by Tola Adenle
Things are getting curious-er and curious-er to use an old playground slang!
Alhaja Turai Yar Adua once reportedly conducted a workshop FOR state governors. Really. Dr. Goodluck, whose run of “good luck” has not rubbed off on Nigeria, has reportedly been skipped as acting when his principal was once away. It was a so-called “kitchen cabinet” member of her husband – actually a minister – who first flew the kite of need for official recognition for ALL first ladies, especially THE first lady and now come the minions in what has become worrisome.
At an “unveiling of their 2009 almanac … wives of the 36 state governors and 774 local government chairmen” reportedly called for “constitutional recognition for the office of the First Lady”! Alhaja Yar Adua was supposedly represented at the farce by the Head of “Abuja Affairs” of the House of retired naval officer Nyako, Head Wife Binta Nyako, a judge or former judge. We all remember before a tribunal threw the “election of Nyako as governor out, Nigerians saw another a a ri ru eyi ri, o [unprecedented] when the retired navy officer decided to allocate different areas to the women in his harem. Binta got “Abuja Affairs” as her husband dubbed her posting, the “juiciest”, we all know. Now, since Nyako’s return as governor, Justice Binta has become “the chairperson of the 19 Northern Governors’ Wives” association.
In her address purportedly on behalf of Mrs. Yar Adua, Nyako reportedly said that “the time has come for the office of the First Lady to be given constitutional recognition” and since the lady did not mention she was speaking as one of Governor Nyako’s wives who has muscled her way into numero uno NOR as “chairperson of the 19 Northern Governor’s Wives”, we are left in no doubt the source of this bizarre call.
Allow me to purse a bit to lament – as many are doing all over Nigeria – that the whole country is now being dragged, unfortunately NOT screaming – into feudalism and aided in no small part by those who should know better – or at least whose husbands should have said ‘no’ to this insanity.
Why now – and why this? Why include wives of the mostly-thieving chairmen of 774 local government councils whose husbands have squandered billions in allocations?
These women with a huge sense of entitlement do not have the antecedents to ask for more than they’ve already taken out of the system. Since Mrs. Babangida, pardon me, Dr. (Mrs.) Babangida – all first ladies at Abuja Level and MOST at state level – have not shown a single reason why they should be trusted with handling even the resources their husbands assist them to (mis-) appropriate. And with the exception of a very few first ladies at state levels, there is little to show – except in their personal bank accounts and business holdings – for the huge amounts always collected at public presentations of NGOs that supposedly were created to benefit the public.
I’ve been an Osun indigene these past thirty-eight years and so, I’m familiar with the state’s share of “first ladyism”. For example since the so-called launch of Mrs. Oyinlola’s NGO after retired Brigadier Oyinlola was (s)elected for Osun, there have been hues and cries about a rental hall she claimed to have built out of “her sweat”. AC Party took legal action and there were criticisms of the woman in the press, including quite a number of write-ups in this column. I do not know what came of the legal action; needless to say that press criticisms have been nothing but water on a calabash back. Oyinlola’s take on rendering service to the “less fortunate” in society has not been beneficial to Osun indigenes to the tune of the vast sums collected at the public launch of her NGO including N50 million “donated” by Osun State. I would be more than willing to eat my words if she would make public exactly how much she collected AND how she has spent the takings. Needless to say that Osun’s case is NOT an isolated one. After the husbands leave office, we cannot count a handful of former first ladies who continue to render service to the community in the names of their NGOs. Mrs. Oyinlola, therefore, is merely an example of the evil that “first ladyism” as Wole Soyinka aptly describes Nigeria’s take of a worldwide means of rendering service to society – has wrought on Nigeria .
A little over a month ago, I first noticed little kites being flown here and there of a NEED to give legal backing to the office of first ladies by one of Alhaji Yar Adua’s ministers, and then another from one of those looters who should belong in jail but has been called to “higher service” in the Senate – ‘scuse me, he’s not dead but I’m borrowing a Nigerian-ese. While these self-appointed voice of the people ask that ALL first ladies need legal inclusion in the running of state affairs, we all know their appointed interest is one: give Yar Adua’s wife legal muscle that could see Nigeria get not just a constitutionally-recognized first lady but incredibly, the first woman president, albeit through the back door. My thinking may be wild but I see no justification for these calls. The American presidential system we copy has no such provision; neither does the British Parliamentary system we used to run.
Here are excerpts from the news report at the almanac “unveiling” by Head Wife Binta Nyako on behalf of Alhaja Yar Adua: “The recognition of the office of first lady would help to bring wives of the vice president, senate president and the Speaker of the House of Representatives to limelight … I see the need for the creation of the office of a special assistant or adviser to the first lady and to the wives of governors, president of senate and Inspector General of Police …”
Sheer madness! What kind of “limelight” beyond the EXCESSIVE publicity that these women already receive – do they deserve or need? And the wives of all those government officials, including the police head, too? Real madness! A so-called “project coordinator of the occasion Mr. Isaac Aduku…. called for the establishment of a directorate to coordinate the activities of first ladies and a secretariat with well-trained staff to give professional advice to them”. Utter madness.
On September 23 last year, this column wrote “Nigeria’s ‘First Ladyism’: volcanoes waiting to erupt”. If that title sounded hyperbolic back then, may be not any more because whatever concerns prompted the essay now seem to pale in comparison to the strident calls for Mrs. Yar Adua’s “first ladyism” – and for appearance purposes – those of appendages, to be given legal backing in the Constitution.
Citizens’ needs must normally drive legislation but over-pampered first ladies at federal, state, local government levels, and now wives of heads of government agencies definitely do NOT represent the Nigerian society and their need being brought “into the limelight” is a need Nigeria can do without. It does not enhance the quality of life of the average Nigerian nor does it begin to solve ANY of the myriads of problems facing this nation principal among which is corruption, engendered by many of these women’s husbands.
The situation is very sad because most of those in the legislative arms of government – at state and federal levels – serve at the executive’s pleasure. There are a few at the Senate and the House of Reps who may have voices but they know how they got there. For the majority, however, they know not what legislating is about and cannot fathom that their power derive NOT from the executive arm. As for those in the states, most do not forget that before PDP, they were like my artisan who “found” School Certificate as he had boasted to me in 2002. How can this motley group put a stop to this wound before it festers and becomes an ulcer?
While teachers are refused calls for living wages, calls for bigger governments are being orchestrated to further pad the share of the ruling class. Witness the huge raises the so-called Revenue Mobilization body allocated to those already over-paid and over-catered for top government officials.
I think this is an issue on which Nigerians are waiting to know why Mrs. Yar Adua cannot do whatever she’s doing now without getting a Constitution-backed position. If she has no hands in this and Mrs. Nyako is merely flying her own kite, she should say so. It is another ganging-up against the masses.
The Nation on Sunday, September 2008