The witch-hunting that may herald the new order in Nigeria may have begun. Diezani Allison-Madueke, the Minister of Petroleum Resources, may be the first victim. She appears to have been programmed for an ignominious exit from office. She drew attention to this when she blew the lid last week. Her story was that oil cabals were after her. They want to package and sell her as a fraud to Nigeria and the world on account of the running battle she had with them.
The minister had to blurt, out following the recent and ongoing media scrutiny that had been directed at her and her office. Before now, Allison-Madueke had been the butt of dangerous insinuations about the alleged sleaze in the petroleum industry. But she had, at every turn, rebuffed attempts to present her in bad light. However, her detractors seem to have acquired a new impetus, following the outcome of last month’s presidential election. The government that Diezani serves is on its way out. The set-up has created a veritable fertile ground for all manner of mischief.
In recent weeks, for instance, a number of allegations have been woven around her neck. We have been told that $700 million was found in her private residence. But we were not told who carried out the search as well as when and where the incident took place. Then, since some people have continued to insist that $20 billion was missing from government’s coffers, a brand new story is being woven about the fabled amount. And the story is that $17 billion out of the $20 billion has been traced to a Zenith Bank account and that Diezani has negotiated to return the money to the Federal Government.
Of course, many of us are already familiar with tales that the minister is seeking asylum with some foreign countries and that former Head of State, Gen. Abdusalami Abubakar, is negotiating a soft-landing for her. There is, indeed, a diet of tales surrounding the activities of the minister. But she has dismissed all of them as hogwash. She has also gone ahead to tell the world that some powerful operators in the oil industry are behind her travail.
In her bid to move Nigeria’s oil and gas sector away from insitutional and insitutionalised corruption, Diezani said that she stepped on a number of big toes. She is proud to tell us that millions, if not billions of dollars, have been taken out of the hands of multinational oil companies and their subcontractors and put in the hands of Nigerians through the local content policy. This bold step may not have gone down well with those who had been feeding fat from the oil sector. Diezani feels satisfied that she is on the right side of history. But her detractors will not let her be. And that appears to be the reason for the renewed critical searchlight being beamed in her direction.
Perhaps, it was in the light of the fictive tales being woven around Diezani and the so-called missing $20 billion that Gen Muhammadu Buhari, the president-elect, is getting unduly excited. Buhari was reported to have said a few days ago that he would inquire into the alleged missing $20 billion when he assumes office. In Buhari’s understanding, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi was sacked as the governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for telling the world that $20 billion was missing from the country’s coffers. It would have been surprising to hear Buhari say this if he was not engaged in a one-minded pursuit of his fancies and fantasies. But because he and others like him have programmed their mindset to achieve a given objective, Buhari’s belief is in line with whatever that objective is. That is why he has chosen to believe what he considers convenient.
But those who do not want to stand truth on its head know that Sanusi was not sacked by anybody. He served out his tenure. He could not qualify for a renewal because he was playing dangerous politics with the office of CBN governor.
As we were saying earlier, the mischievous tales being woven around Diezani have started exciting Buhari. He believes the story that a certain amount of money was recovered from Diezani and that she has negotiated for a refund. That was why Buhari spoke thus a few days ago. “I heard that some people have started returning money. I will not believe it until I see for myself.” That is the mood around the president-elect. He appears excited by it all. It is the excitement that he will take to office. And when he gets there, the story, whatever it is, must be made to fall into place. It will not matter how the story will be hammered into shape. The important thing is that it will be made to fit. And when this becomes the case, we will, very soon, be faced with a situation where fiction will be wearing the toga of fact.
As should be expected, Nigerians have been reacting in various ways to Buhari’s declaration that he will revisit the $20 billion saga. But Jonathan, who has been laughing very broadly with Buhari in recent weeks, must have been surprised that the General is not impressed by his (Jonathan’s) attempt to be seen to be one with the man he wants to handover power to. In spite of the broad smiles, Buhari is still very suspicious of Jonathan and his government. That is why he wrongly accused Jonathan of sacking Sanusi. That is also why he is insisting that Sanusi’s claim over missing $20 billion was true. It is also for reasons of disdain that Buhari has for Jonathan and his government that he wants to throw aside the probes, inquiries and audits conducted by the Jonathan administration on the alleged missing fund and, instead, institute his own probe or inquiry.
I suspect that one of the strangest things, which the incoming administration will be doing will be to foist some people’s sympathies or mischief on the rest of us. If a certain breed of Nigerians closed their eyes and ears to the facts of the $20 billion alleged to be missing, then the government run by that breed will ensure that the lie it has been holding on to for years is elevated to the level of truth.
It is, indeed, strange that Sanusi’s $20 billion is still an issue in Nigeria. A matter in which a CBN governor muddled up his figures and caused more confusion in the process ought to have been dismissed as the figment of his imagination. But the mumbo jumbo was still picked up from the ashes of disinformation and dusted up so that the truth could be established.
But how did we come about Sanusi’s poisonous tale? The man had, in September 2013, written President Jonathan, alleging that the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) had failed to remit the sum of $49.8 billion to the Federation Account over a 19-month period. The letter was supposed to be for the president’s attention and necessary action. But Sanusi had other intentions. That was why he leaked the letter to the Press. Soon, the matter became a virus in our body-politic.
Government would not leave such a grave allegation lying low. The Senate took interest in the matter and referred it to an appropriate committee. When Sanusi appeared before the Senate Committee, which was inquiring into his allegation, he told the committee that the missing figure was $12 billion instead. He was later to change the figure to $19.8 billion and then to $20 billion. Even though Sanusi contradicted himself to no end, those whose minds were closed to the facts of the matter insisted that he was right.
It was for this reason that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Minister of Finance, had to call for a forensic audit on the matter. A reputable audit firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers has since carried out an audit of NNPC’s account and came up with the verdict that no money was missing. But this verdict does not appear to have impressed Buhari and his gang. It did not conform with what they have chosen to believe. That is why Buhari wants to institute his own probe. He and his cohorts want to be told what they want to hear.
What should we then expect in the days to come? Compulsive and forced lies? Buhari may do well to spare himself the infamy of engaging in witch-hunting. There are many issues of national importance that should engage his attention. Vendetta and bad blood will only lead to a blind alley.