Diezani as Nigeria’s Imelda Marcus

Imelda Marcus made the cover of Time Magazine in the 1980s through her obsession with shoes.  The former Filipino first lady had an intimidating collection of shoes that rivaled even the world’s largest shoe shop.  She had 3, 000 pairs of shoes. The shoes were so many that she needed more than eight years to wear all of them once per day.

Ferdinand Marcus, Imelda’s husband ruled the Philippines from 1965 to 1986 when he was ousted in a popular uprising.  Imelda abandoned her coveted shoe shop in the presidential palace as they fled to exile in the United States.

The government of the Philippines made a huge exhibition of the shoes in the presidential palace.  They were eventually packed into scores of sacks and moved to the country’s museum where they are now doing a losing battle with moulds and termites.

Mrs. Marcus was obsessed with opulence and indecent profligacy.  She was once quoted as saying that her family practically owned everything in the Philippines.  

Age has not weakened Imelda’s penchant for showy display of ill-gotten wealth.  On Wednesday, July 3, 2019 she organized an expensive party to celebrate her 90th birth day. About 2,500 guests attended the party. Unfortunately, 260 were hospitalized for infections emanating from food poisoning.     

Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke is Nigeria’s answer to Imelda Marcus of the Philippines.  Nigeria’s former minister of petroleum resources is obsessed with jewelries and handbags.  During her tenure in office, she reportedly acquired an Italian animal skin handbag at a princely price of N22 million.

Now the outrageous cost of the intimidating handbag pales into insignificance as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) makes a curious display of the jewelries recovered from the former minister’s residence.

On Friday, July 5, 2019, Justice Nicholas Oweibo ordered a temporary forfeiture of 2, 149 pieces of jewelries and customised gold iphone valued at $40 million. He was ruling on EFCC’s exparte application demanding forfeiture of the items to the federal government.

The cache of jewelries included 419 expensive bangles, 315 expensive rings, 304 expensive earrings, 267 expensive necklaces, 189 expensive wristwatches, 174 expensive necklaces and earrings, 78 expensive bracelets, 77 expensive brooches and 74 expensive pendants.

At the current Investors & Exporters (I&E) window exchange rate of N360 to the dollar, Diezani’s cache of jewelries is worth N14.4 billion.  That is enough to build a 200-kilometre dual carriageway.  It could fund the construction, staffing and equipping of hundreds of maternity homes across Nigeria in a bid to reduce the country’s shamefully high maternal and child mortality rate.  The money could construct thousands of schools across Nigeria to accommodate some of the 13.5 million children of school age roaming the streets without the privilege of being educated.

Diezani Alison-Madueke is the synonym of extravagance, opulence and indecent profligacy.  No one knows why a sane person would acquire 189 expensive wristwatches when they are not dresses that are changed every day. If Diezani were to do justice to her collection of wristwatches by wearing each of them per day, it would take her more than six months to go round them. So, only Diezani can explain her obsession with expensive watches in a country where 157 million people wallow in poverty.

There were myriads of complaints about senseless waste of Nigeria’s lean resources during her tenure as minister of petroleum resources.

When former President Goodluck Jonathan visited China, he travelled to the Asian country in his presidential jet, an executive Boeing 737 configured to accommodate 81 passengers.   

Diezani shunned the presidential jet and hired a private jet at  $300, 000.  The senseless extravagance drew the ire of the press.  The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) rose to a spirited defence of Diezani’s obsession with improvidence.  It argued that everywhere in the world, oil ministers fly around in private jets.  Nigeria’s own could therefore not be an exception.

Diezani may go down in history as Nigeria’s most powerful oil minister.  She arbitrarily doled out $114 million for bribing officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in a bid to rig the 2015 presidential election.

As oil minister, she operated mostly from her residence.  A leading five star hotel in Abuja supplied breakfast, lunch and dinner to the minister and her visitors in her residence daily.  The hotel does not handle outdoor supplies with less than 50 meals.  It was therefore supplying a minimum of 150 meals to the minister’s residence daily.  At an average of N6, 000 per plate, NNPC might have been spending N27 million monthly on the minister’s meals.

Imelda Marcus was eventually sentence to six years imprisonment for money laundering.  Although she did not serve the full term of the sentence, it was clear that she was not above the law.

Diezani Alison-Madueke, Nigeria’s equivalent of Imelda Marcus is a thorn on the flesh of Nigeria’s rulers. It will be difficult to prosecute her.

If she is extradited to stand trial in Nigeria, tribal sentiment might compel her prosecutors to choose between her trial and the free flow of oil in the Niger Delta.      

By October 2019, Justice Oweibo would make a final decision on the absurd wealth of Diezani Alison-Madueke.  If the items are permanently forfeited to the federal government, they should be auctioned immediately and the proceeds used to quicken the completion of the Second Niger Bridge.  When the bridge is eventually commissioned, the plaque should indicate that the construction was partially funded from the proceeds of the jewelries cache of Diezani Alison-Madueke. 

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