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They wondered why a more comprehensive interview could not be published, garnished with clear crispy pictures of Madame Diezani.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…”