The Petroleum Minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, is one woman who can be said to have broken the glass ceiling. She must have surmounted a lot of obstacles in a male dominated society like ours to get to the peak of her career, even as some will argue that in Nigeria, it takes only the right political contact and goodwill (or as we say in Nigerian parlance, right connection) to get to the top.
To the advocates of 35 percent affirmative action, a few women like Mrs. Alison-Madueke, who rose above all prejudices, deserve to be celebrated; and in her case doubly so, considering her antecedent as a former staff of a foremost multinational oil corporation. Again, it can be argued, that having served in the said oil giant, she is in government as their apologist, and invariably to do their biddings. For whatever it is, no one can deny the fact that the elegant, charismatic and smooth-talking minister does know her onions. The snag is in the way she flaunts the power she wields and the opportunity bestowed on her by providence, as arguably the most powerful petroleum minister in the history of Nigeria.
But should all these—power, influence and charisma— insulate her from being over-sighted? Can her power supersede the power of the super-structure, Nigeria, its constitution and bylaws? Sadly Mrs. Alison-Madueke appears to be above the law, and therefore does things according to her whims and caprices.
A recent case in point was the revelation or allegation of the squandering of N10 billion public funds on a private jet, Challenger 850 aircraft that mostly attended to the minister’s personal itinerary. More than a month after the news broke, she is yet to make an official statement. The closest was a protest in her defence by a group of women in Abuja last week, instead of an official denial. This is a tired and overused tactic by politicians. I expected more from Mrs. Alison-Madueke, because I thought she was smarter than that. It is a wrongheaded approach to address accusations of abuse of power. The simple question was whether Challenger 850 chartered aircraft was being used for operational/official purpose or for private use or whether precedence is established or breach of trust is involved. Ideally, the answer should not be far-fetched. However, knowing that the minister operates unusually in an abnormal environment, it is not a surprise that she hedges and dodges.
The work of the agencies charged with the responsibility of making laws and oversighting the petroleum sector starts where Madueke’s excesses or otherwise stop. Therefore, the planned intervention of the House of Representatives and Senate is germane and right on point. The House’s Public Accounts committee has officially sent a memo to the minister to respond to some enquiries after which she will be invited to face the committee. The Senate too has joined forces with its counterparts in the House, demanding the NNPC to furnish it with details of fund expended on purchase, hiring and maintenance of the said jet in the last two years, among others. In the April 4 letter signed by the Senate’s committee clerk, Mr. Nkem Anthony, the committee expressed its frustration with the minister and the NNPC, reminding of constitutional backing for the enquiries. “I am directed to refer you to the committee’s several letters of invitation to meet with the committee and requests to furnish the committee with information relating to the activities of your corporation since October, 2013
“I am to draw your attention to the fact that the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended, statutorily empowers the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and by extension, its committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream) to oversight the activities of the NNPC and its subsidiary refinery companies. I am to further express the committee’s dissatisfaction with the conduct of the management of the NNPC, especially its seeming disrespect and disregard of the committee’s invitations and requests for information and data relating to the activities of the corporation and its refinery companies”. Despite this stern reminder, the NNPC and its officials are yet to show up at the Senate or House of Representatives.
The long silence from the NNPC and the minister is said to be unconnected with other options being considered such as litigations, which will invariably engender a stalemate. Nigerians should say no to public officials’ habit of resorting to perpetual injunction to restrain people who are legitimately doing their work after an offence is committed, and when they (public officials) should be answerable to the public anyway. Even if the government and its legion of VIPs can pervert the course of justice as governments are wont to do in Nigeria, what about Mrs. Alison-Madueke’s punctured ego, her reputation as an uncaring spendthrift, who would rather spend billions on personal comfort than the welfare of the citizenry? It is also easy to conclude that she is a privileged Nigerian, and no one begrudges those born or raised with silver spoon in their mouths, but moral questions arise when public funds are involved and or are used for personal upkeep.
And to think that any reasonable person will carry placards to demonstrate in defence of impunity and alleged corrupt practices is the height of sycophancy. But if the intention is to intimate the lawmakers and the pending probe panelists, this time it will not pay off, neither does it make sense. The lawmakers and the minister are in office for the good of Nigerians and all of them should be accountable to Nigerians. This is not about affirmative action or gender sensitivity. I think as women, who should be the conscience of the nation, we should not allow ourselves to be manipulated; we should not encourage impunity, corruption and looting of our resources, even as we pride ourselves as being more transparent than our male counterparts, on the basis of which we seek to be given the opportunity to serve.
While I’m confident that the House will do the needful and a thorough job, and apportion blame accordingly, I’m not so confident about the Senate, which has to some extent been complacent in things like these. Before you know it, the Senate president will apply the gavel and tell you the nays have it even if it’s otherwise or vice-versa. Again we do not need a Nostradamus to know that even if the minister is found guilty, the president will certainly shield her to save his government from charges of corrupt practices. Nigerians should watch out.