The Risen First Lady ,By Chido Onumah
I join millions of Nigerians in giving thanks to God for the miraculous survival of the country’s First Lady, Dame (Dr.) Patience Goodluck Jonathan. It is not every day you read such cheery news about a First Lady that rose from the dead. It is only befitting, therefore, that it should cost Nigerian taxpayers half a billion naira to celebrate her death and resurrection.
Now that the First Lady is back, hale and hearty, perhaps an apology might just be apposite; for the God of miracles is also a God that abhors lies and deception. Let’s put in perspective the whole episode of the First Lady’s disappearance, appearance, rumours and speculations about her whereabouts and her candour about going to the great beyond and returning to complete her work on earth, and maybe understand why the demand for an unreserved apology, even if not sufficient, seems to be the minimum penance acceptable.
For a visible First Lady, her noticeable absence from major public events last August was bound to stir a feeling of disquiet. After much speculation about her whereabouts, we were told she was “resting in Germany” following her hectic schedule hosting the African First Ladies Summit a month earlier. Then there was the secret visit by President Goodluck Jonathan, accompanied by the chaplain of Aso Villa Chapel, Ven. Obioma Onwuzurumba. From TV footage of the visit, aired on national television, we saw a well-dressed First Lady asking to be allowed to “take picture with my husband”. Dead people don’t take pictures, do they?
All the while, the intrepid Saharareporters.com kept updating Nigerians about the true state of things with the First Lady in Germany. Enter Reuben Abati, the Special Adviser to the President on Media, Publicity, Dissimulation, Deception and other matters. The spin and dissembling went into overdrive. Abati alerted us that, “The video clip aired by the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) was a confirmation that the President’s wife was hale and hearty contrary to what some people wanted Nigerians to believe. The video has put paid to all the lies that people who play politics with almost everything have been spreading. It was clear from that video that the scene was not a hospital scene”.
Knowing Abati, the public took his revelation with more than a pinch of salt. They wanted to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth; the madam herself, not the “boy-boy”. They waited patiently, hoping that in the end the truth would be revealed. When the First Lady returned to the country after almost two months of well-deserved rest, she was full of gratitude for those who prayed for her safe return and had nothing but curses for all those idle and godless Nigerians who wanted her dead. She thanked Almighty God for bringing her back safely to Nigeria and giving her a second chance. That was her own way of confirming what we already knew about her health. Only the initiated could have decoded the message.
For the unbelievers, the First Lady had this message: “Wherever there are good people, there are also bad ones. There are a few Nigerians that are saying whatever they like, not what God planned because God has a plan for all of us. And God has said it all that when two or three are gathered in His name, that He will be with them. And Nigerians gathered and prayed for me and God listened and heard their prayers. So, I thank God for that. God is wonderful and His mercy is forever. At the same time, I read in the media where they said I was in the hospital. God Almighty knows I have never been to that hospital. I don’t even know the hospital they mentioned. I have to explain what God has done for me. I do not have terminal illness, or any cosmetic surgery much less tummy tuck.”
That was the end of the matter. Nobody was to discuss why the First Lady spent six weeks in Germany unannounced. Anybody who dared was accused of the high crime of politicising the First Lady’s personal problems. We were reminded it shouldn’t be the case, after all the First Lady is not a public officer and is entitled to her privacy even though the public paid for her well-deserved vacation in Germany.
Fast forward to February 17, 2013. Venue: Aso Rock Chapel. The First Lady gathers thousands of people to share her tale of resurrection. She confesses to undergoing nine surgeries in one month in Germany. “I actually died. I passed out for more than a week. My intestine and tummy were opened. It was God himself in His infinite mercy that said I will return to Nigeria. God woke me up after seven days,” the First Lady announced to her captive audience who would have intoned, “Hallelujah, Praise the Lord”.
The Dame Patience Jonathan thanksgiving service was the place to be in Nigeria last weekend, not just for those who love the president and his wife, but for people that needed to endear themselves to the Presidency. The guest list included President Goodluck Jonathan; Vice President Namadi Sambo and his wife, Hajia Amina; former President of Ghana, John Agyekum Kufour; former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon; 18 state governors, and sundry VIPs.
Reports had it that several trucks bearing gifts from government officials and contractors lined the streets of the presidential villa waiting to deliver gifts to the First Lady. Clearly, anybody who didn’t answer the roll call would have been tagged not just an enemy of the First Lady and amongst those who wanted her dead while she was in Germany, but an enemy of the state. I would have loved the opportunity to partake in this lavish ceremony myself, not just for the food and drink, but to see firsthand what it looks and feels like coming face to face with a risen First Lady. Thanks to the efforts of one John Kennedy Okpara, the offering for the First Lady’s thanksgiving service was a modest N500ml ($3ml). By any standard, it was a good outing for Dame Patience’s chivalry.
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Of course, this is Nigeria. The idle cynics have started wagging their tongues. They are questioning the First Lady’s credibility. They want to know what has changed between late October when she claimed she was not hospitalised and now. They say the First Lady’s case is emblematic of the credibility crisis of the Jonathan presidency. What else is the government lying about (apart from President Jonathan’s asset declaration) if it can look Nigerians in the eyes and blatantly lie about the health of the First Lady? But, aren’t we are used to our government and its agents lying to us? There is nothing new about the double-speak, arrogance and disdain for truth by public officers in Nigeria. We saw it with the late President Umaru Yar’Adua and his First Lady, Turai.
Didn’t Sullivan Chime, Governor of Enugu State, abscond for five months only to return and say he “owed nobody any apology for keeping them guessing throughout the period”. To taper his mendacity about being hospitalised, he threw up these weasel words: “I started treatment and the treatment altogether lasted for twelve weeks. Throughout the period of my treatment, I was an outpatient. I was never admitted in any hospital. All my treatments, I took as an outpatient”.
Back to the First Lady. We still don’t know what she was treated for and we may never know. One thing is certain: we are not supposed to question her miraculous comeback. Not many people have the opportunity of experiencing death and coming back to life to tell the story. It is an experience money can’t buy. Which means for the First Lady her future will be committed to “doing things that will touch the lives of the less privileged”.
Since the First Lady was sent back to Nigeria to complete her assignment in our god-forsaken nation, my only candid advice would be for her to invest the N500ml ($3ml) offering she collected during her thanksgiving in building a world-class hospital in Otuoke, Bayelsa State, so that she wouldn’t need to abscond from Nigeria the next time she requires treatment.