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Tuesday, 3 October 2017

How Former Minister Of Petroleum Diezani Alison-Madueke, Her Men, Their Deals Bled Nigeria

Diezani, her men and the Deals
On the night of Friday June 7, 2013, a pre-wedding party was in progress at the Cavalli Club – named after the renowned Italian fashion designer Roberto Cavalli – within the 5-star luxury Fairmont Hotel in Dubai. There was champagne in abundance and some of the performers on ground for the all-night gig included DJ Jimmy Jatt, leading comedian, Basketmouth, singer Wizkid and rapper Naeto C. It was the summer party to be at.

The next day, the wedding proper held at the JW Marriot Marquis Hotel on the same street. Most of the floors at the hotel and the nearby Mirage Palace were occupied by the over 300 guests who had flown in for the wedding from Nigeria to attend. Over 40 private jets were buzzing in and out of the United Arab Emirates with sitting governors, senators, traditional rulers, government officials, politicians and businessmen.
The entire weekend was, as tabloids will call it, awash with pomp and pageantry. The groom was Oluwatosin Omokore, first son of Olajide Omokore, a maverick oil trader; and his bride was Faiza Fari, first daughter of Abdulkadir Fari, then Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Petroleum Resources. Encomium Magazine reported that souvenirs at the wedding rumoured to have cost an estimated $8 million (N1.2 billion using the exchange rate at the time), included the Blackberry Q10 released in January of that year, other smartphones, Bang & Olufsen luxury speakers.
In the aftermath, the then Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, acting on the recommendation of his petroleum minister and Mr. Fari’s boss, Diezani Alison-Madueke, suspended and later redeployed the father of the bride to another parastatal. His accounts were also reportedly frozen by the Economic & Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. The Nation newspaper quoted an insider at the ministry at the time as saying the wedding was deemed too lavish for a civil servant to fund and that in allowing his daughter marry the son of a major player in his sector, Mr. Musa had triggered a conflict of interest.
In reality, the wedding was primarily funded by Mr. Omokore who understandably spared no cost to give his first son the gift of a good wedding. Mr. Fari, who reportedly had been a little too strict in demanding due process on some deals relating to marginal oilfields, was simply the sacrificial lamb who had to go for reportedly delaying Mrs. Alison-Madueke’s desires. He was one of many in a revolving door policy that saw five group managing directors and several permanent secretaries exit the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, in the five years of Mrs. Alison-Madueke’s tenure.
Back in May 2010, the death of Umaru Musa Yar’adua precipitated the ascension of Goodluck Jonathan as Nigeria’s president. There was pressure on him from his kinsmen and others within the enclave of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, to run for the 2011 elections. It was only expedient to turn to the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, a major source of election funding for incumbents since the return of democracy in 1999.
To ensure a smooth process, Rilwanu Lukman, the incumbent minister who favoured a restructuring of NNPC into a full commercial entity, was replaced with Diezani Alison-Madueke in a cabinet reshuffle. Mrs. Alison-Madueke eventually became like an unofficial prime minister. From then till May 2015 when the Muhammadu Buhari presidency took over; anyone that stood in her way was removed either by her personally or the presidency acting on her recommendations.
In an era where Nigeria earned over N39.5 trillion from oil and the commodity price peaked at $112 per barrel, it was the best of times to have the listening ears of the president and the discretionary powers of an oil minister as enshrined in the Petroleum Act of 1969. In that five-year period, Mrs. Alison-Madueke, whose name means ‘look before you leap’ in her native Ijaw, leapt to unbelievable levels of influence and the accompanying affluence.
DIEZANI’S CHILDHOOD
Diezani cartoonBorn Diezani Kogbeni Agama in the city of Port Harcourt two months after Nigeria’s independence, the young girl had a decent childhood as the third of six children. Her father Frederick Agama – had a distinguished career at Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) as a management executive before retiring to become a traditional ruler of the Epie-Atissa Clan in Yenaka, Bayelsa State. Her mother, Beatrice Agama, is a retired schoolteacher. Though her parents were not as wealthy as rumoured, they lived a decent life by all standards. She grew up at the Shell residential camp in Rumuomasi, Port Harcourt and schooled in Warri, Port Harcourt and Mubi.
An intervention from her maternal grandfather N. K. Porbeni, a renowned Ijaw chief from Delta State led her to study architecture rather than the creative arts. “He travelled all the way from Warri [to the UK] to tell me in no uncertain terms that my father hadn’t spent all that money on my education for me to study Fine Art”, she said in a 2007 interview.
Mrs. Alison-Maueke began her architecture training in the UK. It is unclear why she abandoned her studies in the UK, but she later moved to the United States to do a five-year architecture course at Howard University. She graduated in 1992. Right after her graduation from Howard, she was employed by SPDC and would continue to go through the ranks, heading strategy and planning team handling its joint ventures with the NNPC. By this time, she was married to a former military governor of Imo and Enugu State, Alison Madueke.
In 2006, she was appointed Executive Director, Facilities, becoming the company’s first female Nigerian director in its entire history. Ann Pickard, the controversial American who headed Shell’s operations in Nigeria from 2005-2010 fast-tracked her from mid-level executive, singling out her and other promising young women for top roles. Perhaps Ms. Pickard, believed to have placed moles in the Nigerian government – according to US diplomatic cables leaked by Wikileaks – and described as “having a willingness to manipulate every available political angle to further the company’s interests”, saw a reflection of herself in the younger woman.
In July 2007, she was named Minister of Transport. Her tenure was brief and uneventful save for when she wept openly in August that year while inspecting a bad road. Between December 2008 and March 2010, she was heading the Ministry of Mines & Steel Development.
During her time in the Ministry of Mines & Steel Development, the agency funded ‘Hollywood Glamour Collection’, a new limited-edition collection of Nigerian gold and gemstone jewelry by the popular jeweler Chris Aire. The collection was unveiled at an exclusive event in Beverly Hills, California on April 7, 2010, barely hours after Mrs. Alison-Madueke had been moved to the petroleum ministry. In the months after, Mr. Aire registered new companies for the sole purpose of being awarded questionable contracts to handle crude lifting, earning over an estimated $30,000 daily.
Her royal heritage, love for jewelry, style and the finer things of life inevitably drew swift comparisons with the late Princess Diana of Great Britain. In time, friends, well-wishers, and hangers-on began to call her Princess Di.

THE MEN
Donald Chidi AmamgboOne of these hangers-on was Donald Chidi Amamgbo, the lawyer said to have become her friend when they met at Howard. Usually described by the Nigerian press as her cousin, he hails from Imo State, not Bayelsa and runs a thriving U.S.-based legal practice, Amamgbo & Associates. In 2012, he was put on probation by the state bar of California for misconduct.
When government appointees and politicians in general assume office, friends, well-wishers, government contractors and stakeholders in their specific industry find ways to contact them through their network, sending unsolicited gifts to them and their relatives and taking out pages in the newspapers for congratulatory advertorials.
“When someone sends you a $10,000 watch here or expensive jewellery there with no favours asked, you have to call one day to say thanks and have the person visit”, said a former staff of the ministry, who asked not to be named because he still works for the government and has not been permitted to talk to the press. “Or your daughter calls from Dubai that an unknown person paid her tuition for two years and sublet an apartment for her. Can you say no? Even the Bible says it that ‘A man’s gift maketh a way for him.”
No one knows for sure which gifts came to Mrs. Alison-Madueke from some of the men at the centre of the storm in her world today. But they worked regardless because they became her close associates soon enough. There was Kola Aluko, an oil trader seeking a big break; Mr. Omokore, a businessman looking to diversify and swell his fortune. There were also folks like Benedict Peters and Walter Wagbatsoma.
Kola AlukoOne of the many billionaire conquests of supermodel Naomi Campbell, Mr. Aluko was born and bred in Lagos as one of the nine children of Akanni Aluko, a geologist and popular traditional chief in Ilesha, Osun State. His first reported stint in the oil business was in 1995, after years of wandering through the pharmaceutics and automobile industries, when he cofounded Besse Oil, an oil trading firm. By the mid-2000s, one of his serial companies, Exoro Energy International merged with a partner firm, Weatherford, to become Seven Energy. It was run by Mr. Aluko who had one percent equity, alongside Mr. Omokore and a third man, Phillip Ihenacho.
Kogi-born Mr. Omokore, who was given the title of Elegbe of Egbe in his hometown in October 2014 for his commitment to his town, was an influential chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from state to national level. While the PDP reigned, his businesses were lavishly patronized by the government.
OmokoreAfter the 2012 flooding disaster, he donated N50 million to victims.
In February 2014, Lamido Sanusi, then governor of the central bank was suspended by Mr. Jonathan after a controversial statement about missing $20 billion in crude oil earnings.
In 2010, Shell was plagued by a lot of issues in its onshore operations. Oil spills across the Niger Delta had gotten it into a lot of legal tussles; its goodwill with the host communities had been on a decline since the days of slain environmental activist, Ken Saro Wiwa in the 1990s; militants had wreaked considerable havoc on its asset causing countless force majeures; the government was seeking to get more local marginal field operators out onshore. It has gone on a large-scale divesting spree since then. That same year, Shell fixed one of the major pipelines in the country – the 97 kilometer-long Nembe Creek Trunkline passing through 14 oil pumping stations –  for $1.1 billion. By November 2013, it was on the market.
The company went ahead then to divest its stake (45 percent) in the asset held in the joint venture partnership with NNPC which held the remainder (55 percent) on behalf of the Nigerian government, and focus on the less ‘dramatic’ offshore fields. The divested fields were the OMLs 4, 26, 30, 34, 38, 40, 41 and 42 and Shell sold them to indigenous operators, raking in a total $2.3 billion.

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