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Opinion: Diezani And The Hounds Of Opposition

Nigeria's Minister of Petroleum Diezani Allison-Madueke

The proper address should be Mrs Alison-Madueke and for this reason, the titling above seems to fall short in required courtesy. But there is something about this woman, a tough girl quality underneath that fine designer face, which calls for wise recognition. Something beyond marriage tags and chieftaincy beads: an actualised soul carrying on with calm resolve through hectic official schedules, while around her heckling squads of political enemies growl and rant in vain.

Nigeria's Minister of Petroleum Diezani Allison-Madueke

Nigeria’s Minister of Petroleum Diezani Allison-Madueke

Diezani…Whatever that means, Wikipedia says she studied architecture in England and then at Howard University in the United States. Graduating from Howard with a Bachelor’s degree in December 1992, Diezani returned to Nigeria and joined Shell Petroleum Development Corporation same year. In 2002, she attended Cambridge University for her MBA and in April 2006, rose to be the first Nigerian female executive director of that controversial oil company.

I want to believe therefore, that glass ceiling are not for her kind of woman. Doubly pleasing to me is that there are many of her type in the Jonathan administration; achievers all-in and out of the federal executive council- holding high appointments of state, to the glory of Nigerian womanhood and the great honour of the president who has shown a canny gift for putting the right people in the right positions.

And so, from the boardroom of Shell Petroleum Nigeria, Diezani Alison-Madueke came into the public domain in July 2007 when the Yar’Adua appointed her to the office of transport minister. In December 2008, she was moved to the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development. A month after he became acting president in February 2010, Goodluck Jonathan dissolved the cabinet and appointed Alison-Madueke to the office of minister for petroleum resources.

Now, mention oil in Nigeria as Wole Soyinka grandly declares, and the hyenas begin to gather. So, no one in their right minds would suggest that the headship of the oil ministry is a steaming cup of tea or coffee. Yet, many things could have made this job such a thrill for Nigeria and for Diezani, but for the peculiar nature of Nigerian politics and the rabid mindset of not a few technocrats in the industry and also the political opposition.

Any western country, not to mention many of our African neighbours, would have held up the only female oil minister in the whole world as a jewel of inestimable national value, if only for the recognition and the respect it confers on the country as breeding ground for exemplary womanhood. Am I suggesting in any manner that Diezani should be treated as a saint? Not by a long shot, No.

But from day one as minister of petroleum, so the story goes, some high operatives of the NNPC could not countenance the idea of a woman minister of petroleum resources. Yes, the office has been graced by very notable Nigerians and the clout wielded by such oil ministers as Rilwan Lukman, Sheikh Yamani, Aminu Jubril and others is legendary. But this daughter of Nigeria is qualified too in her own right, progressive minds countered. The naysayers held on stubbornly to their point and as the story goes too, one top echelon of the national oil company put in his papers rather than take order from her.

It did not stop there. The press latched on to gossip stories about jewellery and stuff, kids living it up abroad like aristocrats. As if a former director of Shell Petroleum could not afford such ornaments or as if the children of Admiral Allison Madueke, a former military governor of Anambra and Imo States and one-time chief of naval staff were living any less differently than their peers from such affluent backgrounds.

The merit of these stories, notwithstanding, discerning minds could see the hyenas circling and salivating wickedly in anticipation of a grand feast. It has never mattered to them that, as minister of petroleum resources, she has pledged to transform Nigeria’s oil and gas industry for the benefit of all Nigerians.

The tenure of Diezani Alison Madueke as oil minister has seen a number of firsts also in the oil industry Nigeria. Not the least of these is the signing into law in April 2010 by President Goodluck Jonathan of the Nigerian Content Act to increase the percentage of petroleum industry contracts that are awarded to indigenous Nigerian businesses. The increasing involvement of Nigerian engineers and entrepreneurs in the once exclusive preserve of foreign technocrats has had a salutary effect on our national psyche.

But the political opposition in Nigeria does not appear to know when and where to draw the line. Any opportunity to embarrass the government in power, however much it brings the Nigerian state to ridicule is welcome to them.

Such it was that in the middle of last year, the nation was jolted with the amazing news that nearly 50billion dollars or 70% of national revenue was missing. This statement had much credence to it coming from the governor of the Central Bank at the time. Amid the hullaballoo of this startling revelation, the governor of the Central Bank reversed himself and admitted to the Senate Committee investigating the allegations that 20billion dollars was really the sum in question.

Not a few people wondered why the governor of the Central Bank would go public with such damaging information when he did not know or have the correct information. The entire scenario reeked of high wire politics and subterfuge. It emerged later that the CBN governor was under probe for misuse of public funds. His accusations against the government were a smokescreen, therefore, to divert public attention and anger which quickly rallied to his support when the government suspended him for financial recklessness.

But in May, this year, the Senate approved a report by its finance committee dismissing claims by the former Central Bank governor that $20 billion (N3.2 trillion) oil revenues had been diverted from government coffers.

The Senate’s finance committee, which probed the allegation, said that any claims that the huge sum had been diverted or stolen was incorrect and misleading. “There was never any unremitted $49.8 billion,” the committee, said. The only funds not accounted for by the NNPC- which must be paid to government- stood at $927 million, the committee maintained.

The committee broke this figure into various subheads like Holding Strategic Stock Reserve; Pipeline Maintenance and Management Cost, Capital Expenditure, Royalty and Petroleum Profit Tax to the federation account. The report also mentioned an independent forensic audit authorised by the government.

On that occasion, the Senate President David Mark said. “Whether it is funds yet to be remitted or funds yet accounted for, I think we shouldn’t play politics with it.” Senator Mark was only echoing the sentiments of well meaning Nigerians who like to see national issues without the tinted lenses of partisanship. He may have been whistling in the wind.

In the build up to the presidential elections of February next year, the opposition APC has fired up its rhetoric with a strident call for the head of Diezani Allison Madueke over the “missing 20million dollars” it’s of no importance to its spokesmen whether the Senate has investigated the matter or not, and given its qualified opinion on the matter. No, the party can in good conscience hound a public official without any proof whatsoever for whatever sums of money it may conjure up in its imagination. Apublic statement issued on August 18, this year went on to catalogue what 20billion dollars may buy for the APC. The party spokesman failed to tell Nigerians what the hounding of Diezani Alison Madueke will earn for the party.

But Nigerians of a good conscience and proper discernment are not fooled. Nor does it seem as if Diezani will be distracted from her job by the ranting of a jaundiced crowd of paid hecklers. The sole distinction of this band of political jobbers is their infamous ability to tear down the well earned reputations of their betters. That is what opposition means to them, PhD; Pull Him Down or as in the case of Diezani and other achieving women in the Jonathan administration, Pull Her Down. And by whatever means necessary! Falsehood most importantly required.

By Oliver Ekwebelem, public affairs commentator who writes from Abuja, Nigeria

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