Diezani, The Tomato Seller At Bodija and ”The Blessings of God”

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


Well, the lady didn’t take the report lying down. She protested like all unconscionable 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 and perplexed that the Nigerian state used her modest house and her 2 million dollars jewelry to shame and defame her. She was flabbergasted. 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 becoming a minister. She could afford some luxury as a private citizen. Her wealth owes to her education, work history, 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. She obtained an MBA at Cambridge University, United Kingdom.


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, pain-ravaged body. Not everyone would relate to the torment she lives with. Only individuals who were fighting cancer or people who have had the precarious experience of losing their loved one to the disease would appreciate the severity of 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 confer immunity on citizens. Even the plea of diminished responsibility does not win automatic acquittal for the mentally challenged: In the case of murder, the charge is reduced to manslaughter and appropriate sentence awarded. So she cannot blackmail Buhari administration with her cancer. She cannot suggest that she ought to be spared 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.

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Now to the question of the house itself: It’s telling to note 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 as a Shell staffer.  Or that she built the house before she was appointed the oil goddess of Nigeria.


Make no mistake: That was no oversight. If she had built the house with the sweat of her brow, she would have emphasized it in clear terms. If the worth of the house correlates to the total earning that is possible for her career trajectory, she would chipped that in to give 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 she knew it’s a crazy, incredible claim to make. If she makes such dubious claim, it would be fact-checked and proved a pants on fire!


The truth of the matter is apparent. Diezani 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 to her heart’s content.


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


The assertion that every woman in the world has an obsession for jewelry is stupid. All women don’t share her taste for diamond, silver and gold. The sweeping generalization is preposterous. She had not checked the closets of ‘’women all across the world’’ to know for sure that they all have an abundance of jewelry.


I marvel that Diezani weaved 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 is a cynical sadist and a predatory opportunist.


She calculated that a tomato seller would serve her best in this time. 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 rich.


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

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


Diezani, in all probability, does not know any 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 as minister. After that life-changing apotheosis, she outgrew, as is normal in Nigeria, the convenience of being a normal person. That elevation meant the suspension of the routine of visiting open air vegetable markets and  befriending tomato sellers. It became the business of her aides to deal with those commoners.


It is near certain that she cannot recall one instance of her stepping out of her bubble to patronize a Nigerian tomato seller during her ministerial days. The more likely reality is that within the said period, she made more acquaintances of owners of  elite jewelry stores in Abuja, Dubai and London.


The preoccupation of the average Nigerian woman is not jewelry.  They are not all so ‘’comfortable they can gift themselves some ‘’luxury.’’ They constitute majority 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 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 minister of petroleum, she squandered 10 billion naira public funds on hiring 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 quite a while logging thousands of miles 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 facilitator of most lootings that occurred in 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, to help her bribe INEC officials and PDP chieftains and get them to subvert the will of the electorate. Okonkwo and the indicted INEC officials have admitted their wrongdoing and returned their share of the largesse to EFCC. Former governor Shekarau have confessed Kano’s share of 950 million was disbursed in his house in the dead of the night.

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But ask Diezani if she is source of the bribe. She would swear another Diezani was the culprit. She would tell you her parents taught her the right values. She has never stolen a rust 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 pocketed 40 million.


Ask her where she got the money. She would reply that she made it in her last incarnation. She has never filched taxpayers’ money. She is 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.


Even President Barack Obama, the most powerful man in the world, and her daughters would love to take selfies in Diezani’s house. A private residence of that value 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 can’t buy that property.  He will be a tenant.


Obama is worth 12.2 million dollars. The entirety of his earnings, all he has earned as professor, author, senator and a two term president of the richest country in the world, cannot buy Diezani’s house.


The saddest thing about this Diezani is that she is a religious rogue. She imputes her crime 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!


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Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu

Blogger at EmmaUgwu
Emmanuel Ugwu loves human beings. He thinks for a hobby. He writes for a better Nigeria.