Like her husband, President Goodluck Jonathan, the First Lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan, wields so much power and influence that now raise genuine concern amongst the citizenry, writes Olawale Olaleye
It has become an issue of constitutional worry that any president of Nigeria is awesomely powerful. Often times, the joke is that even if you put an idiot there as the president, it takes a few months, the power mongers would tutor him on the nuances of power and before you know it, the man increasingly gets comfortable.
And rather than positively exert such powers to influence changes that will guarantee good governance and improve the living condition of the people, interests and positioning that are at variance with the essence of his coming onboard become the in-thing and consequently, constitute needless distractions.
Many would readily accuse former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida as the man that made the office attractive by opening the eyes of the people to what the occupier of the office could do with power. One of his successors, the late General Sani Abacha, was believed to have been motivated by IBB’s awesomeness in power.
But Abacha went to the extreme and typified the negative influence of power when he eventually became the president. Yet, the tendency to dismiss the excesses of the duo and their ilk is likely because their governments were ab initio an aberration, as such, any rational argument could suffice.
However, former president Olusegun Obasanjo, whose administration ended the era of military interregnum in 1999 would later confirm the anxiety of many that, inherent in the office of the president of Nigeria is such powers that worry even the supposedly most powerful president in the world. It is as a result of this that the Nigerian president is referred to as the most powerful elected black president in the world, who despite the tenets of democratic dictates, would get away with the ugliest of power misuse.
Ironically, in spite of the huge powers stashed in the office of the president of Nigeria- whether military or civilian- not many had ever thought of what the wife, the supposed first lady, could do through sheer influence.
Again, going back memory lane, apart from the late Maryam Babangida, who brought glamour, glitz and style to the office such that her influence was almost infectious, albeit harmless; one of her successors, Turai Yar’Adua, was about the first wife of the president who allegedly gave a dose of what the first woman could do with power, riding on the influence of her husband.
The story is public knowledge on how Turai allegedly seized power in the twilight of Yar’Adua’s days while the latter battled acute pericaditis and could not survive it. But in the bid to cling to power and run the show as if all was well, Turai and the famous cabal kept the people away from the true picture of her husband’s health and allegedly determined what went on even when she was not the elected one. That was to be for a while. The Nigerian people and their institutions were as powerful too. They proclaimed their right and the rest is history.
The interesting thing about the Turai show was that the former first lady, like Obasanjo, who has consistently denied having anything to do with the infamous third term agenda, could also deny the story that revolved around her alleged seizing of power during the period of her husband’s ill-health and only very few would be in position to come out and dispute her claims.
Unfortunately, that cannot be said of her immediate successor, Dame Patience Jonathan, who by sheer God’s benevolence assumed office and has since constituted menace to both the society and the citizenry. To catalogue the abuses and misuse of power by the incumbent first lady will probably require an entire newspaper edition.
With very crude disposition which reflects a poor background in terms of exposure, education and mannerism, the first lady’s demeanor has become a major source of worry for all except her husband who seems to be enjoying her regular unscripted comedy. She does not give a hoot about her public carriage, utterances as well as action, whether or not they constitute an embarrassment to the collective sensibilities of Nigerians.
Shortly after assuming office, the first lady had roughly tackled her predecessor over a piece of land in the federal capital, such that the institution of presidency could not resolve amicably because of vested interest until a court of competent jurisdiction put paid to the discomfiture. The show of shame between the two first ladies was such that has ingrained an enduring stigma on the country and her people. And then, she goes on and on uncultured in presidential communications and attitudinal temperament.
Most bothersome and lately, has been her illegal and unconstitutional meddling in the affairs of Rivers State, her state of origin. Not only has the first lady undermined the governor, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi in many condescending ways, latching onto the misunderstanding between the governor and her husband, she has also put up such attitude and taken as many actions that could put the people of Rivers State in avoidable danger.
Whatever feeling of resentment she may have nursed against Amaechi did not materialise until the day she publicly embarrassed the governor over the proposed demolition of some houses on the riverine to create room for the development and expansion of the model schools that the administration was doing at the time. Calm though shocked at the attitude, Amaechi quietly exited and pretended nothing happened.
But the very one that is quite niggling was the temerity she summed up and allegedly called the Inspector General of Police (who could not also politely tell her off as not taking orders from the first lady) to change the police commissioner in Rivers. If she ever thought such things would not get to the public, then, she had better wake up from her catnap.
Today, the once safe Rivers that Amaechi had cleaned up on assumption of office is in serious security threat as the police commissioner is said to no longer take orders from the governor on issues of public safety. The situation is said to be such that security meetings no longer hold in the state, despite having an elected governor. The reason is once there was a meeting and decisions are taken, the commissioner reported back to oga and madam at the top, who in turn, change what the Security Council has decided. That, obviously, isn’t politics.
The icing on the cake started a few days ago when she visited the state. The Rivers people have yet ceased to “pray” for her in their heart. She foisted on them an experience they’ll never forget. Unfortunately for them, that treatment has just begun.
Reports had it in the week that the first lady’s visit to the state was a major discomfort to the residents of GRA where she newly moved in, having completed a mansion there in less than five months and the state in general. The residents left and returned to their homes only on the permission of Her Excellency. Even the governor was not spared. Reports had it that Amaechi who was meant to attend a wedding last weekend could not because the two exits from the Government House had been taken over by the first lady’s security.
The first exit which goes out to the town had been blocked and the second which goes into the GRA was a no-go-area. Thus, he could not leave his house until after noon and by the time he allegedly arrived the venue of the wedding, the show was over.
There was also the news about the first lady calling the mother of the Rivers State Commissioner for Information, and lampooned her for allowing her daughter, Ibim Semenitari, take up a job that undermines her and her husband. That was the ridiculous extent Nigeria’s first lady could go in the bid to have her way since there was no one to audit her public conduct. The poor lady and her mother must have been terrified and stunned at the temerity.
Certainly, this cannot go on unaddressed except the political actors think nothing untoward could happen if they didn’t pay deserving attention to little details. This is the Nigeria of 21 century as such, people who still live in the cave age do not belong here, much less in public arena.
The office of the first lady is not constitutional, perhaps, complementary. Anything outside that is an abuse and that is exactly what the first lady has been doing with her office. She must realise that she was not elected but only enjoying the privilege because of the office of her husband.
To therefore undermine an elected office holder in the capacity of a governor because he is seen to have issues with her husband is absolute baloney and condemnable. Indeed, her office is subservient to any other elected official, say the least the local government chairman (not the caretaker because they belong to the same category).
But except those directly concerned are not seeing the inherent danger, the disposition of the first lady is unpresidential and demeaning of the office and must be contained, accordingly.