What does Dame Jonathan want from Rivers State?
First Ladies are nothing but constitutional ghosts and like ghost workers through whose invisible entrails, billions have vanished into Nigerian burial grounds. - Wole Soyinka
It was another gridlock on Saturday as all roads leading to the Port Harcourt town were blocked. Many residents stayed in traffic for more than six hours as life momentarily came to a halt. There was heavy security presence around St. Cyprian's Anglican Church at Hospital Road and then somewhere at Alfred Diete Spiff Civic Centre in Moscow Road. Several Armed Personnel Carriers (APCs), soldiers, policemen and State Security Services (SSS) operatives were deployed in strategic locations. Movement was restricted and persons who entered these two locations were thoroughly frisked. The occasion once again was a private visit of the wife of the President and First lady of Nigeria, Dame Patience Jonathan. One will recall that sometime in April last year the First lady paid a similar visit to Lagos and it was reported to have paralysed social and commercial activities in Lagos Island for up to nine hours. That visit drew the anger of the Nobel Laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka who described it as a contemptuous and provocative usurpation of daily mission of millions of individuals by a mission of one individual - a banal extravaganza. But beyond the profound insight of the literary icon, let us examine and reflect on three issues emanating from that visit.
The first is the role of the security agencies in trampling on the right of movement of citizens. During the visit, all the security chiefs in the Niger Delta region were summoned to receive the First Lady. When did private visit of a ruler's wife become a national obligation? What constitutional mandate does she(and people acting on her behalf) have to convene such a meeting? The current Commissioner of Police in River State, Mr. Joseph Mbu whose partisanship has been criticised by many civil society groups played a visible role is this latest subversion of the freedom of movement of Port Harcourt residents. The controversial commissioner was at his best in displaying arrogance and presumptuousness to court the attention of the First lady and dance to her whims and caprices. Officers and men of the Nigerian Police were on ground to deal with anyone who dared flout any of his directives or carry out any activity capable of disrupting the vanity parade of the First Lady. Now how long will Rivers people continue to suffer under this distracted politician in uniform?
The second point is about the fact that the visit was an excuse for the assemblage of scores of ex-militants back into Port Harcourt. A few weeks ago, thousands of these ex-militants demonstrated on the streets of demanding for the removal of the Rivers State Governor. It is strongly believed that those who provided funds and logistics for that demonstration had the full support of the Presidency. Many residents of the city have been apprehensive because some of these militants who have been locked in rivalry among themselves could revisit violence. That will mean robbing Port Harcourt the peaceful ambiance that has been prevalent in the past five years. How can the First Lady of a country allow herself and her name to be associated with such indignity? Why is she bent on returning Port Harcourt to the dark days of insecurity and conflict just to score a cheap political point? The First Lady was quoted as saying that the days of Dr. Peter Odili were better for Port Harcourt residents. What an ingenuous propaganda! Even former Governor Odili himself will not say such a thing!
The third point exposes her juvenile political tactics. Reliable feelers have it that the First Lady and her schemers have been oiling their plot to oust Governor Amaechi in order to put a more malleable and flexible person in Brick House. Simply put that visit was part of a deliberate and unapologetic conspiracy for the annexation of Rivers State. In many of her recent public outings in the region, the First Lady has not hidden her desire to support the incumbent Minister of State for Education Nyesom Wike to drum diversionary, divisive and discordant tunes in Rivers State. Reports have it that funding for the botched impeachment efforts against Governor Rotimi Amaechi was mobilised with the full blessing of Dame Jonathan. Since then the First Lady herself have deployed other primitive patronage devices to blackmail the members of the State House of Assembly to concoct impeachable offences against a performing governor. If the objectives of Mrs Jonathan are the same as delivering Millennium Development Goals(MDGs) to Rivers people then they are in line with Governor Amaechi's resolute commitment. What else does she want? How can originality be made to genuflect before mediocrity? Should Rivers State Governor risk what he was elected to do for Rivers people just to satisfy one individual?
Pundits submit that as Bayelsa State is said to be a conquered territory for the First Lady, now she has moved over to Rivers to expand her fiefdom. She is yet to resign her recent controversial appointment as a Permanent Secretary back in Yenagoa. Though she allegedly continues to draw resources and privileges attached to such position, she is still based in Abuja and has not resumed duties even for one day at the state. To remain in her good books, Governor Dickson provides her unfettered access to state facilities at will. Most recently the state Governor decided to relocate part of the machinery of government to Abuja ostensibly to be able to attend to the President and the First Lady. Recently the Chief of Staff to the Bayelsa State Governor was transferred to the state liaison office in Abuja in order to upgrade government operations to avail Governor Dickson the requisite convenience during his frequent shuttles to Abuja.
The most miserable part of the story is that the wife of the President is reportedly behind many costly political mistakes that have been committed by her husband of late. For instance during the intrigues surrounding the emergence of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, it is believed that President Jonathan had initially agreed to back Hon. Muraina Ajibola for the position. However the First Lady put her husband under intense pressure and persuaded him to drop Hon. Ajibola for a woman Hon. Mulikat Akande. The last minute change paved a way for the emergence of Hon. Aminu Tambuwal who cashed in on the uncertainty in the Jonathan camp to mobilize opposition members to back his candidature. That was how the President lost the grip of the House of Representatives till date. Beyond this, the origin of whatever alleged differences between President and the Rivers State Governor can be traced to the First Lady's shenanigans. It is believed that President Jonathan had a cordial relationship with Governor Amaechi until the Mrs Jonathan publicly disagreed with the governor on the demolishment of the shanty settlement at the Port Harcourt waterfronts. Today President Jonathan is still grappling with the consequences of some of these diversionary, misleading and unavoidable battles. Are these battles meant to show case the supremacy of the Presidential powers or are they ridiculing the office of the President? Are they really the best use of Presidential time? Now how far can a husband submit to the obnoxious dictates of his ambitious wife? How much more will the First Lady embarrass the President before he garners the balls to call her to order?
The truth must be told, the frequent distasteful conduct of the Nigerian First Lady is constituting a public nuisance. She deserves immediate rebuke. No one can do that for President Jonathan. She is a major source of deficit to GEJ's goodwill and public image before the Nigerian people. Instead of dragging herself from one controversy to another, Dame Patience Jonathan can get busier reaching out to underserved communities and giving hope to the underprivileged through some pet project. Such a past time could provide an opportunity for making new friends rather than enemies for her husband.
Tamuno wrote in from Port Harcourt. You can contact him on [email protected]