"DAM," as she's known on social media, symbolises, more than anyone else, the impunity of the Jonathan era. Within her first year as the petroleum minister (2010 – 2011), the number of dealers licensed to import petrol rose dramatically (from fewer than 40 to 140), and Nigeria's fuel subsidy import bill surged four-fold.

Diezani – she's one of those famous people more memorably known by their first names than their surnames – did not face even the slightest censure from the man who had appointed her. Instead, after public protests greeted an attempt to completely remove petrol subsidies, and the government capitulated and restored some of the subsidy, she shamelessly pursued the moral high ground and proceeded to set up a number of committees to investigate the subsidy scheme, ending up sitting in judgement over a situation she was widely deemed primarily responsible for.

The missing $20 billion saga
Less than two years later, the Central Bank governor Lamido Sanusi raised an alarm about the $20 billion in oil receipts that he claimed the national oil company was unable to account for. Neither the oil company, nor the minister-in-charge Diezani, bothered to credibly allege the allegations. In her final interview as a minister, in April 2015, she insisted that "at no time in Nigerian history in the oil and gas [industry] has the [Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC)] been as open and audited as it is today," and described herself as the victim of "malicious, malevolent [and] vindictive" attacks from the vested interests whose "big toes" her "unprecedented reforms" had hurt.

Since she left the office, the new government has said that its investigations have revealed that, between 2012 and 2015, more than $19 billion – a figure nearly identical to Mr. Sanusi's figure – in oil earnings could not be accounted for.

In 2014 she faced a probe from the Parliament over allegations she had spent millions of dollars in public funds on hiring private jets for personal use. She went to court to get an injunction halting the probe. In all of this, President Jonathan stood behind her. In arguably the most egregious instance, in a televised interview on May 4, 2014, he spent several minutes defending her, accusing the National Assembly of harassing her with endless summons, and dismissing the allegations of impropriety against her.

Privileges only "DAM" enjoyed
She was only one minister amidst more than forty, but by all estimation was a first among equals, reputed to have even more clout than Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the designated "coordinating minister of the economy" (a role that was early on half-jokingly likened to a prime ministerial position). (Considering that oil accounts for 70% of government revenues, and more than 80% of foreign exchange, it is easy to understand the power that the NNPC and oil minister wield relative to all other government bodies).

Like all powerful public servants, stories swirled around her: of her disregarding presidential directives, strolling in and out of cabinet meetings at will. In public, she maintained a perpetually unruffled, even haughty, mien, and projected the air of one who didn't deem it necessary to give account of her actions to anyone. None of the many controversies her name was linked to appeared to shake her in any way – until the very end, when it became clear that Mr. Jonathan's electoral loss would leave her exposed.

Even her July 2011 re-nomination as the oil minister was attended by controversy, regarding the date of her graduation from Howard University, where she studied for an undergraduate degree in architecture. In the resume she submitted to the Nigerian Senate for confirmation in July 2011, she reportedly claimed to have graduated in 1987, aged 27. Contacted for clarification by Nigerian journalists, the university refuted this, pointing out that according to its records she graduated in 1992. She survived that storm.

"All Nigerian ministers are equal, but some Nigerian ministers are more equal than others"
While she was untouchable, no one who worked for or reported to her enjoyed a similar privilege. In her first four years as the petroleum minister, she went through three directors of the Department for Petroleum Resources (the industry regulator), and four group managing directors of the NNPC.

Even among Jonathan's staunchest defenders, it appeared there were those who struggled to understand why Diezani was, more than anyone else, untouchable. There were those who would have wanted the president to sacrifice her, but somehow, no one was able to convince him. It is likely that his re-election chances would have been much stronger had he made a show of sacrificing her, as proof of his commitment to an anti-corruption agenda.

It is this untouchability, this appearance of being above-the-law that explains the social media "schaDAMfreude" that has trailed the news of her arrest in London, on October 2. Having come to represent the face of Jonathan-era excess, there are many Nigerians who think it would be farcical to consider drawing a line on the recent past without getting Diezani to answer for her time tending to the goose that lays Nigeria's golden eggs.

Five facts:

— Her name means, in her local dialect (Izon), "Look before you leap". According to her, in a 2008 interview, it was "put together from scratch" by her father.

— She has an undergraduate degree in architecture from Howard University (USA, 1992), and a master's in business administration (MBA) from Cambridge University (UK, 2003).

— She is Nigeria's longest-serving minister, serving from July 2007 to May 29, 2011, and July 2011 to May 29, 2015 – a total of eight years.

— She was the first female executive director in Shell's Nigeria office, the first female appointed to head Nigeria's transportation, mines and steel development, and petroleum ministries, the first woman to represent any country at the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), and the first woman elected to the OPEC presidency (2014)/

— Her husband, Allison Madueke, a retired rear admiral, and one-time chief of naval staff, whom she married in 1999, served as military governor of Anambra when General Buhari was head of state between January 1984 and August 1985.



Ololade is a passionate writer, Loyal Nigerian and Creative Director of Loladeville .

Post A Comment: