What does the First Lady want? By Zainab Suleiman Okino

Zainab Suleiman Okino_2As hard as one tries not to dignify some mundane issues with comments, the anomalies in the system, the wrong-headed approach(es) of those in the corridors of power, and their others-can-go-to-hell attitude, have compelled one, unfortunately, to add a voice to the growing concern about the exercise of state powers. Perhaps one is fired on by patriotic fervour or the dictum that if clear-headed people do not speak out, bad people will end up ruining all of us and the system itself. Not to mention that admonition that posterity will not forgive those who keep silent in the face of travesty, impunity and injustice.

Whatever it is, the jamboree organised by the First Lady which took place here in Abuja penultimate week in the name of celebrating women, left condemnation and anger on its trail. Commenting on this is even more difficult for a woman, who should normally join in the celebration of the elevation of their own. Yes, I should be excited about women’s cause and happy to write and report about women who have broken the glass ceiling; that is, women who rose and overcame all odds to get to the top. And there are women like that even in this government. Okonjo-Iweala is one of them, despite misgivings about some of her policies and style of leadership.

I also rejoice and celebrate those women who got lucky, that is, those who became powerful and influential by virtue of their spouses’ rise to power. What is abhorable in the eyes of decent people is the abuse or misuse of such opportunities. Thus Nigerians still have kind words for, and fond memories of, former First Lady, Justice Fatima Abubakar, whereas history has not been very kind to some others who have occupied the same position.But if we thought we had seen the worst of ‘First Ladysm’ in the way Turai overdid and overused her influence on her husband, late President Umaru Yar’Adua, that was because a certain Patience had not ‘happened’ on us. With the benefit of hindsight, and considering the troubles Turai went through to nurse a sick husband, maybe she could be forgiven for her infraction and error of judgment. But we digress… Two weeks ago, Patience Jonathan, our imperial First Lady, rolled out the drums, apparently to celebrate womanhood, but what she got in the end were knocks and no kudos. And you can’t blame those who considered that event as an abuse of platform. For that is what that programme was. Just because, as the First Lady, the country’s security apparatus is at your beck and call, does not mean you should put the
country in abeyance. That alas was what madam did.

Abuja was shut down for hours as traffic gridlock enveloped the city making movement from one place to the other virtually impossible. What if someone was sick and was held up in that traffic…? What if a woman was in labour and could not find a route to her hospital? What if this, and what if that…? The event was said to have been organised by the National Council of Women Society (NCWS) in conjunction with the office of the First Lady. There were road shows in addition to political speeches here and there. The National Mirror of Friday, August 16, 2013 captured it succinctly: “Patience Jonathan gathered about 30,000 support women for the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP). The women, drawn from the 36 states of the
federation, converged on Eagles Square as early as 8:00 am. Obviously hired, some of them were later sighted in front of the ministry of finance building, where they were given N1, 000 for participating in the rally. For several hours, there was no free-flow of vehicular movements in and within the Central Business District. The Three Arms Zone where the Eagle Square is located was cordoned off, making it difficult for civil servants to access the Federal Secretariat, ministries of finance and foreign affairs and office of the Head of Service. Other routes within the metropolis were also affected… The presence of Vice President Namadi Sambo, further gave credence to the significance of the rally, strategically geared towards 2015.

If the rally was about women achievers, why was only the wife of the PDP chairman invited? What of the wife of the APC chairman, Bisi Akande? What of all other women achievers who are apolitical and do not believe in or are not members, of the PDP? If Patience’s rally is not about 2015 why were wives of political appointees, including service chiefs’ spouses there? What did the event have to do with female personnel of the armed forces and the para-military services, who also staged march-pasts? What of all the women professors, medical doctors, lawyers, right activists, journalists, housewives, civil servants, etc, who are toiling daily, as part of their contributions to the progress of the society?

Patience’s rally boiled down to premature political mobilisation for her husband’s presidential campaign. There is no problem about that though; it is her right, if it is within the ambit of the law. But why call it a rally to celebrate women, instead of what it truly is: women’s rally for Jonathan’s second term bid. For that was what locked the city of Abuja. A rally that halted all governmental activities, (many civil servants could not reach their stations). And why inconvenience thousands of us unnecessarily? That was Patience Jonathan’s so-called rally for all women and for the interest of women from all spectrum of the society.

The presence of the Vice President, Namadi Sambo and his speech, betrayed their hidden and not so hidden intentions. “We have actively supported women in politics. We significantly increased the representations of women in government appointments. We have fulfilled the 35 per cent affirmative action by appointing women into key government positions. Our SURE-P targets over 500,000 women.” Common! If that was not a political gathering to campaign for re-election, what is it? A fashion parade?Someone should plead with madam for us, or let her know that when next she organises another rally for her beloved husband, she should spare Nigerians and /or Abuja dwellers the agony of traffic hold-ups and unnecessary checks by fierce-looking security men. She should please consider doing it on a weekend and create appropriate awareness about it so that people can opt for alternative routes, if possible.

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