Wednesday, April 16, 2014

EXCLUSIVE: Etteh goes to School

Published:

The former speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, better known as a hair dresser, is studying for a law degree

Five years after her tumultuous four-month stint as the head of Nigeria’s parliament, during which time she was tagged an ‘illiterate hair dresser,’ Nigeria’s first female Speaker of the House of Representatives, Patricia Etteh, has returned to school.

Mrs. Etteh is currently enrolled at the University of Buckingham, U.K., and expects to emerge with a Bachelor of Law degree in 2014. She began the university’s popular 2-year undergraduate law programme in September 2012.

The former legislator said her return to school is part of her private life and declined to share what motivated her to return to the university.

Making up for the past?

Mrs. Etteh was evicted from her leadership position in the House of Representatives amidst a blistering scandal in October, 2007.

Barely four months after she was ‘unanimously’ voted into leadership of the House, her colleagues turned on her and demanded that she step down from her exalted position following accusations of corruption.

According to a report by the legislators, the speaker signed off on a contract that would see the spending of N628m for the renovation of her official home and that of her deputy as well as the purchase of 12 official vehicles. The legislators insisted that the award of the contract did not follow due process.

Mrs. Etteh’s removal continues to stir controversies today. Carol Ajie, an Abuja based lawyer, insists that the former speaker’s removal was “driven by anti-gender sentiments”.

“Come to think of it, Patricia Etteh was accused of attempting to steal. The regime that came after her, Dimeji Bankole, did not only attempt to steal, but actually stole,” she said in a telephone interview with PREMIUM TIMES.

Mrs. Etteh was forced to step-down by an overwhelmingly male dominated parliament, with the male population of the parliament pegged at 94.5 per cent.

Etteh and her scandals

Perhaps the most significant factor used against the former speaker of the House was her educational status. Mrs. Etteh, a hair dresser by profession, came under fire for alleged illiteracy with several reports that her ascension to the high office was aided by a romantic dalliance with former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Two weeks before Mrs. Etteh’s resignation, Lisa Piascik, then Charge d’Affairs of the U.S. embassy in Nigeria, reported to Washington that the speaker was indeed in a love affair with the former president.

The U.S. official described her as a “former hairdresser, romantic interest of Obasanjo, current Speaker of the House of Representatives” in an October 19, 2007 cable to Washington.

Mrs. Etteh did not take kindly to the seeming nosiness of the Americans.

“I don’t bloody care. I can have romantic interest with anybody. I am free to romance anybody. I don’t fear you media boys anymore. Go and write whatever you like,” she said in a 2010 report by the now rested NEXT Newspapers

Having the last laugh

With her three-term-foray as a federal legislator now ended, Mrs. Etteh appears ready to regain her self-respect by earning a law degree. When PREMIUM TIMES contacted her, Mrs. Etteh, who was speaking from an airport in the U.S., said she would not speak with the press.

“Sweetheart, I am not interested in granting any interview. As far as my private life is concerned, I am not interested,” she said, sounding very pleasant and upbeat.

Dino Melaye, a former member of the House of Representatives who backed the former speaker during her travails, told PREMIUM TIMES that Mrs. Etteh has spent the past few years strengthening her CV.

“She did a programme at the University of Abuja. She also did another programme online,” Mr. Melaye said.

It is not clear at the moment whether the former speaker’s acquisition of academic qualifications speak to any future political plans, but Ms Ajie, who recently acquired another law degree from Georgetown University, U.S., insists that the former speaker is taking the right step.

“It is trendy world over to acquire academic degrees; I want more law degrees. If she decides to aspire for office, it is a legitimate desire and I welcome it,” she said.

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