Garlands for Madam First Lady
A female prime minister of Canada, Kim Campbell lost her lofty position in 1993 after she made snide remarks during re-election campaign about her opponent, John Chretien’s deformed mouth which was as a result of Bell’s Palsy disease which he suffered when he was young.In the United States of America, USA, first lady, Michelle Obama’s approval rating ranks only next to that of former US president, Bill Clinton, who is currently the most popular and respected former US president alive.
While Michelle Obama’s popularity lies in her humanity and simplicity reflected in her middle class values which represent the ‘American Dream’ of becoming great from humble beginnings is rubbing off positively on her husband’s fortunes in the forth coming polls, the uncharitable and insensitive comment about an opponent cost Kim Campbell her exalted job as Prime Minister of Canada .
Now, l went into the above preamble to highlight the critical role that health issues could play in the life of public servants and the position that first ladies occupy in the political and private life’s of those who lead or aspire to lead us.
As the existential realities of life dictates, all human beings are susceptible to ailments which only medical doctors or God can cure. Uncharacteristic of the African spirit of being our brother’s keeper, the vivacious and effervescent first lady of Nigeria, Patience Jonathan who was always wooing and cajoling Nigerians to support her husband in the arduous task of governance has remained the butt of many jokes in the social media even while in the hospital in far away Germany, which is a travesty. In a true African spirit, my heart, and l believe the hearts of men and women of goodwill, go out to our dear First Lady for speedy recovery .
Surely, this is not the first time that an ailing occupant of Aso Rock villa would be parodied instead of empathised with in the social media as the late president, Umaru Yar’Adua, was a victim. Such irreverent attitude towards the ill was the justification for the article,”Killing President Yar’Adua”, which l wrote and published in major national newspapers in the wee days of his tenure.
Just as l pondered in that article what could be responsible for the seeming heightened insensitivity of Nigerians to the plight of their compatriots, I am still wondering if this strange attitude of lack of milk of human kindness being exhibited by Nigerians could be a fallout of poor communications between Aso Rock and its publics?
This assertion is hinged on the fact that in the late Yar’Adua’s case, as it is in the present situation with Patience Jonathan,the media, and by extension Nigerians, were not properly apprised of the status of their president and in this instance, their First Lady, which perhaps explains the apparent public apathy.
Comparatively, former military president, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida ,IBB,while in Aso Rock had suffered from what was referred to as ‘Radiculopathy’, a sort of foot disease for which there was outpouring of sympathy from Nigerians when he was hospitalised in Germany.
It seems to me that the difference between IBB’s good fortune of receiving outpouring of love and the late Yar’Adua and Patience Jonathan’s experience of a seeming cold shoulder is poor communications or lack of it because Duro Onabule, IBB’s image maker at that time, duly informed Nigerians of the Head of State’s ailment and updated them constantly on how he was responding to treatment.
On the contrary, our First Lady’s hospitalisation and the nature of her ailment has been shrouded in secrecy as neither the presidential spokesman nor the First Lady’s media aide has cleared the foggy air surrounding her infirmity.
One of the most loved women in the world, Queen Elizabeth II recently celebrated her 75th year as queen of England and leader of the Commonwealth without her husband,Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, who was hospitalised at that time.
Britons showered their queen with love and saved some for her husband whom they were informed upfront of his ill health. Just before the recently concluded summer Olympics in London, the Duke took ill again compelling the Queen to attend the opening and closing ceremonies without her beau and as they were updated daily, Britons once again sent their love to him via flowers.
So you may ask, why such an approach successfully applied in Nigeria and the United Kingdom has become so unattractive to present Aso Rock apparchik? Could it be as a result of ignorance or arrogance on the part of the Presidency that is generating the negative perception and resentment manifesting as non-sympathy for the infirm Madam First Lady?
Unlike Caucasians, Asians or people in the socially and economically advanced societies,Africans revere the dead and empathise with the infirm and weak either because, as traditionalists, we worship deities which are essentially dead ancestors or as people of faith; we have the vision of the Good Samaritan who helped the weak as we are reminded of the Bible stories of pilgrims who encountered angels disguised as the infirm needing help.
For these and many other reasons, Africans, and indeed Nigerians, give alms to the infirm and pray for the sick freely in consonance with the Biblical injunction to ‘be your brother’s keeper’.
This is not the case in the Western world where the pursuit of capitalism has broken the bond of kinship to the extent that the aged are kept in hospices devoid of family love and affection as opposed to African love which makes offsprings to keep their aging parents in their homes until their dying days.
With such an African disposition, l experienced a rude culture shock while attempting to help a professor who is a paraplegic into an elevator when l was studying for a masters degree at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Medford, Massachusetts,USA. Professor Swatskowski rejected my help by telling me in clear terms to steer clear of his path because he was capable of doing whatever he wanted to accomplish without help.
Little did l know then that the disabled in the Western society preferred to prove that there is ability in disability through independence as opposed to the pity we have for them and a justification for the handouts we give or toss at them when accosted on the roads or places of worship.
The point of the above illustration is to demonstrate that as African,our natural instinct is to show love and affection to people who are ailing or afflicted. As such, Madam First Lady, Patience Jonathan, should be enjoying our sympathy and goodwill in this period of ill health irrespective of the communication gaps in Aso Rock that may be eliciting negative vibes and angst against her.
From her antecedent,Dame Patience Jonathan, as her admirers like to refer to her, is a humane person. At the onset of the Boko Haram imbroglio, she awakened Nigerian women to the need to challenge their husbands to stop the carnage because children and women are often the worst victims of such pogrom when they become orphans and widows.
Before she took ill or dropped out of the public scene, she had successfully mobilised wives of African heads of state to Abuja where a foundation for an edifice in their honour was laid.
Prior to the Abuja gathering, she had rallied Nigerian women in government and spouses of top officials in authority to Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, where she charged them not to demure from vying and fighting for the top most positions in government or private sectors of Nigerian economy.
Mr magnus onyibe, a former broadcaster and commissioner, wrote from Abuja.