Behind Every Weak President . . . . .
Late Mrs Maryam Ndidi Babangida, the Asaba-born wife of former military dictator, General Ibrahim Babangida, will forever be remembered for redefining the role of the President's wife in Nigeria's political firmament. She may not be the first visible first
lady we had, but she was by far the most glamorous - and till today no other first lady has been able to outdo the woman referred to as the 'General among women' in terms of gait and swagger.
Maryam Abacha, wife of the late despot, Sani Abacha, showed some glimpse of vibrancy but in no way was she close to Mrs Babangida.
Being in power for less than a year, not much could be said about Justice Fati Abubakar Abdussalam. Due to a combination of circumstances that brought her husband to power and her own professional occupation, we can safely guess that she would not have been in the class of the two Maryams, even if she had spent more time in office.
Edo-born Stella Obasanjo also exhibited some signs of a First Lady with a swagger but perhaps her pre-occupation with the creams and lip sticks got more of her than active interference in her husband's official affairs.
Very visible and active as all these First ladies were, they did not totally usurp the presidential powers from their husbands. There was still some line, even if thin, between them and their husbands. Everybody ruled its own world. Maryam Babangida, for example, was busy running what could be called her own government among the women, leaving her husband and his boys to unleash various policies on the country. Stella also focused on the children, while her no 2, Titi Atiku, focused on women and children with her WOTCLEF project. In other words, these ladies were not so dominant in the mainstream presidential affairs. Their husbands were too strong for the wives to have presidential powers totally wrestled from them.
Then came Mr and Mrs Umaru Musa Yar'adua. Yar'adua, due to a cocktail of factors, principally his failing health, was not so active as the President and commander-in-chief of Nigeria's armed forces, but behind him was a power-hungry woman, Turai, who was doing that commanding job for him. Turai, in a brazen departure from Fulani women's reclusive and bashful lifestyle, dazzled everybody with her wanton display of raw power, which the press did not fail to regularly serve us with through their 'close sources'. Virtually every major decision taken by President Yar'adua was reported to be at Turai's prodding. From hiring and firing of office holders to determining who gets what. Of course, she had every right to marry her children to anybody she wished, but the glaring political calculations that obviously informed the marriage of two of her daughters to serving governors left no one in doubt that we had a master strategist as First lady. Men fell on one another to get Turai's favour. Even ministers, we learnt, found Turai the easiest link to the president to get approval for their legitimate duties. That was how powerful the Katsina-born First lady was. The events thrown up by her husband's terminal illness finally confirmed what the press had always leaked about her activities right from their first month in office.
Enter Mr and Mrs Goodluck Jonathan. Jonathan's weakness, like his predecessor's, can easily be seen from his look. This is not to say all men with gentle face are lethargic. After all, still water, they say, runs deep. But it is on Jonathan to prove to us that he is not a paper tiger, as Daily Trust columnist, Is'haq Modibbo Kawu, called him in one of his recent pieces. From his series of actions and body languages since he became the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Nigeria's armed forces, Jonathan has continued to show that he is one naÃ¯ve, weak president.
A case in point: Recently, northern governors met to deliberate on their stand on the contentious issue of zoning in PDP and it was reported in papers that some governors voted for zoning (i.e opposed to GEJ clinching PDP ticket in 2011 presidential elections). With a man like Obasanjo or IBB as president, can any governor dare make known his opposition to his emergence as PDP flagbearer? That's how unfeared GEJ is.
The above only establishes GEJ's weakness, just as Yar'adua's weakness can be attributed to his ill-health and disinterestedness in the presidency in the first place. But standing tall behind Jonathan, like Yar'adua, is another lady that, within three months, has proved that she may outdo her predecessor in unchecked overambitiousness.
Let's pretend we are blind to her poor communication skills that made her to congratulate the Super Falconets for 'carrying' second, because 'it is not easy for carry second'. She has a role model, after all, in Turai, another serial assassin of English Grammar. Let's also forget about her junketing the country with the openly clandestine mission of pushing her husband's presidential ambition. Now, can somebody remind her that Nigeria's constitution knows her no more than a citizen. Can somebody please remind-or is it tell- her that there is something called Land Use act that empowers a state governor on the issue and use of land. Maybe she also needs a lesson in how not to correct in public. Or better still, will her handlers tell her that Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers state is elected by the people to rule them. Maybe if she knew all these, she would not have displayed that waywardness to Governor Amaechi in Port Harcourt last week.
All these grandstanding despite the circumstances she found herself in 'power'. God help Nigerians when her husband finally becomes an elected President with four, oh sorry eight, years to rule us. Anyone still in doubt that behind every weak president there is an overambitious first lady?
By Suraj Oyewale
Plot 1, Femi Sule Street,