Thursday, 24 April 2014

Of ministers and ministers

I should admit to a certain obsession with Diezani Alison-Madueke, our photogenic petroleum minister, although we are told that power itself is an aphrodisiac. She is also a rarity by the fact of her office alone, more so following the ignominious departure of her sister, Stella Oduah, the former aviation minister, who just didn’t fly it for me. It’s also important to many constituencies – and rightly so - that we should have more women in public office. On that score at least, President Jonathan himself has done his best to comply, most notably with the appointment of our coordinating minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, whose demeanour is hardly calculated to inspire the kind of salacious gossip provoked by the other two, including the precise nature of their relationship with Oga.
There is little doubt that many Nigerians – women as well as men – judge women by different standards than they do men, which is why there are so few of them in public office in the first place. This being so, it is also doubtless unfortunate that the women who do manage to break through should be expected to exhibit higher standards of conduct than their male counterparts but for the fact that there are no standards to begin with. Given the way men have gone about governing Nigeria these past five decades, we might as well try the alternative. Nothing could be worse.
Unfortunately, Alison-Madueke has been such a disaster that opinion writers like me can casually call her ‘a parasite we have ignored and allowed to fester in our national life’ and nobody demurs. This is a minister who admonished the danfo-packed masses, i.e. most people, ‘not to point to corruption, if we are not prepared to bear some of the hardship,’ and now we hear that since 2011 she has blown N10bn on chartered flights for her and her family, even shunning the presidential aircraft carrying Oga to the same destination.
Or so it is alleged. The body making the allegation is the national assembly, which has repeatedly summoned her – along with the NNPC top brass - to defend herself, and she has repeatedly declined to do so. Tunji Lardner, another opinion writer, once referred to Oduah’s ‘condescending imperial haughtiness’ and much the same can be said of Alison-Madueke. Our legislators are now threatening fire and brimstone, which is to say that she should be sacked and paraded before a court of law on charges of corruption. Well, pigs might fly, but it’s as well to remind ourselves that ‘justice’ and ‘the rule of law’ are real concepts, not fairy tales, and that those who imagine themselves immune may very well end up proving the case.
As with Oduah before her, the knives are out. Even the president’s own constituency has demanded that he sack her forthwith, failing which they will ‘take the protest to Abuja and other places’. She has become the most detested face of corrupt power and everyone except the placard-carrying women she paid to implore her detractors to ‘live’ her alone is demanding that Jonathan to do to her what he did to Oduah. One can see his dilemma. If he capitulates again he will be seen as weak; if he doesn’t, he will be seen as soft on corruption. By unhappy chance, he happens to be both these things, which is precisely why he is unfit to rule a nation with so many desperate challenges, but which he is intent on doing anyway, which further compound his – and, therefore, our – problem.
Alison-Madueke, who has been in a succession of ministries since 2007, was pivotal to Jonathan’s emergence in the 2011 primaries at Eagle Square, roundly beating Atiku and IBB (who weren’t much competition anyway). Or, rather, not so much her as the ministry she oversees, which made available N85bn in a single day, causing Reuters to report that ‘traders in the forex market said that transactions were short by about $180 million due to a large cash withdrawal by NNPC’. Given Jonathan’s fixation on 2015, Alison-Madueke – along with INEC, of which more another time - turns out to be pivotal to his ambition.
And, yet, there is something troubling about the current fixation on the erstwhile petroleum minister. As with her sister before her, the bile expended seems inseparable from the fact that she is a woman (and an attractive one at that). It is true that she doesn’t help matters by her utterances and her demeanour, but the very fact that she is a woman seems to make her an easy target, hence the speculations about the precise nature of her relationship with Oga. According to one report, Oga and Madam almost divorced over Alison-Madueke’s appointment, with Madam herself warning Mama Diezani ‘to tell your daughter to leave my husband alone. She is married and I’m married. What kind of thing is this?’ Talk about salacious: ‘Is Jonathan Dating Stella Oduah?’ was the headline in one online newspaper while she was still aviation minister. No such opprobrium has attached to the figure of Okonjo-Iweala.
In any case, sacking Alison-Madueke, like sacking Oduah before her (or Okonjo-Iweala after her, as some are already demanding), will not magically transform Nigeria for the better, and this irrespective of whether or not we are now the continent’s largest economy which also happens to contain the world’s poorest people. Those who rule over us, women as well as men, conform to Joseph Conrad’s depiction of their European forebears as ‘reckless without hardihood, greedy without audacity, and cruel without courage.’ Just as the first lot were seen off, so will this lot be, and nobody will be asking what sex they were - or even who slept with whom.

© Adewale Maja-Pearce

An earlier version of this piece first appeared in Hallmark, 22 April 2014.

Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories,
and Dream Chasers. The House My Father Built, a memoir, will be
published later this year.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's page:

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