Praying For Diezani and The Rest of Us, By Okey Ndibe

imageHAD ISIS not shocked the world by sponsoring a spree of deadly attacks at six locations in Paris last Friday, killing at least 128 people, the Nigerian social media space would have been dominated – no question – by photos released by a new medium, The Boss, of former Petroleum Minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke.

In fact, one can’t say for certain that the photos of the former minister did not stand toe-to-toe in the Nigerian social space with ubiquitous images and posts about the gore in Paris. Formerly radiant, elegant and poised, Mrs. Alison-Madueke came across in the photos as physically enfeebled if not ravaged, her face gaunt, head virtually shorn of hair.

More than a month ago, Oscar Onwudiwe, a lawyer and friend to the Madueke family, had disclosed in a statement that the once powerful former Petroleum Minister was in the UK dealing with grave ill health. He’d written: “Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke has been receiving treatment for cancer in the UK, which started while she was in office. The health crisis has unfortunately exacerbated in recent times. She completed months of chemotherapy just last week and she is scheduled to undergo surgery next week in London. The family has been bearing this challenge with prayers and as much grace and fortitude as possible; and would plead with all reasonable Nigerians to pray for her recovery so that she can face this allegation and give account of her stewardship. Yes, she can – and very well, too.”

Photos of the ex-minister apparently taken at an interview with Dele Momodu, publisher of The Boss, confirmed that Mrs. Alison- Madueke’s body had been remapped both by cancer and the treatment for it. To see the photos was to come to grips, at the very least, with the transiency of the robust physique that, in ignorance, some believe is guaranteed to last.

Accompanying the release of the photos were Alison-Madueke’s fierce assertions about her stewardship on former President Goodluck Jonathan’s cabinet. In fact, her actions as Petroleum Minister had inspired considerable media scrutiny, with reports suggesting she was a pacesetter for corruption and other impunity.

Remarkably, while in office, Mrs. Alison- Madueke had ignored the media x-rays, maintaining a mask of imperturbable indifference that would not deign to respond to a cascade of damaging reports. Some three months ago, Governor Adams Oshiomhole claimed that US authorities had told President Muhammadu Buhari and his entourage about the predations of a former minister, who stole $6 billion. The governor never divulged the identity of the said greedy ex-minister. But many Nigerians on social media and elsewhere were quick to diagram the immediate past Petroleum Minister into the role of that unnamed villain.

Now, sick in London, Mrs. Alison-Madueke appears to have concluded that silence was no longer golden. Former Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi – who’s now the Emir of Kano – had alleged that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) had failed to deposit more than $20 billion in oil revenues at the CBN. Asked about this by Mr. Momodu, the former minister waxed indignant.

“If there is one issue I must pursue in this world, it is the biggest lie of this money. How can $20 billion 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…”

One appreciates that Mrs. Alison-Madueke has chosen, finally, to speak, even if her fierce words hardly cleared the air. How could such a gargantuan amount disappear, she asked. Where could it have disappeared? These are far from impressive responses. I recall that former Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and Mrs. Alison-Madueke had insisted that the amount that had “missed road,” to adopt a Nigerian phrase, was about $10 billion, not $20 billion. If the NNPC could find a way not to lodge $10 billion into the proper account, they sure as hell could find a way to keep $20 billion and more off the official books as well. As to the location of the allegedly missing billions, our response – as floor members of the Federal Republic of Abracadabra – should be: “How would we know?”

Let me tell you what Mrs. Alison-Madueke’s ravaged photos did for me. They reminded me of her, my, our ultimate mortality. In the end, when it’s all said and done, we will all die. That’s why I said a prayer for the former minister. I couldn’t see the photos of her devastation and remain unaffected, unmoved by deep human sympathy.

The former minister deserves good health to fight the fight she indicated she was determined to wage: One to establish that she never stole from Nigerians. But there’s already something anomalous that ought to be pointed out. Mrs. Alison-Madueke was part of an administration that boasted of being “transformational.” Why didn’t it occur to her to bend former President Goodluck Jonathan’s ear and whisper, “We need to use some of our petro-billions to transform Nigeria into a country with world- class treatment for all kinds of cancer.”

Daily, former and serving public officials announce, with no sense of shame or irony, that they are “jetting” abroad for medical treatment. Do they ever pause, these privileged beneficiaries from other peoples’ ingenuity and imagination in healthcare, to remember their poor, hapless fellow citizens trapped in Nigeria, compelled to seek treatment in ill- equipped Nigerian hospitals manned by ill- trained doctors?

I’m praying that Diezani Alison-Madueke beats cancer. After that, she must answer any legitimate questions about her management of Nigeria’s oil resources. And I’d hope to count her as a voice advocating people-oriented policies, including sound healthcare, on behalf of Nigeria’s long-suffering millions.

• Please follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe

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