(By Ikenna Ugwu)
“The problems with Nigeria abound. In functional democratic countries there is a limit to what you can do even as the President. The constitution is not just a set of rules that people use to leverage easy-life; it is a law, meant to guide us including people in authority. So, if the constitution does not recognise the office of the first lady why then does the country spend tax payer’s money on her concerns; paying her coterie of aides, sponsoring her politically frivolous expeditions?“
I READ Babs Ajayi’s article: “The Grabby lives of the Jonathans: Lesson from Cherie Blair.” Babs wrote all the way from Quebec, Canada. Ideas have a multiplicity function. Bab’s idea of the article came (according to him) after he read Mrs. Cherie Blair’s autobiography, and mine came from reading his revealing article. Our goal is the same: To raise our voices, crying, screaming, perhaps the Jonathans will hear and learn.
Babs’ article was a window into the life of former British first lady as revealed in her autobiography: “Speaking for Myself.” He talked about how things were and are done in the seat of power. He recommended the book for the Jonathans. But I am concerned about the place of Dame Patience Jonathan in President Jonathan’s Administration. I hope she read Mr. Bab’s article, too, because I’m sure she will be unnecessarily too busy to read Cherrie Blair’s book.
Seeing Mrs. Jonathan’s assumed position in her husband’s government inspires myriad questions. And I wonder if she serves as just the president’s wife or as vice-president. She has assumed a more pivotal role in her husband’s Administration than in the family as a wife. The last time I checked, there is no constitutional provision for the office of the first lady, yet she is keenly and deeply immersed in governance. And we all fold our hands and watch, like helpless orphans.
According to Babs, Cherrie Blair’s book presented the side of British Government that is “rigid and extremely careful with money,” succinctly stipulating “who spends the money and how it is spent.” But again, my effort is greatly challenged by the book’s expression of the system as a “long-held tradition” which clearly defines the role of friends and family members of the Prime Minister. I am concerned because our tradition is a funny practice; anything goes for whoever comes in to power. The till is overly open for whoever the President considers good enough. Cast your mind back, Turai Yar’Adua was considered to be ruling from the background especially when her husband president was incapacitated by bad health. Today, Dame is perceptibly a political ‘masquerade’, recognised by Nigerian government as against the constitution and people of Nigeria. Such is the tradition here. If you are lucky enough to be the wife of a president or governor (first lady), then you are a governor or president of sort!
Think about it, how many official (including medicals) trips has the first lady made since 2011 when her husband became President of Nigeria? Who sponsors those trips? It is the tax payer’s money. If you consider the position of Cherrie Blair as first lady and that of Dame Patience you will be sorry for Nigeria; a country where one out of every three children of school age is out of school, where over 120,000,000 people are still in darkness in 21st century. The problems with Nigeria abound. In functional democratic countries there is a limit to what you can do even as the President. The constitution is not just a set of rules that people use to leverage easy-life; it is a law, meant to guide us including people in authority. So, if the constitution does not recognise the office of the first lady why then does the country spend tax payer’s money on her concerns; paying her coterie of aides, sponsoring her politically frivolous expeditions? Unfortunately, even as I write, the first lady is brazenly busy justifying her supposed position, saying it is “inseparable” from the Presidency. Certainly, this is not democracy. It must be something else, for democracy is rule of law.
The Nigeria’s first lady has been in the news for some time now after she made a N4 billion proposition in February through the Federal Capital Territory to the National Assembly for the construction of the African First Ladies Peace Mission house in Abuja. The proposal has since then raised dust in public domain. Thanks to the National Assembly, which has quashed the unpopular proposal, saying it was irrational to commit scarce resources to a less important project. Well done. But again I ask – Is the Federal Republic of Nigeria responsible for the welfare of the First Ladies Mission? How did this proposal get into the budget of the FCT? For Christ sake, Nigeria is not obliged to build any house for the women group. I am thinking about what N4 billion will do for Nigeria: If properly invested in agriculture, for instance, jobs, food…. But the Dame does not think that way. She rather prefers the status of ‘Father Christmas,’ sharing money and material things to persons and groups. It is nice to be generous, but we are talking about a Nigeria project. The N5 million she recently lavished on the law students at Bwari caused a serious rift among the students. Mrs. Jonathan has to be checked.
Like Babs noted in his piece, Mrs. Blair was constantly reminded by the British Government that she was “just” the prime minister’s wife,” that she was to be seen and not to be heard.” So, basically, Mrs. Blair had no business with the government. But Dame has become a co-ruler with her husband. There have been speculations in the media that her recent trip to Rivers State was to ensure the removal of Governor Rotimi Amaechi before he proves a stumbling block against her husband’s second term agenda. The media has also noted the role of the emerging ‘Iron first lady’ in the suspension of Amaechi from the People’s Democratic Party.
Through Bab’s work I understand that Cherrie Blair was a tenant, precisely at No.11 Downing Street. She never lived in the government house, even as the prime minister’s wife; she was also a first rate barrister and kept her job throughout her husband’s reign. But what do we have here in comparison: Mrs. Jonathan, a permanent secretary in Bayelsa who lives in Aso Rock and never fulfils her responsibilities.
My case is simple: there is a need to tame Dame Patience for the good of the nation.
• Ugwu is a youth advocate and social commentator on national issues.
“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”