The announcement last week by the British authorities that they had charged former Petroleum Resources Minister, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke, with bribery offences, is a major scene in her series of run-ins with the law since 2015.
The British authorities are suspecting that she had accepted bribes in return for awarding multi-billion Naira oil and gas contracts. She served as petroleum minister from 2010 to 2015 in the Goodluck Jonathan’s administration. She also acted as President of OPEC in 2014-2015. “We suspect Diezani Alison-Madueke abused her power in Nigeria and accepted financial rewards for awarding multi-million pounds contracts,’’ said Andy Kelly, Head of the International Corruption Unit of the National Crime Agency (NCA). He added: “These charges are a milestone in what has been a thorough and complex international investigation.’’
I understand that the EFCC has been collaborating with the NCA in this investigation. Alison-Madueke is 63 years old, and was at a time, said to be suffering from cancer.
NCA is a formidable crime fighter with global resources and reach that enable it to collaborate with certain agencies in other jurisdictions. It describes itself as a leading agency in UK’s “fight to cut serious and organised crime,’’ with its officers working “at the forefront of law enforcement, building the best possible intelligence picture of serious and organised crime threats, relentlessly pursuing the most serious and dangerous offenders and developing and delivering specialist capabilities on behalf of law enforcement and other partners.’’ Apart from financial crimes like bribery, NCA investigates a wide range of crimes, from slavery, to illegal firearms, cybercrime and sexual exploitation.’’ Their officers are highly trained, and adequately motivated. They can never be swayed by any form of inducements, as we often see here. I can tell you that Madam Diezani is in big trouble!
If convicted, she would be the third Nigerian public official to go to jail in the UK in this Fourth Republic. Former Governor James Ibori was in 2012 sentenced to 13 years in prison in the UK for corruption and former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu was, last May, sentenced to nine years and eight months in UK for organ trafficking. His wife, Beatrice, was jailed for four years and six months for being part of the crime. Despite the stringency of the UK’s legal system, Nigeria’s corrupt public officials continue to stash away their loots in UK banks. Some invest heavily in the London property market, either for profit or as a store of value for their stolen wealth.
The United States also has very strict laws against bribery and corruption. The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 is a federal law that prohibits US citizens and entities from bribing foreign government officials to benefit their business interests. It imposes long prison terms on offenders. Two Nigerian friends who worked for two US-owned oil companies in Lagos have told me stories of how dreadful this law is. One was returning to Nigeria from US and he had a corporate jet to himself. At Houston International airport, he ran into his state governor who was also returning to Nigeria. “I wanted to offer a lift in the plane to my governor, but I could not because that would flout the FCPA. It could be interpreted as a bribe, or at least, a breach of corporate ethics; and I explained that to the governor, who understood,’’ my friend told me years after the incident.
The other friend, who worked in another US oil company in Lagos, told me a strikingly similar story a few years ago. Here he was at Abuja Airport with his CEO, an American, waiting to board the company’s executive jet to Lagos. He continued: “Suddenly, a well-known Nigerian newspaper publisher appeared, and he was also going to Lagos. The publisher asked my MD for a lift; but the MD told him to talk to the Deputy MD, a Nigerian, and incidentally, a former journalist, who was also in the party. The Publisher approached the DMD, and to his shock, the DMD declined, insisting that giving him a lift would break the law and corporate policy.’’ The publisher was beside himself with shock. The strictness with which some foreign countries fight corruption and adhere to high ethical standards explains why they are also very developed. It is my fervent belief and conviction that the main reason that Nigeria is so poor and undeveloped is because of the massive corruption and unethical practices going on in the public sector.
In the case of Alison-Madueke, the NCA said she is accused of benefitting from at least £100,000 ($127,000) in cash, chauffeur-driven cars, flights in private jets, luxury holidays for her family and use of multiple London properties. Charges against her also detail financial rewards including furniture, renovation work and staff for the properties, payment of private school fees and gifts from high-end designer shops such as Cartier Jewelry and Louis Vuitton goods. NCA added that her assets, worth millions of pounds, relating to alleged offences had been frozen, and that it had also provided evidence to the US Department of Justice that enabled to recover assets worth $53 million linked to the former minister. In other words, she has been in serious trouble in at least three jurisdictions.
Alison-Madueke fled Nigeria soon after leaving office in May 2015, and was arrested in London in October of that year. Since then, she has also been a subject of investigations in Nigeria and the US. The NCA announces that she’s currently living in St. John’s Wood, an upmarket area of West London, and would appear at West Magistrate Court on October 2, exactly a month away. I have no doubt in my mind that the NCA has compelling evidence against her. Those people do not charge any suspect to court unless they have a water-tight case. They are not like our law enforcement agencies that would detain suspects for months before they begin investigations. In some cases, if the suspect is a high-brow public official, two agencies might be fighting openly on who should keep custody of the suspect. They know that once the suspect is in their custody, he would be a good source of “palliatives’’! But UK is not Nigeria; and this is why I am excited that Madam Diezani would have a fair opportunity to defend herself. This is her day of reckoning.
Public officials who have stolen from this country are responsible for the poverty, unemployment and misery in which majority of our people wallow. They are partly responsible for the insecurity we have all over the country today. They will have their comeuppance one day. The EFCC has done a fantastic job of investigating Mrs Alison-Madueke and obtaining forfeiture orders against some of her assets. I recall that Justice Abdulaziz Anka of the Federal High Court Ikoyi, Lagos, had in August 2017 ordered the final forfeiture of N7.6 billion of her money to the Nigerian government. Justice Anka gave the order sequel to an application filed by the EFCC. The judge’s order came days after he had also ordered the final forfeiture of 56 houses linked to the former minister valued at N3.3 billion.
That same month, another judge, Justice Chuka Obiozor of the Federal High Court, had also ordered the forfeiture of $37.5 million property at Banana Island, Ikoyi, Lagos, linked to the former minister to the federal government. Before then, other courts had also ordered forfeiture of huge amounts of cash and property to linked to Mrs. Alison-Madueke to the government. I am pleased that her day of reckoning is nigh. It is the final chapter in her odyssey.
This trial begins as a new set of 45 ministers, some with pending corruption cases, are settling down in their offices. Their families, friends, cronies and associates, are already in Abuja to prospect for ‘juicy’ deals with them. The last set of officials have left with their own booties, unchallenged. A former governor of my own state, I understand, has stashed away over $100 million (about N90 billion at today’s rate). During the eight years he spent in office, he acquired huge shareholdings in two new commercial banks. With the recent decapitation of the EFCC, the bazaar will continue without the slightest restraint.
ETIM ETIM is a journalist, banker and author. He has been a member of the Editorial Board of The Guardian, a Regional Manager in Access Bank and is currently a Columnist in Prime Business Africa, The Cable and Businessday newspapers.
He is also the Chief Executive of Stein Meyer Communications, a major media consultancy and the author of the best-selling book, "Akwa Ibom Heroes: Inside Story of the Fight for Abrogation of Onshore-Offshore Oil Dichotomy" and co-author of another book, "Osinbajo Strides: Defining Moments of an Innovative Leader".