First Ladyship: Reconciling Public Service Rules in Nigeria.
The Nigerian media had been awash in recent weeks with comments on the appointment of Dame Patience Jonathan, wife of the Nigerian President, as permanent secretary in Bayelsa State. She was sworn in on Friday July 20, 2012, along with 18 others, despite misgivings in some quarters about her selection “from the blues” and her doubtful qualification(s), competence and merit.
Despite the brazen show of undignifying privilege, power and oppression, the VANGUARD newspaper described the event as a “colourful ceremony”. I dare say that the euphoria elicited, could have been predicted. It is yet to be understood how and why this particular appointment attracts such attention, criticism and vitriolics. Probably because of the first lady’s history of grammatical malapropisms, her academic status has remained doubtful, thus opening the floodgate for insults and embarrassing cartoons in the social media.
The recent joke in the media has brought out the beast in us. She was alleged to have circulated a thank you missive to the Governor of Bayelsa State which she signed off with the rider: “May Bayelsa State Rest in peace”.
Irrespective of the barrage of criticisms, the most dignifying support of her appointment has come from a very prominent Nigerian, Prof. Wole Soyinka. The Nobel Laureate’s comments on the imbroglio seemed to be the only one which clearly explores the constitution and discloses the lacuna which exists therein and whose platform Governor Seriake Dickson may have exploited to perfect the aggrandizement of Dame Patience Jonathan.
Nobody has consciously made an effort to trace the history of the career and occupation of first ladies worldwide nor has anyone cleverly recalled and compared the antecedents of her predecessors. It is incontrovertible that many of her predecessors were agoraphobic; the one deficiency which our incumbent first Lady cannot be associated with even by her worst critic. One fact which we seem to have ignored in the unfolding case is the liability of her husband and the liberty of the wife. Are those clamouring for the unemployment of the first Lady seeking to adjudge her incompetent, narrowly educated, incapacitated or extremely engaged and busy with (State?) duties at the Presidential Villa? If that is the contention, then the same rule should be extended to all first Ladies, including wives of governors (wives of the CBN governor and FCT Minister inclusive) and wives of local government chairman nationwide.
I am tempted to ponder how the legitimate endeavour of our first Lady should undermine her role in the President’s official and ceremonial activities. Hitherto, we have had a military Head of State whose wife was a Court Judge; talk of General Abdusalam Abubakar! We have also had some Presidents whose wives were businesswomen. The present scenario of selective and biased appraisal of Dame Jonathan is unfair, unwarranted and senselessly propelled by myopic minds.
It is hoped that the National Assembly will hearken to her call for a clarification of the status and duties of first ladies in the constitution. This, I support!