If you want to appreciate the integrity deficit of the Jonathan administration, look no further than the events surrounding the disappearance and appearance of the First Lady, Patience Jonathan.
For someone who never misses an opportunity to steal the spotlight, it was inevitable that the First Lady’s absence would draw some attention. And it did. Regrettably, what started as speculation about her whereabouts soon turned into a comic relief and a national embarrassment. When it became apparent that the “resting in Germany” alibi was as lame as it was perfidious, we were told that President Goodluck Jonathan, accompanied by the chaplain of Aso Villa Chapel, Ven. Obioma Onwuzurumba, paid a visit to the First Lady in Germany.
The result of the secret visit, according to reports, “was a short news item aired on the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) at 9pm and accompanied by a short video clip (shot and sent to NTA by the Presidency) showing the President and a gorgeously dressed First Lady who was heard saying, ‘Let me take picture with my husband’”.
Reuben Abati, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, put a spin on that senseless but audacious attempt to hoodwink Nigerians. According to Abati, “the video clip aired by NTA was a confirmation that the President’s wife was hale and hearty contrary to what some people wanted Nigerians to believe. The video has put paid to all the lies that people who play politics with almost everything have been spreading. It was clear from that video that the scene was not an hospital scene”.
I am sure Abati hardly ever listens to his inner voice. If he does, he would know that he and his boss were the ones playing politics with the life of the First Lady. Abati went on to say that “government had been quiet since because it could not afford to be ‘jumping into the fray’ with everybody”. Welcome to the world of fairy tales. We are supposed to believe this and just move on with our lives. Of course, if you believe Abati’s tales by moonlight, you might as well believe that tooth fairies exist.
His position shows how unhinged the whole apparatus of governance in Nigeria has become. What were we expected to make of the fact that our ubiquitous First Lady, the Marie Antoinette of our time, went AWOL for two months? But let me reassure Abati and his paymasters that even though they have joined the “wrecking crew” of our commonwealth, it is hard to find any Nigerian, including the inveterate enemies of the president, who wishes the First Lady ill health.
The grand secrecy and deception that surrounded the First Lady’s sudden disappearance from public glare for two months was unnecessary and impish. One would think that after what the country went through in the hands of erstwhile First Lady, Turai Yar’Adua and her cabal, our so-called leaders would have learnt a lesson or two. How mistaken we were! It seems the more things change in Nigeria, the more they remain the same. Governance has become a huge joke. Nigerian rulers take Nigerians for granted because they are convinced they are not accountable to the citizens.
As if Abati’s taunts were not enough insult, when the First Lady finally made it back to the country last week after a well-deserved rest in Germany, she cursed, bragged, and like a true Christian, thanked God Almighty for bringing her back safely to Nigeria and giving her a second chance. It is a bit mystifying that somebody who said she was not sick or admitted in any hospital came back and thanked God for giving her a second chance! Nigerians are reputed to be the happiest people on earth, but I am not sure we are a country of 160 million dunderheads.
Typical of the First Lady, her return was heralded by fanfare and welcome celebrations reserved for royals. Since Mrs. Jonathan went to rest and idle Nigerians kept busy speculating on cyberspace that she was in Germany for cosmetic surgery or getting treatment for a life-threatening ailment, the carnival-like welcome ceremony was only proper to confirm she is hale and hearty.
The First Lady denied ever staying in a hospital during her trip abroad and in a rambling tone, explained her sojourn in Germany: “Wherever there are good people, there are also bad ones. There are a few Nigerians that are saying whatever they like, not what God planned because God has a plan for all of us. And God has said it all that when two or three are gathered in His name, that He will be with them. And Nigerians gathered and prayed for me and God listened and heard their prayers. So, I thank God for that. God is wonderful and His mercy is forever. At the same time, I read in the media where they said I was in the hospital.”
“God Almighty knows I have never been to that hospital. I don’t even know the hospital they mentioned. I have to explain what God has done for me. I do not have terminal illness, or any cosmetic surgery much less tummy tuck,” the first lady reassured Nigerians. She may well be correct. She may not have visited a hospital. Perhaps, the Presidency bought an estate in Germany and got the doctors to treat her at home. There is a world of difference and rumour mongers can jump into the lagoon for all they care.
Not done with her tirade, the First Lady added: “My husband loves me as I am and I am pleased with how God created me. I cannot add. But at the same time, I will use this opportunity to thank my beloved husband and my children and my staff in general and all Nigerians for standing by me during my trial time. God has given me a second chance to come and work with women of Nigeria, children and the less privileged. I have come to save Nigeria. I have come to work with Nigerians. I am there for them. Once more, I am pleased to be back. I love Nigerians. They are my family.”
If the attitude of the First Lady is borne out of a feeling of guilt, that unlike her, thousands of women die every year from poor pre and post natal care and millions more do not have access to basic health care because of the poor health infrastructure her husband oversees, she shouldn’t worry. We are used to our rulers getting treatment and possibly dying overseas, particularly in Germany.
If there is a group that should bear any guilt, it is the media. Where was the Nigerian media in this debacle? It was the same question that was asked during the Yar’Adua crisis. If our journalists couldn’t go to Germany and were happy to join the speculation game, they owned Nigerians a duty to raise pertinent questions when the First Lady returned.
The Patience Jonathan story is an insight into the secrecy that has dogged this administration. But it is not just that. It is also a reflection of the reckless impunity and utter contempt Mr. Jonathan has, not just for the laws of the land but the people he purports to lead.
If Nigerians appear impatient with the current administration, it is for very good reasons. There are really very few options open to us as a nation beyond the current administration.
In the First Lady, this country finally has a saviour. Let’s hope the second chance she asked for, which Almighty God has graciously granted her, is not to continue the plunder and deepen the culture of impunity and bad governance.
Chido Onumah (firstname.lastname@example.org)