Those who take more than a passing interest in ancient philosophy would recall some of the polemics of Greek philosopher, Aristotle. In one of those seminal postulations, the sage laid the theoretical basis for understanding the exertions, travails and eventual fall of the tragic hero. In the Aristotelian worldview therefore, the tragic hero is the character whose “misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty.” The implication is that in the somewhat inevitable fall of the tragic character, what the philosopher calls the tragic flaw becomes the greatest undoing of the figure in question.
Ironically, by the time the hero of tragic proportions is on the verge of crashing down from his Olympian heights, the spotlight doesn’t focus on whatever good that may have come through his works. The hero’s tragic flaws resonate so loudly, eclipsing any positive impact his exertions may have made on society.
Within the context of the Nigerian polity, one figure who cuts something close to an accurate description of the tragic hero in the classic Aristotelian sense is Diezani Allison Madueke. It was at a time when the debate favoured the presence of more professionals and technocrats to help the Federal Government deliver the so called physical dividends of democracy to an impatient nation. President Olusegun Obasanjo in his second term from 2003 favoured these technocrats including Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Oby Ezekwesili, Nasir el Rufai amongst others to be at the heart of his Economic Management team. President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua apparently wanted to people his administration with great brain boxes that would not only give the government the image of one willing to perform, but also help deliver the actual goods. It is under this firmament that Diezani burst into national consciousness in 2007, when she was appointed Minister of Transport by President Yar’Adua. And she got off the block with the spic and span image of a woman who had come to government with her sleeves rolled up to get the job done. Within a few months, she cut for herself a somewhat different public image by generally appearing at project inspection sites, not in the gaudy apparels typical of the Nigerian political class, but in crisp overalls, with helmets for effect.
One of her very first actions as Minister was to jolt the nation using an approach rarely used by government officials: the shedding of tears. It was during a tour of the Benin-Ore Highway, which had become so dilapidated that it could better be described as a long stretch of gullies than an highway in the 21st century.
Diezani was so moved by what she saw that her eyes began to produce rivulets of tears. Those historic tears shed by a minister, connecting and mourning with the people over the sorry state of national affairs rightly put Diezani on the radar as a government official to watch out for. Her emotional outburst also elicited reactions from bemused Nigerians who are apparently not used to seeing their faraway leaders express such emotions as crying over the big decay the nation had become.
Other citizens sneered at the ministerial catharsis, insisting that a sea of tears would not bring back the lives, property and man hours that had forever been lost to the failure of government to maintain and ensure a critical national infrastructure was in good shape.
Perhaps to show that neither by tears nor other acts of mourning are they great problems of the nation resolved, several years after Diezani wept over the year, it remained in its decrepit state, serving as a reference point for those who used that incident to take potshots at her. All that notwithstanding, Diezani moved on.
Her next port of call was the Ministry of Petroleum where she has continued to grapple with one of the most slippery ministerial portfolios. With her experience as one of the brightest Nigerians stars at the Anglo Dutch giant, Shell, putting Diezani at the helm of the Ministry of Petroleum Resources was reckoned by many stakeholders to be a nice fit.
So compelling was the reasoning that the talk focused on how the super minister would put to use her experience from a frontline oil major to revamp the fortunes of the petroleum industry in Nigeria. The thematic issues to grapple with were manifold; local content, investments, more revenue for government and exploring options for an efficient running of the national oil behemoth, the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation.
As things stand today, there is a frenetic pace of activities all geared towards revamping the petroleum industry in Nigeria. A local Content policy governing, and providing a framework for action in areas of the industry that would provide jobs and boost businesses for Nigerians is already in place.
A comprehensive legislation, the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), with all its imperfections and the reservations of several stakeholders, is being processed through the slowly grinding mills of the legislative process. The impact of the PIB debate in spite of the fact that the law is yet to be passed is that it has served to mirror the realities of the current dispensation of the oil and gas industry to a generality of Nigerians. For those who know, there is consensus that things must change in the ways the nation’s oil and gas sector is run. Although controversial and painful due to its multiplier effects, the partial removal of fuel subsidy in January 2012 has generated a new stream of revenue for the government even though the cases of those who engaged in sharp practices, claim subsidy for fuel not imported, are slowly dragging through the courts.
But like all tragic heroes, Diezani is finding herself in a slippery terrain, which if not well navigated could result in her fall from grace. Like many public figures destined to ride high and write their names in gold, but who soon found themselves incapacitated by the most likely problem of poor quality advice, the Minister is having to deal with a brewing crisis of credibility. This time it is not about an allegedly missing $50 billion from the coffers of the NNPC.
It is about the same tragic flaws that have led many bright professionals into an early exit from a system they could have changed; something close to personal aggrandizement. The trouble brewing now is that the House of Representatives recently mandated its Committee on Public Accounts to investigate the alleged squandering of N10 billion over a two-year period on the arbitrary charter and maintenance of a Challenger 850 aircraft for unofficial use by the Minister of Petroleum Resources Diezani. Even in a country where people have become inured to shock occasioned by the excesses of government official, many of her admirers would hope that the latest allegations against the minister somehow prove to be incorrect. Already, stark contrasts are being drawn with a country like Britain where the Prime Minister flies commercial on British Airways whenever he has course to travel out of the country. It is these sorts of prudent examples that Nigerians want to see being demonstrated by their leaders, especially those who have come into public service after stints in big corporations where nothing is taken with levity.
If it is the quality of advice that has put madam Diezani in such an akward situation, having to explain the squandering of billions on a private aircraft in a country where many look up to the skies for their next meal, it will raise posers about how one more bright prospect in the governance of the country succumbed to the frailties of a classic tragic hero. The problem is that if the fall eventually comes, history will not remember any good she may have done. The negative atmospherics that comes from allegations like the one the minister is currently the minister’s albatross, alone is enough to obliterate whatever good may have been done during her time.
Armsfree Ajanaku writes from Abuja
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