Democracy ÷ Dame = Dam-ocracy By Sonala Olumhense
I make this small contribution to a growing school of study which is strenuously trying to understand Dame Patience Faka Jonathan, Nigeria’s First Lady. For want of a better name, I will call them the Damologists.
This effort is at some personal risk, as Mrs. Jonathan has previously denounced me in a newspaper advertorial, an unwanted but telling distinction.
It began with an article entitled: ‘Patience Jonathan: Nigeria’s Most Powerful Woman,’ on October 27, 2007.
Reflecting on how Mrs. Jonathan had been halted twice in one month by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for money-laundering only for both matters to disappear, Nigeria style, I asked: “If Mrs. Jonathan can so effectively laugh at the so-called war on corruption, does that not make her the First Lady? On what basis does she perform her functions – the recommendations of the EFCC? Why has Mrs. Jonathan assumed the status of untouchable, or is she truly the nation’s most powerful woman?”
I do not know if Turai Yar’Adua enjoyed the reference to another woman as the nation’s most powerful ahead of her, but it did not matter. I was in the front row of the first class to study the emerging phenomenon from Rivers State.
The first thing to understand is that Dame Patience Faka Jonathan is no ordinary Nigerian. I know the history books refer to her as the wife of President Goodluck Jonathan, but that is wrong, and I say that not because she famously numbered herself among the widows during the 2011 election campaigns. After all, those same infernal books also refer to her as a Permanent Secretary in Bayelsa State, and we know that to be false.
Who, truly, is Dame Jonathan? She is a teacher, a cautionary tale. Her principal mission is to teach Nigeria a lesson.
Let me demonstrate.
Dame—or The Dame as she is often referred to—was not her title when she was first introduced to the national limelight during her money-laundering confrontations with the EFCC in 2006.
When Justice Anwuli Chikere of the Federal High Court, Abuja was authorizing the freezing of the N104 million pending the conclusion of an investigation into the money-laundering offence against her on August 22 of that year, she was no Dame. When the EFCC announced three weeks later had seized another $13.5 million from her, she was no Dame, just the wife of the governor of Bayelsa State.
It is instructive that within two years, both cases against Mrs. Jonathan all but vanished, generally mentioned only twice thereafter. In the first, in 2010, Nuhu Ribadu, the EFCC supremo who introduced her as a money-laundering suspect in the first place, denied there were ever cases. He did not substantiate the claim, say where the monies were, or answer the key questions.
In the second mention, in July 2011, the Coalition Against Impunity and Illegality (CAGIL) announced a legal action against the EFCC for refusing to bring Mrs. Jonathan to justice over the $13.5 million money laundering allegations.
By then, of course, Mr. Jonathan had obtained the presidency in his own name, and, I think, explained to the Dame the true meaning of his “Transformation Agenda:” life on the executive jet with the keys to the Central Bank in your hands.
Also, in that mid-2011, Mrs. Farida Waziri, a confidante of some of Nigeria’s most corrupt persons, had been given control of the EFCC and had started to dismantle its records, disperse its personnel, and unhinge its credibility.
Among her unsung victims, as the EFCC descended into infamy, was one Osita Nwajah who, as EFCC spokesman in 2006, had made the announcement in the international press concerning Mrs. Jonathan’s $13.5 million albatross.
But things don’t always go according to the best Nollywood dreams, and Mrs. Jonathan disappeared from public view in August 2012. Reports of her hospitalization abroad were either ignored by the government headed by her husband, or denied.
One of the most important denials was by Mrs. Jonathan herself. Returning to the country in October 2012 following several mysterious weeks abroad, she denied ever being sick. She did not even know the hospital about which she was linked in sickness, she swore.
Patience’s pretence lasted about four months. In February 2013, at an Aso Rock Thanksgiving service in which she was reported to have wept publicly, she confessed how she had actually been so sick in September and October of 2012 she had endured eight or nine surgeries in one month. “It was God himself in His infinite mercy that said I will return to Nigeria,” she said, swearing to work for the under-privileged from then on. “God woke me up after seven days.”
That was five months ago, during which time she appears to have found no time for the under-privileged. Instead, in the crisis in Rivers, her home state, she has helped push the country to the brink.
The pattern here suggests that Mrs. Jonathan thinks of herself as Mrs. President. Either that or somebody has been too scared to explain the facts of life to her.
Either way, Mrs. Jonathan has made it her business, her style and her focus to engineer crises wherever she goes, to expend authority she does not have, to squander public resources to which she lacks official access, and to drag the presidency into shark-infested political waters.
If you want proof Mrs. Jonathan thinks she is Mrs. President or owns one half of the presidency, read last week’s imperious public statement she made on her involvement in the Rivers State crisis.
“This office wishes to call on all feuding parties in Rivers State…It is our position…We subscribe to the fact that…”
This office? Our position? We?
If you cannot locate in the Nigerian constitution the office to which she alludes, or cannot identify the political person on behalf of which she uses those pronouns, it should be easy to appreciate the difficulties that face the Nigerian state.
This is why Mrs. Jonathan has become Nigeria’s most dangerous woman. She diminishes and imperils the presidency as an institution. Her range of vision stops at power as a tool for massaging her considerable ego, or ice-cream for her appetite. As economies and communities she has halted in mid-step for hours have found out, power for her is a game.
Sadly, in this subversive role, it is President Jonathan that has empowered his wife. While other leaders support their First Lady’s initiatives to provide hope and sustenance to the poor, or opportunities to the talented, his own political ambitions have blinded him to the alchemy he has brewed.
In case it is unclear, the Jonathans have accomplished two things. The first is that they arrived with a lot of baggage to which they are drawing renewed attention. The other is that under their dual presidency, this Dam-ocracy, noon may yet be darker than the night.
The lesson Mrs. Jonathan teaches Nigerians is the need for perpetual vigilance in order to protect the little we do have.
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