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Our First Lady, the Permanent Secretary

By Rotimi Fasan
IT’S been two weeks since I first broached here the rather idle decision of Seriake Dickson, governor of Bayelsa State, to appoint Mrs. Patience Jonathan a permanent secretary in the State.

What started then like a sick joke has since developed into a full-blown disease, one of several, that may one day require the intervention of a political surgeon, if things are ever to get better with our country.

In typical demonstration of how Nigerian leaders routinely call the bluff of Nigerians (after all, the President only recently told us all he couldn’t give a damn what anybody thought of his refusal to publicly declare his assets), Mr. Dickson has since administered the oath of office on Mrs. Jonathan while Mr. Jonathan looked away in studious silence.

Thus was the ‘First Lady’ restored into the highest position a career civil servant could attain some 13 years after she effectively ceased to function as a civil servant. While the practical effect of this strange appointment has not been explained to the people of Bayelsa State, Mrs. Jonathan has been up and about campaigning for constitutional recognition of the position of First Lady.

Even in its present figure head status, Mrs. Jonathan and other previous occupants of this position have done more than enough to abuse it. Without any constitutional imprimatur establishing it, the position of First Lady has left not a few discerning Nigerians very much exercised.

One simply has to imagine what new wonders the likes of Mrs. Jonathan would perform if the position is made constitutional. Now that her husband is telling us that Nigeria is ripe for a female service chief (he has appointed the first female Chief Justice- big deal!) would she now appoint her own Controller General of Customs, Secretary of the Federation for the office of the First Lady, etc, etc?

What more, I ask, will Mrs. Jonathan do as a constitutionally recognised First Lady that she hasn’t done now in an unconstitutional capacity?

Neither Mr. Dickson nor Mrs. Jonathan has yet told us whether the President’s wife intends to return to Bayelsa State to work and draw salary for her new office like any other civil servant or if, indeed, she has been drawing salaries from the civil service these past many years since she relocated, first to Government House in Bayelsa State, then Akinola Aguda House, after her husband became Vice President, and finally Aso Rock Villa?

Has Mrs. Jonathan been taking salary as a civil servant or does she intend to collect her salaries cumulatively? Anyhow it is viewed, one cannot escape the conclusion that this appointment has some pecuniary motive or it would be totally useless.

Yet, one doesn’t need to have any idea of what the President’s assets are (for his assets include all that belongs to both him and his wife- which he doesn’t give a damn to declare publicly!), to know that a Permanent Secretary’s take home salary cannot rank close to what she controls as First Lady, as unconstitutional as the position is, to say nothing of the relative glamour of the two positions.

In spite of this, Mrs. Jonathan cannot overlook this new appointment, treating it as an unnecessary gesture of an over-excited beneficiary of her husband’s misuse of presidential powers- no, she cannot ignore it. She must claim the new appointment while retaining the old, unconstitutional one. Which goes to show just how greedy Nigerian leaders and their spouses could be.

Neither Mrs. Jonathan nor her husband appears to appreciate the goodness of God in their life, how kind God has been to them, catapulting them within a space of nine years from relative obscurity to the highest office of the land. Now, they strut around in the incontinent fashion of a glutton, looking for more to stuff into their already bloated bellies.

And if Mr. Jonathan must do this, what is the business of Mrs. Jonathan in it all? At what point did Nigerians vote for her? Even her husband had to be carried, baby-sitter style, by the likes of former President Obasanjo to sell his candidacy to Nigerians. Now the wife also pretends that she is an elected officer of the Nigerian state, asking that a ceremonial position be made constitutional.

Given the abuse to which that position has been treated, many Nigerians, notably the late Gani Fawehinmi, have called for the scrapping of the office of First Lady. That call would seem a contradiction really because, how do you scrap an office that does not exist constitutionally?

Yet, that call was in order given the undeniable fact that people have functioned in that role. Ironically, at the time Mrs. Jonathan makes her call for constitutional recognition of her ‘office’, the Justice Alfa Belgore Committee has just released a report asking that the position be scrapped.

But Madam Jonathan wants it recognised. We may need to ask what our First Lady, the Permanent Secretary, has achieved in her personal capacity to make this serious demand of Nigerians. Does Mrs. Jonathan consider herself electable? If so, let her enter the fray and stop hiding behind her husband. After all, some other Nigerians have by both fair and foul means seen their spouses into elective offices.

The truth, however, is that Nigerian ‘First Ladies’ bask in the reflected glory of their husbands’ office, positions that were very often unearned in the first instance.

These women enjoy the glamour of their office and bring next to nothing into the position. We got to the very nadir of ‘First Ladyship’ and associated ‘offices’ during the Abacha years when Nigerians started hearing stuffs like ‘First Son’ and ‘First Daughter’ among other nonsense.

Recently, wives of Oyo State legislators went on a ‘study tour’ of the UK, squandering tax payers funds- for what you may ask?

Are they the ones making the laws? But everybody wants to be first this, first that. In other parts of the world, notably America, where the position of First Lady is recognised, albeit ceremonially not as a constitutional office, many of the women manage to do things and some of them are high fliers in their own right.

Hillary Clinton who followed the example of her idol, Eleanor Roosevelt, is one good example of a First Lady who could stand toe to toe with any man. Even at that, her time as First Lady incurred the ire of Americans who thought she had too much visibility.

But this was a woman who believed she could do what the best of Americans, including her highly talented husband, could do. She proved this by running for president and ended up as her country’s first former First Lady who became Secretary of State. That’s a credible first. Our First Ladies? Non starters all!


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