By Dele Momodu
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…
Culled from PENDULUM on Thisday
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