Patience Jonathan And Office Of Nigeria's First Lady

Patience Jonathan And Office Of Nigeria's First Lady

Guest Legit.ng contributor Hussain Obaro follows in the footsteps of his fellow Nigerians who have taken to various platforms to express their views on Patience Jonathan's line of conduct as Nigeria's First Lady.

Many unique women have fulfilled the role of First Lady of this or that country. Some of them stayed in the background. Others used their position to advocate for specific issues, or played an important role within the ambient of the law in their husbands' administration. As a result, the role of a First Lady has evolved over the years.

The United States of America, apart from being a model for the rest of the world in terms of economic and infrastructural development, modernization and uplift of the rule law, has also earned its place as the "world leader". I will look into the legacies of American first ladies, the way their contributions affected the administration of their husbands, and how they used their position to institute change in perception, and compare their cases to Nigeria's.

Dolley Madison was 17 years younger than her husband, President James Madison. She was one of the most well-loved first ladies in the history of America. She actually served as President Thomas Jefferson’s White House hostess after his wife died. She then become First Lady when her husband won the presidency. She was active in creating weekly social events, entertaining dignitaries and society. During the war of 1812, as the British were bearing down on Washington, Dolley Madison understood the significance of the national treasures housed in the White House and refused to leave without saving as much as she could. Through her brave and meticulous efforts, many items were saved that would have most probably been destroyed when the British captured and burned down the White House.

Sarah Polk was well-educated; she attended one of the few higher learning institutions available to women at the time. As First Lady, she used her education to help her husband, President James Polk. She was known to craft speeches and write correspondence for her husband. She took her duties as the First Lady seriously, consulting Dolley Madison for advice. She entertained officials of both parties and was well-respected throughout the United States.

Abigail Fillmore was one of President Millard Fillmore’s teachers at New Hope Academy, even though she was only two years older than him. She shared a love of learning with her husband which she turned into the creation of the first-ever White House library. She helped select books for inclusion as the library was being designed. As a side note, the reason there was no White House library up to her time was that Congress feared it would make the President too powerful, so they relented until 1850 when Fillmore took office and appropriated 2000 dollars for its creation on the influence of his well-educated wife.

Caroline Harrison was an accomplished musician. She was introduced to her future husband Benjamin Harrison by her father. Mrs. Harrison played an important and active role as the First Lady, overseeing major renovations to the White House, including adding electricity, updating plumbing and adding additional floors. She painted the White House China and had the first Christmas tree erected in the White House. She was also a huge proponent for women’s rights. She was the first President-General of the Daughters of the American Revolution before she died of tuberculosis four months before the end of her husband’s term.

Edith Wilson was President Woodrow Wilson’s second wife. Wilson re-married in 1915, after his first wife Ellen Axton died in 1914. In 1919, President Wilson suffered a stroke, so Mrs. Wilson basically took control of the presidency. She made daily decisions about what items should or should not be taken to her husband for input. Having to take care of a not-so-healthy husband and tending to urgent national issues side-by-side was what made Edith Wilson one of the most vibrant and strongest first ladies in history.

Eleanor Roosevelt is considered by many to be America’s most inspiring and influential First Lady. She married President Franklin Roosevelt in 1905 and was one of the first to use her role as First Lady to advance causes she found significant. She fought New Deal Proposals, civil rights and the rights of women. She believed education and equal opportunities should be guaranteed for all. After her husband died, Eleanor Roosevelt was on the board of Directors for the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP). She was a leader in the formation of the United Nations (UN). At the end of the World War II, she helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and was the first Chairman of the UN Human Rights Commission.

From Martha Washington to the present occupant of the office of the First Lady of United States of America, Michelle Obama, these women are known for their high sense of dignity, class, decorum, politeness, comportment, humility and responsibility. This has earned them a lot of respect. Apart from Edith Wilson whose husband was partially incapacitated, first ladies in America have always steered clear of state matters. They have not meddled in decision-making, whether at the political party level or at the level of national policy.

The Nigerian Constitution does not create or recognize the office of the First Lady, or a potential First Gentleman. However, official funding and staff have been allocated to first ladies of Nigeria since independence. The First Lady is addressed by the title "Her Excellency". A seal of office was created for them. Flora Azikiwe, Victoria Aguyi-Ironsi, Victoria Gowon, Ajoke Muhammed, Esther Oluremi Obasanjo, Safinatu Buhari — these Nigerian first ladies have majorly confined themselves to traditional and domestic functions and didn't flaunt themselves as official figures. But, in the times of Maryam Babangida, Maryam Abacha, Stella Obasanjo, Turai Yar'Adua and the incumbent occupier of the office, Patience Faka Jonathan, the office of First Lady has gained prominence, flamboyance, extravagance and recklessness.

This abuse and rape of the Constitution is unchallenged in the country which prides itself as "the Giant of Africa" and the must populous black nation in the world. The way Nigerian first ladies present and flaunt themselves as public figures, disregarding the unconstitutionality of their office, has portrayed Nigeria as a lawless country. Not only first ladies in Nigeria act as if they have unlimited powers, but also, with the help of their rather weak husbands have, on several occasions, behaved as the de facto presidents — without being challenged.

From utterances, which can be described as not too complimentary, feminine or presidential, to causing embarrassment on several local and international scenes by either jumping protocols or deliberately disregarding constitutional and diplomatic rules and regulations, most of the activities of the Nigerian first ladies have dented the image of this country.

In Nigeria, a First Lady has powers to make and influence decisions at the political party level, by single-handedly picking, endorsing and enforcing some candidates on the party to run for different political offices across the country. Even in the United States of America, where First Ladies are revered, honoured and constitutionally recognized, they are not displaying such powers.

Nigerians have allowed this abuse of power, this uttermost disrespect and disregard of the Constitution of our country to linger for too long. The First Lady cannot further ridicule an unconstitutional office to the point of inciting pre-electoral violence by calling on members of her husband’s political party to stone members of the opposition, and even going as far as describing a part of Nigeria in an uncomplimentary manner that could trigger violence and war.

The National Assembly should, in the interest of unity and cooperate existence of this country, rise above partisan political considerations and call a spade a spade. Wars have been fought, women and children have been killed, children have lost their parents, parents have lost their children, Nigerians have starved to death in our journey to keep Nigeria one. This is the time for activists, the Nigerian Bar Association, the international community to rise in defence of this hard-earned unity and call Patience Jonathan to order. There is need for this whole concept of "First Ladyship" to be reviewed or even scrapped once and for all. We cannot continue to practice a democracy in which we are not able to obey our own laws. The Constitution is supreme, and every public office holder has sworn an oath to obey and defend it. This is the time to obey and defend the Nigerian Constitution by scrapping the office of First Lady.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Legit.ng.

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Khadijah Thabit (Copyeditor) Khadijah Thabit is an editor with over 3 years of experience editing and managing contents such as articles, blogs, newsletters and social leads. She has a BA in English and Literary Studies from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. Khadijah joined Legit.ng in September 2020 as a copyeditor and proofreader for the Human Interest, Current Affairs, Business, Sports and PR desks. As a grammar police, she develops her skills by reading novels and dictionaries. Email: khadeeejathabit@gmail.com

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