Alison-Madueke: A metaphor - By Sunny Igboanugo
When members of the dreaded Islamic sect, Boko Haram, made a clear statement about their invincibility, by recently taking their programme of terror to the Louis Edet House, Nigerian Police headquarters in Abuja, where a suicide (or what did Inspector General of Police, Hafiz Ringim call it?), effortlessly gained access into and denoted a bomb, it set off a series of reactions.
But one of the most interesting responses, came from President Goodluck Jonathan, who, apparently, in his bid to calm the situation and ease the effect on a bewildered nation, as it is his duty to, explained that terrorism had become a worldwide phenomenon and the people must learn to live with it.
Of course the President was right, but only in a sense. Besides other misgivings, critics had wondered whether it is the bad examples that Nigerian leaders would always be at liberty to cite gleefully.
They wondered why the President didn't say how many of the perpetrators that have been caught and dealt with, including the case of the recently killed leader of Al-Qaida, Osama Bin Laden. 'Why are the level of infrastructural development in those countries and provision of other amenities like water, electricity, good roads taken for granted not similar here? Why wouldn't he tell Nigerians that in other climes, if the law stipulates that you can only spend N20,000 on your campaigns, you cannot exceed it or you do so at your peril that in those countries top government officials don't break traffic rules; that the President there is not taken as God?
These questions struck me then. For instance, I have neither seen anybody standing by any American President's back in public outings nor gun-wielding security operatives blocking or whipping people out of the way or even carrying his bag.
These equally struck me in the whole noise surrounding former Minister of Petroleum, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, currently. Why? One of the issues raised against the former Minister (or has she returned to post now?), was that she did not complete her National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme, as required for any graduate of Nigerian origin before taking appointment in Nigeria.
I have been waiting for a good answer to this issue from the relevant authorities since then. However, unless it was addressed somewhere else, I have not heard anything official. I may be mistaking and wish to be corrected if anybody has been briefed. Yet, this provision is embedded in the Nigerian Constitution, the same one Jonathan reaffirmed while taking his oath of office on May 29.
Now, I ask, if this issue is raised in America, Britain, Iraq, Brazil, Ghana, Sierra Leone or even Togo, will it be so treated?
Here, I'm not talking about motive. I know that the intention of those questioning Alison-Madueke's status could be far from noble. They may, in fact, be political and economic fiends, driven by unpatriotic desires to throw the spanner in the wheel of progress in the country; or specifically to stop the 'massive transformation' she has been making in the oil and gas sector. But the point remains that even in that unholy scheme, they have touched a very vital chord in the vortex of our collective being as a country - the Constitution.
In law, it is trite that once the issue of jurisdiction is raised on any matter before the court, every other thing must wait until it is settled. One should have thought that the same principle would apply here; that the issue of her eligibility to work in Nigeria should be thrashed first before she is offered employment.
It is even more germane that the employment we are talking about is a public one. It would be understandable if it were while she was in Shell that this is coming up. Then chances are that it could have been seen as a matter concerning a private company, even though it still breaking the laws.
But that the government of Nigerian, not the least the President, would break the law, as it seems, to offer such a job, which is not only a public trust but one that is supposed to promote and project the image of Nigeria, is to say the least, utterly disagreeable.
During her screening at the Senate, I had expected the first question to be 'do you have an NYSC certificate?' And if she says yes, to be asked to produce it then or at a later date before she is cleared. Surprisingly, not even a passing reference was made to it. Rather, she was taken round other areas of her duties, which she dealt with so dexterously to my admiration and obviously that of the lawmakers, who gave her a loud ovation before clearing her. Why was there no question on it? Or are the distinguished Senators saying that they were not following the debates in the country, which would equally be untenable, because they are supposed to be the representatives of the people?
Nigeria is not the only country where political vagabonds are always looking for a way of making trouble. Recall the birth certificate issue in America? Recently, one Donald Trump, an American billionaire, said to have an eye on the country's presidency tried to rubbish President Barack Obama, by trying to create doubts in the minds of the citizens about his Americanness. So, he began to trump up charges about where the President was born.
However, even though he was sure he was a full fledged citizen - flesh and blood - the President didn't just brush aside the allegation with cavalier arrogance, as our leaders could have done in a similar circumstance, because he knew that he owed America an explanation, having elected him to that position. He did not cause Trump to be arrested and thrown into detention for embarrassing him. But he presented his birth certificate. Even when its authenticity was put to question, he provided further evidence.
Now compare it to what we have here. The case against Alison-Madueke is that 'Madam, you did not complete your NYSC as required by law.' And what do we have? Silence! Nigerians deserve no explanation. Of course, what follows expectedly, are all kinds of speculations, innuendoes and suppositions. She is the President's person; she is this, she is that.
To me, these are the little issues that make our democracy peculiar and distance our ethos from the best practices in most parts of the world. This silence by everybody concerned, can only be captured by one word - impunity; the arrogance so expressed by the former military President, Ibrahim Babangida, by his (in)famous statement in the wake of the annulment of the June 1993 presidential election - we are not only in government, we are also in power.
Because I can only comment on what I know, I don't want to jump into Alison-Madueke's performance in office. If it were while she was still Minister of Works, the evidence would have been clear to laymen like us, as it was when she went to weep at the Benin-Ore Road, over the parlous condition and ended up doing nothing noticeable about the situation.
The petroleum industry is such a mysterious sector, made worse by the way it is being handled in Nigeria that I would be a fool to dabble into analysing it. Do I know how much oil this country pumps in a day or does anybody, apart from those directly involved, do? Do I know what is sold, what is stolen or outrightly given away as PR by those in charge?
Well I could tell you easily that in my house, I have resorted to cooking with charcoal, hoping that my landlord will not give me quit notice the day he visits, because I can't afford kerosine for my stove. To add to that, I have ordered the local lantern (ogbei vu adu), we used in my village some decades back in place of candles, to provide light to support my I better pass my neighbour-supplied electricity, since I'm told candles are unsafe. I would have taken delivery, only 85-year old mother tells me I have to be patient to get the quantity I want, because the only woman still interested in the business is too old to produce on time. That is the much I know about the petroleum industry.
So, I'm lost when Alison-Madueke talks about quantum leaps she has made in it to step on big and small toes. But because the issue of NYSC certificate is not so complicated, I understand fully what is required. Therefore, I see no difficulty in resolving it, one way or the other. It is as simple as her possessing it or not. If she doesn't have it, the alternative is to have the exemption certificate, without which she can't be employed in Nigeria as graduate. That's the long and short of the story.
Interestingly, I'm one of those who would feel a personal loss if this woman of beauty and brawn is no longer in the public eye. I'm completely enchanted by her elegance, strength of character, intelligence and general mannerism. I think her charm brings a refreshing aspect to the issue of governance in the country. How I wish she would spring surprises and produce this vital document to shame her detractors. How I wish this matter doesn't continue to be such a big secret. How I wish there are other ways to get round it if all these fail. How I wish…