister rushed to court to collect an interlocutory injunction. In that sorry juncture, she was again mentioned in an alleged loss of $20b by the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, (NNPC). Based on the strength of the accusation, as well as, the personality of the source, the then Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, (CBN) Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi; the country was rattled. And consequent upon the disinclination of the then President Jonathan to relieve Mrs. Alison-Madueke, from her post, tongues began to wag on the possibility that the madam might actually be doing as her master pleases. However, as if to make assurance doubly sure that the charges against the her were not being unjustly pilloried and maligned, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), set up a four-man panel to probe the activities of Mrs. Alison-Madueke, who was equally supervising the accounts of the NNPC that the EFCC committee was charged to investigate.
But while that probe crawled through legal tangles and procedural hiccups, the general election supervened. Yet, no sooner had the result of the election produced its upsets than the Indian High Commissioner to Nigeria, Ajjampur R. Ghanashyam, introduced a diplomatic exhumation of sleaze in transactions involving Nigeria’s petroleum sales.
In a statement made available to journalists, Ghanashyam disclosed that former Minister of Petroleum Resources was not supervising the nation’s petroleum deals with patriotism and commensurate returns to the country. While citing the failure of Mrs. Alison-Madueke to sign a long-term $14 billion supply contract with New Delhi, the Indian High Commissioner alleged that the minister deliberately avoided endorsing the deal so as to involve middle-men in the year-long arrangement. He did not stop there. Ghanashyam spoke of a pattern adopted by Mrs. Alison-Madueke, which facilitated the payment of accruals from oil sales to his country from Nigeria through middle-men, instead of into the federal government’s accounts. The diplomat went further by remarking that most times when his country writes to NNPC, they are neither responded to nor acknowledged pointing out that unlike what obtains between India and other countries, only in Nigeria’s deals are funds paid through intermediaries. “We buy oil from other countries and pay through the countries’ finance ministries, in Nigeria we pay to intermediaries. This is not good; again we prefer long term agreements as with Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, but Nigeria did not oblige us,” Ghanashyam narrated.
It was the late Right Honourable (Dr.) Nnamdi Azikiwe, who said that when you step on a worm, it would turn. The former Minister of Petroleum Resources did not waste time to respond to the Indian interdiction. She conceded that not being infallible; she must have made some mistakes but pointedly denied that those mistakes included embezzlement or stealing from our country. Consequently, she distanced herself from the alleged disappearance of $20 billion or $18.5 billion from the NNPC treasuries. Parading some level of erudition, the former Minister contended that if NNPC misappropriated funds, the onus of clarification should be on the corporation or through a forensic audit instead of dragging her name through small talks and accusation of stealing.
One thing nobody has ever accused Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke of is poverty of intelligence or learning. Perhaps, it was based on her conviction that her level of academic qualifications and experience elevated her above pilfering that she declared: “The first mantra I had from the time I came in was that I will never touch anything that has to do with the Federation Account and I never did and I will take that to my grave… I have never gone around accusing people, I have always stuck with the issues even when I was the most abused minister; I was professional, I stuck to the issues and responded only to the issues.”
On the issue of the private jet, Mrs. Alison-Madueke explained that she never applied the aircraft to her domestic duties or private indulgence. Denying the imputation of global junketing made against her, the former minister noted that “if they had never done that contract to lease the jet, we would have been hiring at a higher cost” adding that the lease was done with a company which even Shell and others have been using.
Yet, despite her attempts to put the allegations of corruption side by side with the operational perspective of her office, the Senate came up with its own investigation into the alleged illegal assignment of prospecting rights for three oil blocks namely, OML (Oil Mining License) 4, 38 and 41; to Seven Energy International Limited, a global player in the oil and gas sector. The deal was said to be consummated through Septa Energy Nigeria Limited, which is the Nigerian subsidiary of Seven Energy. The Senate Committee on Petroleum (Downstream) that was charged with the investigation did not make any headway before the seventh plenary was dissolved.
Mrs. Alison-Madueke operated as a superstar minister in the Jonathan administration so much so that many people, both in and outside the government believed she was the president’s right hand woman and therefore untouchable. And in a country where military presidents love to appropriate the petroleum portfolio, the many allegations against the former minister were in part targeted at the president.
Both the former President and Mrs. Alison-Madueke hail from the oil-bearing Niger Delta region. So while it appears a given that persons from the area occupy the position of overseeing the petroleum ministry, Jonathan out of apprehension that it would amount to duplication of function for him to appropriate the portfolio gave it to a qualified Niger Delta person though married to an Igbo man from Enugu State. Whatever rationale swayed President Jonathan’s choice of Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, it did not immunize her from virulent attacks and allegations of sharp practices in the salacious sector.
She instead ended up inheriting some slice of bad animus against Dr. Jonathan. Not even the report of the forensic sweep by PriceWaterhouse Coopers provided a much-needed shield for Diezani or Jonathan administration against the allegations of sleaze in Nigeria’s petroleum industry.
Apart from the political mix of opposition antics against the immediate past administration, the carriage and comportment of the former petroleum minister helped to arm her traducers. It is not out of place to conclude that part of the ingredients that incense Diezani’s accusers include the allegation of her arrogant swagger and propensity to appropriate the presidency for personal and group interests.
There was also the hypothesis that she was the financier and custodian of ex-President Jonathan’s campaign purse and investments. Her presence in a foreign land and alleged brushes with British law seem to present her in the same cul-de-sacs experienced by former Governors Joshua Dariye, Diepreye Alamieseigha and Ibori. In their search for wrongdoing, the British may close their eyes to the base sentiments that usually attend issues of corrupt enrichment in Nigeria.
Diezani may either emerge clean from the offshore probes or submerged in the cesspit of sleaze that defines Nigeria’s oil business. Whether she becomes the first woman to go under on allegations of official sleaze depends on what Britain and Nigeria are looking for. In all, explanation of source of wealth more than breach of systemic procedure may be the central feature of the investigation.