Ondugbe O’Abbah narrates the dirty fight between the two musketeers of Jonathan’s ‘Kitchen’ Cabinet, Diezani and Okonjo-Iweala
Hell has no fury than a woman scorned. So goes a well-used saying; and when it so happens that two women are scorned, the level or intensity of fury involved is better left to the imagination.
For the government of President Goodluck Jonathan, such a damning scenario has been reportedly raging for some time now, starring two of the most prominent members of the president’s kitchen cabinet.
On the one hand is the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; on the other is the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison – Madueke. At stake is the single-minded desire to “monopolise” the president’s attention and, by implication, control the levers of the nation’s economy.
This medium gathered that the struggle for supremacy between the two amazons began shortly after Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment following Jonathan’s electoral triumph in the 2011 presidential poll. “To the dismay of Diezani and her supporters who had been hoping that she would be accorded higher privilege on account of her immense contribution to his electoral victory, Ngozi was named coordinator minister of the economy and by implication of higher ranking than Diezani, a source familiar with the undeclared “war” between the duo confided in our correspondent.
According to that source, what particularly riled Alison-Madueke was that aside from the then minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah, no other member of the federal executive had gone more extra miles in their bid to ensure that Jonathan won the 2011 poll by all means.
“Initially she (Alison-Madueke) had assumed that her major rival would be Stella Oduah,” the source added. “The assumption was hinged mainly on the fact that whereas Diezani executed her own support from the background, Stella, on her part, played a visible role in the campaign through her Neighbor 2 Neighbor outfit and was thereafter rewarded with a juicy ministerial appointment.
It, however, eventually became evident that despite both women’s contributions to Jonathan’s electoral triumph, a new comer in the person of Ngozi Okonjo – Iweala was the apple of the president’s eye in terms of economic management and fiscal policies, so much so that despite the fact that she supervises a ministry which controls the resources (oil and gas) which represent about 80% of Nigeria’s total revenue, Alison – Madueke found herself “somewhat sidelined in the scheme of things with Ngozi Okonja-Iweala being accorded higher recognition”, another source disclosed to DESERT HERALD.
Ever since then, an unrelenting war has allegedly been raging between the duo, with each combatant believed to be scheming to outwit the other. In particular, the two power-chasing cabinet colleagues are said to be employing all sorts of “sponsored media attacks” (as an insider called it) with a view to upstaging the other.
In one such instance, it was widely reported that Okonjo-Iweala had allegedly awarded a multi-billion naira “sweetheart” contract to one of her family members. Even though the said contract was said to have been awarded during her stint as finance minister in the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, her traducers bayed for her blood relentlessly, pointing out that she had exhibited wanton misjudgment in the award of that contract.
As the dust raised by that controversy was still swirling, Okonjo-Iweala found herself in the midst of another storm. At the centre of this particular storm was then the spokesman of the Nigeria Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Yushau Shuaibu, who had published an article to which Okonjo-Iweala took exception. An enraged Okonja-Iweala, apparently believing that Shauibu was being used against her, reportedly demanded an apology and a retraction of the offending piece.
Shuaibu declined, however, and thus began the end of his distinguished civil service career. According to him “On October 3, 2013 I received a (retirement) letter from the Federal Civil Service, which was back-dated to June 20, 2013… It contained the charge that I was retired for critising a public official.”
Apparently justifying Shuaibu’s unceremonious retirement, Okonjo-Iweala’s media aide, Paul Nwabuiku, retorted that “Mr. Shuaibu, a civil servant, wrote an opinion article in which he made false and libelous allegations against the Minister, for which he refused to apologise,” hence the punitive action taken against him by the appropriate government organ.
These and other media attacks, coupled with the kidnapping of her mother last year in the heat of what was branded “orchestrated campaign of calumny against the Minister”, evidently raised the stakes. More so as Okonja-Iweala emphasised to whoever cared to listen that the whole “wicked campaign” was the handwork of those whose toes she had stepped upon in the course of performing her patriotic duties.
And, as if on cue, the heat was subsequently turned on the then Aviation Minister, Stella Oduah and later on Alison-Madueke. In Oduah’s case, she was alleged to have purchased two BMW bulletproof cars at the staggering sum of N255 million. So intense was the heat and stench generated by this scandal that Oduah was eventually dropped from the federal cabinet.
In the same vein, Alison-Madueke has been enmeshed in a N10 billion aircraft chartering mess. The scandal had attracted universal attention a few weeks ago when the matter was raised in the National Assembly by a lawmaker who represents Lagos State in the federal parliament.
Unknown to many, the aircraft charter scandal had been exposed by a Lagos-based daily earlier this year. In the same vein, a faceless group had raised the issue a few months ago, demanding for the Petroleum Resource Minister’s sacking on the grounds that she had indulged in extravagant spending of taxpayers’ money.
Our correspondent reliably gathered that initially, Alison-Madueke and her camp had suspected that Oduah was behind the embarrassing exposure. “Upon investigation, it however became crystal clear that someone other than Stella Oduah was behind the pull-her-down campaign,” a source close to the minister declared.
Although the source stopped short of naming the culprit, one of Alison-Madueke’s aides who spoke to our correspondent in confidence pointedly fingered “a prominent female member of the federal cabinet” as the mastermind of “the sponsored smear campaign against this innocent woman (Alison-Madueke) in their desperate bid to pull her down at all costs.”
Speaking on condition of anonymity as she wasn’t authorised to make any statement on the issue, she said: “We have looked into the whole thing and how they hatched the plot even before the matter got to the National Assembly, and we know the brain behind it. Sooner than later we are going to return fire for fire!”
From the look of things, there is surely “fire on the mountain”. Indications are rife that the two elephants entangled in this ‘rofo-rofo’ duel – Ngozi and Diezani -are apparently girding their loins for the mother-of-all titanic battles. Who will blink first? Who will be vanquished? Time, to borrow a well-worn cliché, will unravel all that sooner or later.
Watch out for the role played by First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan in the saga next week