She must have had a load to get off her chest. Hopefully.
She makes for a careful case study of hubris.
She thumbed up her nose at the Nigerian citizenry and her arrogance and impunity were legendary.
She may yet get her day in court, as many, myself included, wish.
However, for the first time (even though it was authoritatively confirmed to me long before now and long before most people knew, that she was ill) I began to see beyond my utter contempt for her. I actually began to empathise. Those new feelings were prompted by your column yesterday, powerful in all ramifications.
Well, I pray she recovers from this illness – not now because she may then face the justice many, including admittedly myself, believe she deserves, but as a human being. Your column reminded me that I must never lose my humane-ness and my humanity. I was in danger of that, until your powerful words brought me back.
I look forward to reading all about your time with her.
And whether it’s soon or it’s a year or two or more down the line, I’d still like to know more…about what will be left unsaid…
More power to your pen.
I LEFT $5.6BILLION IN THE NLNG ALONE
That was the reaction I got from a Senior Advocate of Nigeria after my Pendulum column broke the Diezani Alison-Madueke story in Thisday Newspaper three Saturdays ago. If you have not been following our special reports on the raging controversy around the embattled former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs Alison-Madueke, you have nothing to worry about as The Boss newspaper brings the Diezani saga to its climax today.
The story you’re reading now is the concluding part but you will be able to read all the other stories we’ve published in the past three weeks in Thisday and later The Boss Newspaper. It is a story like no other and the mutual suspicion from affected and/or interested parties are not likely to go away soon. When you talk oil, the stakes are always too high. So it should not be surprising that Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke has come under intense scrutiny and blistering fire.
Our mission at The Boss was to lay the stories bare and hear from possibly one of the most vilified women in Nigerian history – as she loves to describe herself. Those who have reasons to contradict her stories should take up the challenge she has thrown by coming forward to contradict her forceful submissions. Mrs. Alison-Madueke is very convinced and confident that she has done nothing as atrocious as many would want the world to believe. In the course of our encounter she spoke eloquently about her tenure as Nigeria’s very powerful Petroleum Minister. She posited that there is hardly a Petroleum Minister that has not been accused, harassed, demonised and labelled a thief.
She said everyone agrees that Muhammadu Buhari is a man of unquestionable character and impeccable pedigree yet it was alleged that N2.8billion vanished under his nose. Fela even sang about this humongous disappearance. “Till this day no one has been able to prove that the then Major General Buhari stole a kobo,” she concluded.
She also gave the example of the highly respected Professor of Virology, Tamunonemi Sokari David-West, who everyone knows returned to his job at the University of Ibadan and is not a rich man but he was still scandalised. Her theory therefore is that it seems we have a propensity for rubbishing our accomplished people many times without justification. She said while it is true that a Minister is influential, the real power is in NNPC, the cash cow. A Minister sits in the Ministry treating files, holding meetings at home and abroad, looking glamorous and taking all the flak but people forget that the soul and heart of the nation is NNPC. “The kind of due process we followed was rigorous. You know, I came from Shell, where you had to account for everything properly…”
Why then was she so hated, we asked: “I was sitting on the prime portfolio in a mono product economy. I carried out my duty in the strictest terms. I stuck to my mandate which incidentally was one which I championed with my Boss, to open up the sector to our own people as long as they can satisfy the laid down rules in the Local Content Act. I ensured that Nigerians would get the right of first refusal. But unfortunately I stepped on toes, very powerful toes. I was not liked by the foreigners and also some Nigerians who lost out… Keem Belo-Osagie once told me something I cannot forget; that 90 percent of Nigerians want to do oil business but you can only satisfy about three percent, so the rest will get angry thinking you blocked them…”
Why couldn’t she make amends before it was too late? “The business of oil is like a roller-coaster, it spins you around at incredible speed. Sometimes you’re too dazed to know what hit you. The pressure is so much from every direction. You also have to deal with a cynical society where everyone believes you are a thief based on the mere perception that there is no way you can sit on top of oil and gas without pilfering…”
But are you sure you were never tempted to pilfer or even appropriate oil blocks to yourself or cronies: “Believe it or not, and God is my witness, I didn’t have to steal. I’m not an Angel but I’m not a devil. I don’t have billions anywhere. How is it possible for one woman to steal billions of dollars in a country like Nigeria? Did I blow up the vaults of the Central Bank or transfer the money to heaven? Where can you keep such money in this age of money laundering fiasco? I did my job professionally without even thinking of anyone as opposition. Otherwise we would not have approved the Oando-Conoco Phillips deal…. Tinubu came to see me three times and we approved on merit…”
We told her the belief in many circles that the money stolen was not for her personal use but was kept for use during the Presidential election: “How can I use $20billion for elections, that is absolutely impossible… My boss will never do such a thing. Many people don’t know my boss. He is a very principled and stubborn man. There are things he will not do. And there are things I will not do. I protected the interests of my country…”
But no one seems to believe you, why is it so difficult to trust your claims: “I can’t blame the doubters. They have seen more of the worst of Nigeria that it becomes difficult to trust anyone. But let me disclose something to you today because there is a difference between belief and reality… I did an unusual thing in our last days in government. I’m not sure I should tell you before people say I’m boasting…”
Not really, if it would buttress your point, Madame: “Ok, I actually left $5.6 billion in the NLNG alone… I doubt if such ever happened but no one is talking about it. I’m not seeking to be praised but to be acknowledged that I made some little contributions. That money could have been wasted on frivolities but I was determined to keep something for the incoming government once we lost the election…”
She continued: “On 4th of May, Ngozi (Dr Okonjo-Iwealla, then Minister of Finance) wrote to the President to release $2 billion from the money to clear her table and pay contractors, which would have depleted the money to $3.6 billion, but I said to the President we shouldn’t do that. I explained what the accrued money was meant for and gave a detailed background of the account… Even in the past, Ngozi and the NSA had asked to be funded from it and I stood my ground because the money was meant for the gas project in Brass LNG in Bayelsa. Conoco Phillips pulling out affected it.
“We wanted to run a gas economy. It was the money that made it possible for President Buhari to pay the bail-out… If I was corrupt I would have spent the money on paying contractors who would have been too happy to do anything… I got calls from some of them promising kickbacks if I could pay but I refused and the rest is history…”
What would you do differently if God should give you another chance: “The priority now is how to take care of my poor health. I’m battling with a very serious type of cancer. I have tried everything to contain the malevolent spread. I have had two surgeries. The first was to take out the lumps from my breast and the second was to cut deeper into the tissues. I did the last one about three weeks ago (now about five weeks). I’m still in some pains. I’ve gone through Chemotherapy and now I’m starting Radiotherapy on Monday for five weeks (two Mondays ago). I’m praying this one goes well because I don’t know if there is any thing the doctors can do beyond this… The steroids were devastating and at a point I slipped into coma on July 28. My sugar level went wild first to 25 and then to 80. The doctors called it a near-miss and I now know what they mean when people say, “health is wealth”. She continued, “My 14 year old son has been asking if Mummy would die. I really don’t know because I believe nothing is impossible for God. I’ve told my son that I will carry his children and grandchildren… I pray I will.”
“If I was a man may be things would have been different; it would never have gone to this extent… I have never stolen from my country. I will repeat that before God and man even if no one would listen. On this job, you don’t have to steal. Nigerians are the most wonderful people if you are lucky to have a few good friends who believe in you. All the foreign Ambassadors say it, the reason many often come back to work and reside in our country. People can call Nigeria and Nigerians bad names but we remain the most generous and humane people on earth…”
“But to answer your question specifically, I think if I have another chance, I will be more tempered on stepping on big toes but I will still do my job the best way but in a moderated way. Perhaps, I should have done things more subtly… I did what I thought was good for my country. I own no oil well. The President signed none for himself… I do not indulge in extravagant things even if people think I’m flamboyant. My only indulgence is my family and may be architecture and architectural interiors. I’m addicted to architectural books and magazines. That is my passion…”
“God will do as He wills. He said He will bless who He wishes to bless… There is nothing anyone can do about it. So be happy about people’s good fortune… It all feels like a bad dream but God knows the beginning from the end and the end from the beginning…”
And that was it. The story that started four hours earlier was declared ended. No attempt was made to stop her from pouring out her heart as she wanted. Her story was gripping and we could have gone on forever. We stood up to go and she agreed to a portrait shot with this reporter. Sitting there alone with her for that long had thawed our almost previously frozen relationship. We chatted like old buddies though we had only ever met once at a function in Abuja and never even had the chance to exchange numbers.
She chose a spot outside the restaurant and got her female assistant to take the picture… As we stood there, my brain did summersaults and my heart silently prayed for her. I’m not sure if she saw the solemn expression on my face… “May God perform His miracle…” Amen.
DIEZANI EXCLUSIVE: THE BEGINNING
PENDULUM NOVEMBER 7 (THISDAY): ON THE TRAIL OF MADAME DIEZANI
Fellow Nigerians, let me tell you about my James Bond stunts in this season of the sensational SPECTRE movie. Yes. The news of the arrest of former strong woman of Nigeria’s Petroleum Ministry, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke in London had hit the airwaves like thunderbolt. No member of President Goodluck Jonathan’s government held the nation spellbound like Madame Diezani. Controversy dogged her every step just as she spawned loads of salacious gossip. She is a newsmaker per excellence.
For starters, Madame Diezani is a paragon of beauty. She’s also very simple but chic and elegant in dressing and appearance. At 54, she would give our much younger ladies a run for their money in the prettiness stakes. She is intelligent to boot and boasts a decent academic pedigree. She is that hot and even her most vociferous critics agree that she combines brains with beauty. Add to that is her marriage to retired Rear Admiral Allison Amaechina Madueke, a former Chief of Naval Staff which boosted her national and political profile.
The only problem was the almost unanimous belief that she had abused her privileged position and appurtenances of office in the discharge of her ministerial duties. It was reported that billions of dollars literally disappeared under her watch. She was under intense heat and scrutiny throughout her reign but seemed unrattled and unfazed by the deluge of dirt splashed at her from every direction. She stayed invincible and definitely unshakeable to the end.
Her firm grip on the President was palpable. It was a subject of discussions everywhere. There were rumours of constant clashes with the former First Lady, Dame Patience Faka Jonathan. No one really knew the true story. Mrs Alison Madueke did not help matters by studiously ignoring the lurid pictures painted of her. She rarely granted interviews and when she did, hardly responded to the monumental gist from unrelenting talebearers.
I always wished to have a one-on-one interview with our own Alice in Wonderland or Cleopatra, if you like. Such is the nature of gargantuan fables around this mythical lady. She is the dream of every celebrity reporter. A nice interview and some photo-shoot as icing would be no mean achievement. There are few women in her mould anywhere at any time.
I had studied her trajectory to determine what makes her tick. She was born with silver spoon to the family of Chief Frederick Abiye and Mrs Beatrice Oyete Agama in the garden city of Port Harcourt and grew up in the Shell Camp where she schooled and learnt to speak both English and Dutch. She wasn’t a regular kid like most of us. The way her life was suddenly disrupted at Shell Camp she says would later inform her philosophy during her time as Petroleum Minister. Her family was unceremoniously evicted from the Shell Camp because her father dared to question the promotion process of Nigerians by Shell. She believes that Nigerians must occupy and enjoy the resources God has blessed us with and accordingly she sought to empower Nigerians as a principle, she claims.
The young Miss Agama studied Architecture in England and then at the renowned Howard University in the United States where she graduated. She later obtained an MBA from Cambridge University. She worked at Shell, following in her father’s footsteps, and rose to become its first female Director. The first part of her life story ends there.
The second part begins with her stint in the government of Nigeria where she managed several important ministries including Mines, Works and Transport and finally Petroleum, the chicken that lays the golden eggs. Once she got the juiciest portfolio in the land she was transformed from an Angel to being labelled a femme fatale, a nomenclature that has stuck to her like flies to palmwine. Political opponents of President Jonathan blamed her for all the sins of omission and commission of that Government and she really never was able to keep her head under the parapet. This is why she is in hot demand by reporters, local and international, alike.
Anything about Madame Diezani makes news and goes viral. We met only once at a public function hosted by Alhaji Aliko Dangote in Abuja. We spoke very briefly and she was going to give me her telephone contact but a personal aide intervened and promised to send it to me but never did. So I missed interviewing her. I had loads of satanic questions to ask her and was unsure of how she would have reacted, with calm or fury, but I would have thoroughly enjoyed that auspicious moment as I am sure would have been my readers.
Anyway, the dream never materialised. I simply shrugged my shoulders and moved on. After the demise of the Jonathan government, I assumed it was goodbye to a good story but man proposes and God disposes. I was sitting quietly at home when the news of Mrs Alison-Madueke’s arrest exploded like a bomb. Social media instantly caught fire. We were regaled with tales of how she was captured at home by the London Metropolitan Police for money laundering running into atrocious and unimaginable sums of cash. Some reports said she was planning to buy a property worth billions of pounds in London and even gave a famous address. Those who know London fairly well immediately doubted the veracity of such claims but anything is believable in this season of anomie.
We were later informed by the National Crime Agency (NCA) that arrested her, that only £27,000 pounds was recovered and that she had been released on bail. Then came reports that the energetic EFCC in Nigeria had also invaded her home in Abuja and we imagined this invasion must have been well choreographed and perfectly co-ordinated by the governments of Nigeria and Britain only for NCA to tell us this wasn’t so.
My interest in speaking to Madame Diezani by all means was re-ignited. I was greatly saddened by the dearth of investigative journalism in our clime. I remembered with nostalgia our days at Concord Press of Nigeria, owned by the late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola. I had a flashback to the Weekend Concord days when that paper broke all records by publishing endless scoops and I earned repeated accolades from my Editor, and boss for life, Mr Mike Awoyinfa, for the manner I gained incredible access to very important personalities and topical news.
My dream is for Nigerian media to return to those halcyon days and it is not too difficult to achieve. What it takes is for us to have credible journalists who can manage stories responsibly without using media power to terrorise or witch-hunt anyone no matter their personal views or political ideology. A seasoned journalist knows that facts are sacred! Proper investigative reporters have access to even terrorists and rabid insurgents for this reason. However in Nigeria, we tend to reflect our prejudices in the stories we write. Such bias should be reserved for opinions and editorial pages.
Back to Mrs Alison-Madueke, the more I read the conflicting and contradictory reports the more I wished someone could penetrate the seemingly impregnable wall erected by our leaders to get the news behind the news. There were reports that Madame Diezani was battling with the much dreaded breast cancer. Not a few said she was merely pretending in order to escape justice. I wondered aloud how nice it would be to find a journalist who could be trusted with this massive story and bring us face to face with one of Africa’s biggest newsmakers.
About the same period, I was spending sometime seeking treatment for cataracts in London and this gave me the opportunity to investigate the Diezani conundrum myself. I made calls to several credible sources including a close lawyer friend who has a solid reputation in such matters. First, I confirmed that, contrary to the belief that she was feigning her illness, she was actually receiving treatment for a most chronic and aggressive form of breast cancer. She had undergone surgery and chemotherapy on several occasions and was being prepared for radiotherapy. Indeed, she had slipped into both natural and induced coma which lasted five days on July 28, as steroids she was receiving had inadvertently raised her sugar level abysmally. Her doctors declared her condition a near-miss. All my sources said it would be unfair and unthinkable for a reporter to invade her privacy in that state.
I believed the world deserves to hear from her, for good or for bad, and so never gave up my dream of getting exclusive access to Nigeria’s most talked about woman. My tenacity paid off two nights ago as I came face to face with Mrs Alison-Madueke at a secret location in London. My bosom friend had called to say someone had mentioned to her that I was critically on her case. Madame Diezani had wondered why a known and certified critic of the Jonathan Administration would want to interview her but was told that despite my opposition to their regime I remained one of the most objective writers in Nigeria. She told my female contact that she reads Pendulum and was impressed at the level of maturity often displayed even when she disagreed with my views. However, Madame Diezani was particularly worried that even in the throes of a most debilitating ailment, she was still being virulently attacked by her fellow citizens.
I told my source that without being judgmental, I think she should understand that many Nigerians believe she and the government she served had brought untold hardship upon the generality of Nigerians especially through the mismanagement of the main source of revenue in our country. She may know better than the rest of us but it is up to her to tell her story. Those who will believe are waiting to hear while those who won’t may never subscribe to her defence. What is important is for her to purge her soul and where necessary offer sincere apologies and penitence.
I was stunned when I got a call from my contact: “are you available to meet Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke on Thursday evening at a private location in London?” I don’t know how many reporters would miss such humongous opportunity. My response was an instant, yes. I was told the location would be communicated to me one hour to the appointed time. That was fine by me.
The only one I could trust to drive me on such a mission was my wife accompanied by her younger sister. We got to the venue almost dead on time and scanned the vicinity. Having read too many James Hadley Chase novels in my school days, I expected to see some unobtrusive bodyguards around if I looked well. I imagined I was right when I saw a dark stocky man in suit prancing about furtively and restlessly. I pressed a buzzer as instructed and the main door swung open. I approached one of the elevators as directed and headed to a particular apartment where my contact opened the door even before I knocked, and ushered me in.
I didn’t see my interviewee but only a fair lady, who looked vaguely familiar. I took a comfortable position and waited with bated breath. I was undergoing a stream of consciousness at supersonic speed. Where is Madame Diezani? Will she meet me or chicken out? Would she open up or just whet my appetite for nothing? How will I ask my satanic questions and in what order? What can I do to make her relax and pour out her heart? Can she trust anyone with her story in her present condition and state of mind?
I was in this interior monologue when Madame Diezani herself sauntered in. I stood up to greet her as she stretched out her hand. “My name is Diezani, the most misunderstood and abused Nigerian…” I didn’t know whether to say yes or no. I was perturbed and disturbed. The Diezani before me was not the ebullient woman I used to see on television and in newspapers. Her head had become a Sahara desert of sorts almost totally bald with a sprinkle of freshly growing hair all grey. She requested to sit on a classroom chair as her back was hurting badly and she could not sit so low. Wow, what a terrible time she must be having, I almost screamed out but cautioned myself. Sitting across from me was a woman who was a shadow of herself, almost like an apparition or ghost. I’m sure she saw the horror in my face.
I knew I had to tread gingerly so as not to ignite trouble. I expressed sympathy about her battle with cancer. I told her I was one of the doubting Thomases and wished her God’s mercy and miracle having seen her shocking state. She summarised how her ordeal started and that moment when her worst nightmare was diagnosed. As she spoke she belched and gasped intermittently, a by-product of the aggressive treatment she’s been receiving. I was visibly worried at a point thinking she may end up in an ambulance if care was not taken. The other lady I met earlier soon came out from wherever and insisted we must stop but Madame Diezani was just getting into the flow of our chit-chat. We were told to round up in five minutes by this chaperone.
I fired shots at her in staccato fashion and raced through my questions. I wanted to cover enough grounds before she returns to hospital after this weekend. I asked about Jonathan, Chris Aire, Kola Aluko and others linked to her in business transactions and otherwise. She said as much as she possibly could in the little time available and promised to say more later. The fair lady soon returned to stop our session. I would have been atrociously wicked to ask for more time though I felt she was in the mood to talk. She stood up delicately and she and the two ladies with her disappeared into the cold night…
PENDULUM NOVEMBER 14 (THISDAY): ON THE TRAIL OF MADAME DIEZANI (PART 2)
Fellow Nigerians, what you are about to read is an abridged version of what is probably the most anticipated story of the year. It has now given birth to a big bouncing baby christened The Boss newspaper, an online publication. The Diezani Alison-Madueke story has graced the cover of the first edition of what I believe will be a catalyst for unbiased investigative reporting in Nigeria. The Boss had long been conceptualised as a Leadership newspaper to occupy the void created by lack of true and credible investigative journalism in some traditional and online media. The original plan was to launch in December or early January. But the Diezani Alison Madueke story changed all that. It was too compelling to restrict to the Pendulum column alone. And here we are with what promises to be an exciting addition to the media landscape in Nigeria and beyond featuring an enthralling cover story that will educate and entertain the readers.
After that effervescent introduction in Thisday, in which Nigeria’s most influential newspaper published the meeting between this reporter and the embattled former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke, everyone requested for details of the encounter. Some unbelieving Thomases even suggested the story was pure fiction, or at the very best “faction” to borrow Kole Omotoso’s coinage. They wondered why a more comprehensive interview could not be published, garnished with clear crispy pictures of Madame Diezani. It was obvious many had read the story in a hurry and did not assimilate the carefully worded tale of a woman in deep pain and anguish for variety of reasons. Of course there were insinuations that it was a public relations stunt but mercifully most readers thought it was a well-balanced story. It even went viral.
That meeting obviously impacted on her decision to open up eventually, two days after episode one. A call came through on Friday November 6, 2015, from a female aide of Mrs Alison-Madueke to request for a meeting the following day at 2.30pm at a location yet to be determined. The appointment was immediately approved. Later in the evening, this ubiquitous aide made yet another call shifting the appointment forward by a few hours to 11am the same Saturday. My response again was yes.
A text message flew into my phone very early Saturday morning. It contained the address and full postcode of a new venue different from the one of two days earlier. The venue turned out to be a popular restaurant near Regent’s Park, famous for its breakfast.
I was a bit surprised and disappointed at the choice of location. I was hoping she was going to give me access to her now famous apartment which was said to have been bought at a most staggering amount, or the new multi-billion dollar home that was rumoured to have triggered the alarm leading to her arrest, claims she would dismiss as tales by moonlight. After waiting for about 20 minutes or so, I heard some footsteps and the once most powerful woman in Nigeria surfaced. She looked slightly better than at our last meeting and I sprang to my feet as we exchanged pleasantries. I mentioned to her that she looks better and she said she’s been resting and gaining strength in preparation for her radiotherapy. She ordered full English breakfast while I settled only for cappuccino. But when the meal arrived she didn’t eat it because she has lost appetite for food generally and was more on fluids. She then asked for American coffee, water and fresh lime instead. She also ordered for tea at some point. Most of the time we spent talking, she coughed intermittently into a napkin and dabbed her mouth with it but she was clearly determined to pour out her obviously heavy mind despite the discomfort I could notice she was struggling to endure.
There were several off-the-record interludes. More than anything we were both careful not to discuss in detail matters which might impact on the cases and legal problems now bedevilling her. Getting and persuading her to talk in detail about a lot of issues was therefore very difficult. There were other reasons. First, was her obvious paranoia of the Nigerian press. She’s been bruised, battered and blistered, especially in print and on social media. She’s been scandalised, summarily tried and precipitously convicted by the media, according to her. On top of her problems, she’s having a running battle with the most dreaded form of cancer of the breast and she’s had to undergo surgeries to remove the lumps and later some chunky tissue. The treatments have not been that successful and it’s been a ding-dong affair for this once ebullient and elegant lady.
We had to give assurances of not sensationalising her story if granted access. Of course it has never been our practice to do so and thus this was not a problem. We promised not to embellish her stories in any way or reveal off-the-record discussions which were truly personal and confidential and had nothing to do with her travails. There was a strict proviso that no form of recording would be allowed and we had to adopt the novelistic style. The result of that covenant is what you’re reading today.
We knew it was going to be very difficult getting pictures in her present not too genial or glamorous condition. That was practically tough on our first meeting as she was just returning from her hospital rounds and looked totally exhausted. We however succeeded in getting a few pictures this time some of which we are revealing for the first time today in The Boss newspaper.
This is a story like no other and it cannot be told like any other. It is a tale from the super highway of power and the fast lane of confusion. Mrs Alison-Madueke had the world not just at her feet but firmly in her palm. She could apparently turn a certified pauper into a certificated billionaire within the twinkle of an eye. In short, she could make and unmake. Diezani was the subject of many fables. And this is the crux of the matter. Her closeness to President Jonathan was a subject of many speculations and I fired my first shot from that direction:
“Is it true that a sister of yours has a kid or kids for President Jonathan?” I asked. “That is totally untrue as I don’t have any such sister or relative!” she said. She wondered how people could fabricate such blatant lies.
I soon followed with what I regarded as an upper-cut: “It was said that you and the former First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan were in permanent conflict; why was it so?” She responded that their relationship was cordial enough and she gave the former First Lady the respect she should give the wife of her boss. She went further to say that “What people don’t know is that we’ve been family friends for long. My mum, Mrs Beatrice Agama, has always played the role of a godmother in the Niger Delta and all the militants love and respect her. I come from a royal and privileged background and lacked nothing.”
Now wait for the next shot! “You’ve been linked to so many young guys who made so much money from you and later absconded or turned against you… What was between you and Chris Aire, Kola Aluko, Jide Omokore, Tonye Cole, Dapo Abiodun, Wale Tinubu, Igho Sanomi and others?” I queried her.
Madame Diezani’s response was calm and unruffled: “I vehemently deny any intimacy or liaison with any of these gentlemen.” She noted that she is happily married like most of them are happily married and asserted that she is not the Scarlet Lady that people paint her to be. She sees those rumours as insults on accomplished women who cannot be seen in sensitive positions without running riotous with some men. She said it was important to put in context how she met most of them:
“I was the Chairman of the Nigerian Content Development & Monitoring Board and I did my job to the best of ability and intentions. My boss and I were determined to empower Nigerians, especially the young ones, who had the brains and guts to dare.” She noted that in every government, some people must land the big jobs which every human being would love to have. She said “I chose to empower mostly Nigerians and took the power away from foreigners who used to dominate the sector. That was why we pushed for the Nigerian Content Bill, which mercifully we got through. So you cannot expect some forces not to hate me but I was shocked that Nigerians themselves were ready to crucify me mostly on rumours and not verifiable facts. Most leaders before me have suffered a similar fate so I take some comfort from that experience.”
We soon moved the discussion to the many allegations of financial impropriety under her tenure, especially the alleged disappearance of $20billion and other wasteful spending authorised by her. She observed that she could not go into any real details because of the criminal investigations in Nigeria and England as well as the civil case here. However she told me she would try and provide general details about these matters because it was important to shed some light on her own involvement from the vantage point of someone actually in Government who believes these things simply cannot happen.
She was visibly angry at the mention of the $20billion: “If there is one issue I must pursue in this world it is the biggest lie of this money. How can $20billion disappear just like that? Where did it disappear to? Is it possible that such an amount would not be traceable? This is more painful coming from someone I considered a good friend who should appreciate the gravity of such allegation. I challenge anyone to come forward with facts showing that I stole government or public money. I’ve never stolen Nigeria’s money…”
“Rather I worked hard to halt the rampant business of round-tripping. When I brought in Reginald Stanley to clean up the place, I requested for a list of the defaulters. There were about 92 of them and I made sure we sanctioned them. You can imagine the threat to my life but I was ready to defend the economic interests of my country. In fact, we were able to reduce the oil subsidy by about half. No one has applauded our effort.
“There were those who said the then Governor of Central Bank must have been angry at me because of the way the Presidency treated him. In all honesty, he was being blocked from seeing the President by some of Oga’s people (presidential aides) but it had nothing to do with me. I was the one who even told Oga about the development and Oga said he would meet him in London on one of his trips. Unfortunately my boss fell ill and was rushed to King Edward Hospital and the meeting was aborted.”
“Sanusi and I had been friends. There was no way I would have done anything bad to him. He even came to my house to inform me about his interest in heading the African Development Bank and we discussed for about two hours. I promised to support him and I spoke to Oga about it. We were together on the Reconciliation Committee that looked into the accounts of NNPC. Yes there were gaps but not on the alarming scale being circulated. Markafi (former Governor of Kaduna State) did a thorough job. You know he is a very sound accountant.”
What about the allegations that she owns choice properties everywhere? “It is so sad that anyone could say such about me. Let me say something to you, I live with my husband in the same house we’ve lived since we married in 1999. Ask anyone who knows us. Our house in Abuja was bought in 2007 by my husband and as an architect and lover of interior décor I did it up to our own taste. It is not over the top because I have good taste and appreciate bargains. I shop in regular shops like B & Q to do up all the places where I live. Anyone who tells you I have houses anywhere should feel free to publish them. That was how they said I bought an expensive property in Vienna. I went to court and I won the case. I never saw the house before except in picture. The house I stay in London is rented. As a woman I love to look good. Some of my dresses and jewelleries are often dumped on me by those I buy from and I pay them when I can”