Analysing the First Lady’s Chibok Cry
Written by Abu Bilaal Abdulrazaq bn Bello bn Oare
Nigeria’s first lady, Patience Faka Jonathan, on Sunday 4th May, 2014 convened a meeting over the abduction of some two hundred and seventy female students of Government Girls’ Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State. A video clip of the meeting, in which she appeared to broken down in tears, has since gone viral on social media.
The meeting was convened ostensibly as her contribution to the ongoing BringBackOurGirls campaign spreading round the country and beyond. However, even as one is tempted to applaud the First Lady’s well-choreographed empathy for the abducted students, a careful observation shows that her actions and statements manifest so many vexatious issues that need to be addressed, and call for a redefinition of the designation “first lady” in the light of the Nigerian constitution – at least for those who do not know and for those who know but are simply inebriated with impunity.
To start with, there is no such thing as the Office of the First Lady in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And to that extent, the wife of the president – at best – is, as described by the literary icon, Professor Wole Soyinka, a mere domestic appendage of the president. In case you don’t get it, what that simply means is that morally and constitutionally, the first lady is no more than the president’s wife. Therefore, one wonders under which powers she constituted a one-man panel of inquiry into a national issue, dispensing blame here and there, and accusing people of blackmailing her husband or of trying to squelch his chances at the 2015 presidential election. One wonders wherefrom she derives the constitutional authority to summon the wife of the Borno State Governor, Hajiya Nana Kashim Shettima.
Could anyone imagine a similar kidnap incident taking place in the United States of America and Michelle Obama summoning governors’ wives and public officers to a stakeholders’ meeting, whatsoever, on the issue? Americans would not take that. Neither the wife of the US president nor the wife of the British Prime Minister wields such powers. It is only in Nigeria that the first lady sees herself, more or less, as assistant president. But the fact is that if the president’s wife can assume such powers that the law does not provide for her, then the president’s brother, the president’s sister, or even the president’s grandmother can constitute a panel of inquiry into any issue of their choice, and summon the state governors and their entire families (not only their wives) to appear before it.
Moreover, Mrs Jonathan’s fury over the Borno State first lady’s refusal to obey her summons shows that she sees the wives of the elected governors of the 36 states of the federation as her subordinates and dutifully answerable to her. I think it is important to remind Mrs Jonathan that the PDP presidential ticket at the last general elections carried the names of Goodluck Jonathan and Namadi Sambo. It wasn’t a Jonathan/Patience ticket. If Patience is as interested in power as Jonathan, she is free to fraternize with any political party and seek to unseat her husband, come 2015.
Secondly, it is preposterous that Mrs Jonathan, in a Kema Chikwe-like fashion, insinuated that the Chibok abduction story is a hoax. This is coming in spite of the traumatized and agonized mothers who have been thronging the streets crying helplessly and calling on the government to live up to its expectations to ensure the safety of its own citizens, and the international attention the issue has received. It is coming in spite of the litany of promises by her husband that no effort will be spared to free the girls from captivity. And it is coming in spite of the bogus claim made a few days after the abduction, by the military’s mouthpiece, Maj. Gen. Christopher Olukolade, that all but eight of the abducted girls had been freed by military commandos – a claim that turned out to be one of the many deceitful propaganda of the Nigerian military; it has since been retracted.
Besides, the first lady’s embarrassing insinuation that no examination was conducted in that school on that day, let alone students been abducted, suggests that her cry was not in sympathy for the abducted girls and their bereaved relatives and friends (because doesn’t believe the story in the first place and even called on the protesters to desist or have themselves to blame), but for the “insubordination” and “disregard” for her high office by the Borno State governor’s wife, and others who did not honour her summons. Her cry was for the fact that this issue has further exposed the hollowness of the present government under the superintendence of her spouse, and the likely setback it may have on her spouse’s do-or-die 2015 presidential comeback bid, which is the only guarantee for her continued reign in “office” as the first lady.
Finally, and even more disturbing, is Mrs Jonathan’s effrontery to set aside and undermine the entire security agencies in the country – including the police, SSS and the military, and the panel recently inaugurated by her husband to search for the missing girls – to do a unilateral and parallel investigation of her own into the issue. I am not certain whether she is doing this based on her rich experience garnered from the American FBI and the Israeli Mossad, because I do not know if she is a pensioner of those two security intelligence agencies. But what is most likely is that her dabbling into the issue in a manner that is meant to whip up sentiments for her husband, especially when considered against the backdrop of the fact that she has no constitutional backing to do any form of security investigation, will surely do more harm than good. If she wants to play the role of a responsible first lady, the best she can do is to call on the government and the security agencies to work round-the-clock to ensure the safe return of those girls – our dear daughters – to us, just like every other well-meaning Nigerian is doing.
Bello bn Oare wrote from Kaduna
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