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God save us from the curse of “First Ladies”

By Dele Sobowale

“Revolutions end up in the hands of madmen. Besides, if the power is great enough, it will make its own mad men by its own pressure” – Saul Bellow. (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS ….

The institutionalisation of an office which does not exist in our constitution was the fault of the media – print and electronics – and it betrays our slave mentality with regard to transient occupants of great offices. Our forefathers were carried into slavery mostly because they preferred to be herded like cattle into ships than to die as free men.

The mentality is still with us their successors. We still invent various forms of self-enslavement to our fellow men – even when they are our own people. Go and read every Americam newspaper and you will hardly find any which calls Mrs. Obama “First Lady”; nor her husband the President “His Excellency”.

Indeed, any American who addresses Obama as “Your Excellency” at a function will be regarded as someone needing to have his head examined. The picture of Mrs. Obama hugging basketball player Kobe Bryant, at the London Olympics, was captioned “Mrs. Obama hugs Kobe” in American newspapers. In Nigeria, it became “American First Lady hugs Kobe”. The difference is clear between free people and slaves pretending to be free.

“First Ladyism” started like an aberration; which would soon correct itself. The major intrusion, of unelected wives of public officials, Presidents, Governors and Local Government Chairpersons, started with the creator of the Better Life Programme for Rural Women.  And, on it millions of naira of public funds spent.

Till today, nobody has told Nigerians how much was taken from our Federation Account to fund this programme; there has been no audited report and nobody has told us what was achieved for all the noise and publicity. But, those old enough to remember what happened, must recollect that it later became known as Better Women for Rural Life.

Each inauguration of a Better Life project in any state was accompanied by uniforms sewn for the First lady and her entourage from the office, the Minister for Women Affairs as well as Permanent Secretary, all the wives of the State Governors and their free-loaders, all the wives of all the Local Government persons from several states, etc, etc.

Cows were slaughtered and consumed and invariably, it was a carnival such as the rural people had never seen before – or perhaps after. Today, there is not a trace anywhere of the Better Life Programme. No great idea, to the best of my knowledge, which benefits the people, dies so quickly. The truth was, and is, it was a rotten idea on which hundreds of millions of naira of public funds were wasted.

Then came Mrs. Mariam Abacha. Again the entire charade called Family Support Programme, FSP, by that intruder into our national life, can be illustrated by one intervention she made in Lagos State. She “donated” (they use our money to buy things for us at inflated prices and call it donation; the Yoruba people refer to that scam as owo Abu la fin se Abu la lejo; meaning ‘you use Abu’s money to entertain him’ ) a small bus to the Old People’ Home at Yaba, Lagos.

The bus at the time could not have been worth more than a million naira. But, the pageant supporting the event consumed almost twenty times that. I recollect asking in a column, at the time, why she could not have bought ten buses for more Old Peoples’ Homes or Motherless Babies Homes in Nigeria and simply have them delivered. My “reward” was a week-end “retreat” with the SSS. Again, today, there is no trace anywhere of the FSP.

The only wife of a Military Head of State who stayed out of the treasury, to her everlasting glory, was the wife of General Abdulsalami Abubakar. I had hoped that the idiocy had ended. And, Obasanjo seemed to have supported me when, on coming to the helm, announced that his wife is no First Lady but Mrs. Obasanjo. Unfortunately, the media would not purge itself of its slave mentality. Like a nation of the deaf led by the deaf, the noise about First Lady was heard all over once again. It was enough to break my heart.

You are probably asking “why now?” The reason is simple. Some of the columnists I personally enjoy reading have lately cultivated the bad habit of calling some housewives “First Ladies”. Sometimes, in order to justify the investiture of the bogus title, they tell us long stories about the “achievements” of these intruders.

Months ago, it was my friend Tunde Fagbenle of THE PUNCH singing the praises of one of them from the Southwest – whose husband I personally like. Usually, I would read Fagbenle from start to finish. This time, four paragraphs were all I could stomach.

Lately, Segun Ayabolu of THE NATION and Abimbola Adelakun of THE PUNCH forced me to throw away papers for which I paid good money for using that expression — which is meaningless and is not recognized in law. With all good respects to Fagbenle, allowing illegal conduct, when engaged in by someone we admire, is an invitation to the sort of disasters we had experienced with former and present wives of elected officials.

There is no example, anywhere in Nigeria, of projects initiated by one intruder outlasting her occupation of the master’s bedroom in the Presidency or Governor’s mansion. Now Local Government Chairmen wives are joining in the criminal waste of public funds on projects which will not outlast them– because most of them are bogus, corruption ridden or insane to start with.  God save us from these people – and I mean all of them.


“Impress it on the mind of any man that he can make no error and he will soon convince you of your mistake”.

Praise can be just as intoxicating as alcohol, power and money. Too much of any of the three produces monstrous results. Fashola’s performance, in the first term, was exemplary and deserving of all the accolades which he received. But, perhaps there was too much of the back-slapping from all of us.

I am deeply worried about the unintended consequences of recent initiatives –some of which have, to be candid, gone overboard. Back in 1969, while undertaking my MBA programme in Boston, the professor teaching Business Policy introduced us to the dangers of unintended consequences.

Summarised, it comes out this way. The Chief Executive Officer, CEO (MD, Governor, DG, Chairman), takes a measure expecting a positive result from it. Then he takes a second, almost at the same time, still expecting a good result from that also. Then, he takes third, without waiting for the outcome of the first two; and before he knows it, all hell has broken loose. Perhaps I should stop there….


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