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Sheltering African First Ladies

By Josef Omorotiomwan
THIS writer has been caught severally on the soft side of providing the good life for past leaders. During the debate at the Constituent Assembly on the pension scheme for past Presidents and Governors, I made this demand: “Hands up, all those who will be happy to see their former President driving a taxi or moonlighting as a charge-hand in a factory, trying to make ends meet”. There was not a single hand up.

I proceeded from there to posit to the Assembly that the only way to obviate that ugly situation is to devise a robust pension scheme for past Presidents and Governors.

We were travelling to the East to take a wife for my son (name withheld). On the way, I kicked off a discussion: “Suppose we get there to find that the head of the household, your prospective father-in law, is the one pounding the yam that we would eat, what would your reaction be?“ He retorted: “I will not continue with the marriage.

I will just go home.” When I asked why he would react that way, he quipped rather angrily: “Is it not clear that the only alternative to that would be to patiently enter into the marriage and gear up to be pounding for my wife when we are married? Why would I stay in a household that has no head?”

It gets even messier if you come into a village and you are told to wait a little because the Odionwere (village head) will soon return from where he went to tap rubber. What type of village will not cater for its head?

All the same, none of these flourishing arguments will sway even the most patriotic citizen to support the plan of the country’s First Lady apparently to build a hotel complex for herself with public funds.

Suddenly, Nigeria’s First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, is asking for a whopping sum of N13 billion for the building of the headquarters of the African First Ladies Peace Centre, AFLPC.

Funny enough, the piece of land on which the edifice is to be sited had earlier been allocated to Hajia Turai Yar’Adua, Dame Patience Jonathan’s predecessor in office. It is now a subject of litigation between the two First Ladies. Hajia cannot see why land allocated to her should now be reallocated to Dame. Each of them asked for the land for a pet project. One thing is clear from this: First Ladies also cry. Hajia has approached the courts for interpretation.

Dame Patience Jonathan (2nd-l), African First Ladies and Heads of Delegation, Admiring the Model of the Permanent Secretariat of African First Ladies Peace Mission (AFLPM) in Abuja on Thursday (26/7/12). NAN Photo
Dame Patience Jonathan (2nd-l), African First Ladies and Heads of Delegation, Admiring the Model of the Permanent Secretariat of African First Ladies Peace Mission (AFLPM) in Abuja on Thursday (26/7/12). NAN Photo

This was the ground on which the Senate Committee on FCT rejected an initial N4 billion draw-down on the project from the office of the First Lady. Hear the Chairman of the Senate Committee on the FCT, Senator Smart Adeyemi: “Due to the litigation in respect of the proposed plot of land, money cannot be accessed this year”.

This project has a number of question marks around it. One, it has no parallel anywhere in the world that government builds a hostel for conference participants. When countries, states or municipalities struggle for hosting rights of events, they do so for the business opportunities inherent therein – during the events, social, commercial and all forms of activities come alive; and you find citizens smiling to the banks.

Two, and perhaps more importantly, these First Ladies are playing smart. Hajia got the allocation on the pretext of using it for a pet project but today, the story has changed. She is now claiming the land as her personal property.

Is this not enough reason for us to be scared of the intentions of the incumbent First Lady? Hajia’s posturing simply succeeds in blowing the lid off Dame’s cover, which makes Dame look like a person providing for her post-retirement years.

Are these African First Ladies refugees in their home countries? If not, there is a subtle suggestion that the Inn will have no permanent residents. And when the inmates are not meeting, to what use do you put this white elephant project?

Again, the office of First Lady is an anomaly, totally alien to the country’s Constitution or any law of the land for that matter. It would have been a neater innovation if the “Oga at the top” was the one asking for a hostel for his foreign colleagues.

Meanwhile, Nigerians are angry with the Senate Committee on FCT. They think the Committee’s rejection of the initial draw-down request of N4 billion was not only far-reaching enough, but it was also lousy. They reckon that the Committee should have used the opportunity of the request to throw the entire project out of the window. People not tutored in the art of legislation are wont to think this way.

Knowing how legislators everywhere work, I can bet my December salary that the AFLPC Project is dead; in fact, it is deader than dead!

The business of legislation is different from journalism where you say it like it is. What the FCT Committee has just started is the Dance of Legislation, which in the words of Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924): “Once you begin the dance of legislation and you must struggle through its mazes as best you can to its breathless end, if any end there be”.

The National Assembly also has a responsibility to produce the greatest happiness to the greatest number. Without cutting off the major arteries of the project, Dame for now remains happy that she has a project in the works. That project will remain in the legislative maze until it will be quarter to Madam’s departure from Aso Rock.

At the committee level, the lawmakers retain the option of loving the proposal to death. Legislatively speaking, this means that the measure could be amended even beyond Madam’s recognition by the time it limps out of the committee room.

For now, we must allow the National Assembly and its committees to do their best, hoping that their best will be enough for all of us.


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