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ALISON-MADUEKE AND SUBSIDY PROBE

By NBF News
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Let me start with a confession: I am woman who has for years been studying the performance and reputations of Nigerian women in high public office. Much as I do not fit into the mould of Professor Molara-Ogundipe and other Western-like feminists whose style seems pretty abrasive, I am conscious of my gender. This consciousness, however, does not make me unduly biased or look like a knee-jerk defender of women, especially those holding high public office.

We are, in this article, focusing on Deziani Alison-Madueke, the Minister of Petroleum Resources, because of the recent publication of the ad hoc committee of the House of Representatives on the management of petroleum products subsidy set up last January on the heels of the massive nationwide protests which greeted the increase of petrol price from 65 naira to 142 naira per litre with effect from January 1. The ad hoc committee was necessitated by suspected abuses in the management of the subsidy regime costing the nation trillions of naira over the years.

The committee had hardly concluded public hearings when different newspapers ran a series of 'exclusive' reports alleging that the committee had recommended the removal of Mrs Alison-Madueke as the Petroleum Resources Minister because of her purported role in the subsidy mess. The reports were obviously sponsored by highly placed entrenched interests, yet the news items provoked enormous interest in many Nigerians. Like millions of citizens, I watched the public hearings on the television as many networks broadcast them live.

The minister gave a good account of herself, and none of the people from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), independent marketing firms and petrol products importing companies indicted her directly or indirectly. If anything, she inherited a great mess. She bent backwards to pay, for instance, a huge sum for contracts awarded under the Musa Yar'Adua administration in 2009, in line with the principle which the late  sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, called 'government is a continuum'.

The House of Representatives on Tuesday, April 24, adopted its ad hoc committee report, after an extensive debate which saw some of the recommendations amended slightly. That the whole House should adopt the report and its recommendations came to no one as a surprise. The committee did a brilliant job, fearless, patriotic and comprehensive. And very interesting is that the House decided, in fulfillment of its commitment to fair hearing, to give some firms which protested that they did not receive letters of invitations to the public hearings, a second chance, in accordance with the fundamental right and principle of fair hearing.

It is quite remarkable that neither the ad hoc committee nor the House found the Petroleum Minister culpable in the subsidy scam which has been laid before the Nigerian people. Why then did a section of the media rise up in arms against Mrs Alison-Madueke by publishing that the ad hoc committee, led by Farouk Lawan, had recommended her removal even when the committee had not begun to examine the oral and written statements made available to it? Two schools of thought have emerged to explain the hysteria. The first attributes it to the International Oil Companies (IOCs), which sponsored the fierce media campaign against her return to the Ministry of Petroleum Resources following Dr Goodluck Jonathan's resounding victory in the April 2011 presidential election.

The western oil multinationals' campaign against her remains one of the ironies of present Nigerian high wire politics. Daughter of a former Shell executive, Diezani Alison-Madueke rose to become an executive director of The Shell petroleum Development Company, the first Nigerian woman to serve on the board of this company which is the greatest player in the Nigerian oil and gas scene. When she was assigned to the ministry the first time in 2010, the IOCs rejoiced because they considered her one of their own.

Their reaction, interestingly, caused political activists to oppose her deployment to this key ministry because they feared that she would be a pawn in the chessboard of multinationals operating in the country. But no sooner she assumed office than she asserted her independence, or, as industry analysts put it, she became fiercely pro-Nigeria. Details of the various actions she took to dramatically enhance Nigerian content in the petroleum industry  to the eternal chagrin of the multinationals and how they launched a propaganda blitzkrieg against her are stories for another day.

She is in good company with the likes of Dr Ngozi okonjo-Iweala, Mrs Oby Ezekwesili and Prof Dora Akunyili and other notable Nigerian women who have brought honour to the Nigerian female folk, especially since the restoration of democratic practice in 1999. As Professor Chinua Achebe would say, it is still morning yet on creation day. Both the House of Representatives and its ad hoc committee on the utilization of Petroleum Support Fund have done a nice job.

They did not go for witch hunting, but went in search of truth. They have been guided by fairness, courage and patriotism. There is still hope for Nigeria.

Fadahunsi writes from Lagos