Dateline: Friday, May 22, 2015: At Murtala Muhammad Airport in Lagos, British Airways received a surprise VIP.
His name: Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s President-Elect. The man who, in one week, would take control of Africa’s most bewildering country. He was a much-feared man, with a certain reputation for character, a man who had fought for the presidency for years claiming he would rid Nigeria of corruption.
He was swiftly checked in, accompanied by just one person. He took First Class Seat 3K.
And then British Airways received another surprise VIP to the same flight: Diezani Alison-Madueke, Nigeria’s powerful Minister of Petroleum Resources, accompanied by two aides also in First Class. She sat behind the President-Elect.
Reports said the minister, her tenure down to seven days, had booked her flight only after discovering Mr. Buhari would be on it. Widely-alleged to be the most corrupt minister in a government of great corruption, she hoped to soften him up in conversation during the flight, commentators suggested.
The omens were not good for the outgoing minister. After taking office, Buhari on almost a daily basis promised hell on earth for every corrupt former official.
Mrs. Alison-Madueke had reason to be afraid. As Buhari prepared to take office, there were further pressures. As it turned out, on that late May 2015 trip to the United Kingdom, Buhari was received at 10 Downing Street by Prime Minister David Cameron, who pledged “technical assistance” to Buhari administration to combat terrorism and corruption.
And then there was the United States, also offering help, and President Barack Obama reportedly giving him details of extensive corruption within the Goodluck Jonathan government, including of a certain minister who had looted up to $6billion.
That minister was widely-speculated to be Alison-Madueke. On the local front throughout her tenure, there had been incessant and detailed media investigations which painted images of a freewheeling, out-of-control minister who was trading in influence and disbursing favors and contracts. Some of the more exhaustive reports, notably by The PUNCH and the defunct 234NEXT newspapers, suggested she held accountability in contempt.
Which is partly why many people thought it was only a matter of days before Alison-Madueke was consumed in the fire Buhari was bringing.
That was two years ago. Despite loud saber-rattling, the Nigerian government has not questioned the former minister, let alone indicted her.
On the contrary, it was Alison-Madueke who called the government out. In an interview with OVATION Publisher, Dele Momodu, in November 2015, she denied every insinuation and allegation against her. She said she never stole from Nigeria and had done no dubious deals as a minister.
She said the rumors about her came from the imagination and wickedness of people who were merely envious of her success and power. She did not have billions of dollars anywhere, she affirmed.
And contrary to the rumors, one of which was alluded to by Mr. Momodu, she did not own choice real estate abroad. “I live with my husband in the same house we’ve lived since we married in 1999,” she declared. “Our [only] house in Abuja was bought in 2007…Anyone who tells you I have houses anywhere should feel free to publish them…”
Last week, the United States called that bluff when it filed an assets forfeiture case. But it is essential to point out that the US was not principally after Alison-Madueke. The country has stringent money-laundering laws, and the story has emerged from the effort to recover several properties belonging to the former minister’s close associates and beneficiaries whose activities have benefited her.
The law also frowns on the bribing of a foreign government official, in this case, Alison-Madueke. Two of those associates of hers, who are widely-known in Nigeria, are Kola Aluko and Jide Omokore, men who blossomed in the oil sector under her watch. There are three other co-conspirators, identified only by numbers, presumably because they have a significant role to play in the forthcoming criminal processes. Thanks to ‘Madam D,’ their companies received over $1.5 billion in revenues selling Nigerian crude oil.
Awash with cash March 2012 and January 2015, Aluko purchased over $87 million dollars’ worth of real estate in New York and California for himself, as well as a luxury yacht for $82 million.
Which brings us to Alison-Madueke’s bluff. In painstaking detail, US lawyers allege that the minister made Aluko and Omokore wealthy, and how in return the men and others purchased for the minister and her family a new luxury lifestyle, particularly in England.
“Anyone who tells you I have houses anywhere should feel free to publish them…?” Well then, how about these:
– 96 Camp Road, Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, SL9 7PB (“the Falls,” purchased in January 2011 for £3,250,000);
– 39 Chester Close North, London NW1 4JE, purchased in March 2011 for £1,730,000;
– 58 Harley House, Marylebone Road, London NW1 5HL, purchased in March 2011 for £2,800,000;
– Flat 5 Park View, 83-86 Prince Albert Road, London NW8 7RU, purchased in March 2011 for £3,750,000.
It is important to note that following each purchase, Alison-Madueke led the extensive remodeling and decoration efforts. And then, by her own account, she acquired a lot of equally expensive Houston furniture: four million dollars’ worth.
“At least one of the items purchased in Omokore’s name, and paid for by Co-Conspirator #1, has been matched by vendor number, item number, and store-issued control number to furniture discovered in Alison-Madueke’s residence in Abuja, Nigeria,” US documentation shows.
Speaking of greed, there is more: Between August 2011 and January 2014, these men paid rents of £537,922 for two additional central London residences at 22 St. Edmunds Terrace, London NW8 7QQ. Flat 19 was occupied by Alison-Madueke and Flat 6 by her mother. She must have been one proud mother.
In her Momodu interview, Alison-Madueke had claimed she was being treated for breast cancer, a report that was received with derision among Nigerians. There were good grounds for the skepticism: her education in the US, her age, her NYSC service, her work record in Nigeria and her two ministerial chairs had all been riddled with credibility questions. In 2014, at height of her powers, the story also emerged that she squandered N10bn to charter a luxury jet for her use.
At the 2015 interview, and for someone said to be undergoing chemotherapy, she went to great trouble to meet her interviewer in various places in London, none—as it turns out—being any of at least six places she owns. While she looked sick in the pictures, there was really nothing a make-up artiste could not achieve. But even if she were sick, that would not detract from the issues that surround her.
Since then, however, details have leaked of a bribery ring she ran in Nigeria to try to guarantee Mr. Jonathan’s re-election in 2015. And just days ago, a court in Lagos ordered the confiscation of a massive $37.5m Banana Island property she bought 2013.
In the end, this story is not really about Alison-Madueke, but about the poverty of Buhari’s anti-corruption rhetoric.