The Diezani Alison -Madueke Interview
Diezani was the subject of many fables. And this is the crux of the matter. Her closeness to President Goodluck Jonathan and the influence she wielded on him was never a hidden matter. This lent credence to the mystical power over the Nigerian economy that it was claimed she possessed. I fired my first shot from that direction and it was as if she expected it.
“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 privileged background and lacked nothing.” She said she was not unaware of certain insinuations about an intimate relationship with the former President but she never bothered her head about them because some people had made up their minds to spread those ugly tales about her. “If you are in the corridor of power, you must expect anything, including mud and even bricks being thrown at you.”
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 my 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 pointed out that her firm belief and desire to empower Nigeriains stemmed from the manner that she and her parents and siblings were unceremoniously dumped out of Shell Camp where her father worked and lived while she was young.
The memory was apparently traumatic as I could notice her wiping her eyes with another napkin. She said “I remember that day vividly. It was definitely one of the worst days of my life. We were not even allowed to finish eating before they hurriedly packed our belongings, threw them into trucks and drove us into an uncertain, unknown future.” She continued “I was determined that what my father fought for, which was to ensure that Nigerians had a greater say in the scheme of things in Shell and thus in the petroleum industry would be championed and achieved by me in Government”
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.”
She added that people seem to forget that she is happily married to Rear Admiral Alison Madueke and would not do anything to jeopardise her marriage or smear herself in the eyes of her husband, children and family. She also said that some of these men were unknown to her until she became a Minister and that although, in some cases, they later enjoyed a cordial relationship with her, it was no more than the kind of relationship she enjoyed with other successful Nigerian businessmen who respected and admired her for the way she was bringing Nigerians to the forefront of the industry:
“It is unfortunate that things didn’t work perfectly all the time as expected and as a leader I take the blame for those imperfections, but I’m certainly not a demon as being portrayed. I have no doubt that I served my nation well, the reason my colleagues at OPEC supported me despite the opposition from my own people. I still maintain that level of relationship with my former colleagues despite not being in government.“
I then asked, why is she so controversial? “Controversy has nothing to do with your qualifications or performance. As a matter of fact, people often hate you for knowing so much and for being efficient and confident which they mistake for arrogance. We had to confront so many challenges, including oil theft and general insecurity but we did very well even if we did not succeed 100 percent. I must say that some of our own people delivered responsibly while a few of them breached the faith and wasted the opportunities handed to them by my boss, President Jonathan. Unfortunately, no one ever remembers the things that went right but everyone remembers and tends to emphasise the things that went wrong…”
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”
She went on to explain that virtually all the transactions in respect of which allegations of corruption are being levelled against her went through due process and that the Group Managing Director of NNPC was actively involved in ensuring that the best international practices were maintained. She added that her involvement in the conclusion of these transactions was limited and that some of the contracts had been executed before she became Minister of Petroleum Resources. In some other cases she only got details after the contracts had been concluded when approached by some businessmen who complained about the terms. She usually admonished them to forego the contracts if they felt they were not profitable and seek other ventures within the industry.
She reiterated that she could not speak in detail since she is currently facing charges and criminal investigations in England. But she emphasised that her boss neither discriminated against nor favoured anyone. She claimed some of those who benefited the most were even in opposition and mentioned how a renowned opposition leader and vocal critic of the Government at the time met her on about three occasions to discuss his interests in the business of oil. “My boss didn’t want Nigerians to suffer because of politics so we agreed to offer certain support to a company we knew was owned by the opposition once we were satisfied they controlled the market substantially and have what it takes to deliver the goods nationwide. We were that tolerant…” (To be continued)