Finally, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, Nigeria’s Petroleum Resources minister until six months ago, seeks to be understood by Nigerians. The former highflying minister, one of the most influential in the Goodluck Jonathan administration, seems to be begging Nigerians for forgiveness, or at least for some slack in their criticism (or is it hatred of her guts?). Of course, Madueke did not actually ask Nigerians to forgive her. Those are not her exact words, but the intention is quite clear in the series of conversations she has had in the last couple of weeks with celebrity journalist, Dele Momodu. She seems to have come to a belated realisation of that Achebean warning to all misguided leaders that nobody wins a war against their own people.
Nigerians have in the last several months been treated to salacious tales of the former minister’s attempt to escape the law, even when there was no pending indictment against her or before her actual arrest in the United Kingdom. But the story out there was that she had been faking ill-health, specifically a life-threatening battle with cancer of the breast. This was after all attempts by her, the rumour mill had it, to have an audience with President Muhammadu Buhari were allegedly rebuffed by the then president-elect. Jonathan was hardly out of office before Madueke bade the government goodbye, leaving for the United Kingdom. She was suddenly away from the public gaze. For a woman who appeared to relish the spotlight, her absence was immediately obvious. Shortly after would the cancer rumour surface. Nobody had any proof of this or further news of her until she was suddenly flung back into the spotlight by news of her arrest in the UK.
Aggrieved Nigerians felt vindicated that they had been proven right about their long held view that Mrs. Alison-Madueke had corruptly enriched herself during her time in office. This while hundreds of millions of her country people suffered abjectly as a direct consequence of the looting unleashed on the Nigerian treasury by she and her ilk. Although a public officer she lived and conducted herself like royalty on Nigeria’s bill. She travelled by chartered flight with family members, Nigerians heard. A lot was said of and about her but she appeared to scorn the rabble rousing she must have taken complaints and allegations against her for. She simply had no time for Nigerians, not even to ‘set the record straight’ as some of her colleagues in the public eye would say.
All of this until her infamous arrest in the UK, followed by lurid tales of extravagant living. But as an alibi, the Madueke family employed the services of a lawyer to state their side of the story. It seemed then that her thick skin was beginning to soften up. Having denied all the allegations swirling about her, her attorney then let it out that her presence in the UK was to attend to her health that was being ravaged by cancer. Now it was official. While this ‘official’ revelation appeared to win her some sympathy, the vast majority of Nigerians were definitely not sold on the cancer story. It appeared to them a sob-tale directed at winning sympathy for one of those who didn’t care if they lived or died. There was no touch of remorse in Mrs. Madueke’s rebuttal of the allegations Nigerians had made against her. She appeared to want their sympathy while trying to show that she had been right and they all had been wrong all along. Her alibi would not wash for many. But it appeared to have opened a window through which she could speak with the world.
It is in an apparent attempt to build on this that the Dele Momodu angle entered the picture. In the first part of that encounter between the journalist and the ex-minister that took place in a London hideaway, the latter was portrayed as a reluctant interviewee whose minders would rather not see hold the interview. The whole encounter was made to look like a chance occurrence rather than the scripted plot it is turning out to be. Momodu succeeded in getting Nigerians to believe, even if they didn’t accept, that Madueke was indeed an ailing woman. His description of her appearance contrasted radically from what Nigerians knew of the woman. Yet, it looked like she would leave everything at the point in which her meeting with Momodu ended in London without any further desire to convince anyone.
It seems thereafter that Mrs. Madueke was convinced of the positive effect of that bit of her story Momodu tantalised the world with. It won sympathy for her surely, even if some of it sounded quite tongue-in-cheek. And so she went for an encore. Her surrogates put a call through to Momodu fixing a meeting. This time they agreed to what amounts to a more involved interview even if, according to Momodu, no recording device was permitted. Her shrivelled looks that Momodu only described in the first interview is now accompanied with at least one graphic image that has gone ‘viral’, to borrow Momodu’s own words about the social media impact of the first interview.
She debunked all allegations of corruption and alleged romance with Jonathan and her cat and mouse relationship with Patience. Truly, no one who knew Alison-Madueke would not feel some pity for her. She is indeed a mere shadow of her vivacious self.
Her new look is a resounding rebuke of any primitive acquisition of wealth. It is a sad reminder of the vanity that is all material possession, including the wanton fixation on so-called good looks or beauty. Ultimately what matters in life are those little things that money can only pretend to buy: the love of those who matter to us including those we serve as public office holders, good health and the peace of mind that comes with all of these. Mrs. Diezani sees now that the opinion, if not the love, of the ordinary people matter.
For too long she and a few like her in power treated the voice of the people with little or no respect. For too long, she saw no purpose in showing herself amenable to public opinion. All of that makes her latest desire to be seen in a better light look a bit too belated. Many are already fixed in their opinions. And justifiably so. As they argue, if Mrs. Madueke wants their sympathy she first must give back to Nigerians what they believe she has taken. Her alibi is neither here nor there for as long as many see her as a beneficiary of the inhuman Nigerian system that has no respect for the ordinary people.
What Nigerians want is justice, not the death of Mrs. Madueke.