Dame Patience’s unacceptable meddlesomeness
Is there no end to farcical governance in Nigeria? Last Friday, the first lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, peremptorily summoned a number of state and federal officials to some of the meetings she conducted in the bid to end the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls from the Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State. No matter how altruistic and good-natured she is, she has no right whatsoever to conduct the sort of meetings she has saddled herself with, and absolutely no right to summon state and federal officials to those meetings. It speaks volumes of the confusion, inertia and irresponsibility pervading the seat of government in Abuja that just as the president himself was setting up a fact-finding panel to look into the abductions, his wife was engaged in a five-hour meeting with officials to tackle the national and international embarrassment. The first lady’s meetings, which began on Friday, was expected to continue yesterday, if no one in the seat of government had commonsensically called her to order.
Dame Patience’s first reaction after her first Friday meeting was to decry the role of the state government in the abductions, accuse it of insensitivity and deliberate political provocations, lampoon what she insinuated could be a sexed-up number of abductees, and brusquely order the Borno governor to secure the schoolgirls’ release or risk a march upon the seat of government in Borno, Abuja and the National Assembly. These orders and provocations are insufferable. Is this what governance in Nigeria has become? Is the first lady not aware she is, in short, directly indicting her husband’s presidency of gross irresponsibility and inertia? She is no virtuoso in the art of diplomatese and elegant talk. But she carried her indiscretion to an intolerable level when she thundered that once she was involved in a matter, she always achieved result. She had worked behind closed doors, but now she must work in the open, she revealed without the timorousness her place beside her husband dictated. She spared no thought for how her statements made her husband look inactive, if not completely paralysed.
The cause of the controversy and trigger for Dame Patience’s meddlesomeness are of course President Goodluck Jonathan’s dereliction of duty and gross inability to appreciate the weight and impact of the abductions. Nearly two weeks after the abductions – and estimates of the number of schoolgirls involved has shifted from 129 to 234 and now, courtesy of the security services in Borno State, 276 – the president was yet to declare a mini-emergency over the abductions, notwithstanding all the frightening connotations of sex slavery. Worse, a few days after the schoolgirls were taken, the president continued his political rallies with barely a thought for the unfortunate girls and their anguished parents. More damningly, the president has not deemed it fit to visit the sorrowing parents, comfort them and lead the charge, at least metaphorically, against the Boko Haram abductors, a charge his wife now seems preposterously eager to lead even if it costs her dearly. It is perhaps in response to these acute failings that the president has set up a belated fact-finding panel, and the first lady, to begin to enact a series of measures to turn the heat on any other person and institution but her husband.
The appalling tactics by the first lady completely ignore the fact that she has no right at all to summon any public official, let alone directly intervene in state policy and affairs. Already she has begun to interpret and even second-guess the constitution in her usual obtruding manner. She describes the Borno State governor as chief security officer of the state under a state of emergency, and compared the abducted girls to the kidnappings in the Niger Delta over which the former President Olusegun Obasanjo riled and harried her husband when Dr Jonathan was Governor of Bayelsa State. It is not clear who all the officials that attended Dame Patience’s unlawful five-hour Friday meeting were, but WAEC officials were among. So, too, were the Borno State Commissioner for Women Affairs and the Chibok schoolgirls’ principal. As follow-up, she also summoned a retinue of other state and security officials. If they attended her meeting of yesterday, they should be charged with treason.
If President Jonathan cannot rein in his wife, the rest of the country should come in forcefully to help him in order not to allow her ridicule Nigeria before the whole world. The abduction of the schoolgirls and the lackadaisical approach of the Jonathan government to their rescue, as well as the ludicrous efforts to make Borno State the scapegoat of the whole saga, have already lowered us in the esteem of the world. Dame Patience should not compound the country’s misery. It is indeed surprising that President Jonathan indulges the first lady so casually. Her very first involvement and comments on the abduction saga heavily indicted her husband. She gave the impression she was courageous, pushy and purposeful, and her husband effete and distracted. She might very well be pushy. But she should look for other more mundane causes fitting for her role as first lady to be pushy and purposeful about. The Nigerian constitution does not give her a role in state affairs; she should not appropriate what has not been vouchsafed to her by any law in the country. But if she insists on meddling in state matters, then we must put her in her place by cautioning and censuring any public official that honours her invitation on anything but private matters.
The Jonathan government has set up a fact-finding panel, perhaps because there are insinuations the girls are not really missing. Though annoyingly belated, the panel must be allowed to work and submit its report. But care must be exercised not to politicise the matter, nor to look for scapegoats. Security is strictly the responsibility of the federal government, while governors are chief security officers of their states in name only. If any scapegoat is needed, Nigerians are not so dimwitted as not to know who has been remiss in his responsibility. The clumsy attempt to focus attention on the name(s) of the affected Chibok school is unnecessary. The school remains a girls’ school, even though it was collapsed temporarily into a mixed school for the purpose of letting some male final year students from other afflicted schools write their WAEC at a school previously but erroneously thought to be safe.
We must not be distracted from finding urgent means of rescuing the abducted girls, which was where we started from in the first instance before Dame Patience introduced burlesque into a matter requiring only her empathy. For now, Dame Patience is not president, and neither she nor her husband, nor snivelling and grovelling state officials must give the impression she could pretend to be one whenever she was minded to be.