Did Goodluck Jonathan pay $1 million from anti-poverty fund to bring Beyonce and Jay-Z to Nigeria?

Whatever Jay-Z and Beyonce were expecting when they went to Nigeria in 2006, they can’t have seen this one coming.

If the document New York-based muckrakers Sahara Reporters have published is authentic, then they have just scooped one of the news stories of the decade. No doubt about it. It is alleged that in 2006 the most powerful man in African media, Nduka Obaigbena (known for hobnobbing with celebrities from Lil Kim to Colin Powell to Henry Kissinger) paid for the Knowles-Carters’ Nigerian visit by successfully soliciting $1 million of public money from none other than the current president, Goodluck Jonathan, when he was governor of Bayelsa State. And the kicker? In the letter they’ve published that money appears to have been paid out directly from the state’s “poverty alleviation fund”.

Here is the meat of their report (click through to see the original document):

SaharaReporters has uncovered a document indicating that a million dollars of Bayelsa State’s poverty alleviation fund was spent by then Governor Goodluck Jonathan on bringing American entertainers Beyonce and Jay Z to Nigeria in 2006. In a letter stamped and signed by Bayelsa officials, N150 million (approximately a million dollars in 2006) was released from the state’s poverty alleviation fund for the first ThisDay Music Festival in Lagos.

The document came to light after a controversy was ignited over how much money American “reality TV” star Kim Kardashian was paid for a brief visit to Nigeria […]

SaharaReporters obtained a letter from Mr. Obaigbena to the Bayelsa State government soliciting funds from the oil-producing state ahead of Nigeria’s 46th independence celebrations in 2006. The publisher wrote, “We invite you to partner with us as co-hosts of the festival.” The letter added: “With a total budget of $10 million, the co-host is expected to contribute a minimum of $2.5 million (two million five hundred thousand USD).”

At the bottom of the letter, minuted by hand and signed by then Governor Jonathan’s aides as well as the Bayelsa State accountant general are the words, “Release N150,000,000.00 (One hundred and fifty million naira) only to be drawn from the poverty alleviation subhead.”

[…] SaharaReporters could not ascertain how much of the released funds was paid directly to performers at the festival. There is no indication that Beyonce, one of the few entertainment stars internationally famous enough to only need one name, was aware that her performance was being subsidized by the poor people of Bayelsa.

But during Beyonce’s celebrated rendition of the Nigerian national anthem, pictures of Bayelsa State were projected onto the wall of the Lagos concert venue.

According to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, 47% of Bayelsans live in poverty. The World Bank says that per capita gross domestic product in the Niger Delta is significantly below the country’s average. According to the state’s own 2005 development strategy, 80% of rural communities have no access to safe drinking water, a key indicator in judging poverty. In Yenagoa, the state capital and Bayelsa’s largest urban area, an estimated two out of every five residents do not have access to safe drinking water.

In 2005, as part of its UN-approved strategy to combat poverty, the state promised to make a fund of N100 million available as soft loans and micro-credit to Bayelsans. The allocated fund was N50 million less than Mr. Jonathan approved for Mr. Obaigbena’s music festival.

The repercussions on this story will run and run. There were rumors and online whispers about the exorbitant fee paid to Kim Kardashian for her three-syllable “hosting” job last week and where that money may have come from. Many have long-suspected that there was something fishy about the growing trend for lavish big name jamborees, and Sahara Reporters have blown the whole thing wide open.

Here’s that expensive performance of the Nigerian national anthem by Queen Bey:

There’s been no response from Goodluck Jonathan, or anyone involved in the story, and of course we have to wait for them to have their say before drawing too many conclusions. Usual caution applies, and so far (unsurprisingly given the stakes of what’s alleged) the only verification in the piece comes from Sahara Reporters’ as yet unnamed sources. That said, Jonathan has some sizeable questions to answer (but don’t be surprised if the administration try simply to ignore this story). Jonathan looked pretty relaxed yesterday, spending the whole day holding hands with “The First Black President” at the opening of the vile Emirates-style haven for the rich, Eko Atlantic City:

The New York Times, in its enduring wisdom, published a glowing profile of Obaigbena  just two years after Beyonce’s visit, titled “Using Star Power to Repair Nigeria’s Image“. They called him “part Bono, part Diddy” and collected luvvy quotes from such shrewd observers as the head of Transparency International-USA (“There is reason to be cautiously optimistic” [regarding Obaigbena’s anti-corruption efforts]), Naomi Campbell (“Nduka obviously has a remarkable vision, real passion and a special message”) and former Australian prime minister John Howard (“Obaigbena is striking a blow for the truer path”). On this occasion, I think it’s fair to venture that our midtown friends didn’t quite get “all the news that’s fit to print”. The same reporter who did the New York Times story, Angelo Ragaza, published a still-more adoring profile in Arise Magazine (proprietor: Mr N. Obaigbena) a few months later. For the record, he’s also credited as “the visionary behind Africa Rising.”

Former U.S. President Bush, Chairman of THISDAY Newspapers Obaigbena, Britain's former PM Blair and former U.S. Secretary of State Rice pose for photograph in Abuja

Comments

comments

Elliot Ross

Elliot Ross is senior editor at Africa is a Country. He tweets at @africasacountry and @futbolsacountry

18 Comments
  1. Certainly news, but is it really one of the news stories of the decade? It definitely would be if Jay-Z and Beyoncé had known about it. But I’d wager there’s no way they did (though had they taken some courses in African studies, they’d have known to be skeptical of state capital flows in Nigeria). Ultimately the plot points are a bit more interesting, but this is not all that out of the ordinary when it comes to embezzlement and misuse of funds. Will be interesting if the plot points turn it into some kind of legitimate crisis for Jonathan/PDP.

    1. @Justin: Not to announce on the guilt or otherwise of Jay Z and Beyonce–thus far the story has been on the fact that the loot paid to them comes from government money, but there’s lots of scattered information around the web about the scandalous amounts paid to American, mostly African American, artists for short trips to play for the families of Life Presidents or to offer bread and circuses to the restive masses at high cost. At some point, someone in their entourages must be asking where’s the money coming from?

  2. This has already come out annd years ago, actually. My source (my wife) told me that when Beyonce found out where the money came from she donated it to a cause, though my wife couldn’t be certain which cause she gave it to. Still what strikes me as pathetic, is that these celebrities would accept an invitation like this in the first place. If an African president is giving money to celebrities for private parties, you can pretty well bet that the money isn’t coming from his own bank account.

  3. Jared&Justin – respectfully, I don’t think people will necessarily be convinced by the testimony of your wife/term paper. A document of this kind, carried by a Nigerian publication, is very different from the usual hearsay.

    1. I hear what you are saying Elliot, but this story has already been published, and it was quite some time ago. I realize that my wife is not a journalist expert! That’s funny actually. I guess we’ll see soon enough.

        1. I honestly don’t know Elliot. But I just checked with one of my colleagues and she said that she heard about it over a year ago. I’ll see if I can find a source. Have to run.

    1. Shit, my bad! Yes, that is exactly the incident that I was talking about. This a very good reason why I am not a journalist Elliot, and why I pay attention to sites like yours!!!

    2. Seeing that George Bush, Tony Blair, etc had normalized diplomatic relations with Gadaffi and Libya at the time, I thought it was unfair to ask entertainers to give money back. Blair became extremely close to the Gaddafi family. Vistied them in Libya several times and did some business with them as well. Prince Andrew also became really close. One Gadaffi son said that they did contribute to Sarkozy’s re-election campaing. But the polliticians and the American and European corporations weren’t asked to give any money back. When they made several million to billions, working in conjuction with the Gadaffis. All this was done prior to the Arab Spring, like the performers only performing for some members of the family while their were diplomatic ties to them.

  4. I think that this was the trip that both Jay-Z and Beyonce also gave millions back to Nigeria and other African nations through their Clean Water initiative. If it wasn’t the trip, they did assist Africa in that way within a couple of years of this.

    1. @Kyle: Jay Z was on some “clean water” initiative in Angola. Ask Angolans what they thought about that? Beyonce was never part of anything like that. And how does one “assist Africa”?

  5. I highly doubt Jay-Z and Beyoncé knew where the money was coming from and as Justin said, only then would it be the news story of the decade, although as a young Nigerian myself, I am surprised at even the youth’s blasé attitude towards corruption and scandal. I wrote a blogpost about the whole thing, focusing on the Nigerian psyche, why and how this sort of thing is possible. I hope you find this interesting and informative. My hope is to spur debate, that more people begin to think deeply about such things so that in the not too distant future, we can see corruption in Africa as the exception, rather than the norm. This post is based on Kim Kardashian’s 45 min appearance at an event in lagos
    http://gidiladyrantsalot.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/a-ranting-we-will-go-what-this-lady-ranter-has-to-say-about-kim-k-dareys-concert-and-mostly-the-need-for-more-ranting/

  6. So what’s new? He is an African politician in the pockets of big money, what did anyone expect? Gee, just have a look at what the oil companyies are doing in Nigeria . . . no regard for people, no regard for the environment, and all regard to profit and all this is approved by the government as the politicians get richer. With regards to Jay-Z, Beyonce and Kim, it is themselves that they care about and only themselves. Small tokens of charity compared to the wealth that they have is just an attempt at public relations. It’s amazing how all these big names all want a part of Africa . . . and then go back home to their opulence.
    tprincewill has hit the nail on the head when he states that even the youth is complacent to corruption. Corruption is an inherent part of our African culture, to expect less is sheer stupidity. What did Einstein say about hitting your head against the wall over and over again and expecting a different result? Take heed of that!

    1. Let’s be careful to not fall into the easy convenience of afropessimism. Corruption is not inherently a part of African culture, as much as it has become the norm across the continent today. It is so because it is obviously convenient for government and their cronies in business for lawlessness and rampant corruption to prevail. Then, ordinary people buy into corruption as a kind of survival mechanism: do as the big guys do or lose out as it’s the fastest and most easily profitable business in Nigeria today, in a country where registering and operating a business is difficult, expensive and almost near impossible without the right contacts. When you add to this Nigeria’s decaying infrastructure, lack of social services, lack of jobs for disenfranchised, angry, youths, you can understand why so many people seek the easy way out which is literally to either syphon any funds you can get your hands on or spam the email addresses of foreigners with 419 emails from fake african princes seeking help. But, we must continue to expect different results. Not everyone across the continent finds the situation normal or ideal, in fact, although many have a blasé attitude to corruption, it is their powerlessness that enforces this attitude. But among the youth there are a few planning to go into politics for the right reasons and yes, one day they will come to power. It’s not idealism, it’s the truth: Nigeria is in the infancy of it’s politics, much like many young Western democracies once were. I can imagine that, then, no one believed the French could become a Republic again, after Napoleon! Yet they did. Examples abound throughout history of people suddenly deciding enough is enough. In Nigeria’s case, I’m not talking about a revolution. Just a serious minded, forward thinking group of people coming together and there are quite a number among the youth. I expect a lot from the African youth to which I myself belong. And, tprincewill is a girl :)

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