Did Nigeria’s President take $1m 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 what Sahara Reporters (the Nigeria-focused site based in New York City) has published is authentic, then it 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 Sahara Reporters 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

Further Reading

The academic game

African Studies scholars write for the gate-keepers, to prove our own legitimacy, for the stimulation of conferences and the relief of rising recognition by algorithms.

Lagos gone to seed

The Nigerian drama “Òlòtūré,” about sex work and sex trafficking in the country’s commercial capital, which premiered on Netflix, is mostly uncomfortable. And not in a good way.

The politics of influence

Influence exhilarates. It also makes people nervous. Writers, artists, scholars, researchers—we all seem to want to be “influential.” Less often do we want to admit to being “influenced.”

Good influence

It is unfair to expect coherent politics from Naira Marley or his fans, the Marlians. We should, instead, chastise the Nigerian state for stifling its people and keeping its young perpetually waiting.