By Rotimi Fasan
THAT the unconstitutional office of Nigeria’s ‘First Lady’ is a conduit for siphoning public funds while self – aggrandising has been brought to the fore by the ongoing face-off between the immediate past occupant of that office, Turai Yar’Adua and the ‘current champion’, Patience Jonathan, who, unlike Turai, is also a Permanent Secretary, PS, in her husband’s home state of Bayelsa.
In title-crazy Nigeria, that is not a mean feat. But beyond the mere craze for titles, the PS status is, no doubt, also meant to serve as a fruitful egg nest for Patience during those years that must, as day follows night, come when her lovely Macbeth vacates Aso Rock Villa.
Turai Yar’Adua who didn’t have the foresight to get one of her late husband’s lieutenants to confer on her a similar rank should, therefore, be careful in how she takes on the new power behind the throne now that ‘power has changed hands’.
I had not imagined that I would have cause to go back to the ‘First Lady’ issue any time soon after last week’s piece on Mrs. Jonathan. But it is part of our unfortunate fate as a country that we are, like Sisyphus, condemned to a repetitive cycle of doom in which we have to take on the same meaningless task over and again.
Truly, we cannot say it too loudly or too often that part of our bane as a nation (and I use that word very loosely) is the desire by our so-called leaders to use power without responsibility. It is in Nigeria that you find somebody without claim to any personal distinction stumble into power and decide to play Caesar.
For in the ordinary scheme of things who knew anything of these two women before their husbands found themselves in power? But here we are today forced to watch the folly of two power-mongers playing Bill Gates with the commonwealth of a nation.
I said earlier that it was Mrs. Yar’Adua’s lack of foresight that prevented her taking steps to fortify herself with enough titles to prepare her for the kind of battle that she’s today found herself in with her successor.
For had she acquired as many titles and offices as she cared to and planted as many of her known supporters such as former Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoakaa, in the government she was obviously planning to form- had Turai tried just a little more to take these cautionary steps, she wouldn’t have been so easily browbeaten by the same woman whose husband she’d turned into a virtual lame duck even when, as Vice President, he was effectively positioned to take over running of the country as President Umaru Yar’Adua remained on his sick bed.
But Turai took none of the steps I talk about now because she had, without any known contract with Nigerians, come to the conclusion that she could rule the country in her own right while she kept her ailing husband locked up in virtual house arrest from everybody.
In other words, Turai already saw herself as president, so there was no need for the kind of titles such as Permanent Secretary that Patience is busy acquiring right now. But then the bubble suddenly burst and Turai and her ilk could no longer hide what they thought they could hide when the news broke that President Yar’Adua had passed after months of speculation.
Had Mrs. Yar’Adua foreseen things could end that way, she would have certainly registered everything she did as ‘First Lady’ in her name. Her failure to do this is the reason she has to do a roforofo fight over a mere plot of land, numbered 1347, with Patience who is now busy building her own castle in the air. Sooner than later, Patience too would learn the same lesson that Turai is being bitterly taught, namely, that power is acquired but for only a while.
Turai Yar’Adua had in her time in Aso Rock acquired this piece of land to provide a base for her ‘pet project’ as ‘First Lady’, a so-called Women and Youth Empowerment Foundation, after paying mind-boggling sums of money running into hundreds of millions of Naira to procure the Certificate of Occupancy. Certainly the monies paid for the C of O couldn’t have come from the personal account of a woman who neither traded nor had the foresight to get herself appointed Permanent Secretary in her years in Abuja.
But no sooner was she out of Abuja following the unfortunate passing of her husband than Patience initiated move to covert the plot of land to build a house for her own ‘pet project’, the African First Ladies Summit, a group made up of wives of African heads of state (one wonders why the spouses of at least two of Africa’s leaders that are women have to suffer the discrimination of being excluded from this forum, even if, of loafers) who she hosted in Abuja over a week ago.
So for Patience, she has certainly turned her very office and that of other women in her position across Africa into a full time job. What time would she have left to work for her pay as Permanent Secretary then? Are the people of Bayelsa content to have a ghost worker, even one as high up as a ‘First Lady’, on their pay roll? Is Mr. Dickson taking note of what other potential ghost workers could do in the circumstance? What right would he have to sanction others if he turns a blind eye to this obvious case of dereliction/abdication of duty?
Well, we do not know yet what the courts might say as Turai has dragged Mohammed Adoke, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice who now has a new madam to serve- Turai has dragged him and Patience to court even though Mr. Adoke is trying to pour oil on troubled waters in an out-of-court settlement. They must all be regretting how the matter got into the open in the first instance.
But that’s God’s own way of letting Nigerians into the stinking lockers of our so-called rulers. People whose only motivation for high office is their own personal gain and comfort.
Our ‘First Ladies’, like their husbands, are veritable spongers on our commonwealth. They have little or nothing to recommend them; they are of mediocre intelligence and serve no useful purpose beyond being mere decorative pieces.
Like Lady Macbeth, they are the forces whose raw ambition, greed and presence in the corridors of power often feed into the stuffs that bring about the fall of their husbands. Nigerians need not confer constitutional status on such drain on national wealth and pride.