Diezani in Dele Momodu’s wheelbarrow By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo

When the society substitutes true spirituality with showy religiosity then conspicuous consistent sinning will abide and recourse to rigourless magical atonements will be the rule. When the tokenistic giving of alms becomes a common penance for iniquity, hypocrisy and beggarliness will be jointly promoted. And because the economic situation has become increasingly desperate even begging has become competitive . In being competitive, it became an art, creativity and imagination are now freely employed.

People, I suspect, are learning what works. And when greed and moral decadence see such a window, profit making sneaks in and a business is in place. So an otherwise able bodied man rents a wheelbarrow at a daily fee puts in a sick person preferably with a large angry and weeping sore that will touch or arrest. For the stakeholders, the profit sharing may prove more problematic than the morality of the enterprise.
The sore or perhaps the scrotal swelling occasioned by aggressive elephantiasis, is thrown into the faces of passers- by who must cringe first and then reach for their pockets and throw in their alms, some out of pity but many others in submission to that assault. But others will feel so much repulsion at the antics of the one wheeling the sick that indignation rather than sympathy takes over them and resentment rather than alms becomes the handout.
Diezani, wanted like Umaru Dikko in 1984, is innocent until proven guilty. Like many other senior government officials of the Jonathan regime wanted by the new administration for one reason or the other. Diezani is ill. The public is skeptical. It is true one can flaunt the agility of an ‘atilogwu’ dancer during the campaigns in March only to be prostrated by a malignancy and the brutality of surgery and chemotherapy in May.
But since senior government officials lie about their health and dismiss every revelation of ill health as the work of malicious opponents, the public has also learnt to treat any declaration of ill health by any government official on whom suspicions of corruption and theft have settled as plain mischief.
Ordinarily Nigerians, superstitious and religious, offer unsolicited effusive sympathy to the sick and when the illness is as serious as cancer then the usual response is a near collective outpouring of pity. But Nigerian politicians have earned distrust. And Diezani’s circumstances are particularly curious. She supervised the oil industry under the Jonathan regime. Many allegations of corrupt enrichment and wanton profligacy have been thrown at her.
The new government claims to have dossiers filled with grave financial atrocities. And like the sort of stardom Umaru Dikko enjoyed at the end of the second republic, all eyes are on the once powerful Diezani, on whom many feel the strongest statement on corruption should be made. It was suspected she would abscond and she left for London just in time, before Jonathan stepped down.
We don’t know if she was diagnosed after Jonathan lost the elections. Rumours of her ill health sprouted late last year and were promptly squashed. Dele Momodu the publisher of Ovation looked at Diezani and her travails and saw an opportunity. He says journalistic instincts marked out the Diezani scoop as a prized asset.
And he stalked and probed. If what he described as the first meeting is all that transpired then it was such an anticlimax. A frail Diezani was so tightly chaperoned that a scheduled interview was stopped by an aide even before it had really begun. Momodu says that we didn’t understand the story.
But Diezani is not in hiding. She is not a wanted person. The attempt to melodramatize was not subtle. Momodu talked so much about James Bond and James Hardley Chase but when he needed theatricality, it would appear, he borrowed from Nollywood. He struggled to fabricate needless suspense. The unnecessary splitting into parts of a single story for commercial reasons is unmistakably Nollywood. There were many private interludes, did they perhaps discuss breaking it into many parts to generate public interest?
Momodu left room for a part two by having an empty part one. So in part one we received a description of the gauntness and hair loss typical of cancer and chemotherapy and nothing more besides routine denial of all the allegations. Momodu, the celebrity reporter, maintains this was a scoop even though it contained nothing spicy, nothing new. Part two wasn’t brief but still lacked explosion.
Perhaps the setting in a café , the frailty of the actress and the lurking whimsicality of the chaperons who must be eavesdropping with Bond-like gadgets would mean that Momodu would thread gingerly. Diezani dismissed any suggestions that she embezzled funds. And trumpeted her professionalism and hatred for corruption. Momodu is yet to find out why she went to court to avoid a probe by the house of representatives over the allegation that billions were used by her to rent jets, to finance an irresponsible lifestyle.
Diezani dismissed allegations that she maintained questionable relationships with some young men and it is perhaps unfortunate that a happily married 54 year-old woman had to attend to such suspicions. Diezani is beautiful and stylish. Such rumours will always swirl around such women in Nigeria. She doesn’t need to please anyone by conforming to any austere lifestyle. But a certain coquettishness and the ‘coincidence’ of regular newspapers pictures with her mouth slightly, and perhaps seductively, open, will leave her more vulnerable than others to such imaginings
The news was in the pictures. If it were any other everyday Nigerian, the pictures would have attracted donations. Diezani isn’t begging for alms, she is a former petroleum minister. It doesn’t matter that she wants us to believe that as minister, she was collecting dresses and jewelries and paying in installments like young lady bankers. If a comical governor Akpabio finds Diezani’s aloofness and snobbery legendary, then the Diezani who has allowed the dissemination of these pictures truly seeks something from the public.
When those who care so much about their appearance are struck by any chronic wasting disease they stay away from the public until fat and comeliness have returned. When a Diezani allows her sorrow to be flung in the faces of Nigerians in the name of stating her side of the story then suspicions that she seeks sympathy from Nigerians are invited. Sometimes, however, it is easier to get alms than sympathy.
Dele Momodu isn’t exactly a desperate journalist. But he who published the empty part one in his Thisday column and used the insipid part two to launch his new BOSS magazine is carefully looking after his own interest. If he asked any hard questions and got revealing responses then perhaps the story could have given him, and given Caesar – the public, their dues. But if his probing questions elicited routine answers then the public should have been saved hype and superfluity and the pictures could have been slipped into the last page in an edition Ovation. Who knows, part three may be in the works.
Diezani is innocent until proven guilty. If she seeks any genuine sympathy then she should be more forthright, and answer questions, and answer even questions not posed by Momodu. It’s not enough to throw a missile at the former CBN governor by suggesting he begged and groveled to be made ADB president. It is not enough to suggest Tinubu came thrice to plead for Oando. It would be nice to know if truly she had approached the new government to seek understanding, to arrange a soft landing.
She wants us to believe she is one of the most vilified, most denigrated public officials. That she, like Tam David West , should rather be appreciated. I am not sure David West will welcome that association and it’s not true that ministers that have supervised the NNPC always left ‘battered and blistered’ by allegations. Ajumogobia supervised that ministry.
If Diezani had allowed the House of Representatives probe the allegations against her, some negative public impressions may have been contained. If Diezani who left the country when she was still Petroleum Minister had allowed an official announcement of her affliction with breast cancer the public wouldn’t doubt she is truly sick. If public officials do not lie about the health the public won’t be invited to suspect that Diezani was malingering.
If Diezani had condescended to grant interviews to local journalists and answered questions bordering on her lifestyle, when she was minister, perhaps many of the rumours swirling around her would not have gained momentum. If Diezani had opted to treat her cancer of the breast in one of the hospitals in Nigeria, no Nigerian would suggest that she wants to evade justice. But the rich always feel entitled to travel abroad for treatment even when being investigated for serious offences.
Lamorde was sacked, promptly took ill and has left and just on time. Dasuki is ill too and wants to leave. And the poor, to whom the decrepit hospitals in Nigeria must belong, will rise to defend the freedom of the rich to evade justice in the name of seeking medical care. When NNPC spent billions hiring jets, they forgot to upgrade one or two teaching hospitals to the sort of standard that would have allowed something as common as breast cancer to be handled efficiently here. If Diezani was such a saint Akpabio would not have advised incoming ministers not to behave like Diezani.
But Diezani has no regrets, and all the allegations against her are false. Her relationship with Dame Jonathan is cordial. She owns no houses. She acted strictly professionally and empowered many young men. You would think that candour and resignation from sophistry would come from tribulation. So why isn’t Diezani courting the public with truth in confessions? Well , perhaps she has none. She is innocent.
Diezani is a lesson to all especially the high and mighty. No condition, they say, is permanent. Let our leaders embrace simplicity. Let the rich and powerful develop and equip our hospitals and perhaps the prisons. Let public opinion matter to politicians. Let the innocent be innocent until proven guilty. Let the sick receive due compassion. Let offenders be prosecuted dispassionately.
I wish Diezani a speedy recovery.

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