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Diezani, The Tomato Seller At Bodija And 'The Blessings of God' By Emmanuel Ugwu

On Monday, Al-Jazeera aired  a report on the Abuja home of the immediate past petroleum minister of Nigeria, Mrs. Diezani Allison-Madueke. The property is a mansion worth 18 million US dollars. It's one of the assets the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission recovered from some corrupt Nigerian politicians in the first year of Muhammadu Buhari’s presidency. It is a monument to sleaze. A veritable tourist attraction that should be promoted as the Egyptian pyramid of Nigeria’s decadent civilization!

As you would expect, the lady responded like her kind. She protested like all reprobate Nigerian kleptocrats are wont to when their filthy acquisitions are exposed. She denounced Aljazeera’s story as a malicious bid ‘’to give a dog a bad name in order to hang it’’, ‘’a ploy to dress her in the garb of a common criminal.’’

She was outraged that the Nigerian state shamed and defamed for having the modesty of owning that little house and a jewelry chest of 2 million dollars. She asked: ‘’ When did it become a crime to own a property in Nigeria? When did it become a crime for a woman of my status to have in her possession, jewelry? Jewelry, which women all across the world, including the woman selling tomatoes in Bodija market have in abundance in their closets?’’

She claimed that she was ‘’comfortable’’ before she became a minister. She could afford some luxury as a private citizen. Her wealth owes to her education, diligence, and ‘’the blessings of God.’’

She read architecture in England. She earned a bachelor’s degree at Howard University, United States of America, in 1992. She joined Shell Petroleum Development Corporation upon her return from America the same year. She obtained an MBA at Cambridge University, United Kingdom in 2002.

She became Shell’s first female Executive Director in Nigeria in 2006. She became the Minister of Transport in 2007. She became the Minister of Mines and Steel Development in 2008. She became the Minister for Petroleum Resources in April 2008 and tarried in that post till May 2015. She represented Nigeria in the Organisation of Oil Exporting Countries (OPEC) as the country’s oil minister and shattered OPEC’s glass ceiling by becoming its elected first female President.

She alleged that the confiscation of her house and the sensational advertisement of same as proof of the progress of Buhari’s war against corruption were evidence of the inhumanity of her coldhearted detractors. They were hounding her in her most vulnerable moment. They were assaulting her ‘’at such a critical time when I am battling cancer’’. Their propaganda attack was an additional toll on her suffering mind and pain-ravaged body. Not everyone would relate to the intensity of torment she lives with. Only kindred spirits who were fighting cancer or people who have had the precarious experience of losing their loved one to the disease would appreciate her condition.

First, let’s dispense with the innuendo that Diezani’s sickness, which is a very terrible affliction, entitles her to relief from the state justice. Ill-health does not bestow immunity on culpable citizens. Even the plea of diminished responsibility does not win automatic acquittal for the mentally challenged: In the case of murder, the charge is often downgraded to manslaughter and appropriate sentence awarded. So, she cannot blackmail Buhari administration with her cancer. She cannot suggest that she ought to be treated as a sacred cow because she is a medical exile any more than an armed robber may pray that being a sickler should exempt him from being stripped of his stolen goods.

Now to the question of the house itself: It’s noteworthy that Diezani, in declaring her supposed innocence, did not aver that she built the house with her legitimate savings. She didn’t claim that she had amassed more than 18 million US dollars in her 18 years of being a Shell staffer.  Or that she built the house before she was appointed the oil goddess of Nigeria.

Make no mistake: It was not an oversight. If she had built the house with the sweat of her brow, she would have emphasized it in the clearest and boldest terms. If the worth of her house correlates to the total earning that is possible for her career trajectory, she would have chipped that in to lend credence to her argument that she was using dollars as tissue paper long before she became Nigeria’s oil seller!

But she didn’t make that attestation. She didn’t dare because she knew it’s a crazy, incredible claim to make. If she published such dubious claim, it would be speedily fact-checked and confirmed a pants on fire!

She had to remonstrate with ambivalence.  She couldn't muster the audacity to do otherwise. Because she knows she would sound like an unimaginative clown if she ventured to claim that the house was one of the fruits of her labour.

Her ambiguous equivocation was a concession to the apparent truth. It was a muted admission that she built her 18 million dollars house with the proceeds of corruption. She made the house happen because she was in charge of the ‘juiciest’ ministerial portfolio in Nigeria. She pulled that off by stealing without restraint. Stealing with impunity. Stealing as if she had a ‘poetic license’ to plunder without rhyme and reason.

It’s unbelievable that she said her 2 million dollars collection of jewelry was normal. That her trinkets represent a universal banality. All women have closets packed with her quality and quantity of ornaments, including the tomato seller at Bodija.

The assertion that all the women in the world have an obsession for jewelry is stupid. All women don’t share her taste for diamond, silver and gold. The sweeping generalization is laughable. She had not checked the closets of ‘’women all across the world’’ to know for sure that they all have an abundance of jewelry. If she so much as did the due diligence of searching the closets of women in her village, there is a chance she would sell all her jewelry and give the money away as an act of charity.

I marvel that Diezani drafted the tomato seller at Bodija into her script. Her use of the tomato trader as a metaphor speaks volumes about her own mind works. She calculated that a tomato seller would serve her best in this time. She is a cynical sadist and a predatory opportunist.

She is aware that in the past couple of months, the price of fresh tomatoes has risen astronomically throughout Nigeria following the obliteration of tomato farms in 6 northern states by the moth, Tuta absoluta.  Her thinking is that the situation has advantaged tomato sellers and made them ‘money-miss road’ multi-millionaires who can spend handsomely on vanity.

She is wrong. The tomato seller in Bodija market, as well as the one in Obollo Afor and in Zurmi, make lesser sales now than they used to before the plague of 'Tomato Ebola'. Households have weaned themselves from tomato because it has become unaffordable. The resulting sharp drop in turnover has made the tomato sellers poorer. Not richer.

Diezani's cherry-picking of the tomato seller, of all countless fruit sellers she could have possibly selected, reveals a sadist psychology. Her mind ponders how to cash in on a disaster. Her thought process is selfish, lustful, and cannibalistic.

Diezani, in all probability, does not know a single tomato seller in Bodija market, Ibadan.  She may never have met any tomato seller since she exited the mundane world and entered the paradise of power. The last time she shopped for grocery by herself in Nigeria might well be the day before she was first nominated a minister. After that life-changing apotheosis, she outgrew, as is normal in Nigeria, the convenience of being an everyday person. That elevation meant the suspension of the routine of visiting open air vegetable markets and of befriending tomato sellers. It became the business of her aides to deal with those commoners.

Ask Diezani if she can recall one instance of her stepping out of her bubble to patronize a Nigerian tomato seller during her ministerial days. She will draw a blank. The more likely reality is that she will remember making more acquaintances of owners of elite jewelry stores in Abuja, Dubai and London within the same period!

The preoccupation of the average Nigerian woman is not jewelry.  They are not all so ''comfortable'' they can gift themselves some ‘’luxury.’’ They constitute two third of the Nigerian poor. Their overwhelming worry and pursuit is their daily bread, their monthly house rent, and the school fees of their children.

Diezani doesn’t get this because she is out of touch. Her universe is far too removed from the world of the tomato seller at Bodija. But it’s not her fault. She is the creature of a political system that funds the hedonistic lifestyle of public officials.

While she was the minister of petroleum, she squandered 10 billion naira public funds on leasing private jets for herself and her family. She suffered no consequence for it. She shunned the House committee mandated to probe the matter. When the committee renewed their summons, she scurried to the court and procured an injunction restraining the lawmakers from disturbing her peace.

She wasn't on ground as minister. She spent much of her time in a private jet. If she encountered a tomato seller at Bodija during that period, she saw them, like a bird of passage, from up in the sky!

Diezani is one of the outstanding thieves of the Goodluck Jonathan presidency. She was the principal facilitator of the long looting orgy that characterized that administration. As the steward of the Nigerian oil industry, she effected plunders and disappearing acts. One of her most celebrated feats is causing 20 billion dollars oil revenue to vanish without trace.

In the buildup to 2015 presidential elections, Diezani handed 115 US million dollars to Nnamdi Okonwo, the Managing Director of Fidelity Bank, and asked him to help her distribute bribes to INEC officials and PDP chieftains and motivate them to rig Jonathan in for a second term. Okonkwo and the indicted INEC officials admitted their wrongdoing and returned their share of the largesse to EFCC. Former governor Shekarau confessed that Kano's share of 950 million was disbursed in his house in the dead of the night.

But ask Diezani if she is source of the bribe. She would swear another Diezani was the culprit you are looking for. She would tell you her parents taught her the right values. She has never stolen a rusty kobo coin since she was born!

Diezani 'donated' 70 million naira to Bayelsa PDP for the hosting of the presidential campaign rally in Yenagoa, a gift that eventually sparked a crisis because the state chairman of the party who received the money in secret was later discovered to have declared 30 million and embezzled 40 million.

Ask Diezani where she got the money. She would reply that she made it in her last incarnation. She has never filched taxpayers' money. She has always been a woman of integrity.

The average Nigerian will gloss over her 18 million dollars house. Years of overexposure to multi-million dollar heists have cheapened hard currency in our reckoning, fatigued us, and coated our communal sensibility with thick layers of callus.

But 18 million dollars or a house of that worth is not stuff to be sniffed. Not even in the United States, the country that mints the dollars.

Diezani's house is so extraordinary that President Barack Obama, the most powerful man in the world, and her daughters would be thrilled to take selfies in her compound. A private residence of that value, style, and grandeur is a rarity. Her house is one of the few human shelters in the world that boasts… a bullet-proof gym!

President Obama, at the end of his term in November, will temporarily relocate to a house in a Washington neighborhood worth 5 million US dollars. And that’s not his house. He will be a tenant.

President Obama is worth 12.2 million dollars. The entirety of his earnings, all he has earned as a professor, bestselling author, senator, and a two term president of the richest country in the world, is short of Diezani’s 18 million dollars house!

The saddest thing about this thief is that she is a pretentious religious rogue. She imputes her thievery on God. She explains to us, the clueless, that ‘’the blessings of God’’ germinated her 18 million dollars house from a bare piece of land in Asokoro!

God don suffer!


You can reach me at [email protected] or follow me on Twitter @EmmaUgwuTheMan