Nigeria has never had a First Lady quite like this. Never! There were Flora Azikiwe, Victoria Aguyi-Ironsi, Victoria Gowon, Ajoke Mohammed, Esther Oluremi Obasanjo, Safinatu Buhari, Maryam Babangida, Margaret Shonekan, Maryam Abacha, Fati Abubakar, Stella Obasanjo, and Turai Yar’Adua.
Some were on the stage for a very short period, and so nothing about them is memorable or remembered vis-à-vis the larger Nigerian context. But of those who stayed for a while, or a while longer, they were either a credit or a curse to the formal and informal office of the First Lady. Of all the First Ladies we’ve had, however, none — and I mean none — has been quite like the current occupant, Mrs. Patience Faka Jonathan. My goodness, what a lady! Fela Anikulapo’s lady!
Mrs. Victoria Gowon is mostly thought of as the quintessential First Lady. I cannot remember her being associated with scandals (while her husband was in office). And in the years since, I wonder if there ever has been one. From afar, what you saw was a lady: A lady in the real sense of the word. She looked calm and balanced and sophisticated. Again and again, she appeared educated and enlightened and supportive. And however many times you saw her – on TV, the print media, or in person – she was very soft on the eyes: beautiful, dignified, cultured and graceful. Now, one does not know, whether in private, she gave her husband and his associates, hell.
Patience Jonathan – the self-styled Dame – is the complete opposite of Victoria. But of all Nigeria’s First Ladies, the closest to Mrs. Jonathan (in terms of personality) is Turai, who seemed overly and overtly ambitious, and with Macbethean tendencies to match. But unlike Patience, Turai was not bombastic or compulsive. She seemed restrained by her Islamic faith. The general understanding is that she was always looking out for the interest of her husband. You don’t get the feeling that she is the boss who wears the proverbial pants in the privacy of their home. It is the opposite with Patience Jonathan.
From my vantage point, I cannot but conclude that Mrs. Jonathan calls the shots at home. That she is the boss-lady. The hustler. The lady with the whip. Many of the controversies that are associated with her husband seem to have been instigated by her. Incidentally, this is a woman who can’t seem to help herself, or her husband. As a wife and as a partner, one of her goals ought to have been the interest and well-being of her husband. But no, oh no! She compounds his headache and challenges; and helps to expose his weaknesses and shortcomings.
Why her husband, Jonathan, has not put her in check baffles a lot of onlookers and public intellectuals. If this President cannot control his wife, how can he control unruly powerhouses and contending groups within the nation? If he cannot put a stop to his wife’s inexplainable ways, how can he put a stop to the excesses of his advisers and ministers and all those who work for and with him? If he cannot get his wife to put a stop to unending controversies, what hope is there that there won’t be more scandals and wounding controversies in the months and years ahead? But of course, Mrs. Jonathan has been at it for a very long time! And Jonathan, it seems, has come to accept his fate. What a fate!
According to columnist Sonala Olumhense: “When she and her husband left Bayelsa State, it was with a lot of allegations, and events since then have not improved their image. Reporting on the April 2007 election, the Council on Foreign Relations in New York referred to Mrs. Jonathan as the “greediest person in Bayelsa State, and a woman of great cruelty.” Olumhense went on to tell us about the money-laundering allegations: “In 2006, when the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission said it had twice seized vast funds from her: the first the sum of N104 million; and the second, $13.5 million.”
Nigeria being what it is, we may never know how much she has “taken.” However, to have an idea of how much she is worth, all you need do is take a trip to Rivers and Bayelsa states to inspect the properties (hotels and all that) that many people in both states have alleged were improperly acquired. During a recent testimonial, she alluded to some of these properties being sold off while she was on her death-bed in Germany: “They are people that I trust and rely on; to them, I was dead and I would never return to the country alive. Some of them even sold my things off.” Was she expecting anyone to feel sorry that her stuffs were being auctioned off?
As a human being, we feel sorry that she was sick and came close to an inch of her life. And frankly, her death would not have served any purpose. Nonetheless, it is hard, very hard to have compassion for someone – anyone for that matter– who is noted for being unkind and insensitive to the poor and the needy. As the wife of the deputy governor, who later became the nation’s First Lady, she has mainly been associated with scandals, maladministration, and wastefulness. Not too long ago, she caused a storm by lobbying for and getting herself appointed permanent secretary in her husband’s home state. Before then, she was involved in a public spat over a land deal in Abuja with her predecessor.
Upon her arrival from medical treatment in the Middle East and in Europe, she and her team spent an estimated half-a-million naira on a welcome party. Is she ever weary and wary of storms and foul winds? My goodness! As if to outdo her controversial and calculating nature, she and or her husband got the National Assembly to vote N4bn for her pet project in Abuja. At what point is her husband, the President, going to say, “enough is enough”? At what point will he feel uncomfortable and put a stop to his wife’s unsavory tendencies and expensive jokes – jokes and tendencies that have become a monumental embarrassment to our country. Or is he an enabler?