It will be almost impossible for Nigerians to forget the outgoing First Lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan. BAYO AKINLOYE examines her time as the First Lady
Mrs. Patience Jonathan, born on October 25, 1957, is older than her husband, President Goodluck Jonathan –the outgoing leader of the most populous black nation. At 57, Mrs. Jonathan bears a self-imposed burden of being the mother (and sometimes the grandmother) of every Nigerian citizen, especially those in the political arena.
A graduate of Mathematics and Biology (National Certificate of Education) and Biology and Psychology (Bachelor of Education), from the Rivers State College of Arts and Science and the University of Port Harcourt, respectively, she is apparently more at home with politics than teaching as events would later prove.
The outgoing First Lady was once a teacher, a banker, a marketer and a civil servant; and would most likely be remembered as an enigmatic, indefatigable and comical political campaigner. Always dressed to the nines, Mrs. Jonathan’s gait is self-confident, bold and unapologetic.
Political observers think it’s rather unfortunate that the only prism many are inclined to view the First Lady is that of a woman who is crude and uncontrollable. This perspective alone largely reduces all that she represents, they said.
During her husband’s time as governor between 2005 and 2007, Mrs. Jonathan founded some philanthropic and women empowerment programmes, among which is the A-Aruere Reachout Foundation, which she set up to improve the status and earning capacity of women and youths and assisting children with heart-related problems.
In recognition of “her philanthropic activities and political pragmatism,” she had received the ‘Beyond The Tears’ International Humanitarian Award New York, US; the African Goodwill Ambassador Award (Los Angeles, US) and the ‘Wind of Change’ award from the South-South Women’s Organisation.
On May 6, 2010, Mrs. Jonathan became the First Lady of Nigeria. From that time on, what was little known about her propensity for politicking came to the fore.
In the estimation of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, there are five presidents in Nigeria. First on that list, according to Obasanjo, is Mrs. Jonathan –wife of the outgoing President Jonathan.
“There were five presidents in Nigeria: These were his wife, Deziani, Oduah, Ngozi, Goodluck Jonathan and he was the weakest of the five,” Obasanjo said in his book, My Watch.
According to many political observers, Obasanjo’s assertion is a testament to the tremendous influence the First Lady wields in her home, in the Presidency and in the country. Unabashedly blunt, she has brought smiles on various occasions to a teary nation.
In March 2011, Jonathan’s wife gave out monetary donations to no fewer than 809 female candidates from the various political parties who made the Independent National Electoral Commission’s final list for the 2011 general elections. The gift was meant to assist the women to prosecute their election campaigns. While presenting the donations to the politicians she said, “I am pleased to see that compared to years before now, many women have taken the bold step to contest, this is as a result of our campaign on (the platform of) Women for Change and Development.”
Considered a king-maker, the First Lady, has been reportedly responsible for the rise and fall of various political players. She was credited with the ouster of a former Governor of Bayelsa, Timipre Silva, out of the Peoples Democratic Party, destabilising the PDP in Oyo State because of her preference for Sen. Rashidi Ladoja, ensuring the electoral victory of Nyesom Wike at the governorship poll in Rivers, and other political appointments in her husband’s cabinet and federal agencies.
Mrs. Jonathan, while addressing Okirika Council of Chiefs at the burial ceremony of Senator Tari Sekibo in Okrika had said, “Before you today is the next governor of Rivers State. He is the former Minister of State for Education, Nyesom Wike. The PDP is the best party and the most popular party in the country. The PDP is the leading party that will win Rivers State.”
Wike is now the governor-elect of Rivers
About her, a former United States of America’s Ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell, said, “First Lady Dame Patience Jonathan has a big personality and is a powerful political figure. She has consistently advocated on behalf of more women in national life. She also acquired brief notoriety in the United States when she initially described the Chibok kidnapping as a fraud designed to embarrass her husband.”
In a stakeholders’ meeting on the abducted girls she called in May last year, President Jonathan’s wife burst into tears after she took a roll call and discovered that Nana Shettima, wife of the Borno State Governor, Ibrahim Shettima, and some other people she invited were absent. The governor’s wife was also absent in an earlier meeting the First Lady had called.
She said, “There is God in everything we are doing. There is God. After the incidence (abduction of the Chibok girls), I waited for her, she did not come. I sent for her, she came. I asked questions, no answer. I asked her to come with the principal and parents: she did not turn up. To our greatest surprise, she sent a commissioner. The next thing I saw was women demonstrating. No woman will fold her hands while her house is on fire. She is the mother of Borno. She is the mother of these children, I am their grandmother. She should be more concerned and come to her grandma.
“The mother of Borno is not concerned about what is happening; her children are involved. I don’t want anybody to reply or abuse me on the pages of newspaper. It is because we are pained and crying, that is why I am doing so. Why should I cry more than the bereaved? The world will ask me a question if I do. If after today, Borno people say we should not help them, don’t go to the street to demonstrate. You are playing games. Don’t use schoolchildren and women for demonstration again. Keep it to Borno, let it end there. Until you people are ready to cooperate.”
She was relentlessly pilloried by Nigerians for the comments and acts concerning the Chibok girls’ kidnapping.
Like the 2008 US Republican vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, Mrs. Jonathan has become a metaphor of gaffes, grammatical blunders and the butt of ridicule on prime-time radio and TV programmes, newspapers and social media.
According to political analysts, the First Lady’s office is self-serving. They noted that successive First Ladies since Ibrahim Babangida’s military era were merely using their positions to mobilise support for their husbands in power and also to take advantage of rural women, whose poor political and economic lives, they were supposed to transform for the better.
“My impression is that she has abused that privilege of being wife of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. She has done more harm than good to the image of her husband and to the image of the nation. None the less, she exhibits a passion different from others like her. It will appear that her strength of character carried President Goodluck Jonathan this far. Patience Jonathan has great passion for the country though used negatively,” Professor Jonah Onuoha, the Head of Department of Political Science, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State, said.
In his assessment, the Head of Department, Political Science, University of Lagos, Prof. Solomon Akinboye, noted that Mrs. Jonathan had performed averagely as the country’s First Lady.
“As a lecturer, if I were to score her, I’ll mark her average -50 per cent. But, there is nothing like Office of the First Lady in the Constitution. What we have is wife of the President. But be that as it may, I will say she did her bit. She advocated for women empowerment through the 35 per cent affirmative action. We will need someone better than her though; she was always breaking protocol. She didn’t show tolerance in her political posture. She played politics of bitterness –encouraging her supporters to stone the opposition. She preached peace abroad but did the opposite at home –charity begins at home. She has not lived up to her sobriquet, ‘Mama Peace’,” Prof. Akinboye stated.
As her husband’s tenure draws to a close on May 29, many Nigerians will not forget her in a hurry.