Ever since the present executive was inaugurated by President Good Luck Jonathan , the Minister of Petroleum, Diezani Madueke appears to be the most vilified ,most controversial and most hated by a section of the country. The reasons being obvious. First is that she like the president came from the same conquered” region, the Niger- delta and secondly she is sitting on top of a sector that is the major cash- cow of the Nigerian economy and therefore poses a threat to an entrenched cabal whose interest in primitive enrichment through the sector will be checkmated .There is also the fear that her closeness to the president is too close for comfort and therefore every engagement should be employed to remove her . The macabre dance started when no sooner than she was nominated as a cabinet designate that some people went to court to obtain a court injunction restraining her confirmation by national Assembly alleging that she was not qualified take up such position having failed to honour a mandatory one year service of her fatherland after graduation.
Next again came the allegation about Nigerian Minister of Petroleum, Mrs Diezani Alison Madueke buying of 20 million Euro worth of mansion at Vienna , capital of Austria spread like a wild fire in dry season as Austria based newspaper Heute broke the news on the front page of its edition of 7th, November 2011. The spread of the allegation was fuel by on line net work,
The newspaper's headline titled ,”Female Minister from a country of hunger”alleged that the Minister bought a villa in Vienna worth 20 Million Euro – even though a major part of the population in her home country is living below the poverty line and children are dying daily of starvation. The report revealed that the exact location of her luxury lodging is secret, but Allison-Madueke is enthusiastic about the big garden and the estate referring to it in the internet as “architectonic masterpiece”.
Trust Nigerians. As soon as the news became a public issue, Nigerians went hay wire calling for the immediate prosecution of the Minister. A citizen of Nigeria resident in Vienna Austria , Mr Uzoma Ahamfule called Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) to arrest and prosecute her immediately. He wondered how she got the money to buy the mansion in this global economic hardship..
“How did the minister get this huge amount of money to buy such a mansion? When did she buy the “Villa”? Could it be before she became a minister or after? Could this be her only mansion outside Nigeria ? Is she the only minister or government official involved in this wickedness? If this money should be in Nigeria it will definitely help our economy. With this money factories could be comfortably opened and jobless graduates rooming around the streets gainfully employed and crime reduced. How did this get exposed you might ask? Nigerians are very curious and furious. It was even rumoured that the luxury mansion was close to that of the former oil minister Rilwanu Lukman. What it could mean is that the former ex oil minister's house cannot be at anything less than Allison Madueke's mansion in terms of value and luxury if not more. Critics equally called for the probe of Rilwanu Lukmon.
During the fuel subsidy removal crisis, Allison Madueke was the weeping child among Jonahan ministers. She was accused by members of Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and civil liberty organizations to have generated the idea of fuel subsidy removal so that she and her colleagues would have more money to steal and stashed away in overseas' countries.
While critics were busy lambasting Allison Madueke, while asking for her flesh, she kept her cool probably out of shock.. It was The Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs Division of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, (NNPC), Dr. Levi Ajuonuma who came to her rescue by refuting the allegation in some online news media that the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke purchased a 20m euro mansion at an undisclosed location in the Austrian capital of Vienna .
In a chat with journalists in Abuja , the NNPC spokesman noted that no right thinking news medium would fall for such cheap and unsubstantiated rumour peddling.
``As professionals, we know that comment is free but facts are sacred. Now if you are saying in this age and time that somebody bought a 20m euro mansion in a very conservative city like Vienna , then you must be able to produce the picture of the so called mansion, the transfer wire number for the said purchase, as well as other details of the transaction. 20m euro is no small money anywhere in the world,'' Ajuonuma stated.
He recalled that a similar unsubstantiated story was culled from the Jakarta Post and spread by the online news media in September 2011 accusing the NNPC and the Ministry of Petroleum Resources of planning to invest in a multibillion-naira refinery project in Indonesia .
"Interestingly when the Jakarta Post retracted their phantom story and apologised on front page to the NNPC for the fake story, the online media never bothered to publish same because they are usually not interested in facts," he said.
He implored newspaper editors and gate keepers to fact check news stories from foreign tabloids and online media in good time for publication.
``With the aid of forensic accounting, it doesn't take rocket science to track any financial transaction. You cannot conduct a 20million euro deal anywhere in the world, without attracting red flag from relevant international agencies, '' he said.
Ajuonuma assured that the Minister of Petroleum Resources is not perturbed by such publications, noting that the focus now is on ensuring the full activation of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan's administration Transformation Agenda in the oil and gas industry.
Being a law abiding citizen with clear conscience and following the principles of he that goes to equity must go with clean hand, Allison Madueke approached the Vienna based Regional Court for Criminal Matters to seek redress on the abuse of her fundamental human right. On hearing the application, the Vienna based Regional Court for Criminal Matters slammed Heute newspaper of Vienna over the phantom story last November which alleged that the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke purchased a 20 million euro mansion in the Austrian capital.
In a ruling made in pursuant of an application brought before the court by Mrs. Alison-Madueke, the Judge ordered AHVV Verlags GmbH owners of the Heute Newspaper, to do a `public revocation' by publishing a counterstatement in the newspaper within five working days from the announcement of the verdict.
In line with the ruling the Heute newspaper has since published the retraction cum counter statement whose German to English translation read thus:” This statement of facts is false. The Honourable Minister Mrs. Diezani -Alison-Madueke did not buy any real estate in Austria , in particular no house or villa in Vienna for several million Euros. Further more, the Hon Minister Allison -Madueke did not praise the large the garden and the architectural masterpiece on the internet as alleged”.
As a matter of afct, the Petroleum Minister has taken the right step by seeking redress in court instead of running away from justice. How many government officials accused of corruption will ever do what Alison-Madueke did by going to court.They would rather run away from justice by fleeing from the country to avaoid prosecution. We have seen a former governor who escaped from United Kingdom in order to escape money laundry charges. We have also heard of a former governor who fought his extradition case from Dubai to United Kingdom to face money laundry charges.
For Allison-Madueke to have gone to Austria to challenge the allegation showed that Nigeria still have leaders that are above board. She needs praise for holding the bull by the horn. It argued that Nigerian politicians are too corrupt, because a country naturally blessed like Nigeria is not supposed to lack fundamental needs like water, electricity, good roads, quality schools and standard hospitals etc. However, the media must be honest with their reports because you can neither fight evil with evil nor can you tackle corruption through corrupt means or fraud. Mrs Alison Madueke in this case is a victim of ethnic manipulation.
Though, I am personally not too satisfied with the “Heute Counterstatement” because I had expected in their retreat statement to say something like “We are sorry” or “We apologise” and not “Diezani Alison-Madueke desires the following”. Do not also forget that the reputation of Nigeria , the emotion of Nigerians and their ego were equally bruised; what happens in this direction? My take on this supposed to be apology from “Heute” is nothing but a withdrawal of their earlier report without remorse to the feelings and the ego of Nigeria and Nigerians that were badly bruised and damaged with that report. All things being equal, the final truth has finally been revealed and the rest is now in the hands of Nigerian officials.
Ifeanyi Nwabugu writes from Lagos