The Nigerian constitution does not recognise the office of the First Lady which is a title for the spouse of the head of state or president of Nigeria. However, the office has remained one of the most funded and staffed since independence and the First Lady is addressed by the title Her Excellency.
Nigeria has had several first ladies since independence but the late Maryam Babangida, wife of Nigeria’s military president from 1985 to 1993, General Ibrahim Babagida, began the trend.
As first lady, she launched many programmes to improve the lives of women. The “Maryam Phenomenon” became a celebrity and “an icon of beauty, fashion and style,” a position she retained after her husband’s fall from power.
When her husband became Head of State in 1985, Maryam Babangida moved into Dodan Barracks in Lagos. She was said to have arranged for considerable renovations to make the rooms more suitable for formal receptions. As First Lady of Nigeria between 1985 and 1993, she turned the ceremonial post into a champion for women’s rural development. She founded the Better Life Programme for Rural Women in 1987, which launched co-operatives, cottage industries, farms and gardens, shops and markets, women’s centres and social welfare programmes. The Maryam Babangida National Centre for Women Development was established in 1993 for research, training, and to mobilise women towards self-emancipation.
She also established a glamorous persona. Talking about the opening of the seven-day Better Life Fair in 1990, one journalist said “She was like a Roman empress on a throne, regal and resplendent in a stone-studded flowing outfit that defied description…” Women responded to her as a role model, and her appeal lasted long after her husband fell from power.
But the current First Lady in the person of Dame Patience Faka Jonathan is one woman who shares the political space equally with her husband, regardless of what the constitution says about her office.
If her husband is re-elected, Nigerians may not see much difference from what Mrs. Jonathan has done as their First Lady for the past six years. But if General Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress gains the upper hand, then Nigerians would then have a new experience with Mrs. Aisha Buhari as the First Lady.
Dame Jonathan is reputed as a woman who holds court, summoning ministers, even governors for meetings. Dame Jonathan is not your regular first lady that is content with the glamour of office; she is as active, if not more, than her husband in the politics and politicking of the Peoples Democratic Party of Nigeria.
With her influence, so many people have been appointed ministers, permanent secretaries, ambassadors, name it. In fact, through her, many governorship candidates have received endorsement to contest in their home states.
Mr. Evans Bipi, a member representing Ogu Bolo State Constituency in the Rivers State
House of Assembly, described the first lady as his Jesus Christ. When he was asked why he calls her mummy even when he was no way related to her nor come from her local government, he said, “Have you forgotten that she is from Okrika? So, whoever attains the position of the First Lady, what would you call the person? You call her mummy. She is the mother of the nation and she is the mouthpiece of Okrika people. She is the mother of Okrika people. So, every Okrika person calls her mummy. Ogu Bolo is Okrika. They are all Okrika people. It is like Ikwerre and Obio/Akpor; they are all Ikwerre. It is only the local government area that split them. So, as an Okrika woman, who has risen up to that position, everybody calls her mummy.”
He also justified why he called her his Jesus Christ on earth, “Let me say this. Man is God to man; it is in the Bible. You must not see God; you will see God through somebody. God said, see me through Jesus Christ. That is why we are seeing God through Jesus Christ. This woman (Patience Jonathan) is everything in my life. She made me what I am today. Politically and otherwise; I can say it anywhere. I can say she is my Jesus Christ because she has made me who I am today. That is the truth and I can defend that anywhere.
“Babangida’s wife was from Delta State. Her people called her mummy. Yar’Adua’s wife is from Katsina, all the people from Katsina call her mummy. Even Governor Rotimi Amaechi’s wife, the people call her mummy. When a woman attains such level, everybody calls her mummy. It is a form of respect. But to me, my mummy (Patience Jonathan) is special because she brought me up to this level.”
His testimony is not different from that of her other beneficiaries and she wields enormous power.
On her own, she anointed Nyeson Wike, the present governorship candidate of the PDP in her home state, Rivers, to dislodge Rotimi Amaechi, after falling out with the governor. Because of the respect the Bayelsa State
Governor, Mr. Henry Seriake Dickson had for her, he made her a permanent secretary in July 2012 even after a long time absence from work. But when she fell out with the governor, she resigned from the office to show her annoyance. She then handpicked the Special Assistant to the President on Domestic Matters, Mr. Waripamowei Dudafa to take over from Dickson in 2016 irrespective of the governor’s aspiration for a re-election.
The likes of Chief Christopher Alao-Akala, a former governor and deputy governor of Oyo State, would not forget in a hurry the role Dame Jonathan played in the politics of the PDP in Oyo State when she summoned their leaders and advised them to make the former governor of the state, Chief Rashidi Ladoja, the PDP flag bearer, even after the latter had since left the party and become the founder of Accord Party. Akala is today the governorship candidate of the Labour Party in Oyo State.
She is a woman who makes no pretence about her views. After a long absence from the country amidst speculations that she was down at a German hospital, the presidency and her office kept on assuring the citizens that she had merely travelled to rest after the rigours of the 2011 elections and hosting of the African First Ladies Summit.
But on February 17, 2013, she came out to tell the stunning story of how she rose from death after being dead for a week during a thanksgiving service in Abuja. She debunked the stories dished out from her husband’s office completely without scruples.
Punctuating her testimony with praise songs, Patience, who refused to read from a speech prepared for her, narrated to the congregation how she underwent nine surgeries within one month in London.
“It was not an easy experience for me. I actually died; I passed out for more than a week. My intestine and tummy were opened.
“I am not Lazarus but my experience was similar to his own. My doctors said all hope was lost.
“People are always afraid of operation (surgery) but in my own case, while my travail lasted, I was begging for it (surgery) after the third operation because I was going to the theatre every day.
“It was God who saw me through. I did eight or nine operations within one month. It was not an easy one.”
When the Chibok girls were abducted by the dreaded Boko Haram terrorists, Dame Patience beat her husband to take action by summoning to Aso Rock those she believed could explain what happened.
The video recording of the meeting in Abuja went viral and trended so much, particularly the part where she discarded the English language for her preferred pidgin and launched into a tirade against the principal of the school and the Borno State governor and his wife.
That was where she asked the principal, ‘Na only you waka come?’ She broke down in tears and told the state governor and those who wanted to rubbish her husband’s government that, ‘There’s God o.’
Dame Patience Jonathan is more at home in her native language and pidgin English, irrespective of the occasion.
Yet, the First Lady was sufficiently educated.
Born in Port Harcourt, she earned her school certificate in 1976, and passed the West African School Certificate Examination in 1980. In 1989, she obtained the National Certificate of Education in Mathematics and Biology from the Rivers State College of Arts and Science, Port Harcourt. She then proceeded to the University of Port Harcourt and studied for a B.Ed in Biology and Psychology.
For Mrs. Aishat Buhari, wife of the presidential candidate of the APC, Maj.-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), the office of the First Lady could turn out to be a completely different experience if her husband wins the election and becomes the president.
When her husband became the head of state in the 80s, she had not yet appeared in the picture as she was said to have got married to the General in 1989. At a time during the electioneering, the ruling PDP made it an issue that Maj.-Gen.Buhari might not have a place for a woman in public life. As a former head of state, his then wife remained anonymous throughout.
And when he started the current campaign, there was no sign of a woman with him, creating the fear that he might not be women friendly. That was when the picture of his wife appeared on the social media and she turned out to be a stunning beauty.
The opposition was still not satisfied. In fact, critics concluded that the General must be less enamoured with women by refusing to pose for pictures with his family.
When Buhari’s campaign train hit Abeokuta, Ogun State
, early this year, the major highlight was the unveiling of his wife. In fact, both Buhari and his running mate, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, used the occasion to pose with their wives and with the way the pictures trended on the social media, many Nigerians were impressed by the images of the potential First Lady and her deputy.
Of course, all the major newspapers splashed the pictures on their front pages the following day.
Aishat Buhari was drawn out to the public glare and as such, observers are still trying to assess her to see the kind of First Lady she will turn out to be if her husband is victorious at the polls.
One thing is sure though, Maj.-Gen. Buhari has a softer side represented by his gorgeous wife, Aisha.
Mrs. Buhari obtained a diploma in Beauty Therapy at Carlton Institute of Beauty Therapy Windsor in United Kingdom; she also obtained a certificate course in French Beauty School, Esthetique Academie Dubai. She is also a member of UK’s Vocational Training and Charitable Trust and the International Health and Beauty Council.
Aisha also holds National Certificate in Education, a Bachelor of Arts Degree at Ambrose Ali University, Ekpoma and Masters in International Affairs and Strategic Studies from Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna. She is the founder/Managing Director of Hanzy Spa and Principal of Hanzy Beauty Institute.
Though Aisha has managed to limit her public gaffes, what she said about Edo women has drawn the wrath of the people of the area. Aisha had said that if her husband is elected, he would make sure that there were enough jobs so that young women from Edo State would no longer take to prostitution. The women group in the state took her up on this. She must have learnt some lessons from the criticisms that trailed her comments.
Nevertheless, she has said, “For me, I will perform my duties and role as the wife of the President of Nigeria traditionally.”
Culled frm Punch