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Diezani and Jonathan: What you dont know..

To many, under fire former petroleum resources minister in the President Goodluck Jonathan administration, Mrs. Diezani Ali­son-Madueke could not have gotten away with half of the alleged sleaze that is being currently ascribed to her if she had less than an ordinary hold on the former president. Her power and influence were indeed awesome.

How they met

There are at least four different versions of their first meeting. While some claim that the duo first met when Jonathan was deputy governor of Bayelsa state, others insist that it predated his years as deputy gover­nor to their growing up years when Jonathan’s mother allegedly served as a serf in her father’s palace to make ends meet, after she left her husband for having embraced polygamy. Yet, a few others claim they are related in blood as cousins.

The politically acute posit that the duo became close courtesy of the for­mer president’s bosom friend, Senator Emmanuel Paulker who is from the Epie clan as Diezani.

While Paulker is from Opolo, Diezani is from Yenaka, both in Epie kingdom, Yenagoa Local Government Area. Diezani’s father, King Frederick Abiye Agama was much respected in the old Rivers State and present day Bayelsa State as the first indigene of the state to become a top management staffer of Shell Petroleum Develop­ment Company, which invariably like honey to bee, drew the high and low to the family.

Indeed Sunday Sun learnt that the then burgeoning friendship blossomed when Jonathan as governor of the state in 2006, organized a huge reception party for Diezani who had just added to her epaulette the position of the first female Nigerian executive director of Shell Petroleum Development Compa­ny. The style and nature of their meet­ing notwithstanding, Diezani was to become one of the most powerful and influential ministers under ex-Pres­ident Jonathan. So much was the awe and esteem she was held in that administration that former President Olusegun Obasanjo placed her among the three women who discreetly called the shots in the Jonathan Presidency. The other two were his wife Dame Patience, and the former minister of fi­nance and coordinating minister of the economy Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

The journey to her ministerial seat was not smooth. It came with gasps and rough edges. In December 2007, Jonathan as vice president under the late President Musa Yar’Adua nominated her, and she grabbed the portfolio of transport, which was a mega ministry encompassing aviation, railways, infrastructure. Diezani was later reassigned to mines and power in December 2008, another juicy and well sought after ministry. But her eyes were squarely set on the petroleum resources ministry. At a stage, when her wish for the petroleum resources portfolio could not be realized despite several entreaties, Jonathan had to plead with his boss, the late President Yar’Adua on her behalf. The interven­tion did not fall through in the face of myriads of hurdles she had to scale. Although the scale weighed in favour of Odein Ajumogobia, SAN who was minister of state for petroleum resourc­es under the late Dr Rilwanu Lukman as petroleum resources minister, she never wavered in her resolve to serve in that capacity. The eventual demise of Yar’Adua paved the way for the realization of her dream. Jonathan reassigned Ajumogobia to the foreign affairs ministry and Diezani clinched the job and swiftly donned the unoffi­cial garb of a super Minister.

Reign of the super min­ister

There are many fangled steps to Diezani’s reign as super minister. The sum total of her march in power reeked of iron grip. Sunday Sun learnt that she wasn’t innocent in the abrupt sacking of the then Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mr. Shehu Ladan, an engineer. Diezani felt uncomfortable with Ladan’s alleged close relation­ship with the president’s wife, Dame Patience, and was also unsettled by his increasing “arrogance and perceptible disloyalty” to her. ship with the president’s wife, Dame

A day before Ladan got the boot, he was said to have visited the first lady at the villa, before travelling to London on official assignment. The next day he was fired, shortly after Diezani came calling at the villa to see Jonathan, and no reason was given for the sack. The first lady who would have saved the day for him was equally away to Dubai. But nowhere was the influence and power of Diezani most felt and pronounced than during the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meetings. She was allegedly said to have sometimes sauntered in through the presidential door used only by Jon­athan, and gingerly strolled in late after the president had sat down. Curiously, Jonathan was said to have always fidgeted at her dramatic appearance.

This attitude breached official entry protocols, but security officials who should call her to order opted to take the bath of the hornbill feigning ignorance, while watching the ex-pres­ident’s body language. Her superstar status took a low turn when in the heightened national hysteria and resent­ment of some allegations of wrongdo­ing and graft against her, the presidency like the proverbial three monkeys in the tale, saw nothing, heard nothing, and did nothing. Indeed, the hunter became the hunted as in the case of the then central bank governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, who as whistle blower bagged a suspension from his job. The din against some of her alleged mis­deeds in the uppity, highly corrupt oil ministry made daily headlines without Jonathan lifting a finger against her, a development that fuelled suspicions on the nature of their relationship, and the clout she wielded in the government.

The re-election bid of Jonathan in 2011, after his acting stint brought out the fighter in her. Diezani reportedly threw herself into the melee pooling together an intimidating “war financial chest” to oil the bid. Sunday Sun learnt that her stellar performance revolved most in the Neighbour 2 Neighbour campaign group, an outfit that took the grassroots campaign of the ex-president to the highest notch. The stability witnessed in the up-stream petroleum sector during the Jonathan years can also be credited to her dogged spirit, resilience and expe­rience in the industry. She deployed her influence and rapport with the ex-pres­ident to accelerate implementation of agreements with the restive and highly volatile unions, extract mutually bene­ficial deals and enhance smooth across board co-operation. Her tenure also witnessed a leap in trust on government by workers. Besides, she ensured that professionalism reigned in the industry, and premium was placed on merit especially in key appointments.

While her reign lasted, most of the aides of the ex-president accorded her due respects and recognition. A source close to Jonathan told Sunday Sun that “She seldom visited, but each time she did, an eerie ambience usually descended in and around the vicinity. Jonathan’s aides attended to her with utmost deference and respect and would neither blink nor flinch until she departs.” Aware of the fate that awaited her when Jonathan failed in his re-election bid earlier this year, Diezani reportedly began to court political and ex-military leaders who have the ears of President Muhamma­du Buhari to secure a soft landing for her. One of the leaders she reportedly attempted to reach was General Abdulsalami Abubakar (retd), former military head of state and leader of the National Peace Committee. The attempt bounced off.

Dame Patience in the mix

The disposition of the ex-pres­ident’s wife Dame Patience to the relationship between her husband and Diezani oscillated from the sublime to the ridiculous. It occasionally bubbled up, but was at best subdued most times, with a tinge of obvious understanding and resignation. It blew hot and cold, to borrow a phrase most suited for the times and issues. The first lady sought to maintain an unusual uneasy calmness as the storm raged. But there were occa­sions, Sunday Sun learnt, when the adrenalin boiled over and she lost her emotional stability. In fact, she stri­dently opposed Diezani’s nomination as minister after the elections in 2011, but failed. The ex-principal secretary to the president, Hassan Tukur, a long time friend of the then first family was a stabilizing factor in the entire set up. In the heat of her resistance, she was said to have on one occasion made an attempt to engage Diezani’s mother, HRH, Beatrice Agama. The venue was an event in the oil city of Port Harcourt. She allegedly com­plained to the matriarch of the Agama royal family about the conduct of her daughter. Sunday Sun was told that they faced each other like the gunfire in high noon, shooting their lines like bullets straight at each other’s hearts. The ex-first family, however, managed to paper over all the cracks. Appar­ently reflecting over her checkered relationship with her husband and how they have survived the many snares over the years, Mrs. Patience acknowledged in ‘Winds of hope’, the biography of Jonathan that “both of us are from Christian homes, and our complete trust is in Jesus Christ. We pray together as a family every morning. What keeps us together is that we are each other’s best friend and soul mate. We discuss everything that comes up and advise each other accordingly. We depend on each other. We do not let the sun set on our grievances.”

Out in the cold

Diezani, which literally means “look before you leap”, may have acted in the true spirit and significance of her name. A princess by birth and other standards, the graduate of Architecture from Howard University worked and acted a script that jelled with the mien, style and gentle nature of the former president. According to her, “in Architecture, form follows function.” Whether the creative and brilliant princess of Epie clan related with Jonathan on a deep spectrum of insight, happenstance, the stubborn streak, or the genie is left for history to determine. But what is clear is that a discerning mind was at work, and her bold heart leads as she finally takes the lonely walk on a limb.