BY OPEOLUWANI OGUNJIMI
When the name of the wife of President Goodluck Jonathan, Patience Jonathan, was first announced as a prospective Permanent Secretary in Bayelsa State, many thought it was all a joke. The country ‘fell apart’ .
While some analysts supported the move by Bayelsa Governor, Seriake Dickson , saying the appointment was by merit, others couldn’t understand why someone already occupying the ‘position’ of the First Lady should again be given a political appointment. Never in the history of Nigeria has this been experienced, they argued.
What duty would she be performing? Would she have time to combine both duties of the first lady and that of a Permanent Secretary? Since the position is that of a permanent secretary, would she permanently relocate to Bayelsa State? And does she merit the position?
Dame Patience Goodluck Jonathan was born into the family of Chief Lazarus Iwari-Oba at Port-Harcourt in Rivers State.
After primary and secondary education, she obtained the National Certificate of Education (NCE) in Mathematics/ Biology in 1989 from Rivers State College of Education and a Bachelor of Education in Biology and Psychology from the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria.
Patience Jonathan’s working experience spreads through Teaching, Banking, Sports Administration and Civil-Service before she became the wife of the Deputy Governor of Bayelsa state and years later, Bayelsa State Governor’s wife, wife of the Vice President, wife of acting President, and eventually wife of the President.
Patience is the founder of Aruera Reachout Foundation that has over the last eight years trained over 4000 women in different skills to enable them take care of themselves and their families.
Through her Soup Kitchen largesse; scholarship awards have been given to children of the less-privileged in the society and medical support and assistance to children with heart conditions.
Her international and national accolades include:
i) A recipient of the International award for Excellence by the Yitzhak Rabin Centre, Tel Aviv, Israel 2008. This is the first of such recognition by this famous centre since its inception
2) The “Beyond the Tears” International Humanitarian Award New York, USA, 2008 for her role in the global fightagainst HIV\AIDS.
3) Pro-Chancellor and Fellow, African Busines School (October, 2008)
4) African Goodwill Ambassador Award(Los Angeles, USA, April,2009)
5) The Conferment of traditional Stool of Iyom“Ada di oha mma ofUkpo” by H.R.H Igwe Robert Eze.
6) The conferment of the traditional title of Unume Wheshi Ekpeye 1 of Ekpeye Kingdom in Rivers State by the Eze Robinson O.
Robinson the Ekpeyelogbo.
7) A traditional Staff of office bestowed on her by the Okpahgwe Amawbia in Anambra State.
8) Recipient of the Award for Excellence from the Christian Women Fellowship for upholding dignity and positive projection of womanhood in our generation.
9) Recipient of the Wind of Positive Change Award from the South\SouthWomen Organization.
(10) Recipient of ‘Defenderof the Poor’ Award by Societyof St Vincent de Paul (Abuja Catholic Archdiocese).
Before her appointment, the Bayelsa State Governor claimed that Mrs Jonathan worked in the civil service of Rivers State before transferring her services to Bayelsa State when her husband became the Deputy Governor of the state in 1999.
The government also claimed that while in the Bayelsa State Civil Service, Mrs Jonathan rose through the ranks and was appointed into the directorate cadre as a level 15 officer in 2005.
What was confusing about her case was that before her appointment as the Permanent Secretary, many claimed that she wasn’t a known figure in the civil service which prompted suspicions that she might have been promoted far beyond her level of experience and competence.
And even though she might have been in the civil service, many are also interested in knowing under which ministry she worked and what relationship it has with the equivalent Permanent Secretary appointment.
Again, many are skeptical about her level of humility knowing that as a Permanent Secretary, Dame Patience Jonathan would have to report to Commissioners who in turn report to the Governor.
As First Lady who already has her staff, security details, very influential and in fact, one of the forces that can’t be ignored in her husband’s presidency, her humility is in doubt when it comes to taking orders from the Governor. Will she be humble enough in replying to queries from her departmental director?
Given her husband’s determination to stop corruption in the country, the fear that her appointment being an honourary one and not a call to serve, looms around the corner. Going by what the Governor said that her last promotion was in 2005, it means she’s been absent from office since then.
Has she been receiving salaries since then? And has she been part of the several staff audits which have taken place since then to merit the appointment?
Festus Okoye who is also the Executive Director, Human Rights Monitor, totally kicks against the move by the Governor of Bayelsa. According to him, Patience doesn’t merit it as there was no record that she was a part of the CivilService at any time. According to him, her appointment was shrouded in secrecy.
Festus says Nigerians want to see her work and not just sit. He also clamours that she moves back to Bayelsa permanently so as to perform her duties diligently.
“I do not support her appointment because it is shrouded in secrecy. There is no record that she merited it. She was just a teacher. And she spent almost all her service years as the wife of thegovernor and the President. The issue isn’t about whether she’ll deliver or not.
We want to see her being allocated to an office and move back to Bayelsa. We want to see her work instead of doing nothing. So, let her leave the office of the First Lady, go back to Bayelsa and resume work at eight in the morning because the office is a permanent one.”
Speaking on the issue of her appointment, Former Minister of Transport, Ebenezer Babatope says there’s nothing wrong with it. He advises Patience to instead apply for a leave of office which will nullify all what pundits may have against her.
“There’s nothing wrong with it because we’ve got a similar situation before. When Mobolaji Johnson was the governor of Lagos State, his wife was a top civil servant in the country and she worked really hard. So the only thing I’ll want Mrs Patience Jonathan to do is to apply for a leave of absence from office which will erase all what people may have against her,” he said.
On the other hand, President, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum Yerima Shettima, thinks it is the height of corruption perpetuated by the Jonathan administration.
According to him, apart from the fact that the office of the first lady is not constitutional, he thinks the President is imposing her on the people of Bayelsa.
“It is an act of greediness. The office of the First Lady is not legal, so the Governor shouldn’t have gone that far because she was not elected. The President is imposing her on the State. She will be on his(Governor’s) neck and he won’t be able to perform his duty.
Nobody was aware of her being part of the Civil Service. So it is either she goes back to the Civil Service or remain as the First Lady. This is god fatherism in politics because the President will be the one directing the affairs of the state.The issue must be revisited.”
National Coordinator, Ijaw Monitoring Group, Joseph Eva is indifferent about it. He said since she was pronounced competent then, Patience should get to work immediately. He thinks with her coming to work in Bayelsa, poverty will be a thing of the past in the state. He however hopes her appointment is a call to service and not an honourary type.
“We are waiting for her to go and work. Since they said she has the experience , she may be able to banish poverty from the state. I think it’ll improve the lot of the State. If her appointment works, it’ll be a good thing. But if it’s a sit-down appointment then, we are going to challenge it.