“Adamu’s choice of words might be inelegant, but his observation about a First Lady who has achieved nothing for society and had only luxuriated in their resources is spot on. Besides bringing their family squabbles into the public, arranging lavish weddings for her children, and hibernating in Dubai for an extended period, what is her legacy? In what ways has she helped Nigerians? Everything about her since 2015 has been about her serving herself” – Abimbola Adelakun, PUNCH, December 1, 2022.
I was just wondering how to approach this year’s remembrance of the late Maryam Babangida, who left us on December 27, 2009 with a legacy – BETTER LIFE FOR RURAL WOMEN PROGRAMME – which none of her successors has matched in any way. Then I read Ms Abimbola Adelakun’s column, which is a must read for me and the direction of this year’s article became clear.
By asking “what is her [Mrs Aisha Buhari] legacy?” Adelakun inadvertently opened a wider vista of inquiry into the lives of women who are President’s or Governors’ wives. They are beneficiaries of the best luxuries that the nation or the state can afford (and sometimes more than should be honestly afforded); without any defined set of responsibilities. Each decides for herself what she wants to do. Incredibly, few of the husbands have been able to control them. They often act as their sense of duty directs them. Remarkably, only one has left a lasting legacy.
PARALLEL LIVES OF NIGERIA’S FIRST LADIES (1980-2023).
“Noblesse oblige meaning nobility carries its obligations” – Duc de Levis, 1764-1830, VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ, p172
When a woman 30 years old walks into a room and everybody including 90 years old grandparents stands up, that is honour bestowed. Quite often she has earned that respect, not by her own efforts but because she is somebody’s wife. Granted, there are a few occasions when she earned the esteem herself. Even then, there is an underlying social contract that the person receiving our adulation must contribute positively to the lives of members of the society.
That is one of the obligations associated with high positions. Those who fail to understand that, and only enjoy the benefits of their offices, might not often be aware of what people think about them; but, it is never flattering. Like it or not, every First Lady leaves footprints on the sands of time. In Nigeria, since 1980, there are no good legacies to which we can point or write about – except one. That is a pity. I will summarise in chronological order.
Few people knew how many wives the late President Shagari had. But, one thing we knew. None of them ventured out of the matrimonial home. They left no legacies – for good or ill. Buhari’s First Lady followed the same pattern from 1984-August 1985.
The pattern changed with Maryam Babangida. But, because she is the subject of today’s article, I will discuss her legacies last. However, there is a need to point out that she started the BETTER LIFE FOR RURAL WOMEN PROGRAMME – which has still not perished till today in several parts of Nigeria. She did more.
Mrs. Mariam Abacha succeeded Mrs. Babangida and she introduced the FAMILY SUPPORT PROGRAMME. The orientation was different; and while one might wonder why BETTER LIFE was discontinued, one cannot deny that Mrs. Abacha did something. She is not dead yet; so I can’t write about her legacies – which also impacted some lives. That I went to detention four times under her husband is not a good reason to distort history.
Mrs. Abubakar Abdulsalami spent less than a year; and wisely did not attempt to start any new programme. She realized, quite rightly, that new initiatives need time to be nurtured into a legacy. She did not have the time. But, despite that she left a legacy of prudence, self-effacement and, like our own Caesar’s wife, she lived as First Lady above reproach. That’s a lot; given what followed.
Former President Obasanjo started out giving us the impression that the late Mrs. Stella Obasanjo would stay home. OBJ grandly announced that he did not subscribe to the concept of First Lady; she was Mrs. Obasanjo; period. It is always easier to be honourable when there is no temptation. A few months in office changed all that. Soon the Office of First Lady was established and staffed with public funds and she was drawing estacode for overseas travels. Her public intervention was limited to urban activities for the upper crusts of society. Like a house built on sand, it was washed away as soon as she passed away.
Hajia Turai Yar’Adua started out as a recluse; like Hajia Shagari. Whether she would have remained that way remained unknown. Cruel fate thrust her into the limelight. Her husband was terminally ill before being forced into service as President by Obasanjo. The man had signaled his end when he collapsed on the podium during a campaign and had to be flown abroad. In February 2009, he was again rushed to Germany; then to Saudi Arabia in late 2009. That was the last time Umoru Yar’Adua was known to function as President.
Thereafter, a cabal, headed by the First Lady, took control of the Federal Government, FG, dispensing favours, authorizing expenditures and running government as a family affair. The husband died in April 2010; she left Aso Rock without any legacy of service to the people. Nobody knows who authorized billions of naira spent until the poor man died.
Mrs. Patience Jonathan came into office with a reputation for being uncontrollable by her husband from their days in Bayelsa State. She lived up to the reputation at Aso Rock. While Stella Obasanjo and Turai Yar’Adua came from the top classes of Lagos and Katsina, President Jonathan went to school shoeless and was a struggling academic until he became Deputy Governor. Theirs was certainly not a society wedding. It was time to make up for years of deprivation and hardship. She remains the only former First Lady to be dragged to court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, after leaving office. That was her legacy.
ENTER MRS. AISHA BUHARI – FIRST LADY (2015 TO 2023)
“Brute force without wisdom falls by its own weight” – Horace, 65-8BC
The current wife of the President of Nigeria, with less than six months to leave Aso Rock, has committed a great blunder which would haunt her for as long as she lives. We live in the Age of Internet; in which nothing recorded is ever again deleted. It is akin to the Stone Age messages carved on rocks. I am aware that the case started against the fellow who assailed Mrs. Buhari has been dropped on the advice of wiser heads.
But, like dropped raw eggs, the mess has already been made. The Buhari family and the Madam herself have provided millions of Nigerians the opportunity to tell truth to power; to tell her and the family what they really think about her. To most people around the world now, she is another leader suffering from delirium of power; taking generously, but giving nothing back to the society which provides her support.
That is the reputation she will live with for the rest of her life. The DSS and police officers who helped her to ruin her reputation cannot help her to erase the impression from peoples’ minds. She can still save herself; if she knows how.
ANOTHER REMEMBRANCE OF MARIAM BABANGIDA
“The evil that men do lives after them.” That was what Shakespeare said. The good, I fully support, my senior, Professor Akinyemi, should not be forgotten; otherwise nations will have no models to emulate and progress will stall.
In 1992, I was serving as a Consultant/Manager to Epe Transport Company, with head office at Eredo, Epe Local Government, when one day there was an unannounced invasion. Federal, State and Local Government officials invaded our premises to do two things. The first objective was to open the NALDA office.
The second goal was to start the construction of a 6-kilometre road off the Epe-Ijebu-Ode main road; leading to a small rural community in that part of Lagos State. And, all these because Mrs. Babangida was going to launch a Better Life, BL, programme there. I had a front row seat to history being made in another rural area. By the time “Her Majesty” arrived seven weeks after the original invasion, the road had been completed in record time. A previously inaccessible corner of the state was linked to the world.
Mojoda is now a big town because all the small communities along the 6-kilometre stretch have developed rapidly — all because of a short road constructed to serve the BLP. Over 600 such rural roads were constructed in all the six zones of Nigeria because of BLP. Till today, BLP market days are still being observed in Epe LGA. I will never forget how a community was transformed in eight weeks; because a First Lady chose to go to rural Mojoda instead of holiday resorts in Monaco.
Her contributions towards the education of the girl-child are there for honest observers to see in Kaduna and Minna. But, that is next year’s story.
May her gentle soul rest in perfect peace.
PRAYERS AND BENEDICTIONS
As usual, I want to express appreciation to all our readers, whether they agree or not. Whatever, your situation is, Almighty God will make them better in 2023.
Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of Vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.