27th October, 2011
Yesterday, Patience, wife of President Goodluck Jonathan marked her 48th birthday in Perth, Australia. It was a ceremony that came with all the rites of the commonplace birthday celebration: cake-cutting, hubby putting a bit of the cake in his wifeâ€™s mouth. And to boot, Mrs. Jonathan even had time to visit a local Australian university and the old peopleâ€™s home.
A week ago, when Nigerians were told that President Jonathan was going to embark on a five-day visit to the country called DOWN UNDER, to attend the Commonwealth Summit, no one said the programme of the president would include cutting birthday cake with his wife. No one even said the wife, who is coming across more like the shadow president, would spend part of Nigeriaâ€™s leaderâ€™s time, cutting cake. But this is Nigeria, where as General Salihu Ibrahim once told us, 18 years ago, â€˜anything goesâ€™.
For those of us who have not been totally sold on the morally corrupt ideology of Nigeria, we need to ask who paid for the cake Mrs. Jonathan cut in Perth? Was it the embassy in the country or who? If the money was from the state, asking for a refund will not be a bad idea, as it is the norm in civilized nations, where there are clear distinctions between the office of the head of state, president or prime minister and his family. Michele Obama for instance will not go on holiday at the expense of the American taxpayers. She and her husband know they have to pay for it from their pockets. They similarly would have paid for the cost of keeping Air Force One on the ground in Australia, if like President Jonathan, they had gone wining and dining in celebration of the wifeâ€™s birthday. The Parliament in Nigeria and our lawyers really have a lot of work to do on an issue like this, to ensure we keep to the letter and spirit of our constitution.
Of more concern to me has been the attempt to give official seal to the unknown, unconstitutional title of â€œFirst Ladyâ€, to the wife of President Jonathan. The Nigerian constitution, even as amended has no such title for the Wife of the President (WOP). It does not also have such a title at the state level, where â€˜wives of Governors (WOG) also go by the honorific, First Lady. Just like at the Federal level, where Mrs. Jonathan has created a humongous structure of bureaucracy around her non-existing, illegal office of â€œFirst Ladyâ€™, so have the wives of governors at the state level, with some of them running parallel structures to their husbandsâ€™. In some states, WOGs have appointed, chief of staff, chief press secretary, permanent secretary to the First Lady, chief of protocol and so on. In some states, WOGs have embarked on â€˜â€™official inspectionâ€™â€™ of state and local council projects, with fawning council and state officials, clothing them with adulatory titles: â€˜her Excellencyâ€™â€™, â€˜â€™our motherâ€™ and such nonsense.
It is only in Nigeria that such a charade can go on without legal challenge. It is only in Nigeria, where we can spend state funds to maintain the wives of governors, without a serious constitutional issue raised in the Supreme Court.
But this has to stop. Nigeria cannot continue on this path, without further destroying itself. Both WOP and WOGs were something before their husbands became President or Governor. Is it out of place if they continue their vocation and allow their husbands perform their functions without distractions and unwitting competition from their spouses?
For now, WOP and WOGs are having a swell time.
No wonder, the outpouring of solidarity messages by WOGs to WOP on her birthday from Monday. Today for instance, all the WOGs, in an advert signed by Judith Amaechi, described Patience an â€˜Amazonâ€™ and went on to greet her a happy birthday on behalf of her â€˜â€™daughters, the wives of the governorsâ€™â€™. Some of these WOGs are even older than Patience! But this is Nigeria where inverted logic is normal!
â€”Bayo Onanuga is the editor-in-chief of P.M.News and THENEWS magazine