Today we are ‘dedicating’ this space to our first and last ladies; that is, wives of our former and present Heads of state and Governors. Our ‘leaders’, even while lacking in leadership courage and skills, have (had) sharp eyes for the beautiful daughters of eve! They always went (go) for the ‘best’ in a nation that has ‘exploded’ with dashing beauties. If anyone is in doubt please I urge the doubting Thomas to check out Facebook or Nollywood! Nigeria is blessed indeed with beautiful damsels that are dazzling the world with their beauty and their brains as well! Remember one former Miss World, Agbani Darego? Bianca Ojukwu? Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie? Asa? Chidinma? Name them!
The current tight campaign for the White House in the United States is an interesting political event rich in razzmatazz, history and sophistry. Weeks back in their various party conventions where each presidential candidate, Democratic Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, was officially endorsed for the November date with the electorate the wives of the incumbent President and the challenger took to the stage to ‘sell’ their hubbies to the American people. First to mount the soap box was Ann Romney in Tampa, Florida who received standing ovation for her speech. And a week later saw First Lady Michelle Obama on the pulpit in Charlotte, North Carolina telling Americans about Barack and his American dream. The White House has not changed Barack, she implicitly told her audience.
The current First Lady and could-be First Lady in the free world performed very well in their own rights and styles. But Michelle, the beautiful black-American woman, the graceful mother of the two Obama female kids, performed better and electrified the convention venue with her coherent speech and charm. The tall woman is indeed charming, elegant and very brilliant! After watching her speech and that of Ann before her a week before my mind raced back to Abuja where our First and last Ladies maintained the status of housewives monitoring their presidential husbands’ every step and using every means possible (including diabolical prayers and marabouts) to stop the leaders from flirting with high-profile women in quality supply!
But that was before Madam “umblerra” came to the scene, swashbuckling and resplendent in her Okrika style and mannerism, entertaining us with ‘sophisticated’ grammar and even leading some loud campaign to the opposition strongholds — if only to remind the ‘rascals’ in those zones that her husband was still the landlord of Aso Rock! As the Democrats were busy organizing their convention in the States home news online was making the rounds about “food poisoning” suffered in Dubai by the Dame which later ‘transformed’ into “ruptured appendicitis” being treated first-class in the first world European country of Germany. And we heard again days later that the ailment had ‘transformed’ itself into “surgery for the removal of uterine fibroids”. (May the soul of Stella Obasanjo rest in peace!)
By wicked coincidence (or as fate would have it) the powerful ‘unsackable’ Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke (DAM), was herself receiving treatment in London reportedly for undisclosed ailment. But what made the news items more interesting happened to be the story about the Dame apparently complaining that her condition was caused by ‘nightmares’ ostensibly inflicted by the secret liaison between GEJ and DAM. The Dame should be content with being the official First Lady and forget any thoughts of unofficial second or even third ladies elsewhere to maintain her sanity! An unsolicited advice if you ask me!
In the event that the news story was confirmed to be true then GEJ would have achieved another ‘transformation’ agenda in addition to the official ones Nigerians know: the powerful man would have unwittingly ‘transformed’ himself into a ‘prophet’ of mendacity by denying any amorous relationship existing between him and DAM and swearing before the Dame to believe in his fidelity — a fidelity that is daily being put to test by female forces out to undo the Dame! But in this undeclared ‘cold war’ brewing between the Dame and DAM we can only pray that no one gets hurt physically or emotionally given the temperamental nature of the Nigerian women (especially those legally married and wary of any intrusion).
First Ladyism in Nigeria is a controversial emotive issue. Though wholly unconstitutional Presidents and military dictators have had to devote huge budgets to servicing an office that never existed in our constitution. It became popular and was elevated to a status symbol during the dictatorship of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida in the late 80’s and early 90’s. From there the ‘office’ grew in national ‘importance’ drawing huge funds and employments of aides and personal assistants and even media adviser or whatever. Swimming in petro-dollars as it were the Dame has had the effrontery to advocate recently for her office to be ‘constitutionalised’, that is, legalised so that she could be eligible for pension when GEJ is through in Aso Rock!
But the Dame was not alone in the call for the legalisation of the office of the First Lady in both national and states’ levels. The bespectacled beautiful wife of the Ekiti State Governor Erelu Bisi Fayemi equally advocated for same arguing that they (the first ladies) needed to ‘officialise’ their positions ostensibly in order to ‘complement’ the efforts of their executive hubbies. Given the way and manner the office of first lady is abused by these women of glamour I think that suggestion is in order if only to give legal teeth to an illegal entity.
In Nigeria power is everything! The first family can decide to make Nigeria as a whole a terrorist enclave or a haven for peace! The President himself, constitutionally bestowed with limitless powers, can decide, in a split-second of alcoholic rage or ‘clueless’ anger, to turn ‘Wazobia’ into an utopia or appoint Mallam Ibrahim Shekau as his Senior Special Assistant (Counter Terrorism and ‘Almajiri’ Affairs). The choice is all his; and his wife, siezed momentarily by the ‘Jezebelic’ evil spirit or sadistic disposition, can prevail on her husband to send Pastor Tunde Bakare to prison for spitting ‘fire’ in one of his Sunday sermons or sack Dr Reuben Abati for not defending her enough or simply for his manifest incompetence and abusive style as the presidential spokesman.
Recently in Abuja in an NBA-organized event attended by the President where he claimed pitifully that he was the “most criticised President in the world” Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah submitted that “The President of Nigeria is more powerful than any President anywhere in the world, even more powerful than the American President….The President of Nigeria can, as I am standing here now, decide to allocate an oil well to me”. What the popular cleric said was true indeed but we may add that the all-powerful President can empty the vaults of the Central Bank without Sanusi Lamido, the Governor, doing anything!
These women of influence, affluence and benevolence are all looking glamorous instilling fear and awe in people and sometimes breaking official protocol and/or abusing or attacking aides with impunity. But we must warn here again that there is no legal basis for the office of the First Lady in Nigeria. Ordinarily the holder of that appellation ought to be seen to be helping her husband in the home front and staying above the political fray and not embracing the kleiglights or seeking to be publicly seen and heard controversially.
The African continent stands alone in the way and manner first ladies have exploited their proximity to power. Though the African women privileged to have married Presidents or Governors cannot be said to be alone in the abuse of this privilege since there are precedents from elsewhere. Imelda Marcos comes to mind here. The former First Lady of the Philippines was so ostentatious at the presidential palace in Manila that after she ran away with her husband in the heat of the people power revolution the poor and hungry Filipinos went inside the presidential palace to discover assorted types of wine and different delicacies in the kitchen! Besides they were shocked to find thousands of shoes and designer clothes belonging to the Jezebel that had just fled town!
The late Maryam Babangida used and misused state funds to operate her “Better Life for Rural Women”, a much-vaunted well-publicised poverty-alleviation programme which bettered lives other than those of women in the rural areas! IBB, in a fit of love or lust having ‘snatched’ Maryam from her original husband, did everything fiscally possible to ‘empower’ the late woman from Delta state. Mrs Babangida was IBB’s first lady and now his last lady as well. Ever since her death IBB, in his early 70’s, have not considered it erotically wise engaging another woman officially to fill the sexual void left behind by the first and last lady. Having stolen millions (or is it billions?) of dollars and living in lavish retirement in Minna many ladies would be too happy to ‘enjoy’ what Maryam enjoyed for years: money, viagra-induced sex, fame etc.
The late Gen. Sani Abacha continued the tradition of ‘empowering’ first ladies in Aso Rock. Though a chronic philanderer Abacha made sure that Mariam had everything within her reach as she set up her own NGO to be able to corner her own millions and billions in orchestrated solicited and unsolicited ‘donations’ for one social-improving cause or another. And his sons were not left out in the looting bazzar as they engaged in torture and squandermania — flying private jets and becoming fatter in both their body and their bank accounts. Today, while the last Abacha lady, the ex-First Lady and her sons and daughters are living comfortably in Kano (never mind the Boko Haram menace!) Mariam must have remembered when all was going rosy in Aso Rock before the Indian hired whores put Abacha away! She may be able to chronicle the difference between being the First Lady and the last lady.
The former vindictive President Olusegun Obasanjo had a First Lady like his predecessors but the difference here is that none ever tried or contemplated going over to Spain to endure the pain of a tummy tuck. The late Stella Obasanjo was Nigeria’s First Lady but whether she remained OBJ’s last lady is something one must be careful speculating about. Reputed for his wife-beating, lustful, sexually-covetous and even incestuous attributes OBJ must have ‘pushed’ Stella to her untimely death indirectly. When you are married to an ‘animal called man’, a feckless philanderer, one ever ready to try out another ‘private garden’ it is always difficult to cope with his implicit demands and desires.
The late President Umaru Yar’Adua loved his wife Turai so much that generous funds were made available expressly for her to execute her pet project as a First Lady with another vision, another idea towards societal advancement. First Lady Turai was so desperate for power that she ‘hijacked’ state power much after her husband was overpowered by Churg-Strauss Syndrome. She became the late President’s First Lady and last lady like others before her. The only possible difference here happens to be the apparent regret haboured by Turai for having to leave her ‘house’ in Aso Rock without any say as to how or when!
The recent land feud cum legal tussle in Abuja involving Dame Patience and Hajia Turai exposed both ladies as women of uneasy virtues indeed! While Turai has demonstrated uncommon greed and tenacity in Aso Rock the ailing Dame has won ‘accolades’ as a meddling power-hungry First Lady with dubious academic credentials. It appears the ‘grab-grab’ syndrome has hit home; what with her recent controversial appointment as a Perm-Sec in far away Bayelsa State? President Jonathan’s First Lady is far from being the last lady! We wish her soonest “recover” — apology to Shina Peters!
The Presidential Committee on the review of the 1999 Constitution headed by the eminent ex-Chief Justice of Nigeria Justice Alfa Modibbo Belgore had advocated in its report already submitted to President Jonathan that the “Office of the First Lady” be abolished at all levels of government. According to the Modibbo-led Committee: “the office does not operate under any legal framework (and) that the operation and the funding (both in kind and cash) of such offices at all levels should be discouraged and abolished forthwith”. Can GEJ be man enough or President enough to heed the timely warning?
The First Lady syndrome in Nigeria, characteristic of its show of power, has more than ever before crept into our political and national consciousness with Dame Patience Jonathan patiently but ignorantly working her way to infamy. And we cannot help but wish her luck (sorry, Good-luck) in her drive for relevance and opulence.