Diezani: When the Accused Lectures the Judge
As you probably know, there are about 10 jets in Nigeria’s presidential fleet.
In the run-up to the 2015 elections, they were of considerable anger to the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd).
The candidate offered the impression that it was obscene that President Goodluck Jonathan would maintain such an elaborate and expensive collection. If he won, he swore, he would travel commercially and sell off the fleet or put them into a new national airline.
That was almost seven years ago, and Nigerians have now learned that while politicians are politicians, some of them may come from Nollywood.
Buhari kept the jets. Some of them are said to be presidentially-luxurious. And now, it turns out, one of them is being flown for him by a former Minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke.
Yes, you may remember former President Olusegun Obasanjo writing that in the government of Goodluck Jonathan, there were actually five presidents: four women, including his wife, Patience, and that he was the weakest of the five.
Diezani was one of the four women, and was perhaps the most powerful, given that she had responsibility for Petroleum Resources.
And in view of how corrupt the PDP had been since it took office in 1999, and with the reports and the stench emanating from anything related to Petroleum Resources, it was widely-expected that Diezani would be one of the first to be asked a few questions in Buhari’s anti-corruption regime.
Diezani appeared to understand that: as Buhari headed for Aso Rock, she headed for the airport. For the City of London, coincidentally Buhari’s favourite.
In that city, Buhari appeared regularly, at Nigeria’s expense, for his medical and emotional comfort. Diezani, appearing to be sick, took care of her own needs.
It is unclear whether Buhari ever met with her in London, whether he ever discussed how she could help him given that he chose to add her former cabinet portfolio to his power cabinet.
Nonetheless, five years later, Diezani is a legend in Nigeria. Yes, in 2017, the United States, investigating some properties belonging to Diezani’s associates in an asset-forfeiture case did expose her, including several properties belonging to her in London. And in Nigeria, the EFCC allegedly seized some of her assets.
But none of this is in harmony with the pre-election anti-corruption fire-belching of Buhari in 2014 and 2015 when Diezani held sway in Abuja. As with most of the performers and non-performers that Nigeria hired Buhari to examine, the former minister has not once faced a judge or hired a lawyer to defend her reputation.
And then last week, she appeared before a microphone of her own choosing, as if to clarify things for everyone. It was at a virtual event organized by the Ijaw Development Association, during which she appeared to return the verdict that (Buhari’s) Nigeria is a joke.
How bad is Nigeria? So bad, she said, that fraudsters operating online are the new role models for the children.
“The ones that have swag, the Yahoo Yahoo boys as my son would say; these in short, are the role models they are looking at. These are the ones that reinforce negative societal norms and values,” Diezani said.
“This is a travesty of an unfolding tragedy for us. Why have I spent time talking about fatherless homes and the impact it has on our children? The truth of the matter is that an irresponsible boy tends to become an irresponsible man and it is therefore a vicious cycle. If you plant cocoyam, you cannot harvest plantain.”
You can’t get plantain from cocoyam?
Fascinating metaphor, especially as the former minister was speaking at a time that First Lady Aisha Buhari had flown to Dubai, reportedly in the private jet of a businessman, breaking existing COVID-19 protocols.
She was speaking at a time that Buhari himself was confessing everything from surrender to confusion in the war against insecurity, first saying his government has done its best, and then—five years after assuming office and one year after he closed the nation’s borders—complaining to his security chiefs about how it is possible that terrorists in the North-East manage to obtain money and arms.
Diezani was also speaking at a time that Attorney General & Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami, who is positioned as a leading player in Buhari’s anti-corruption game, was being embarrassed in both local reporting and by international anti-corruption collaborators citing of personal corruption and obstruction of 14 significant corruption cases. Buhari continued to ignore at least three international groups which threatened to stop cooperating with him if he failed to investigate Malami.
She was speaking at a time that Obadiah Mailafia, an Oxford-educated former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, was revealing that a serving northern governor is a Boko Haram commander, a fact he learned authoritatively from some “repentant” terrorists.
The former minister was speaking at a time that Buhari, in another moment of self-revelation, was telling the nation that if he and the APC had not been such nice guys during the 2019 election, they could have used the army and the police to overrun and claim the PDP states.
Think about these issues, and the thousands besides in the past five years, and it seems that the expression Diezani was really searching for may have been “blank bullets,” alias hypocrisy.
That to plant cocoyam and expect to harvest plantain is like fighting Boko Haram with the blank bullets Buhari has deployed in the past five years and expect to defeat the militants. That to confront corruption in Nigeria with the ramshackle sloganeering and propaganda of the past five years is to plant the cocoyam of failure and disappointment but expect the rich harvest of plantain.
Still, Diezani chose a poor metaphor. She should at least have opted for one which involves foods that are served in the dizzying heights of political power.
Or something involving the lifestyle in such provinces, such as First Class air travel, presidential jets or luxury charters. Because it is insulting to the people who plant cocoyams and plantains to suggest that they can somehow forget that you cannot harvest one from the other.
It is the people who steal from those who plant cocoyams and plantains to fund a lifestyle of jet travel who also imagine that the poor do not know who their exploiters are or how—under the cover of night or in luxury hotels or jets—those exploiters protect and provide for each other. That is why she now appears to be piloting Buhari’s jet.
There is one final thing Diezani didn’t say. If she learned the Yahoo-Yahoo terminology from her son, did he also teach her about Sugar Mummies or “Hushmummies”?
Because that is the category that Diezani herself falls, son, following the confiscation of her properties in Nigeria and her exposure by the United States in 2017.
While I do not invalidate her sad portrait of Buhari’s Nigeria, she has no credibility unless she addresses the allegations of her extreme looting as Minister of Petroleum Resources, and her lying about it, including to her family. Your microphone, Madam.